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Multicultural ministry Deeper understandings

Is it a matter of faith or a fad? By Richard Perry

Series editor’s note: On behalf of cur- rent and former colleague seminary presidents who sponsor this monthly feature, as well as its many authors over the past several years, I express gratitude for the unwavering support and encouragement of retiring editor Daniel J. Lehmann, whose commit- ment to “Deeper understandings” has taken us all to a more profound faith. With Richard Perry’s prophetic piece offered in Black History Month, the beat goes on. —Michael Cooper-White


t must have been quite a global house party. Pentecost Day! Luke’s Gospel records that by the Spirit’s

power people from every nation under heaven and all walks of life heard about the mighty works of God. Born on this festive day, the church reflected the reality of the global community—a place where race, class, gender and other barriers humans create would be overcome (Acts 2:1-12). John of Patmos offers a similar

vision to Luke’s story. “After this I looked, and there was a great multi- tude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peo- ples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9). Like

the day of Pentecost, the people were praising God for what God had done and was doing in their lives. These two biblical passages,

among many others, frame the ELCA’s ongoing conversation and journey toward becoming a more multicultural church. Since 1987 the ELCA has devel-

oped ambitious mission plans to reach people in communities of color. Congregational leaders have been identified, trained and retooled to engage the multicultural nature of society. Ethnic specific hymnals have been printed in an attempt to bring diverse musical traditions into the life and worship practices of congregations. The face of the ELCA has changed through the elec- tion and appointment of people of color in various decision-making positions. This can be affirmed as a positive direction toward becoming more multicultural. Yet the ELCA remains among the

least racially and ethnically diverse denominations in the U.S. Many questions can be asked about this situation. Why is it that, more than a quarter century since we set lofty goals, only 3 to 4 percent of us are people of color? Do our proclamation and action in the world lack power and conviction? Is there something

This series is intended to be a public conversation among theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at The series is edited by Michael Cooper- White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.), on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.


The melting pot ideology assumes that

other cultures are willing to be assimilated at all costs.

about the Lutheran ethos that is a barrier to incorporating how racially and ethnically diverse people under- stand God and Jesus Christ operat- ing in their lives? Does the Lutheran understanding of God’s action in and through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (justification by grace) fail to connect with com- munities of color? Is multicultural ministry a matter of faith or follow- ing a fad? This article doesn’t prescribe

answers that slavishly can be fol- lowed. Rather, it suggests we begin to think differently and more deeply about what we mean by multicul- tural ministry.

What is it? The word itself, “multicultural,” com- municates the notion that there are multiple cultures, as the Pentecost story reveals to us. This multiplicity is held together by what people from diverse cultures hear—God’s mighty works. The multicultural nature of the world isn’t something to come in some distant future. It’s here in the present, the result of God’s creative power and grace. But certain ideologies have

seduced our church. Among the most prominent is that sociological concept of the melting pot. Central to this idea is that there is one domi- nant culture (in this case Northern European) into which all others will be blended. There is an assumption

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