In Prism's Book Bag: The Importance of Building Multiracial Congregations

cover United by FaithUnited By Faith: The Multiracial Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (with Michael O. Emerson, George Yancey, Karen Chai Kim, eds., Oxford University Press, 2003), reviewed by Abner Amos.

From introduction to epilogue, UNITED BY FAITH challenges the way we view our role as agents of reconciliation in a society that has for centuries been plagued by racial tensions. By arguing that "Christian congregations, when possible, should be
multiracial," Curtiss Paul DeYoung and company have demanded nothing less than a movement in the church's stance concerning the problem of race in America: a clear, bold call for Christians to follow Jesus' example of bringing people of every ethnicity, nationality, and culture together in fellowship as a demonstration of God's healing power to the world.

One can only wonder if multiracial congregations are even possible in a church atmosphere which is, for the most part, segregated by race. DeYoung's argument immediately tackles this issue by taking us into the life of Jesus and the congregations of the early church and providing evidence for God's commitment to make his temple a house of prayer for all nations. With their newfound unity in Christ, the peoples of the New Testament church were able to overcome their ethnocentrism and reach across ethnic, cultural, and racial barriers. Clearly, this has been a major failing in the American church.

Perhaps the most interesting reason for this shortcoming is revealed when DeYoung presents the theological arguments against multiracial churches. With a brief overview of African-American, Asian-American, and Latino theologies, we gain a deeper understanding of why faithful congregations continue to remain uni-racial. As churches struggle to keep their theological purity, they close themselves off to the views of outsiders who might otherwise join their congregation. It is only when we develop a theology of unity, in which we thrive for reconciliation without assimilating and compromising our unique differences, that we can anticipate a revolutionary change in race relations in the church. It is essential that the church in America learns from the New Testament church if multiracial congregations are to become a reality.

United By Faith does much to explain where we have gone wrong in our dealings with race throughout church history in the United States. More importantly, it provides an alternative to our failures, presenting hope in God's ability to carry out faithfully God's mission of racial reconciliation within the church. If Divided By Faith – Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith's book (Oxford University Press, 2001) – showed that the very structure of religious organizations divides Christians along color lines, United By Faith declares that God has the power to overcome our failures to love across racial divides, the power to break down dividing walls of hostility.

Overall this is a great read for those who have a passion for racial reconciliation and a must read for anyone who is considering braving the waters of establishing a multiethnic church in America.

Abner Ramos works for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at East Los Angeles College.

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