About the Author: Rohadi Nagassar

Rohadi lives in Calgary, Alberta, where he balances his time in a number of vocations including part-time co-pastor of Cypher Church. He works predominantly in a marketing consulting firm he started in 2003, and contributes in the non-profit sector as well.
On the topic of church and culture, he is both a practitioner and a writer. Find him discussing a number of subjects over at his blog www.rohadi.com.. He’s also completing a book on the missional church, and most recently published an adult colouring book called, Soul Coats: Restoration.

By | 2018-04-16T14:23:09+00:00 April 16th, 2018|Blog, Canadian Culture, Church, Racism|Comments Off on Building Multi-Ethnic Churches in Canada

See part 1 of the conversation as Rohadi asks “Do Canadian Churches Ignore Racism?

This post was written prior to the Gerald Stanley verdict, following which racist attitudes reared its ugly head in our country once again. Perhaps it’s a good thing. We have difficulty as Canadians acknowledging our deeply seated presuppositions predicated on colonialism and systemic racism. Read any comment section from the trial, and opinions on the victim Colten Boushie, and you’ll discover odious opinions levelled against him and First Nations peoples written by your “average Canadian”. Something is truly amiss.

Of course, most Canadians aren’t racists. But the majority are the direct benefactors of a country built on systems solidly in place today. What are we to do and how can we move forward?

For starters, acknowledging implicit participation should not have to be accompanied by “white fragility” or guilt. Racist systems can still exist even without racists. Rather, the road to reconciliation and restoration needs full participation from all. In particular, the majority church (I explain this term in my previous post), should be at the forefront to dismantle the injustice of racism. Indeed, those with existing power have the greatest sway to do right for the powerless.

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This is the second post I’ve written for the New Leaf blog on racism in the Canadian church. Here I will look at some pragmatic ways forward to discuss racism, that also lead towards restoration. The answer to it all, if you don’t want to read forward: I believe the power of racism unravels through intentional relationships with people who are different than us.

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The Problem of Sameness

I assume that the fullest expression of the church includes all the nations at the table. I make this assumption because I look at the example of the Triune God. It is the beauty found in the diversity of the Trinity where we find and experience the unity of the one God. Oneness is the pursuit—not sameness.

Most contemporary churches have at least broached the subject of sameness. You look around the congregation and notice everyone looks the same. In white churches, it’s mostly white. Ethnic churches are even less diverse. The leadership rightly looks for ways to become more diverse—some would use terms like “multi-ethnic” congregations—but we often don’t experience much success. I’ll explain why using an example of a visible minority Christian.

This person grows up in an ethnic church. They realize they can’t live out their identity within the context of an ethnic congregation. As a 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant, you have to balance ethnic culture and Canadian culture. The latter starts to win out. The response is switching churches (which is a big deal in itself). You visit the larger contemporary congregations (that are white), settle in, but realize something still doesn’t fit. If you couldn’t live out your Canadian identity in the ethnic congregation, you can’t live out your ethnic identity in the white congregation. Many minorities are leaving the church altogether because they’ve realized in order to fit in, we have live out a caricature of ourselves. Furthermore, our struggles as minorities are rarely, if ever, reflected or shared within the context of contemporary white churches.

So how can we break down the problem of sameness in our congregations? I think it starts with the leaders, especially the ones seeking to develop “multi-ethnic” congregations. Two ideas on how to pursue this initiative include: congregations that invite and elevate the stories of minorities, and gatekeepers (church leaders) open their platform. Gatekeepers can also go deeper by starting to include more minorities in church leadership roles. The former is an easy fix, the latter, requires a bit more intent. In fact, I see at least three impediments to truly multi-ethnic and diverse churches.

First, having different ethnicities doesn’t make a congregation multi-ethnic. The leadership must reflect the same intent as the vision, that means minorities on staff and in eldership. Second, of the congregations who do boast some colour, the theologians and music choices are almost 100% sourced from white authors. Third, and the most important, the leaders who desire a multi-ethnic congregation (or denomination) lack significant relationships with people who are different from them.

If we desire to break down the dividing barriers, then we have to demonstrate deep practices of belonging and relationships with people who are different from us. Only recently have a realized the privilege it was to learn a black and an Aboriginal theologian in seminary. I learn from older leaders who have a different experience routinely as well. In my own relationships, and in my own church, the connections I build stretch across nearly every dividing barrier from race, ethnicity, gender, to religion.

I realize in my current church plant, that includes a multi-ethnic leadership, we can only go so far as the leaders are willing to exhibit diversity in their own relationships.

How are your relationships? Mostly just Christians? Mostly just Christians who look like you?

Christians are notorious for sticking amongst themselves. In order to capture the depth of real diversity, we need to learn and submit ourselves under the authority of someone who is different from us. How else will we capture the nuance and flesh of stories without drawing in close? How else can we love one another unless we demonstrate deep incarnational presence in one another’s lives? How else can we lead others to love the other, when we ourselves cannot do the same?

The church that suffers from the guise of sameness will continue to distance itself from shifting Canadian culture. When the people inside generally look the same, same race, and even more significant, same income bracket, we begin to look less like our country. We’re in a time when immigration and visible minority populations are rapidly increasing.

What now? I think our solution is a re-orientation to join the divine Triune dance of unity found in diversity. That will start with you.

As an aside, I don’t want to undermine churches doing great reconciliation work.
They exist in your city. Find them, and learn from them.