We are, therefore, a mosaic of cultures that are all part of the American culture. But can American culture even be specifically defined or described? Is there a typical American? Perhaps so, but the reality is that American culture has many regional, racial, and ethnic variables: Yankee, Southerner, Mid-westerner, urban and rural. Native American, African-American, Asian-American, Irish, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Cajun, Hispanic, Lebanese, Anglo-Saxon, and on and on.
Now, some argue that emphasizing hyphenated Americans only serves to divide, segregate, and create resentment. This can be true, but it is the reality of where we came from and who we are. People also want to celebrate their heritage and ensure that they continue to have a voice in a diverse culture. To some degree we have melted into the pot of a broad “American culture,” which makes us alike as Americans. But, we also have differences, some of which are significant, that identify us as part of the greater American Mosaic.
What does all this mean?
n Multicultural America can and should be celebrated. Yes, a multiplicity of cultures can cause tension and conflict, but it is also what enriches us. We have to work hard at understanding each other and living with each other, but that is good practice for heaven! (See Rev. 5:9-10).
n I am not proposing nor do I agree with ideological multiculturalism. That point of view claims no moral absolutes, but rather argues for the moral and ethical equivalency for all cultures. We should respect other cultures, but does anyone want to claim that the Nazi culture or the Al Qaeda culture is on the same moral level as, say, the Quaker or Amish cultures? Surely no one would want to argue that honor killings, female circumcision, ethnic cleansing or other despicable practices are simply “relative, “true for that particular culture,” and to be simply respected. Yes, there are absolutes. Consequently . . .
n There must be some absolute standard by which these abhorrent practices are judged and rejected. We may debate what that standard is, but to deny any sort of absolute standard is to have no moral basis on which to judge such despicable practices. Of course, I argue that it is Scripture that should judge all cultures and all elements of any culture.
We have an immigrant soul and a multicultural reality. Of course, this is not without all kinds of challenges, but it should still be celebrated. My point is that the American mosaic is our history, our present reality, and undoubtedly, a future fact. As God continues to bring the world to us what are some implications for the church?
- We must learn to see and love America as diverse. That means the evangelistic and missional task is more complicated and difficult than many assume. One missiological “size” and strategy does not fit all. A blanket approach will miss a lot of people. This missiological challenge relates to the controversial homogeneous principle (that is, focusing outreach on a specific ethnic, language group, or affinity group). On the one hand, our multicultural society begs for multicultural and diverse churches, church plants, and ministries. We rightly want to overcome the infamous “most segregated hour of the week,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. called it.
- Our diverse nation with its multiplicity of religions, cultures, and worldviews, means that we must be ready to explain how the Biblical narrative is the meta-narrative – the story to answer all stories. The great advantage of a free society where one can believe and practice whatever he chooses also means that he is free to reject whatever he chooses. We don’t coerce, we don’t deport for unbelief, we don’t gain converts simply through familial, racial, ethnic, or national ties. In the current American pluralistic context we persuade by telling the loving truth and by living the truth in love, fully expecting some to reject our message simply because they believe it is “one way out of many, and it is not my way.”
- The nations have come to us, and that can us to fulfill the commandment to take the gospel to all the nations. That is, with thousands of international students and millions of immigrants with connections back home, often in countries closed to the gospel, to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ only increases the chances of the gospel reaching around the world. The first contact with the “ends of the earth” may be next door.
- We need to rejoice at new Christian influence from many immigrants. The center of world Christianity has shifted to the Southern hemisphere, so that the typical Christian today is probably Brazilian or African, Black and poor. The future of Christianity actually will be that brand rising out of Africa and Asia. Consequently, many immigrants coming to our shores are bringing with them different ways to read the Bible and do theology, new and different expressions of church, a deeper understanding of Christian community and community transformation, and often passionate commitments to Christ quite unlike the typical American Christian.
This is part of our American missiological challenge. We moved here, we are still moving here, and we continue to move even within our land. Transition, change, diversity, multicultural – that is who we are and that is who needs to be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Next article: A Theology of Change