Faith & Philosophy

Strategies for addressing the dichotomy between White and Black – Part 2

This is the 2nd part of the paper that attempt to explore solutions some questions facing the British churches operating in a climate of different and diverse cultures.

The Reality
It is useful both from empirical and anecdotal evidence to examine the reality of Church life for the Christian migrants in many parts of UK today. In the process examining the reason why the need is felt for their own separate churches in today’s Britain.

Most Africans and some other internationals, language and culture are closely related, most of their churches function as a cultural oasis where one could meet people with the same or similar ethno cultural background. The churches remind people of their home country and their native culture. They are places where people could meet friends with similar life experiences. At church they meet people of their own age, with the same sort of background history.

A Chinese undergraduate interviewed in Thorsten’s book told him about his reasons for joining the Chinese Church:

“I think it feels good if you meet someone who is from the same place, and you can share with them and they, maybe understand what you have been through. There’s more understanding. They understand more your feeling. Like maybe, some time you have [been] homesick and maybe people here don’t really understand, but people from Hong Kong they understand “O, you have been homesick? Yeah, I have too!” (Yeung 2005:4)

When a pastor of a Chinese Church was asked about reasons why people attended his church, he suggested:

“I think you seek to find your own kind of people who come from the same country [who] speak your language. So you feel a sense of identity. For – in my case – when I first came I tried to go to an English church, but I had difficulty in integrating after several months. After trying I decided to go to the Chinese Church where I can find my own kind.” (Low 2005:3)

Sociological Reasons:
One international commented on their experience with a local English church in Nottingham:

“Well, I did not find the people trying their best to reach out to me. I would be basically left on my own after the main service. And also it is very difficult to integrate [in] to their circle….I mean on the surface they could be very friendly and welcoming. But I think if you want to really connect with them and make friends, this is the actual difficulty. I’m not sure if this is because of the colour, or because they don’t know really how to integrate non-English [people].” (Low 2005:3).

Theological Reasons:
It has been observed that the nature of the services of the churches other than the English churches:

“The services reminded me of home because I knew what I had to say, what I had to respond – it was the same liturgy. Whereas, when I went to different churches in England it was so strange, it was so different.” (Vallance 2005:1-2)

Missiological Reasons:
Some believe that people of the same culture are more effective in reaching out to their own people in terms of evangelism and mission, because they feel they know their background and speak the same language. Thorsten (2008:176)

It is suggested that the danger for ethnocentric and insular churches is that they tend to become not only inward looking but end up as communities where social life becomes more important than the spiritual. A direct quotation about such churches indicates:

“If this continues as status quo, I think it would just be like any ordinary social club, where members just come together for cultural reasons, because they meet their friends here….So it may lose its distinctiveness as a Christian Church. Thorsten (2008:178)

The Justification for Homogeneity:
In a telephone interview with Premier Radio sometime in 2008, the author of this article was asked a question why it was necessary to work towards multi-cultural churches and he suggested maybe that the way God intended it to be, mono-cultural. Just as he was about to respond to the question the telephone cut off. Today drawing from Randy Woodley (2004:61), there is a suggestion that the strong emphasis on homogeneity comes from the Church in North America. Homogeneity, or sameness, is seen as the key to successful numerical church growth. ‘The fastest way to build a mega church, according to experts’, writes Woodley, ‘is to target a single ethnicity, race, culture or income’ (:61). The same philosophy is now found in British churches. In their report Mission-shaped Church, the Church of England (2004:107), for example, encourages its members to plant churches for specific cultural groups. This is supported with the following arguments:

1. God created many diverse cultures and while no culture is perfect there are all ‘part of God’s handiwork’;
2. Jesus chose a certain culture and time for his incarnation. Consequently Christians should follow ‘incarnation principle’ when it comes to church planting;
3. When two cultures are grouped together one culture sooner or later will dominate the other (:109).

Some criticisms to these are articulated by DeYoung, Emerson, Yancey and Kim (2004):

“Building congregations around a homogenous grouping is a sociological principle based on what is comfortable and marketable. Unity is the New Testament model of church growth based on the power of the Holy Spirit to reconcile people across socially constructed divides.” (:132-133)

In the book ‘Mission between Times’ Rene Padilla (1985) comes to a similar conclusion. Padilla notes:

“The New Testament clearly shows that the apostles, while rejecting the “assimilationist racism”, never contemplated the possibility of forming homogenous churches that would then express their unity in terms of interchurch relationships. Each church was meant to portray the oneness of its members regardless of their racial, cultural or social differences, and in order to reach that aim the apostles suggested practical measures.” (:167)

The concluding part of this paper will end with the ‘Future Challenges for ‘Minority Ethnic Churches in Britain.


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