A Diverse Community (You Belong Here)

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called You Belong Here.

God’s hope is to bring people from all nations, tribes, languages, and ethnicities together into one family. It’s why Jesus came to die for all of us. But oftentimes, this harmonious diverse community is not at all our experience. What leads us to issues in our diverse communities, and how can we overcome the barriers that plague us?

The You Belong Here series includes the following messages:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

WITH YOUR FAMILY, ROOMMATES, OR LIFE GROUP, WORK THROUGH THE MESSAGE NEXT STEPS:

Diverse Community Next Steps

WATCH THE MESSAGE JOHN BURKE AND THE PANEL SHARED AT GATEWAY IN SOUTH AUSTIN:

You Belong Here – A Diverse Community from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

HERE ARE THE MESSAGE NOTES FROM JOHN BURKE:

I love what God’s doing here at Gateway. 8 years ago, I sensed God saying to me

“Do you see what I’m doing?”

And everywhere I’d go, I was noticing the nations coming to Austin—playing soccer with people from Afghanistan, Brazil, Honduras, Russia, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Algeria. In my neighborhood, I’ve met people from Israel, Pakistan, India, Venezuala, Singapore, Vietnam, China.

“Do you see what I’m doing?” God created the Jewish people 4000 years ago and told them what He was doing: All the families on earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12:3 (2000 BC). Jesus came and paid the highest price, to bring together a new family, from all nations. He sent his followers saying:

“You will tell about Me in the city of Jerusalem and over all the countries of Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Jesus first church was formed from all the nations and languages descending on Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus crucifixion.

“Do you see what I’m doing?”

He’s asking me, He’s asking you. Do we see? He’s still creating a Diverse Community of people learning to love God and love one another—that’s the church in all it’s beauty. This is God’s end-game: John saw a diverse family in Heaven singing:

“You were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

Evil Opposes Us

Yet that’s not what we see on earth—not at all. Why? Evil. Evil is behind all the racial, ethnic tensions, racism, injustice—all of it. And if we don’t see that, we’ll become pawns, manipulated by media or social media, and through our own hurts, or pride, or defensiveness we will keep dividing. The ethnic/racial tensions we face are not only in America—it’s everywhere I’ve traveled. In Kazakstan the Kazak people were oppressed by the Russians, in Korea there are still ethnic wounds from Japanese occupation, in New Zealand racial tensions between Mauri and Whites continue, in Pakistan there’s tension with Indians, in Africa the Hutus tried to ethnically cleanse the Tutsis. We cannot simply blame politicians or particular news networks for trying to divide us—it’s evil at work trying to pit race against race, and if we see that, then when we get triggered and start moving away from each other

Or we can say “No! I’m not cooperating with evil.” We can listen for God’s Spirit: “Do you see what I’m doing?” and “will you join me in bringing the nations together?” But How?

It Starts with Me.

Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (through me) as in Heaven (Heaven is very diverse).”

So It starts with me. It starts with you—understanding how evil has used us to work against God, and then choosing to follow God toward unity and healing. So I’ll start with my confession:

I was raised in a racist environment, in a privileged white family, looking down on others who weren’t like us—but I didn’t know it. That probably doesn’t shock my friends of color here—you already suspected that, but my white friends may not realize what I didn’t realize—it was so much a part of our culture, we really didn’t see it. I can now see how evil and sinful it was, but I didn’t see it then—it was the water we all swam in. And I’m truly sorry for all the hurt it’s caused—and I participated in it]. My father grew up poor as poor can be in a small West Texas town. His father was alcoholic, abusive, abandoned his family into poverty. My dad had a history of hurt, and was held at knife-point by a gang, robbed, and without God’s healing, evil turned those wounds into racist slurs I grew up hearing against people of color. My sweet, Christian, Louisiana-born-and-bred mom talked about groups who were “just not our kind of people.” The message was clear “we—our kind—our culture is up here, others are down there.” It’s what I grew up with, it’s what my mom and dad grew up with.

And that’s the problem—we all come from places of sin and brokenness. Repentance means turning from our ways, even our ancestors ways, to go God’s way. It’s what I’m committed to do. But it’s not one and done, it’s a process.

And You have your own story—maybe it’s a story of racism or pride like mine, or maybe yours is a story of racial hurt and systemic injustice that’s caused hatred or bitterness—for most of us, the thought of moving close feels scary, whether out of fear of being hurt and let down again, or feeling guilty and attacked, or just uncomfortability.

But listen to God, “Do you see what I’m doing? Will you work with me, or against me?”

But here’s what’s awesome. God has changed me—and He keeps on changing me. And He’s doing the same with you if you’re willing. It sometimes brings me to tears when I think about how God has changed me—how many friends I have of different cultures and ethnicities who I love dearly—all over the world, on my soccer team, my kids closest friends, and right in my own family. My own son-in-law I love like my own son, he’s truly a gift from God and an answer to all my prayers for my daughter… he’s Hispanic…and German (precise and a people person—can’t get better than that). And I keep talking about our last survey that showed 65 nations represented here at Gateway—because God is doing that. And I want to see him keep doing it—reaching out and loving the nations coming to Austin through us, but we must be a Diverse Community ready to cooperate with God’s plan.

That’s not easy, because there’s more ethnic, racial, and national division and disunity than I’ve ever seen. I believe when all our human efforts are failing, God wants the church to show His power to unite us. I’m no expert, but God has brought onto our staff and leadership people like Jon Eng, Eric Bryant, Marcie Alvis-Walker, Ricky Echeona and others—Eric wrote Not Like Me and another excellent book we’ve read together is called Beyond Colorblind by Sarah Shin.

In the book, Sarah Shin tells about Michael, a 24 year old Black American, sharing in his small group about a racial slur he’d heard that week and how it hurt. A white woman, well meaning, and with love and kindness said “Oh Michael, when I see you, I don’t see your color, I see you.” And Sarah points out, she was trying her best to affirm Michael’s humanity and dignity, saying, “I’m not one of those racist people who sees color was a reason to degrade you.” But what Michael heard was invalidation: If you don’t see that I’m black, you don’t see me. Why did they miss so?

Beyond Colorblind

Because One of the human “solutions” to racism has been the idea of colorblindness. While the intent may be good, let’s think from God’s perspective. First, God created mankind “in his own image” Genesis 1:27 And if you haven’t looked around at the millions of animal species—God loves diversity—He’s very creative. And so the diverse colors and cultures of humanity reflect something of the image of God—what God is like. So to not see or not value all the diversity of colors, ethnicities, languages that God created and is in the process of bringing back together—is to what see what God’s doing.

Don’t miss His plan for doing it—it’s through us, his church. Because here’s the simple solution: Love!

Multiculturalism, political solutions, mandatory workplace training—all that might help—but it doesn’t help at all if there’s not Love. God wants us to love. To love the other created in his image—that man is black, that woman is white, that person is Arab or Chinese. Love is from God. And friends, we must keep our eyes on God in this divisive time. It’s not about politics, university policy, political correctness in the workplace—in fact, all that can create greater hatred and animosity…if forced. But if our hearts are truly following the heart of God, we will learn to love those Not Like Us. To love, even our once enemies—remember?

So Whatever our culture, we are all humans created in God’s Image, good and beautiful, and…all humans are sinful and broken…so that means all Cultures have parts that are Beautiful and reflect God’s ways, and all cultures are Broken (and need God’s healing).

Every Ethnicity is Beautiful and Broken.

Healing and unity in Christ can come as we each come to grips with the Beauty and Brokeness in our own culture, then we can both value and bless other ethnic cultures, without continuing to cause harm out of our cultural brokenness. Let me speak first to people of color, then to white majority culture. For people of color, or from other nations, if you’ve felt on outside looking in, or marginalized in our culture, especially here at Gateway, please forgive us and know you are so important to what God wants us to become—we want to be a place that listens, values, and empowers the leadership you have to bring in loving the nations and building God’s Kingdom on earth.

To my culture, I know lately the word “privileged” may feel like a racial slur, but reacting in hurt or defensiveness doesn’t build God’s Kingdom. Jesus was the privileged. Privilege is a gift to be used for God’s purposes. Jesus came from Heaven (that’s privilege) to live among an oppressed race. And as a Jewish Rabbi he was the privileged among Samaritans who were oppressed by Jews. Yet He goes to the Samaritan woman, listens to her, values and dignifies her, points her to God’s gift. Privilege is a gift from God to be used to lift up others who have been marginalized. Let’s follow Jesus in using it that way. And realize, what’s meant by that is often to try to show us something we don’t see, because we haven’t had to see it.

My new neighbors are Indian, we had an hour long conversation where we shared how much we loved Indian culture, having been there and having many friends in India, we got invited to their Indian gathering so Kathy can show off her beautiful Saris—but my neighbor said “I’m sorry if it smells like Masala a lot, it’s just how we cook.” It made us sad. Why would she need to apologize? If you love to BBQ are you afraid you’ll be offensive to your neighbors “I’m so sorry you have to smell those wonderful hickory ribs?” Not at all. Because majority culture likes those smells. She got the message—we don’t like that here. It’s why my Hispanic or black friends may not put a picture on their AirBnB application—they’ve had to think about that if they don’t want to be denied. That’s what it means to be majority culture—you don’t have to think about it.

I didn’t think about my culture at all, until we moved to Russia and lived a year in another culture—at first, all differences felt wrong. I hated it, why don’t they do things the right way—my way? But by the end of a year, I saw things in Russian culture that were beautiful and like God’s Kingdom, and realized things in my own culture that were actually broken.

Moving to Chicago 25 years ago, I hired the first African American in a huge white church, and he would take me into Cabrini Green—the Chicago inner city where he grew up, and I started to learn how most downtown inner cities were the “good neighborhoods” until the GI Bill helped WWII vets buy houses, and when African American vets went to buy houses in the “good” inner city neighborhoods, Evil used racism and greed to cause whites to fear blacks would hurt home prices, so white flight to the suburbs crashed home prices and left behind the ghettos of inner cities.

Valuing Others

The more I learned the more I realized, evil uses all our fears, greeds, prides, hurts to keep dividing us—I realized when people of color talk about systemic injustices, they’re just pointing out how evil manipulates us all, working against God’s ways. So listening and learning with an eye on God’s goal is important for healing and unity and fighting against injustice—which God also wants.

But as Sarah Shin says, “this is a road paved with tension, confusion, accusation, pain, and shame. Conversations about race and ethnicity can go south, real fast. So we must invite God to be our guide as we humbly try to do what we talked about last week—not run or retaliate, but learn to listen in love to one another, and be patient and forgive so we can grow up together in Love. Love understands, but you can’t understand if you don’t listen to know the other.

So real healing and unity among races and ethnicities begins with understanding your own ethnic Identity, Beauty and Brokeness, then we can learn to value and understand other Ethnic Identities.

  • Ethnicity is more specific than race (Norwegian versus white, Taiwanese versus Asian). Ethnicity refers to common ancestry, nationality, shared customs, language, culture, traditions, and history.
  • Race is the classification according to physical traits and ancestry. Black (race) versus African American (ethnicity).

So what is your Ethnic Identity? Do you see the Beauty of it—those those cultural ethnic ways or values that align with God’s Kingdom values? And do you see the broken parts, where hurts, or lies, or superiority and pride, or inferiority or shame have caused broken ways that are not in line with God’s Kingdom ways?

Black History month, which we celebrate this month, is really to help empower African Americans, who had a painful American history, to see the Beauty, not just the injustice and brokenness. But as White people with a past history against God’s ways—slavery, oppression, ongoing racism felt by our Black brothers and sisters—it’s an important history for us if there’s to be unity and healing. When we can all celebrate the achievements of black Americans and recognize the central role of African Americans in U.S. history, honoring not only people like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King (who worked sacrificially to bring God’s Kingdom ways to our country), but also folks like Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson, Sydney Poitier, Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes, the Tuskegee Airman, and so many more. As all of us along with black people, take the time to acknowledge the Beauty and Brokenness of the past, it’s healing, and we can look to a greater future together.

As I was reading and thinking about this, something Sarah Shin and the poet Propaganda said really hit me as to why conversations of ethnicity, race, difference can be so hard for white people. Generally speaking, white Americans don’t think we have an ethnic culture—we don’t speak or think in those terms. Of course, that is hallmark of our culture, we’re individualistic. It’s part of the beauty of white America—we value individual freedom, you can achieve, you can do it, the American Dream can come true, individual freedoms. Parts of that are good—God gives us freedom, responsibility, to cultivate and steward his creation. One broken part is that we don’t think in terms of “we” but “me.”

When you grow up in a majority ethnic culture, you don’t have to think about your own culture. It’s like asking a tropical fish what it’s like swimming in the crystal clear, warm carribean waters compared to the frigid icebergs of the Atlantic—and the fish says “What’s water?” If you don’t have a contrast, you can’t even see the culture all around you. Like I said, I didn’t even realize my culture until faced with Russian culture, or hearing other cultural stories.

And that’s where White individualistic culture has it’s broken aspects: So when there’s a fatal shooting of a 20 year old black man in the news—the black community mourns together “look what’s happening to us—to our young men”. It’s a godly response—there’s unity and compassion. White people don’t think that way–not “we” but “me.” It’s not God’s way. Whites may think, “Why are you taking it personally—it didn’t happen to you.” But black people have a deep, rich, ethnic culture (also bound together through a history of injustice and oppression don’t forget). And given our racial, ethnic histories, that white response causes more deep hurt and division. So for all of us to work toward God’s plan of reconciliation and unity among diverse cultures, ethnicities, races—we have to work harder to understand our own Ethnic Culture—where it’s beautiful, but also where it’s broken, so we can understand how to lovingly value and relate to other cultures.

And that’s the second challenge for whites—usually the first discussion about white culture has to do with oppression and racism and injustice in our past, and in our present, and so most whites feel defensive immediately. Which again, doesn’t help, it just keeps making the division and disunity worse. So what can we do? We can help each other, blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, Indians, Middle Easterners all see the beauty God created in each culture, and value what each culture brings to the family table. And we can help each other heal from the wounds, the hurts, the pride, prejudice or racism—so we have that Kingdom of God community together more and more.

I asked Jon Eng on our staff to lead a panel, made up of our staff and leaders from different campuses to talk more about how we see more of God’s Diverse Kingdom come.

Again, this is not about being cross-culturally savy or racially diverse—this is about being sent ones by God—[Of the racial/ethnic hostility between Jews and Gentiles it says:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

“Do you see what I’m doing?” God asks. “Will you cooperate with Him?” If we’re going to grow as a diverse community sent to love all nations back to God, there three things we can start to practice:

1. Be Curious

Learn, ask questions, be a cultural detective. Think about marriage or any love relationship. If the person doesn’t really know you or want to know you, you will never feel loved. You love by getting to know—so be curious, ask questions.

2. Be Empathetic

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15 Care about what others care about. My friends of color tell me so much healing happens when understanding and empathy happen. It’s how you heal grief, when people sit with you in it. You don’t have to fix it, or change it, just say “wow, I’m so sorry you had to endure that—it shouldn’t be that way.”

3. Be a Lifter

Be someone who will lift up others around us—if it’s someone of a different culture of ethnicity or a police officer or both, find ways to be engaged, eat a meal, lift them up, encourage, bless, value and show how much they are worth to God. And validate the gifts and message of God they can bring to all of us.

Some other practicals next steps:

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