“The leadership [in multicultural churches] is especially intentional in ensuring that multiple cultural traditions shape its preaching, teaching, and worship on a daily basis.” (Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes)
Reading Dr. Walker-Barnes's article this evening struck me especially hard. I preached a message on the importance of community at my church this past Sunday. While I am an African-American woman raised and matured in the traditions of the African-American Baptist church, my church is overwhelmingly cultured by middle-class, white, American, values. So for 36 minutes I carefully and, as responsibly as possible, delivered a sermon that would help the congregation engage in community with others as a faith practice.
Due to the culture of my church, my preaching style with them is vastly different than I'd ever preach at my faith tradition and practice of origin. There was no whooping celebration to culminate the end of my sermon as is customary in my own upbringing. I didn't ask the keyboardist to put me in Bb so that I can close using rhythmic syncopation to drive home the point that Jesus had community and we find the fullness of ourselves when we walk with others too. I didn't walk through Jesus's 3 years of ministry nor the passion narrative. I altered my preaching style to fit the fish that was in the room. In the words of Paul, to become all things to all people that I might reach some (1 Corinthians 9:22). I did what is necessary for any homiletician that engages in multicultural context. The Lord was generous. The Spirit agreed. And the message went over well. A large number of people signed up to join a small group after service that day.
Afterward, one of our African American elders came up to me and said, “She always thought I was a preacher, but today I proved to be a teacher and that was so much better.” And as the insult of her compliment stung me to my core, I politely replied, “where I’m from there is no such thing as being a good preacher if you’re not a good teacher.” Her “compliment” was confirmation that she thought I had finally assimilated into the teaching traditions of my present church and laid down the traditions that had cultivated me to this point. What she didn’t know is that I wasn’t assimilating, I was code-switching so people would embrace what the Lord had for that day. What she didn't understand, was that in spite of some intentional efforts, this congregation was not yet multicultural enough for me to show up and be true to my own culture.
To the church bringing in POCs to your non-multicultural congregation to help you be multicultural...The price we pay to help you see God in a fuller light is more than you can imagine. What we choose to lay down so that the majority culture has the opportunity to pick up something different, is often something we have cherished. Traditions that we push to the side as to not become a spectacle for majority culture amusement, are not things we've forgotten. All of this is done consciously, not by accident, and not without mourning the loss. Never assume we’ve forgotten who we are, just because we know you can’t handle seeing it. And becoming more of what you can handle, is not a compliment to us, it is just a reminder that we've lost something ourselves.
So how do you express appreciation without offense? Just give the compliment. You appreciate the message. The worship song blessed you. The food was good. Refrain from making comparisons between stylistic preferences. Remember what they did to bless you, or the majority of the room, cost them a dear price. Thank them for the gift, without remarking on what you perceive they give up to be less valuable. This will show honor where honor is due without diminishing their cultural value that is different from your own.
Walker-Barnes, Chanequa. "Why Multicultural Churches Fail, Part One." Bearings Online. Collegeville Institute. Published: May 31 2018. https://collegevilleinstitute.org/bearings/why-multicultural-churches-fail/