IS YOUR SOUTH ASIAN CHURCH ETHNOCENTRIC OR ETHNIC-SPECIFIC?
I’ve heard many of my peers talk about the relevance and effectiveness of the South Asian Church.
Should the South Asian church exist?
Is it a broken model of church?
Should we just give up?
These are important questions. However, I believe that there is an underlying assumption being made behind these questions. If we are not careful, this assumption is damaging and dangerous.
The assumption is that ethnic-specific church is always ethnocentric, insular, and self-centered.
Or that ethnic specific church is not as good as the multiethnic church. This assumption casts judgement not only on the South Asian church, but also on the Black church, Korean church, Spanish-speaking church, Chinese churches, and many others.
This assumption is wrong and unfair. The ethnic-specific church is valid and important! Ethnic-specific and ethnocentric are not the same thing!
The ethnocentric church engages in the following kinds of behaviors
- It uses “us versus them” language when describing non-South Asians
- It believes that South Asian culture is superior — the church is “culturally arrogant”
- It prevents or discourages members from crossing into new cultures
- It shames members for not being “South Asian enough” or for “selling out” or “being white”
- It has no concern for the struggles/issues faced by other ethnic communities
The ethnic-specific church engages in the following behaviors
- It fosters vibrant, healthy South Asian identity in its members — enjoy culture!
- It presents Jesus to non-Christian South Asians in a relevant, cultural way
- It promotes a spirit of hospitality for non-Christians and non-South Asians
- It casts vision for its members to form cross-cultural friendships and be an influence
- It partners with non-South Asians to renew the city, promote justice, engage in reconciliation
If you can help your church take on these characteristics, then you will help combat ethnocentric behavior. This kind of church is missional and cultural. Notice that both values coexist — these values are not mutually exclusive. You can be both!
Sure, this church will have people dressed in traditional clothing, singing in different languages, and enjoying certain kinds of food. But they are also being hospitable, open, and excited to share their culture/faith with others. They care about their South Asian non-Christian friends AND the rest of the neighborhood. This church is engaged… and quite enjoyable.
Clarify the difference by asking the following questions about your South Asian church
- Are we concerned about how systemic injustices impact other minorities (i.e. Ferguson)?
- Are we concerned for the global church under persecution (i.e. ISIS, Africa, etc.)?
- Do I hear more about tradition or more about the manifold wisdom of the Gospel?
- When was the last time a South Asian non-Christian visited, stayed, and believed?
- Do we engage in cultural celebrations to meet more South Asians in our city?
- Do we make fun of others that are different from us ethnically, socially, etc.?
Every time your church gathers, it has the chance to swing the pendulum one way or the other. Being ethnocentric or ethnic-specific is not a static label, but it is a continuum. You must always be working on moving toward ethnic-specific — if not, you will drift toward ethnocentric behavior.
Do your best to move your church toward health. You can make a difference at your church. You are an Everyday World Changer. Start Today!