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Authentic ministry is a process

that people from racially and ethni- cally diverse cultures either seek to become like the dominant culture or are willing to give up their own for what they may perceive to be “better.” In reality, the dominant culture

never permits melting. Race, class, gender, age and other socially con- structed barriers become reasons for exclusion. The only melting that occurs is based on the power of the dominant culture to decide to “allow” some people from other cultures to be included if they willingly adapt and adopt its values and beliefs. In other words, the melting pot

ideology assumes that other cultures are willing to be assimilated at all costs. The multicultural ministry of the church becomes compromised because a sociological principle determines acceptance, uniformity and conformity. Multicultural min- istry becomes more of a fad than the very essence of our faith in a gra- cious God.

Going beyond sociology True multicultural ministry requires faith, living into our baptism. Believ- ing that God created the rich human diversity takes us beyond a sociologi- cal understanding of human beings. Along with the Pentecost story and

the vision John of Patmos records for us in Revelation, Paul captures this in the letter to the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Learning about another’s culture initiates the possibility of dialogue.

There is no longer Jew or Greek (cul- ture/race), there is no longer slave or free (class), there is no longer male and female (gender); for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28). The late Albert “Pete” Pero, the

first African-American Lutheran with an earned doctorate in theol- ogy to teach at a U.S. Lutheran semi- nary, taught that water is thicker than blood. Using the concept of “cultural transcendence,” Pero sug- gested that all people have a culture, including Northern Europeans. Cul- ture bestows upon each human an identification—one’s roots. A posi- tive nature of culture is that it nur- tures us as we encounter the oppor- tunities and challenges of everyday life. But the Christian’s calling is to go beyond culture, which is a strug- gle between our identification (cul- ture) and our identity (child of God through baptism). Pero believed that God’s people

have the capacity to go beyond cul- ture. Sometimes with humor, he would use examples from everyday life, often describing “cultural tran- scendence” by using sports. Seeing an African-American basketball player on whose uniform was emblazoned “Irish” going for a shot, he quipped, “Now that’s multicultural!”

whereby humans embrace all other cultures without losing sight of their own. Learning about another’s cul- ture initiates the possibility of dia- logue. So doing inevitably involves conflict, stress and overcoming resis- tance. Yet that is the nature of what it means to be part of a community of faith (Acts 15) and going beyond one’s identification. Mult icultural ministry also

involves naming our sin, both indi- vidually and corporately. Human beings sin. Our sin may be practicing racism, employing privilege, deny- ing our cultural roots or becoming confused about our identity. But fol- lowing our repentance, our loving God forgives and blesses us with the capacity to engage those who are dif- ferent from us. Authentic multicultural ministry

can’t be an add-on simply because there may be one or two people of color in the congregation. Real mul- ticultural ministry is radically dif- ferent. It involves the opportunity to engage our discomfort with those who are different so we may grow in our understanding of the mighty works of God in and through Jesus Christ. We are really saved by grace rather than race, ethnicity, class, gen- der and other humanly constructed barriers. Multicultural ministry implies that on the basis of our faith there is mutual respect and practices that guide our communal life as peo- ple of God. 

Author bio: Perry is professor of church and society at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He acknowledges the contributions of Albert “Pete” Pero who joined the ancestors in November 2015.

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