Thoughts on the UK church from a Malawian academic.

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Hope Church is wanting to welcome and empower people from many different backgrounds, seeking to learn from each other. Knowing that no one culture fully reflects the diversity of God. As such I try to learn from leaders who come from different from myself.

Recently I read Multicultural Kingdom: Ethnic Diversity, Mission and the Church written by Harvey Kwiyani, an academic originally from Malawi.

He has powerful things to say about the church in the UK, much of which I find challenging and extremely helpful and relevant to us. Below are some quotes that I think are particularly worth reflecting on. There are many of them, but it is worth reading them all and allowing their truths to hit home.

 

Our segregated Christianity is an anomaly and it is my sincere hope that we will not export it to the rest of the world like we have other aspects of our Christianity in the past.

Essentially, God is building a kingdom in which people of many national, tribal or linguistic identities belong together. It is not a monocultural kingdom: all cultures are invited and all cultures are needed. It is not a monoracial kingdom: all races are welcome. It is not a colour-blind kingdom. It does not see one human race but sees us all as who we really are: Africans, Asians, Europeans, everybody. It expects us all to bring our unique gifts to make the kingdom what it is meant to be – the kingdom of Jesus, the Lord of the nations.

Both the African and the Chinese stories show that it is only in the second half of the twentieth century – after the missionaries had left Africa and Asia, placing the so-called ‘young churches’ under indigenous leadership – that Christianity became a worldwide religion.

Unfortunately, our missiology still believes that Christianity is only real if it is led by Westerners, and that is why we hear more about the decline of the Church in Europe and North America when we could be celebrating the growth of Christianity in other parts of the world.

Walter Hollenweger said that ‘British Christians prayed for revival, and when it came, they did not recognize it because it was black’. I would add to this statement that British Christians did not recognize the revival because it came dressed in Pentecostal clothes.

It is the argument of this book that a proper engagement between British and non-Western Christians resident in Britain will enrich British Christianity, and hopefully help it rediscover its missional impulses to re-evangelize Britain.

I am also convinced that the multicultural context of (urban) Britain needs a multicultural missionary movement. African, Latin American, Asian and British Christians need to work together in mission. For that to happen, there needs to be some intentional collaboration. Congregational leaders may need to model this for their followers by working together more visibly. I anticipate that the body of Christ in Britain can model racial reconciliation for the world by living an alternative reality where all races are one in Christ. Such a church may be a critical missional testimony to the world that the love of Christ can set people free.

Homogeneity, whatever form it takes, is slow death. A community that builds walls to keep strangers out only imprisons itself within its own walls in the end. A prison guard is also a prisoner.

Being in the kingdom of God does not erase our cultural differences. To do so would be colonialism, and God does not colonize.

I am convinced that wherever communities are made up of people of different cultures, Christian churches must reflect that diversity in their gatherings.

The plea for unity anticipates that we will meet people who are different from us. Unity demands the presence of a different other.

A great deal of our understanding of community and belonging reflects the Western marks of individualism and capitalism. That is why most British denominations – including the Church of England – find it hard to connect with lower-class parts of the society.

Great multicultural congregations realize that their congregational culture has to be the authentic aggregate of the cultures of their members. They have to develop and embrace a culture that makes space for a variety of subcultures to thrive together, that is expansive enough to welcome new subcultures into its mix, highlighting them and encouraging them to share their gifts with the wider congregation.

True multicultural congregations happen when all cultures – both host and guest – intentionally displace themselves from the centre to allow for the emergence of a new culture that comes out of all cultures present working together.

Leaders of multicultural congregations, however, hardly pay any attention to the nationalities of their members. Of course, they notice the nationalities, as they should, but they focus on the culture. They focus on shaping a congregation in which the many nationalities’ cultures are expressed. Not every multinational church is multicultural. It is never about how many nationalities one can gather. Yes, there may be many nationalities in a congregation, but that means little if they are unable to make their cultural contribution.

We will worship together in eternity. There is nothing we can do about it. We will not be able to bring our racist tendencies to God’s throne.

Revival has come to Britain, but it looks like the messy migration of African and Caribbean Christians to Britain, and thus it does not look like revival at all.

Most African pastors in Europe and North America mention race as the most difficult issue facing their ministries, and yet most of my white British middle-aged middle-class Christian friends say that racism is a thing of the past.

All in all, multicultural worshipping communities need to learn new habits and practices that enforce their commitment to cultural diversity. They cannot continue to live in a monocultural mode while expecting to be multicultural.

Monoracial churches will continue to exist as they are safe, convenient and comfortable.

Perhaps, the wealthy would prefer to keep their less well-off neighbours out. Black folk might actively want to keep the white people out (‘we cannot let them dominate us in our worship too’), and white people want to keep black people out (‘they bring issues that we don’t have time for’). Ironically, British churches will send missionaries to Africa while neglecting their African neighbours on their streets in Britain.

More often than not, such monocultural churches will have a quasi-theological justification that supports their practice of a racist form of Christianity.

If the size of a congregation is what matters most to a minister, it is possible that he or she has substituted capitalism for God.

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