Diversity, Unity and Submission
I can’t believe it’s been almost nine years since I met Laurence Tom. LT, as we call him, in a Chinese-American pastor in Chinatown Center City. I met him while we were in seminary. I should actually say I met him while he was in seminary as I am still in the process finishing my degree 10 years later.
The wonderful thing about our friendship is that while we have very similar beliefs on leadership, mission and theology we come from very different backgrounds and we lead in very different contexts. I come from a semi-fundamentalist upbringing where I am a 5th generation pastor. I grew up in white-suburbia where my pastor was a proud dispensationalist graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. LT was raised in Brooklyn, NY where he spent most of his days as a young child running around Chinatown with his friends. I went to Bible college. LT went to public university. I serve in a church where we are part of the white-majority. LT serves in a church that has three different congregations one one. One congregation is first generation immigrant and is all in Chinese. Another congregation has both english speaking and Chinese speaking families. LT leads the English-speaking congregation. All of this has helped shape a friendship that has become one of my most valuable friendship that I know. Not only are we good friends, but LT’s experience as a Chinese-American growing up in a majority-white culture has been an invaluable perspective for me to have on our world.
In fact, early this year LT came with me to a gathering with our church network, the Ecclesia Network. The majority of our network is white, middle class. We actually have a decent amount of gender diversity in the network, but it became clear from having LT there (along with a few other minority attendees) that we were overwhelmingly white.
As a budding church network in North American in 2010, we hold diversity as something we value. We understand that living out this value is a journey but it must be something that we intentionally seek. LT and I talked for a while about the reality of connecting and finding partnerships with churches from other races and ethnicities. As we talked, we realized that since Ecclesia is a “relational network” the people and leaders in Ecclesia must develop relationships with those who look different than us. We won’t be more diverse until our relationships ad friendships are more diverse. The only reason LT was at the gathering this year was because of our friendship. The only way that we will have more diversity at our gathering next year is if we intentionally seek out and begin and form friendships back home.
Because of our conversation, I came back from the Ecclesia Gathering with a newfound energy around seeking out friendships with people who were different than me. Over the years my wife and I have begun to find a deep love for the hispanic community. Adopting a child from Guatemala started this (along with my deep appreciation for Mexican food!).
As we began looking around our community we started to realize that it was the hispanic community that is the most oppressed and fringe people group in suburban Philadelphia. So, with encouragement from my relationship from LT, I picked up the phone and called two of the hispanic pastors who I had met briefly last year at a local event. From this phone call we planned a lunch together. And now for the last 10 months I have been having lunch with Jorge and Leo once a month.
Our goal is friendship and anything we do together flows out of that. So far we’ve done a bi-lingual worship gathering together where we shared a meal afterwards. A month ago we at The Well challenged their churches to a soccer game (which, by the way, we lost 1-0!) and then we worshipped with them at their congregation in another bi-lingual service. Just last week Jorge and Leo became part of the Feasterville Ministerium, a monthly meeting of local church pastors.
Jorge and Leo’s churches are very different than The Well. We are a bunch of wounded fundamentalists and church burnouts and seekers and typically come from the white majority. Their churches are more conservative and charismatic and a majority of their congregations are likely undocumented residents of the US. These differences don’t even compare to the language barrier that is between us.
Recently as we were studying though the book of Ephesians, specifically in chapters 4 and 5 I noticed that when it comes to church unity submission is a very key concept. We see over and over again in that passage Paul’s call to put ourselves and our needs and our desires aside for the sake of the other person.
From this study I came to realize that a major, if not the major, concept in unity is that of submission. Unity comes when we willingly submit ourselves to each other. As we studied this it was clear that this was one of the most important parts of my friendship with Jorge and Leo. It is especially because we are different, and especially because I and my congregation are from the majority culture, that we need to willingly submit ourselves and our agendas to learn from people like Jorge and Leo and their congregations. They have so much to teach us about the gospel, life and faith.
Near the end of Soong-Cha Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism, he asks the question,
“Are white evangelicals willing to enter into places of submission (maybe for the first time in their lives) to those outside their ethnic group?”
As I contemplated this question I was encouraged that I could actually say “yes!” to this. However, it got me thinking that there are further places that I can go in order to submit myself and learn from Jorge and Leo. One of the practices I want to enter into is to spend one day a month just shadowing Jorge and Leo and learning from them, learning their challenges, and learning their rhythms. I want to do this, not because I want to show them the right (white) way to do things, but rather to stimulate my own practices and challenge my own faith and leadership.
By the way, I think Rah’s book is a very important book. It was a challenging read and made me quite uncomfortable at times. If you are interested in this kind of topic, this is a great place to start.