I just read something that disturbed me. I’m trying to determine why. As a Japanese-American pastor I have felt the need for a multi-cultural church here in Sacramento, California. Diversity is almost non-existent here on Sundays. When the workplace, schools, restaurants and malls have people of all races living together, why must Sunday be so segregated? So, when I saw an article in the July/August issue of Rev! magazine celebrating diversity in the church in America, I was kind of excited. It was encouraging news to me. The article cites that:
The big news is that white congregations in this country now have more Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans than ever before. Compared to a decade ago, fewer congregations today are 100 percent white.
On its own, that may be encouraging news. In combination with the title of the article, I am feeling kind of dirty. The title of this article celebrating diversity in the church is “The Browning of Our Churches.” I just went from excited and encouraged to disturbed and a little outraged.
After living much of my youth wishing I were white and about 6′ 5″ tall like all of my friends that didn’t get words of hate and violence directed towards them because they were in the majority, I have finally embraced the fact that I am yellow. Not only embracing this, but actually thankful that my experience isn’t the same as my white friends (nor my African-American or Hispanic friends). It gives me a different perspective as well as allowing me to see myself in a different perspective. As an Asian-American, I am not a pastor or church planter, but to some I am viewed as the Japanese pastor. Okay, I accept that. Now, after going through all of this I get to read in a magazine that I’m not yellow. Now you’re saying I have to be brown? I have to be blended in with other racial groups that aren’t white and conceived as living in one happy melting pot. <Insert sound of the needle on the turntable being screeched across the surface of the record> What? Did I just get my Asian taken away and replaced with the color of mud? You know, when you mix water and dirt together it forms a thick, goopy, non-descript brown goo. You can’t see the elements that went into it, all one sees is brown goo. Do I really want to be like mud? How did we go from melting pot–where distinguishable ingredients can be seen and tasted and combined to form something delicious–to mud?
The article cites multiracial Americans as the driving force behind the browning of American churches. Standing proudly as the token people of the mud are Tiger Woods, Vin Diesel, and Mariah Carey as contributors to the public’s acceptance of being multicultural in the church. Um, what public are we talking about here? The Caucasian public? Seriously, on any given day when I may think it might be confusing to people to see me–someone born in Osaka, Japan, adopted by a Caucasian Father and Japanese mother, and brought to California at the age of 4 while growing up in a country suburb where 99.9% of the residents were white–all I have to do is look to Tiger Woods. Not only are people confused by his appearance, but at times he seems confused about who he is. Everyone wants a piece of Tiger and look to him as a representative of their heritage. Now the American church wants to embrace him as their poster child for what a great job they are doing at attracting different races of people into their white church. Woo hoo! Oh yeah…sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but I have not been in any conversation (ever) where people have looked to Vin Diesel or Mariah Carey as representing people of color or multiracial.
Of course, Dave Gibbons and Newsong are dragged into the mix because they are not a white church. Newsong is cited in “The Browning of Our Churches” as the largest church in the Evangelical Covenant Denomination, which I challenge the accuracy of. However, rather than share the merits of how Newsong is reaching Asian-Americans and that they have diversity on their leadership team, it is being used as a glorious example of how a church in a denomination founded by Swedish immigrants can be predominantly non-white and how there is hope that the American church can become more multicultural too. Why didn’t they cite an example of Tim Keller and how the congregation at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC is multicultural and predominantly Asian? I guess you can’t use a token white guy in an article about being multicultural.
For the first time in my life and in my ministry I am starting to get what all the discussion is about amongst Asian-Americans and the American church. When we strive to be in unity and all working together as the body of Christ, it is a beautiful thing as it is what heaven will be like. However, when we as non-white people are used as a sign that we are blending in and being less-distinct and more homogeneous that is where I have to draw the line. For the first time I am drawing the line rather than trying to walk both sides. I feel as if I am becoming less confused.
When we are being invited to worship in the American church, yet are being played according to their rules, I take issue with that. When the American church invites diversity into the congregation, yet has Caucasian leadership and allows no voice to the people they are trying to reach, I take issue with that. When it’s more about being multicultural because it is cool to be multicultural, rather than being multicultural because you want to celebrate diversity , I take issue with that.
Today I take a stand. I refuse to be brown for the sake of conforming. I am yellow and if you want me to come to your party, you’d better give me a valid reason. Invite me because you want to hear my voice and know my struggles, not because you want to make me a statistic and show me off to your less-multicultural church friends.