Diversity: Embracing it N
orth America is becoming more diverse and multicul- tural all the time, and yet many of our congregations continue to embody only one culture—and usually it’s
white. What keeps the ELCA homogeneous? What are the barriers to becoming a multicultural church, and how can we overcome them?
Exercise 1: One in Christ In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul speaks of the unity that we
have as Christians. Read the passage and discuss. • What is it that makes us one? • Why do divisions of race, ethnicity, income and gender fade away?
• In what ways is Paul’s message as bold and countercul- tural today as it was 2,000 years ago?
• As Lutherans, how seriously do we take this idea? Explain. • In what ways would our communities and congregations change if we took this principle to heart?
• What are some practical ways we could celebrate and live into this idea in our faith communities?
Exercise 2: Strength in diversity • What would your town or community be like if only retir- ees lived there? Only families with preschoolers? Only rich people? Only high-school dropouts? People of only one race or national heritage?
• What makes communities stronger when there is a diver- sity of ages, interests and backgrounds?
• For what reasons are congregations stronger with a diver- sity of people?
• What are the signs of health or unhealth in your congregation?
Exercise 3: Your neighbors How in touch with its neighborhood is your congrega-
tion? What groups of neighbors are not represented in mem- bership or weekly worship? What’s your best estimation? Look up information for your congregation’s commu-
nity and compare it with your congregation’s makeup (try www.factfinder.census.gov
or search for the “Demographic Reports” tool on www.elca.org
). What do you see? Who does your congregation need to reach? Why are they left out?
This study guide excerpt is offered as one example of the more than 400 that are currently available on The Lutheran’s website. Download guides (including a longer version of this one)—free to print and Web subscribers —at www.thelutheran.org
(click “study guides”).
By Robert C. Blezard
Exercise 4: Segregation “Unintentional apartheid” is Harlan Johnson’s term for
how some congregations remain segregated by race even as their communities may have grown multicultural. Research and discuss the etymology of the word “apartheid” and its meaning in South Africa. Discuss: • What would “unintentional apartheid” mean as Johnson invokes it?
• In what ways does the term fit the reality of many ELCA congregations? Your congregation?
• Is there a plus side to the term’s provocative nature? • How does the term encourage us to action?
Exercise 5: Barriers • Do you or your family members have friends who are not of your race or ethnic background? Can you explain why or why not?
• Why do people naturally associate most easily with peo- ple who are similar to themselves?
• What factors can keep people of different backgrounds isolated in their own ethnic and racial communities?
• What role might the following cultural influences play: language, food, music, dress, mores, common history and experience?
• What role might these influences have: income level, education, housing, school district? • How can we overcome these barriers?
Exercise 6: Comfort zone • What is a comfort zone? • In what ways does a comfort zone protect and serve us? • How can a comfort zone limit our experiences and hin- der us from taking chances?
• Can you share an experience when you went outside your comfort zone and learned something or grew?
• How can our per- sonal and congre- gational comfort zones deter us from welcoming different kinds of people into our lives and our congregations?
• How can we work on that?
Author bio: Blezard is an assistant to the bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod. He has a master of divinity degree from Boston University and did
subsequent study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
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