Rigoberto is a guest contributing author on Driving Diversity and is currently serving as a Chi Alpha Missionary Associate at The University of Virginia.
Hello, my name is Rigoberto and I’m diverse. Okay, glad we got that out of the way. I bet you’re dying to know if, as a Hispanic, I dream in English or Spanish. The answer is both. Anything else you’d like to know about my diversity before we continue?
Years ago, as a teenager, an older Caucasian woman asked me a question about my dreams. I don’t fully recall the context of the conversation, but I do recall what direction the conversation went towards: the emphasis of my “otherworldliness” as a Hispanic. I have no doubt this kind woman meant no harm, and luckily, I was too young to take offense.
Unfortunately, the trap of racial assumption, more eloquently termed by social psychologists as categorizing, is one that we as Christian leaders often fall prey to.
I recently met a student at a university. He described himself as a mixture of different races, including Indian and Turkish. Due to the fact that his prominent physical features resembled that of someone from India, fellow Indian students criticized his lack of proficiency in the Hindi language and rejected him.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Assumptions make donkeys out of you and me . . .
Fortunately, no one is innocent of this! Categorizing is a normal process that helps us all make sense of our natural world, including interacting with diverse individuals. It’s only natural that we would identify individuals of a cultural group by our previous experience with that specific culture.
Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, professor, and author of the book Disunity in Christ, writes that when we categorize individuals we cease to view them as members of the body of Christ and perceive them as indistinct members of a cultural group instead. “By focusing on smaller, distinct categories for church groups, we erect and fixate on divisions that are far less important than the larger, diverse group of members of the body of Christ,” writes Cleveland.
Operating with an awareness of our natural tendency to categorize and to make sweeping racial assumptions can help us honor one another better. We must intentionally rise above our habits to pursue more personal levels of understanding that show us we are one body with many parts.
Here are three quick tips to help you avoid racial assumptions during first encounters:
1. Ask personal questions before you ask cultural questions. It’s important for people to know that you are genuinely interested in them as a person, not just a minority; African American, Latino, Filipino, etc. Ask them about their personal interests, what their dream job is, and where they grew up before you ask them about their cultural background.
2. Ask sensitive questions. Please don’t ask me if I grew up eating refried beans and tortillas as much as the orphans in Nacho Libre (the answer is yes, by the way). Ask significant questions -- questions that are thoughtful, and questions that foster depth.
3. Don’t focus strictly on questions about culture/race. Let’s make sure our conversation doesn’t single them out for their diversity. They have much to contribute apart from their cultural/racial experiences.
I’d like to emphasize that I’m no pro at this -- even as a Hispanic I often get this wrong. I don’t always have the right answers. That’s why humility is always the key when interacting with our brothers and sisters from diverse backgrounds. In Humility, Andrew Murray writes that “humility towards men will be the only sufficient proof that our humility before God is real . . .”
Be willing to listen, be willing to apologize when you unintentionally offend, and, please, be willing to persevere when it gets tough and potentially awkward (can I get an “Amen” somebody?). Love and humility will heal a multitude of sins.
In an increasingly politically correct mission field like the university campus, we need to get a better grip of loving well, lest we discredit ourselves with the first question we ask.
Now, tell me, where can I find the best taco truck in your town?
Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
Humility by Andrew Murray
The Bible by God
The letter to the church at Ephesus is special. It contains the clear, fluent plan of God. Paul tells the Ephesian pastors in Acts 20:27 that he gave them the whole will of God through three years of effort with tears, night and day. And he calls them to keep watch over the whole church with their complete knowledge of the Kingdom.
What was so complete?
1. The Complete Church
Ephesians 2. Through the grace and mercy of the cross and the power of the resurrection, both Jews and nations are made alive, included and united in one new man. (Eph. 2:1-18)
2. A Dwelling in which God Lives
One united household of fellow citizens built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone, built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)
3. God’s Manifold Wisdom
Through His ethnically, socioeconomically diverse and united Church, God intends now to reveal His manifold wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 3:10)
ALL OF THIS WAS ACCOMPLISHED IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD, and has always been the plan. (Eph. 3:11)
4. All Things Under His Feet
“[God has seated Him] far above all rule and authority, power and dominion...not only in this present age, but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his (Christ’s) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph. 1:20-23)
He’s given us the same incomparably great power as His holy people united together. The power is the same as what raised him from the dead and seated Him in heaven. (Eph. 1:19-20)
And He is our Head!
For clarity on this point, consider 1 Cor. 15:24-25, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
In other words, every enemy of Jesus is now being brought under His authority, in this age and for all eternity. Every evil, every injustice, every principality which oppresses people and opposes Him and His Kingdom ways. And the most powerful church, His very Body in the earth, is the Church united, Jews and nations as ONE NEW HUMANITY through Christ Jesus in which His fullness dwells by His Spirit!
5. A Kingdom, A Priesthood
“And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)
So, in simple terms, here is the Whole Plan (Will) of God, made known to the pastors at Ephesus (Acts 20:27): A Church of every tribe, tongue and nation, healed and loving deeply across the deepest human divides, Jew and Gentile first, full of the Spirit of God and His power and authority under His headship, bringing every enemy of Christ under His rulership, His ways, in all the earth, until the day He hands over the Kingdom to the Father... “And when He has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God [the Father] may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28)
The key to all of this is one new humanity through Jesus Christ. Otherwise, there is not the complete body for Him to fill with His full presence to accomplish His whole plan.