This post, written by Sophia Park, originally was published on February 14, 2017, on the ICTG blog.
As a nation of immigrants, our lives in the U.S. are increasingly becoming interconnected with people who are different than us. It now is commonplace to encounter in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools people of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Many family members dress in traditional outfits and speak in their own dialects as they live “at home away from home.” In addition, we get to enjoy sampling a variety of traditional cuisines and use globally-made products. This is what living in multicultural society looks like.
According to the Pew Research Center, by 2055 the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority, much of this change driven by immigration. Furthermore, at a time when traditional white protestant Christianity is on the decline, a number of immigrant churches continue to show growth. And while many a small immigrant congregation shares worship space with larger white mainline church, there often is little meaningful interactions between the two. Although these diverse congregations share communities, worship and congregational life remain separate.
With global neighbors at our door step, congregations can become the “cultural bridge” to connect diverse communities. However, rather than focusing on what we can do for them, why not ask what can they do for us? What is it that they bring to inter-cultural relationships?
Having worked in immigrant churches for two decades, I would highlight several strengths immigrant congregations and families bring to intercultural relationships:
Awareness of pain, suffering, discrimination, and alienation can escape those who live in the dominant cultures, where common values and privilege are often taken for granted.
Multicultural persons have the internal resources to live among many cultures and can bring those skills to connecting and building relationships. Here are some suggestions of what your church community can do, individually and collectively, to form relationships and build cultural bridges.
Multicultural society displays the creative and diverse nature of God. As a country founded on immigration, God is here in our midst. We encounter God as we engage in relationships with our global neighbors. Through our familial and congregational intercultural relationships, we become skilled in creating a “new cultural space” where all people are welcomed to interact with one another.
Together we can transcend the binary tensions of majority-minority positions—and instead co-create mutual relationships.