[Note: Orlando Crespo of InterVarsity has a blog post entitled “4 Misconceptions of Ethnic Specific Ministry” where he addresses this very objection. It is worth a read.]

I’ve heard this objection to ethnic-specific churches: Ethnic churches foster ethnocentric attitudes, so they shouldn’t exist.

As a minority who has experienced bigotry and systemic discrimination because of my race, I take this accusation very seriously.

Let’s work out the logic of this objection.

  1. It is not necessarily true that ethnic churches foster ethnocentrism.
    Just because people with a common experience get together doesn’t mean that they think they are better than everyone else. Nursing homes don’t necessarily foster age-centrism. Men’s groups don’t necessarily foster gender-centrism. Of course it’s possible that they can, but just because they exist doesn’t mean that it automatically is the case.
    Working with a different definition of enthocentlrism: Just because people with a common experience get together doesn’t mean that they only think with those lenses on and don’t take other perspectives into consideration. Consider the examples above again.
  2. Ethnic churches are often centered around culture rather than race.
    Yes, it is true that there are some that prioritize lineage or blood (In a related note, consider how the tracing of the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham indicates value and honor). But ethnic churches often seek to contextualize around a certain identity and culture. This is an important distinction to make. Those who identify with a certain culture might find that a church’s ministries are geared towards them. If we move beyond ethnic-specific, we see this in every church. Each church has a distinct culture that it reaches. Even a church that reaches different ethnicities will reach a certain portion of the population: namely those who seek to be with different ethnicities. For more on this, see this post. It’s a kind of homogeneity.
  3. Even if it were true that ethnic churches foster ethnocentrism, it does not follow that they shouldn’t exist.
    First, we don’t say this about age-specific or gender-specific or pastime-specific groups. Just because a group might be predisposed to thinking their kind is the best doesn’t mean that we abolish it. High school students take pride in their school during a football game. Sports fans make ridiculous claims about how the team they follow is the best.
    Second, a pastor can and should look for unhealthy attitudes and shepherd the congregation in a way to have healthy perspectives. For minority groups, I don’t think it is realistically a problem that people will think that they are a superior group, considering the social and systemic racism we face in public, in school, and in the workplace.

Ironically, what I’ve seen is multi-ethnic churches foster “church model-centrism.” I’ve met a lot of people who tell me that their church is superior or “more mature” or “biblical” because of a multiplicity of ethnicities. You can read about one particular experience here, but I have many other encounters.  The attitude is hurtful and divisive, and I hope pastors of these churches are shepherding their congregations to check this.

What about you? What is your experience with ethnocentrism and the church?