Church via the White Man (a collateral damage issue)

The majority of church leaders influencing other Church leaders (particularly in the Western hemisphere) through writing books, speaking at conferences, and doing the whole digital media thing are white men. Statistically, I expect this to change by the end of this century because of the demographic shift of Hispanics in the Western hemisphere and the growth of Christianity in the Eastern hemisphere.

But for now, it is the white man’s world… so to speak. And unfortunately, unanticipated collateral damage can happen because of it.

UPDATE: To clarify, I am not saying that whites make up the majority of ministers globally. I am saying that whites make up the majority of church influencers with global platforms.

The problem with the majority of Church influencers being white men is that there is too much majority and not enough diversity. We need more diverse influential thought leaders in order to truly cater to the unique church methodology needs of each culture. Although white men can study other cultures, it is very, very difficult for a white man to understand as well as a woman what it is like to be a woman. It is difficult to understand perfectly what it is like to be Asian unless you are an Asian. And the same is true for blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, and all other races. In fact, many white men may not even realize there is a difference between Hispanics and Latinos.

REAL WORLD EXAMPLES OF WHITE MAN COLLATERAL DAMAGE

#1 :: Deadly Viper
Mike Foster of Ethur and Jud Wilhite of Central Christian Church (Las Vegas, NV) put together an incredible resource called Deadly Viper that discusses the subtle yet deadly leadership pitfalls that can ruin one’s ministry. Its presentation was a mashup of Asian cultures, Kung Fu movie humor, and gorgeous aesthetic design skills. As a white man artist and marketer, I fell in love with the outstanding creativity of its delivery, and its content challenged me to grow as a leader.

However, in my ignorance of knowing what it is like for some to be an Asian, I and many others did not see how this “fun” and creative presentation could be offensive, shameful, or hurtful to some Asians. NOW before you take sides and jump to conclusions, realize that the nature of Asian culture is typically one of high reverence for its ancestors, culture, and heritage. Also, realize that many Asians and Asian-Americans have had to live their lives with stereotypes and jokes (like chinky eyes) that get old and hurtful over time and can put them in a “box” professionally and socially. And for Asian Americans, some have grown up noticing how anti-Asian hostilities during and after WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam War have affected their fathers and grandfathers.

Growing up as an Ohio-born white boy, I didn’t have to experience that, but I did go to summer camp in Oklahoma where my perceived “New Yorker” accent was severely made fun of. I was fine with the teasing for the first hours, but it hurt after several days. I can’t imagine experiencing such “harmless” teasing my whole life.

With Deadly Viper, much of the objections have been over there not being enough care, tact, and reverence in the use of Asian cultures. Astonishingly, Zondervan, Mike, and Jud decided to pull the plug on the whole thing out of respect.  DJ Chuang has a great debriefing on the whole Deadly Viper situation. And Eugene Cho speaks responsibly and passionately on the subject here, here, and here.

#2 Training for the Wrong Culture

What works for an upper middle class white man’s church that reaches upper middle class white people may very likely not work for a Hispanic church in the heart of Los Angeles. At a recent conference, a team member from a Hispanic church asked me how they should implement the techniques taught at that conference into a Hispanic culture that didn’t seem like a good fit. My answer was that they shouldn’t use those techniques. It wasn’t a good fit. Collateral damage occurs when you try to solve one culture’s problem by copying another culture’s solutions. It is like trying to fix a Lexus with BMW parts. Not everything will fit. We need platforms for more diverse church methodology training.

#3  The Bad Side of Short Term Missions
On a previous post discussing the effects of short term missions, a long term missionary shared the following comment:

At a large convention in 1989, I was introduced as a speaker and the leader said, ‘David has lived with us for nearly ten years now. Hhe speaks our language. He understands and respects our culture. We have been sick, and he has cared for us. He has been sick, and we have cared for him. He has now earned the right to be listened to by us with attentiveness.’

When called by three paramount chiefs to a special meeting (the subject of the meeting was not communicated in advance). One chief after another asked the same question. ‘What is wrong with the Churches overseas when they send young people to Africa for two weeks? They arrive here and cannot communicate with us. They take photographs of our abject poverty. They eat the food of hungry people. They form friendships with a few people often of questionable character but who do speak English and translate for them, and then they leave with waves, smiles and promises, and we never hear from them again! What has happened to our Churches back in the West who once sacrificed and sent us their sons and daughters who came on a one way ticket, learned our language, identified with us in our lives and through perseverance, prayer, preaching and example taught us a better way to live!’

They requested that I communicate this strong feeling to the overseas Church. This is a growing feeling across the world that short term missions teams are now walking well worn paths of other short term missions teams in many countries, but that they never stop in the area long enough to make a difference.

THE SOLUTION?

If you want to reduce you ministry’s collateral damage, you need to understand culture, meaning all cultures and not just the ones you are trying to reach. Ministry in a wired world has an added level of responsibility to be mindful of potential collateral damage. And if you do cause some damage, it is well worth looking at the gutsy and admirable way that Zondervan, Mike Foster, and Jud Wilhite handled Deadly Viper.

This is true regardless of what race, gender, social class, subculture, or generation you are. White men aren’t the only ones causing collateral damage. We’re just an easy target.