Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission

Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission

Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission

Crossing the Ethnic Divide: The Multiethnic Church on a Mission

Synopsis

While religious communities often stress the universal nature of their beliefs, it remains true that people choose to worship alongside those they identify with most easily. Multiethnic churches are rare in the United States, but as American attitudes toward diversity change, so too does the appeal of a church that offers diversity. Joining such a community, however, is uncomfortable-worshippers must literally cross the barriers of ethnic difference by entering the religious space of the ethnically "other." Through the story of one multiethnic congregation in Southern California, Kathleen Garces-Foley examines what it means to confront the challenges in forming a religious community across ethnic divisions and attracting a more varied membership.

Excerpt

The year 2004 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended legal segregation in the public schools. While some celebrated this achievement, many wondered what had become of the Promised Land that Martin Luther King, Jr., believed was not far off. What happened to his dream of a country in which all Americans would have equal rights and equal opportunities? Five decades after the civil rights movement, the dream remains alive for many Americans, and it is experiencing a resurgence in Christian churches. Churches remain overwhelmingly homogeneous, but the desire to change this historic pattern is strong and growing.

Like many churches, Greenwood Acres Full Gospel Baptist Church wants to be a multiethnic church. This five-thousand member African American church in Shreveport, Louisiana, wants to be a gathering of all the tribes and all the nations, as described in the New Testament Book of Revelation. After joint ministry projects and pulpit-sharing with White churches failed to bring any non-Blacks through his doors, Bishop Fred Caldwell decided to take more drastic measures. He announced one Sunday morning in 2003 that he would pay White people to come to services. He was willing to give two thousand dollars from his own pocket to pay them to come to his church during the month of August: five dollars an hour on Sundays and ten dollars an hour on Thursdays. When word got out, many people, especially neighboring pastors, accused him of trying to buy . . .

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