Standing on Church Bridges

April 21, 2014


When we choose cross-cultural marriage, we have chosen to become people on a bridge between divides. Whether we like or not. Whether we meant to or not, we no longer “fit” easily into the cultural norms for individual groups.

One of the areas where this reality seems to be most challenging for many couples is church. Unfortunately.

We’re all familiar with the situation. That often quoted, heart-breaking statement about the most segregated hour of the week.

While many of us are connecting in at congregations with space for us all, most of us are admitting that we will not grow old in congregations similar to those in which we were raised. There’s the reality that we’ve chosen a third way.

Multicultural families are standing on the bridge between cultures, reminding us that there is another way to love God together.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m still moving through the book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. Over and over again, I’ve been amazed when it’s pointed out how my cultural background has influenced my understanding of the Bible. My marriage has opened by eyes countless times to this same truth and has served to expand my view of God.

When we talk about racial division or reconciliation in the church, we often hear how its an opportunity for the church to be a witness in a world that hurts and wounds one another in the area of race. And I believe that. It is certainly an opportunity to testify to God’s restorative power and the call to unity.

So maybe I’m just selfish, but over time, I have been drawn back to multicultural faith because I have seen that when I only worship with those who are like me, I only see one sliver of such a big God. I have found so much awe and peace in the fullness of God. And I have discovered so much excitement and adventure in the the reality that after spending my whole life seeking God, there is more of God to know.

Perhaps the best way to collate my thoughts is to say that I see both individual and collective benefits to pursuing a more diverse body of Christ. For me, I come to know God in new and powerful ways. For the body, we experience God’s redemption of pain unleashed by the fall.

So what do we do to bridge these divides? After all, everyone and their mother has been talking about this topic for quite some time.

Well, I won’t claim to have the perfect answer. My response is simply to make the first move. Go to a church that’s different from how you grew up. It doesn’t have to be a total 180. I think for many of us, something too far outside our comfort zone won’t be sustainable.

In my experience, I’ve been to a couple churches that actually had much in common with my church of origin. The main difference was the background of the congregants, and I was moved by some of the ways their experiences influenced their faith.

We cannot sit back and claim to be ready for unity. We cannot simply say we are waiting for “everyone else” to desire unity. What is often the underlying message there is that we want unity when it means that others come to us.

We must walk humbly, step out and join our brothers and sisters. We must choose to bridge the divide. And sometimes it may mean a bit of loss: pieces of our identity, our traditions, or even letting go of some of the ways we believe when presented with a different view of our God.

Still, I believe that God desires for the Church to be united. And we must take that first step onto the bridge.

Where do you see divides in the church? What steps are you taking to build bridges?

This post is part of the April 2014 Synchroblog: Bridging the Divide. Here is the full list of posts: 

7 comments:

  1. This gets to the heart of one of the questions you asked us fellow intercultural/racial couples last week. As I wrote in my comment, the challenge for us as a couple was to find a true multi-ethnic church where both of our cultures (any many, many others!) were represented through the Church body. As a couple, we ARE the multicultural Church and our marriage & Church is proof that Christ is the uniting force that can bring so many different people together. I feel lucky that we live in such a diverse area where this was possible, but I know for other couples it might be difficult to find a place where BOTH spouses can feel comfortable.

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  2. Sarah Davis7:13 PM

    I remember this one time in my high school youth group... We were talking about the Korean youth group that met in the same building. They had tried visiting our youth group before, and had felt very isolated and unwelcomed. We half-heartedly tossed around some ideas to make them feel more included (I remember thinking that they probably should have "taken more initiative"... yikes), but never once did we offer to step out and visit THEIR group. If we had been willing to leave the space where WE felt comfortable, we might have rocked those power dynamics.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this again, Sarah!

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  3. Juliet Birkbeck4:41 PM

    I think this is a good suggestion and not just because I've been doing it! I grew up in Catholic churches in various European countries and for the last couple of years I've mostly worshipped in a local Baptist church. I think it is probably a fairly liberal one, though I'm not really informed enough to say. It is much more welcoming than Catholic churches I have known which is good in many ways, but stressful for introverts like me! During Lent I went failry often to early morning Mass at the local Catholic church, familiar liturgy, very diferent congregation. in the end what struck me most was that everywhere I went there were a lot of people who loved God and were truly trying to follow him and serve others.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your experience, Juliet. I agree with you that in many different contexts, I've encountered people who are seeking to truly love God and care for others.

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  5. I appreciate your thoughtful example, Sarah. Thanks for exploring different ways we can pursue unity!

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  6. I appreciate your perspective, Alyssa, and I'm glad it's been such a positive experience for you all. I do hear many stories where couples have felt a great deal of challenge in the area of church. For us, I think we've found a place we both feel welcome, but there's a reality that it's different from what both of us knew in our pasts, so it's an unexpected shift. Thanks for sharing your story!

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  7. Yes, I think a lot of couples have that experience. That was ours as well. We both had to step into unfamiliar territory in order to find a church and it turns out that we've never felt more at home than we do now!

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