I get it. Putting up flags in your sanctuary is suppose to 1) make the people from your church who are not “Canadian” feel at home and 2) show how dedicated your church is to global missions. I get it.
I get it. International potluck nights are supposed to get people to mingle and learn about each other’s cultures. I get it.
I get it. Wearing African garb or wearing an Indian Kurta on “missions” Sunday is supposed to show how inclusive you are as a leader and as a church of all cultures. I get it.
I get it, but it’s not good enough.
A once or twice a year demonstration of intercultural openness does not close the gap on actually understanding “the other.” You see, while you’ve been showing first-generation immigrants that you value them, now second, third, and fourth generation Canadians of color can see right through the facade and want nothing to do with your church. Do they go? Sure they go. They go because they are good kids who want to honor their parents, but they don’t go because they feel valued or included. They can see the lack of representation in leadership. They can see the lack of opportunities for them to lead and be trusted. They feel the tangible subtleties of racist looks that come their way, the under the breath comments, and omitted fellowship.
So how do we move forward with a change that actually makes a difference? Here are some practical ways to advance multiculturalism & the conversation about race in your church:
1) AGGRESSIVELY LOOK FOR FEEDBACK & CRITIC FROM VARIOUS MINORITY GROUPS ABOUT THEIR PERCEPTION OF YOUR CHURCH: I’m going to tell you right now, most people of color are never going to tell you what they really think about your church because 1) the office of pastor is still highly respected by various cultures & 2) most ethnic minorities don’t want to rock the boat, especially in a church. You are going to need to press folks very hard to get anything out of them (especially first-generation Canadians). I guarantee; you’re not ready what most will say, so grow a few more layers of skin and resolve in your heart that it is worth hearing their perspectives. In fact, as Canada continues to progress, more and more people of color will be moving into your community. The survival of your church depends on how you include, treat, and think through racial issues.
2) VISIBLE & INTENTIONAL REPRESENTATION: I’m not talking about putting up a person of color just because. People know when they are being the “token” __________________. Take time to figure out “who” is in your church, which nationalities, cultures & ethnicities are represented and do the work of raising up leaders from within those groups. Get them to pray at a gathering, to read scripture, to do announcements, be on videos, to do literally anything that puts them in the spotlight, even if it’s behind the scenes. It doesn’t matter if your Caucasian donors can’t understand their accents or their mannerisms. Inevitably there will be a young person of the same race/ethnicity/ nationality that will see “themselves” on that stage or in that leadership position. Maybe for the first time, they’ll understand that who they are is valued just as much as the Caucasian person who sits beside them.
3) QUIT THE GIMMICKS: Do you. Stop trying to appropriate other people’s culture to try to relate to them. Remember a few years ago Justin Trudeau and his family went to India and tried really hard to be respectful of the Indian subcontinent by wearing traditional garb, folding their hands every two seconds, and being just soooooo extra. It wasn’t cool. It actually came off as quite disingenuous and for him, it was a PR nightmare with Indians at home in Canada. Let me tell you a little secret Pastor… You do the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, many first-generation Canadians appreciate the sentiment, but it does not translate to their kids or grandkids. Only do the flags, the food & the clothes if it’s coming from a genuine & authentic place personally, as well as corporately.
4) WHEN YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING: If you see, hear or smell any kind of racial prejudice in your church, speak to it right away, don’t wait! Racism is a cancer that has no place in a local church. obviously do your due diligence and investigate what occurred. If you brush it off, leave it alone or ignore it, your silence will speak volumes to the people of color that you lead and eventually, they will leave your church for greener pastures or, even worse; will continue to come, but won’t trust a word you say.
5) HAVE A STRATEGY TO TALK ABOUT RACE IN YOUR NEXT GEN PROGRAMS: At some point, prejudice is going to rear its ugly head somewhere in your kids, youth, or young adult ministries. You need to ensure that there is a strategy for preventing, addressing & working through racial issues with leaders, kids & parents. Don’t leave this to chance, otherwise, you’ll be caught off guard and instead of responding to the conflict as an opportunity to strengthen/ unite your people, you’ll be responding in panic. Panic is never your best vantage point to make decisions or address conflict. Be intentional with the next generation, and teach them to value and embrace ALL people.
6) GET INVOLVED WITH RACIAL RECONCILIATION INITIATIVES IN YOUR COMMUNITY: Right across this great nation, the conversation surrounding racial reconciliation is different in each community. Take the time to figure out where the conversation finds itself in your area and get involved. If you’re a leader who is an ethnic minority, you have a duty to shine Christ into the conversation. If you’re not, you have a duty to listen, to hear the stories of the past, and to help advocate for a different future. Throughout history, the church has been at the forefront of showing angry, hurt people a better way than violence and hatred. In moments like the ones we find ourselves in currently, you have a responsibility as a leader to provide the stability and perspective that many are needing. Speak out, but also call people “UP.” Call your community to the best version of itself and provide a vision of hope for a better future.
The path to change here is a long, slow, and painful road. This is not an urban or rural issue. Racism is a sin issue, and just like all sin, it is seeded in the hearts of men and women. Good intentions can’t change any of that, only the power of the gospel can. You & your church hold within yourselves the message of hope, reconciliation, and change that can move mountains, destroy oppressive systems, and set bound people free. Your church should be a safe refuge for ALL people, no matter how different they are from you. Your good intentions don’t matter, It’s what you do that does.