The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review of All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Part 5)

By: Thomas F. Booher

Due to my lack of time, this will either be the last chapter I review for a while, or I will begin reviewing the other chapters in a much briefer format. At any rate, this chapter by Alexander Jun is going to still be a lengthy review, as it is the longest chapter by far and will be met with some of my strongest disagreement.

In case you were unaware, Alexander Jun (the author of this chapter) was elected as the moderator last year of the PCA General Assembly. Per the bio on each author, he is "a TEDx speaker and Professor of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University’s School of Behavior and Applied Sciences. He has published on issues of postsecondary access for historically underrepresented students in underserved areas and conducts research on equity, justice, and diversity issues in higher education. He is author of From Here to University: Access, Mobility, and Resilience Among Urban Latino Youth and White Out: Understanding White Privilege and Dominance in the Modern Age. He serves as associate editor for the Journal of Behavior and Social Sciences. A ruling elder at New Life Fullerton in southern California, Jun also serves on the Study Committee on Racial Reconciliation for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the PCA Unity Fund, and the Committee for Mission to the World. Jun was elected Moderator of the 45th General Assembly of the PCA in 2017."

Jun has many credentials and is a big mover and shaker in the PCA. Which is why I have even greater consternation over some of the things he says in his chapter, entitled Multivocality in the Church: Striving for More Harmonious and Diverse Faith Communities.

Jun begins with a basic story where a giraffe invites an elephant into his home. Not surprisingly, the giraffe's home is too narrow for the elephant to fit through, and the elephant is bumping into things and causing quite a few issues. The giraffe gets frustrated, eventually saying the elephant should slim down or "become a giraffe" in order to fit. The elephant knew the house was built for a giraffe and not an elephant, and so he declines. Jun says this fable is helpful when examining Predominantly White Churches (PWCs), defined essentially as a church that has at least 80 percent of its congregation to be one ethnicity (in this case white). According to some research by Emerson and Smith, 90 percent of churches are comprised of 90 percent or more of the same race/ethnicity.

Jun quotes a definition of structural racism, calling it the:

normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics—historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal—which routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by White supremacy—the preferential treatment, privilege and power for White people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab, and other racially oppressed people. [Brown, Leon. All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Kindle Locations 824-827). Storied Publishing. Kindle Edition.] 
[Quoted from: Keith Lawrence, Stacey Sutton, Anne Kubisch, Gretchen Susi and Karen Fulbright-Anderson, Structural Racism and Community Building (Washington, DC: Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community, 2004).]

He then tells us that structural racism is found (citing the same source as above) today in:

1) history, which lies underneath the surface, providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country, 2) culture, which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and replication of racism and, 3) interconnected institutions and policies, the key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism. Examples include racialized laws and institutional policies, dominant cultural representations, popular myths, and compounded and chronic inequities, etc. [Brown, Leon. All Are Welcome: Toward a Multi-Everything Church (Kindle Locations 830-834). Storied Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Jun then addresses the PCA, saying it has been "struggling to acknowledge its racist past" and is largely middle-class, so that the PCA is struggling "to reach and embrace people of lower socioeconomic standings."

Jun next references an evangelical scholar named Soong-Chan Rah, who says that multi-ethnic voices are silenced because of the dominant (white) group gets "to define and shape the parameters of discussion on what the church ought to look like." This brings about White Normativity, which Jun defines for us as essentially that how whites do things, whether ideology, practices, understanding about society, etc., are just the way it is, and thus whites are at the top of the "racial hierarchy" and therefore will see anything deviating from their preferences as "abnormal". While Jun says this does not make every individual white church leader who is not multivocal racist (but keep reading my review to see what changes this), it does mean that a "Eurocentric, Western, White lens" is normalized and perpetuated. "Failing to acknowledge that one’s own views may be rooted in normativity can lead to cultural myopia for a majority of members and their leaders." 

In short, white people in leadership should be more aware of other ministry philosophies, church plant approaches, and styles of worship, and be willing to accept and adapt to some of these, not thinking that their views are the only normal, orthodox, and biblical ones. "White normativity in churches is often revealed within the music style, preaching style, and perhaps even the time management of a church."

Jun quotes others and the overall takeaway is that even in ethnically diverse churches, white normativity often rears its ugly head, and therefore perpetuates "racial inequality". Jun advocates for racial/ethnic diversity in leadership to overcome this inequality of white normativity. He gives another example of playing the clarinet in different music ensembles. When just the clarinets played in warm ups (sectionals), the sound was "repetitive, predictable, and boring." It was only when all instruments came together into a symphony that things sounded great, and Jun got chills due to the multivocality of the instruments. A lack of diversity leads not only to boredom according to Jun, but even "a figurative death in terms of the fellowship of the saints, which should make any given faith community vibrant and mutually enriching." (Kindle Locations 915-916).

Recall that I disagree that multivocality would produce such harmony but would rather produce something looking more like a platypus if we truly want each culture/ethnicity present in our worship services to have a share of the direction the worship of a given church is going to move in (I talked about this in greater length in an earlier review). In other words, I fear the diversity would be at the cost of coherence, unity, and even things being done decently and in order, because it would come off as patch-work and piecemeal rather than a united vision that looks to Scripture rather than cultural preferences as foundational for the worship service. I realize that worship reformed according to Scripture is always in some way going to be mediated through culture, even if musical instruments and such are not present, but I think it would be exceedingly difficult and unwise to try to merge multiple ethnic expressions into one worship service, and when it is argued that this is God's way for worship, we have even bigger problems. Taking various elements from each ethnic expression of worship? Sure, not a bad idea at all in my opinion. But that is a different thing than transporting entire cultural worship expressions and smashing them together into one service. Perhaps Jun and others would not want to do that either and have something more in line with what I would say is appropriate and perhaps beneficial. But if we do this, we will not be preserving or expressing a diversity of cultures' worship/liturgies, we will either still be upholding one culture's expression of worship predominately and sprinkling in a few elements of others here and there, or we will be creating a synthesis that produces something brand new. But then cultural identity is lost in the worship service, and I thought that is what Jun and others wanted to incorporate and uphold.

Jun next addresses the benefits of diversity in our churches and church leadership. "Research by Espinoza-Gonzalez et al. has found that multicultural institutions promote greater work of social justice, reduce prejudice, and change negative effects of stereotypes, while also promoting empowerment, combatting deculturalization, and enhancing other-group orientation."

Also, "Multicultural churches help congregation members become more aware of diverse perspectives, beliefs, and expressions of worship. This awareness then helps people from both dominant and subordinate groups to reflect on the experiences of The Other, which are often vastly different from their own experiences, thus helping people from all groups seek to understand God from a different vantage point." (Kindle Locations 938-941).

There could be some real truth in this. Each culture that is worshiping the true God in Spirit and in Truth are going to give different shades and perspectives on the manifold glory of God, and that is wonderful! However, I do not see how blending worship styles from disparate cultures together will produce these viewpoints, rather they would obscure them. A sprinkling here or there may be helpful and would not destroy the unity, but again I ultimately believe Scripture teaches a way to worship God that God Himself desires, and that must remain the guideline over against any one cultural expression of worship. Is exposition of Scripture optional? Do we really need preaching at all? What are the limits to diverse expressions of worship? Liturgical dance by men in tights? These are the questions we need to focus on.

Jun concedes that embarking on this multi-vocal endeavor will likely lead to more rather than fewer problems initially. But he says those leaders who try to take a "color blind" policy will likely perpetuate White Normativity and will isolate and push away people of color, leading to relationship conflict with them. Intentionality must be used to overcome issues in multivocal congregations, and the use of small groups with multiple ethnicities together is very helpful with this. I concur with Jun here; small groups would be greatly beneficial, as I have seen this first hand in a small group that I lead. Everyone gets to know each other better. Fundamentally, we are one in Christ, and cultural differences are secondary and not a major point of contention at all, though you do get to know each other's heritage and family traditions better.

Jun concludes with ten practical steps to move forward. I found many of these to be very weak. One is about putting yourself in social and ministerial situations where you are not the majority. This, you might realize, means making yourself the minority. Then you are to listen to those different from you, concerning their experiences, beliefs, and backgrounds. So that means that the current majority should become the minority, and should make sure they listen to others. Hmm. Okay, listening to others is always good. But I don't see a requirement to put oneself where you are in the minority. That may happen and may be a blessed thing, but the requirement I do not understand. Jun applies the same to small groups, essentially saying to target minorities and bring them into your group intentionally so you can get fresh perspective. He then says to get a mentor who can teach you about other cultures, and says we need to be intentional about learning about other cultures. I don't think learning about other cultures is bad advice at all, and getting someone to help you do it could be beneficial. But if I live abroad in a foreign culture, I will not demand that those churches conform to my worship preferences, or that they give me a leadership position just so we can shake things up and diversify a bit. 

Jun then says we ought to hold leadership accountable for being "proactive or responsible to racial reconciliation. Some churches may want to have church leadership provide regular updates on how they sought to create a diverse leadership team." Inviting people of color to preach on a variety of issues may also be helpful to "normalize different interpretations, ministry styles, and backgrounds." That may be, though I would have to know what interpretations Jun is referring to before I could say that this would be beneficial. Finally, Jun says to "think differently about the delivery of the elements of worship. From music and song selection, speaking styles, delivery of God’s Word, and communion, all of these elements may be helpful in meeting the many different needs of a diverse community while still maintaining a focus on the primacy of the Lord during worship." (Kindle Locations 1034-1037). Again, my question would be where do we draw the line with this? Our worship must uphold the truth of God, be pleasing to Him, and conform to what He has required in worship. Undoubtedly there is diversity within that, but God takes seriously how we worship Him and there are serious penalties for doing something according to our own desires (see Lev. 10:1ff.). 

Jun states, "a majority of what has been presented in this chapter has focused on an unintentional and unconscious yet dangerous assumption of normativity among those in a dominant majority. This normativity has been built over generations and is reinforced by racialized structures and systems that continue to benefit some at the expense of others. This problem permeates society as a whole, including in the church." Then Jun pulls out the dagger, quoting the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who said, "You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know."

So, now white people know their guilt, their unintentional sin, if they have read this chapter by Jun. But now that we know it, to perpetuate White Normativity would indeed be intentional sin, and presumably then racism. So while Jun earlier says that one is not racist if he promotes White Nomativity unawares, now that Jun and others have enlightened white people of the (sinful) privilege they enjoy in society and the church, it is the white person's job to forfeit such privilege and to cease pushing down people of color. But if you followed a bit of advice Jun gave above, it sure sounded like he is advocating for more than a place at the table for ethnic minorities, but rather a situation where white leaders give up their positions and take lessons from non-white leaders, who then get to implement their own forms and expressions of worship.

My conclusion is that indeed, we should listen to all voices, and make everyone who comes to our churches feel loved and welcomed and involved (regardless of ethnicity). But it is simply the fact that each church is going to worship in a certain way. Jun prefers to blend multiple ethnic cultures' liturgies together to produce something in his mind that is beautiful in worship, and apparently his preference is not a mere preference but is binding with the authority of God. To not follow his method is apparently to not follow God's method, and thus is to be engaged in sin. So while Jun says white people are elevating their mere preferences to the level of what is biblical and God's will, I would charge Jun with doing the very same thing -- elevating his preference to the position of "thus saith the Lord."

I'm simply unpersuaded by Jun's reasoning, though there are some things that he says that are beneficial. But for me to not be persuaded seems to mean that he would regard me as perpetuating the sin of White Normativity, making me a racist (even if unbeknownst to me), a bigot, selfish, and unloving to each ethnicity in the body of Christ that is not my own. It seems to Jun that this is as clear as the issue of slavery, given his quote at the end of the chapter by William Wilberforce. I have read his chapter, so now I cannot say that "I didn't know," and so now I should know the truth of multivocality as God's way for corporate worship, and thus I and many white men in leadership must repent and change our ways.

But, alas, I remain unpersuaded. And keep in mind Jun does not apply White Normativity just to the church, but to society as well. In fact, most of his quotes seem to come from those examining society, and he is taking those principles and trying to apply them to the church.