[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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?