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What Needs to Happen Before We Go “Multicultural”

I've read a few papers recently about a trend in Asian churches where 2nd generation congregations push to "go multicultural". This is a noble goal, even a Godly vision, but I think there are some problems with simply pushing for that goal without digging a little deeper to what needs to happen and how this will truly change the composition of your church.

There are two ways to go about this, of course, that is without including the option of simply leaving a "culturally-focused" context. The first is the slow-track, which is to say the church grows at the same rate as the oldest American-born, American-ized generation takes the leadership reins from the immigrant generation. This is "slow" in the sense in that the notion of preservation of the mother culture is a big emphasis within the church, its mores, the language, the food, the inside jokes, the background stories, etc. As with growing up in an Asian home, the notion of the second generation Asian church growing into a true multicultural church will start off as slowly and received as warmly as when you would bring a non-Asian friend to visit your home and declaring hence to be a multicultural home.

There is, necessarily so, a strong emphasis on reconciliation, healing, and heritage. Much of our identity as cultural-Americans must be rooted in this process, and the fact that our churches contain wonderful stories of war, oppression, suffering, and sojourns should give us a wealth of wonder to draw upon as their children. It is then, not so easy to simply assume that we are prepared to enter into the multicultural forum to worship, there is something so distinct about where we come from, and how we became who we are to explore. The "slow track" is for those who assimilate slowly, who want to maintain that solidarity even as it erodes from generation to generation. Multiculturalism is very difficult to incorporate in this circumstance because of this mentality because the primary focus is on preservation of the mother culture (to an extent), not dialogue with other cultures.

The "fast track" is for those who are pragmatists of the second- and subsequent generations. In marketing terms, they are "early-adopters", having seen or heard what multiculturalism can be and the synergy of other cultures can create, are willing to get there at the expense of bringing the greater community along. The pace at which the immigrant church approaches this ideal is much too slow for someone who wants to see people of "all nations, tribes and tongues" worshipping the heart of God. They are the ones who look around at places of work and school, and think, "Why aren't our churches like this?"

People wired this way are not necessarily dismissing their roots, they simply want to acknowledge the future. They accept the fact that they can't return to the mother country. They realize that they may stand in the twilight generation between immigrant and resident and decide that the quicker the assimiliation, the sooner they can learn to be themselves in the context that is before them. Most likely, in the "slow-track" churches, the people pushing for multiculturalism may very well be of this breed. However, the more impatient will not wait around for the immigrant church. They will put "new wine into new wineskins" and plant churches of their own or join churches that have a multicultural bent to them. Because they are pragmatic, their arguments for desiring change will be sound especially in light of the relative struggles that the immigrant church has compared to that of more established or collaborative churches in the community.

The "fast track" is attracted to multicultural worship but they could very well leave their culture behind; people may not account for how "Asian" you are. The "slow track" is a preserver of their culture to the point that others would feel like foreigners in their church.


About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come.

2 responses to “What Needs to Happen Before We Go “Multicultural”

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  2. john

    What is lost and what is gained. By nature, a lot of Asian cultures defer. Deference is given to, for whatever reason, particular individuals, for decisions. There is an acceptance of this, to a certain degree, or at times people fighting with each other, for this control or power, in different camps. But still these camps employ these certain individuals to which power deference is given.
    That practice, in “Western” orientated or “multicultural” churches, is not so clandestine, subtle, powerful, nor accepted. Once an “Asian” orientated church opens up to all members, the ones coming in, start to cry foul over these Asian practices. Then the Asians lose the church, and a home of their culture, comfort zone, a place they want to go to to worship.

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