Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Jann Aldredge-Clanton.
Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2017.
Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Ph.D
Over fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King said that Sunday morning is one of America’s most segregated hours. Partly in response to that assessment, intercultural congregations urge interaction of people across racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. The goal: to value and celebrate each group’s traditions (p. ix); in fact, to build not so much an intercultural ministry as an intercultural community (p. xii).
According to Kim and Aldredge-Clanton, our Christian mandate is to preserve hope in a world full of violence, poverty, predatory lending, and deportation threats, and to be there for the people who are under threat. To accomplish this, the clergy must emerge from the pulpit and into the streets, and members must leave the pews to become reconcilers and healers of relationships. We must create communities that oppose emphasis on differences, instead welcoming the Holy Spirit’s work of radical reconciliation.
To help make all this happen, the editors have brought together fifteen pastors, theologians, teachers, and professors, all of whom share the concept that best describes the book’s purpose. Each was asked to depict the joys and trials of intercultural ministry as “bringing people of various cultures together to engage in learning from one another, giving equal value and power to each culture” (p. 166).
In a delightful essay called “Long Thread, Lazy Girl,” Rev. Katie Mulligan describes her eager haste as her mother taught her to make needle-threaded paintings. She was often told to use a shorter thread—to stop trying to cut corners and save time by using longer threads. Because many of us have been given a sense of white entitlement that often extended into ownership of other people, we must now dedicate ourselves to working patiently: “Long thread, lazy girl!”
Leader after leader bears witness to how exhausting this work can become. Reading these witnesses, I felt thankful to have been present in Durham, North Carolina, when composer-musician Carolyn McDade led a women’s a capella workshop with a group of white women from one church and black women from another. Since everyone was female, Christian, and loved Carolyn’s music, what could go wrong? But there were so many differences of expectations and leadership that the weekend was profoundly uncomfortable, especially for the white women, who were getting a crash course in sharing the decisions. When we add race and religious practices to such matters as sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and physical ability, and generational attitudes, we begin to catch a glimpse of the kind of patience a multicultural ministry can call for.
Here are just a few of the remarks that especially struck me from people who have devoted their lives to a multicultural, multiracial, and multigenerational healing ministry. Rev. Peter Ahn, who works with the Metro Community Church in northern Jersey (weekly attendance 65 percent Asian, 15 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 10 percent white) emphasizes finding our communality in our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Looking at the moments of brokenness in the Scriptures and in the lives of his congregants, Ahn remarks that “Empowering people to follow Jesus is exponentially more effective than guilt-tripping people” (p. 156). He urges fellow leaders to “tap into their own brokenness and show people how their mourning can be turned into dancing” (p. 160). Sounds right to me.
Bishop Karen Olivetti, who helped develop the Glide Memorial Church (the 11,000-member spiritual center in San Francisco) insists that in the body of Christ, where dividing lines fall way as we all become one body, “the particularities of our differences” do not “fade away.” “In fact, I Corinthians 12 details the important role that diversity plays in providing wholeness. Differences are required if the body is to thrive” (p. 148). Thus the leaders must constantly be asking, “Whose voices are still silenced? Whose lives are kept in the shadows of the margins . . . sex workers, staff, addicts, donors, congregants, the housed . . . the homeless?” (pp. 142–43).
Clergy or laity, Christian or otherwise, all of us carry a vital responsibility of providing hope for our rapidly changing world. Intercultural Ministry will help every reader discern diversities that had previously seemed invisible. And it will provide incentive and techniques to transcend those challenges. What a brave undertaking!