I usually encourage others to be more specific when they use the term “multi-cultural.” Very often, people usually use this term interchangeably with “multi-racial.” If they look at a room with people of different skin colors, sometimes they say that it’s a “multi-cultural” grouping. This is especially the case when we discuss churches. Here are a few reasons why I help people understand the distinction.
- Simply because people look similarly doesn’t mean they have the same culture. This really should go without saying, but it’s not the case in many conversations I have. An Asian-American who has never set foot outside the USA has a vastly different culture than a recent immigrant. We can’t equate race with culture.
- Culture goes beyond race.
Culture has to do with shared customs and values within a community. My wife and I both identify as Chinese-American. However, we come from different cultures because we come from different families. We both come into marriage with different expectations, habits, rules, and values that we brought from our families.
- Every church is mono-cultural.
I hope that got your attention. Every church has a distinct culture. In fact, every cohesive group has an overarching culture. There are shared customs, shared values, shared preferences. Every group has one culture. Even if your church is a church of many cultures, it is has one overarching culture. Even if your church is a group that likes to have people of different cultures, that in itself is a single culture. One can therefore say that a multi-racial church is mono-cultural.
- Every church is multi-cultural.
That’s right. Every church–every cohesive group–has people from different cultures. Just like my marriage is multi-cultural (see above), everyone comes with different customs, different habits, and different preferences. We learn from each other, challenge each other, and grow together.
So, please don’t use “multi-cultural” when you really mean “multi-racial.” They’re two very different terms.
“Multi-Ethnic, Mostly Asian”
Defining a “multi-ethnic” grouping.
“Your church is not biblical.” Why Ethnic-Specific Ministries Exist in America, Part 2.
Why Ethnic-Specific Ministries Exist in America, part 1.