Segregated Christianity?- The Pitfalls of Multiculturalism and the Church, Part 1

Any student who has spent the smallest bit of time reading on contemporary issues in ecclesiology or missiology will undoubtedly have encountered the term ‘context’ and the debate over its role in the current discussion about Christianity in a postmodern culture. Among the various theories here is one that says what is important is not necessarily the methods of the church but the message of the Christian Scripture and the teaching of it to the congregation. Proponents of this view (of whom I think I would count myself as one) argue ala Mark Driscoll that there are certain closed-handed issues in the church, such as the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, and the full deity of Christ, which we just can’t bend on, and then there are open-handed issues, like frequency of communion, style of worship, and time of service, which are left to the local body to decide where the Spirit is leading them in their ministry (As a note, I just picked up Driscoll’s new release, Vintage Church, and expect to make some posts on it in the coming week or so).

However, these past couple of days I have been reading the report Faith in the Nation: Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today and came across something that made me reevaluate this idea, or at least how it is applied. The main focus of this book was to present several essays by faith leaders speaking on the present day relationships between and future outlooks of the 6 majority faiths in Britain (Anglicanism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism). Knowing the source and how “scholarly” looks at faith tend to lean a little heavy on the liberal side I was expectant of the general bias against religious authority and tacit approval of a pluralistic, secular society that I found here. However, what caught me off guard was the near unanimous criticism of multiculturalism that was expressed.

In brief, multiculturalism encourages people of different cultural (ethnic, religious, etc.) backgrounds who live in close proximity to each other to maintain their distinctive cultural identities in lieu of assimilating everyone together into one larger, generic (or majority-dominated) civic identity. The thought about this is that by allowing people to stay who they are naturally instead of asking (or forcing) them to transform into some other identity we will be able to more easily develop the social cohesion necessary to sustain a diverse population under one common authority.

But in Britain, a place where multiculturalism has been the official policy for at least a half a century, here is what religious leaders are saying:

Multiculturalism leads not to integration but to segregation. It deconstructs everything that goes into the making of a national identity: a shared culture, a canon of texts everyone is expected to know, a collective history and memory, a code of conduct and civility, and a sense of loyalty to the nation and its institutions. No society can long survive without these things. [Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain, p.35 of Faith]

From a purely sociological perspective this is interesting since multiculturalism is one among the many popular post-identity theories that are supposed to be the ruling thought in advanced, liberal societies of the 21st century. Yet beyond that I believe what has been said here raises an important question for Christians attempting to reach the diverse urban populations which are so heavily focused on these days; that being, to what extent, if any, should we be adopting the multicultural mindset in our congregations? To be more precise, what stand should we take on promoting context driven ecclesiology and missiology in place of assimilating our churches into one larger, more generic church culture?

It is these questions which I will pick up and try to answer for myself starting in tomorrows post.

Leave a Reply