Inclusion of Ethnics into the Church of the Brethren
1989 Church of the Brethren Statement
Over the past half dozen years the Church of the Brethren has received informal inquiries and formal overtures from numerous non-aligned congregations and persons interested in exploring denominational affiliation. While often representing an ethnic, cultural, or historical background that is different from the majority of Brethren, those inquiring have expressed deep interest in and enthusiasm for Brethren values and practices.
In several instances districts of the Church of the Brethren have, after study and mutual exploration, received whole groups into membership, recognizing them either as congregations or fellowships. The result has been spiritually and culturally enriching.
At the same time there has been a discernible lack of guidance on how to achieve integration and unity in a way that upholds the integrity, traditions, and mission across a wide range of diversity in background and experience. Therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED that the district board of the district of Illinois and Wisconsin, meeting at the Oakley Brick Church of the Brethren, Oakley, Illinois, August 23, 1986, petition district conference, meeting at Boulder Hill Church of the Brethren, Montgomery, Illinois, September 27, 1986, to request Annual Conference at Cincinnati, Ohio, June 30–July 5, 1987 to offer counsel in the inclusion and integration of ethnic persons and groups into the life of the Church of the Brethren.
Action of the Illinois and Wisconsin district conference, meeting at the Boulder Hill Church of the Brethren, Montgomery, Illinois, September 26, 1986: Passed the query to Annual Conference.
Phyllis Hunn, Moderator
Jeanette Lahman, Clerk
Action of the 1987 Annual Conference
Samuel H. Flora, a Standing Committee delegate from the district of Illinois and Wisconsin, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the 1987 Annual Conference approve the concern of the query and refer that a concern to the General Board for counsel in the inclusion and integration of ethnic persons and groups into the life of the Church of the Brethren.
The delegates amended the recommendation and then voted for the amended recommendation that the 1987 Annual Conference approve the concern of the query, INCLUSION OF ETHNICS INTO THE CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN, and refer that concern to an Annual Conference committee of five (5) members for study and for bringing learnings and recommendations to Annual Conference for consideration. The committee is to include persons from a variety of ethnic groups so as to provide understandings from various perspectives. A report is expected at the 1988 Annual Conference.
The committee of five (5) members elected by the 1987 Annual Conference were: Roger E.L. Cruz, Guillermo Encarnacion, Kwang Suk (Dan) Kim, Stephen B. Reid, and Mary Spessard Workman.
1988 Report of the Study Committee on Inclusion of Ethnics Into the Church of the Brethren
Charge of the Committee
The committee was instructed by the Annual Conference of 1987 “. . . to offer counsel in the inclusion and integration of ethnic persons and groups into the life of the Church of the Brethren.”
Background for the Committee’s Study
We found that counsel involved issues of theology, policy, and polity. The committee seeks to explore the theological foundation for an ethnically and culturally diverse church. Once such a foundation exists the committee will explore policy such as the lack of professional leadership in the highest levels of Church of the Brethren administration such as the General Offices and Bethany Theological Seminary. Further, the committee in order to accomplish its task will need to examine the polity issues of the process for the inclusion of new congregations, in this case ethnic minority congregations, as well as the polity process regarding ordination.
Plan of Study
The key metaphor for our work thus far has been participation. We have discovered that inclusion requires participation in power and ministry.
We have started the process of gleaning information from across the denomination about our history of participation of ethnic minorities. We will continue this with sessions at Bethany Theological Seminary, the General Offices as well as an Information Gathering session at this Annual Conference. We will add this data to the written material we have already received as the resource material for the paper. This process seems unavoidable to us. The participation of ethnic minorities to be successful requires a broad base of denominational support. Therefore any paper dealing with such a topic must go through a process of getting information from a broad base of sources.
The topics of the paper will include: the theological foundation for participation of ethnic minorities in the life of the Church of the Brethren; a policy concerning leadership development in the ethnic minority Church of the Brethren communities; and suggestions concerning the polity process for ordination and inclusion of ethnic minority churches.
Request for Additional Time
The challenge “to offer counsel . . .” demands a process that has made it impossible for us to complete our work according to the schedule outlined by the 1987 Annual Conference. Therefore with this progress report before you we ask for an extension of one year, to bring you the full report.
Stephen B. Reid, Chairman
Roger E. L. Cruz
Kwang Suk (Dan) Kim
Mary Spessard Workman
Committee’s expenses related to travel, lodging, and meals from 1987 to March 15, 1988 total, $1,974
Estimated additional expenses, $2,000
Action of the 1988 Annual Conference
The report from the Annual Conference committee, Inclusion Of Ethnics Into The Church Of The Brethren, was recognized by the moderator and presented by Stephen B. Reid, chair. With no objections from the delegate body, the moderator granted an extension of time of one year to the committee for its work.
1989 Committee Report
A Vision of Participation
We find our unity in Christ. We likewise find our ability to cope with the diversity of the church in Christ. We are strangers no more. We speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
II. History And Background Of The Paper
The 1987 Annual Conference approved a query on the inclusion of ethnics into the Church of the Brethren. Two issues arise from the query. First, what appropriate polity and procedures should be adopted for the inclusion of ethnic minority non-aligned congregations? Second, what strategy would best nurture our ministry with the ethnic diversity in our midst? This paper deals with both of these concerns.
III. Principles for Participation: Unity and Diversity
Unity. Jesus challenges the church to unity. The theme of unity in Jesus’ teaching includes participation of all peoples of the world (Matt. 28:19). The theme of unity is a christological message recurring in the New Testament as evidenced in the image of the Body of Christ as a model for “the church” (1 Cor. 3:1-9; 12:12-13).
Participation. Jesus challenges us to be more than mere viewers of salvation history. We have a picture of Christ’s commandments and now can do nothing less than participate in the life of the church. This means being involved in leadership at every level of the denomination. We strive for participation not out of any desire for prestige but because God has chosen each of us (John 15:16), including ethnic minorities.
Vision. Like the writer of Habakkuk, we have faith in a vision. “For still the vision awaits its time” (Hab. 2:3). However, the Church of the Brethren lacks a vision of participation of all the peoples of the world, or even the United States. Scripture tells us that where the dream and vision have faltered the people die (Prov. 29:18).
The vision of greater ethnic participation in the life of the denomination is a church growth issue as well as a justice issue. Church growth, evangelism, and greater ethnic diversity resonate with the Goals of the ’90s. The Church of the Brethren needs to take concrete positive steps to develop a new vision.
The need for a new vision is acute. Scripture alerts us to the danger of life without vision. Where there is no vision (hazon) (the Revised Standard Version translates this as “prophecy”), people are “let loose” (yippara) (Prov. 29:18b). The new vision (and the accompanying law) is one of unity and diversity. Our future as a people depends on it.
The vision is more than something outside of us. Rather the vision empowers us. The best example of this is found in the Pentecost story (Acts 2). The ethnic diversity and the challenge for inclusiveness were a witness to the work of the Holy Spirit then as today. We strive for a denomination with passion for the gospel to all people. Pentecost without passion is not Pentecost. Diversity without passion will not happen. The Pentecost story tells us prayer and study will help, but it does not give a guidebook to inclusion of ethnic diversity.
The United States is changing. In years past the vast majority of American immigrants were from various parts of Europe. Today more than 82 percent come from Latin America and Asia. The American church is changing. Denominations such as the American Baptists, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church report that the bulk of their church growth is occurring in ethnic minority churches (statistics taken from C. Wayne Zunkel, Strategies for Growing Your Church).
After reading the study of the Church of the Brethren done by Carl Bowman (see monthly excerpts in Messenger in 1986), we asked ourselves if there could be life for ethnic minorities in the Church of the Brethren. Bowman’s study indicates that the Church of the Brethren is largely a Mid-Atlantic and Midwest phenomenon, with 50-59 percent of the adult members still living in rural areas. Nonetheless, according to Bowman, there is considerable flux on identity issues such as beliefs of pacifism, and the meaning of the simple life. Despite the flux and the demographics of the denomination, we affirm a basic belief that we can find guidance for an ethnically diverse church in scriptures such as Ezekiel 34 and Acts 2.
Flux or no flux, concerns for greater ethnic diversity must attend to basic identity stances the Church of the Brethren has taken over the years. We recognize that the Church of the Brethren has had a commitment to and tradition of peace, reconciliation, justice, and simple living. We affirm these as so central as to not be at stake when we talk about ethnic diversity. When we have a vision of participation, we do not lay down the gospel which has fed us with the traditions of peace and simple living. Rather we share them with cultures that may not have these, and celebrate them with cultures that already have them.
We recognize that some traditions have a view of women’s participation in the leadership of the church that is at odds with the Church of the Brethren position on the inclusion and celebration of women as a force for leadership in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we affirm that this too is a place where the Church of the Brethren can instruct persons from some cultures about the biblical tradition of women as religious leaders. And the church shall be instructed by cultures that have invited women’s leadership in a more substantial way that we have heretofore.
There can be no double standard. The Church of the Brethren lifts up peace, simple living, reconciliation, and justice as essential in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot dodge those issues for inclusion. Inclusion of ethnic minority does not require that we lapse in our commitment to these basic tenets of our life in faith.
IV. Patterns of Thought and Practice
We recognize that the Church of the Brethren has sectarian roots. The theological insights of the sectarian heritage of the Church of the Brethren should never be lost. Nonetheless, sectarianism in twentieth-century United States pulls us into the grasp of sin through racism. The subtlety of this racism makes it all the more effective as sin.
We recognize the traditional values of the Church of the Brethren to affirm them. Sometimes our claims to traditional values mask blocks to inclusiveness. We need to be careful that middle-class ideology does not replace the gospel, which is for all people despite their ethnic background or social class.
The challenge before the Church of the Brethren includes the need to speak the gospel eloquently. God calls us to be in communion with all believers, not only those who share a common European heritage. Our eloquence though is not enough. The statement requires certain polity and programmatic considerations.
We recognize that the challenge of program in these days of austerity in the denominational offices represents a source of fear for many of us. Nonetheless, the vision of the denomination is reflected in the educational materials, the training of the pastors at Bethany Theological Seminary, as well as the composition of the denominational staff, the district offices, and congregations.
Models of Inclusion. Two models of inclusion mark the history of the Church of the Brethren work with ethnic minorities. The first is the ethnic model, with ethnic churches as separate and independent congregations. It is a model derived from the idea of a church as many parts, with different functions held together through Christ (Rom. 12:4-8; 14:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-31).
The second model is the multi-ethnic model, which derives from the Pentecost experience (Acts 2). During the civil rights movement, the Church of the Brethren led the fight to have churches embrace the integration model. However, for a number of reasons—from “the black power movement” to the fear of the changes an integrated church might bring—the model of ethnic churches was adopted by denominations such as the United Church of Christ, the United Methodists, and the American Baptists.
As noted above, the Church of the Brethren has a tradition and practice of using both models. We can see ethnic minority churches such as Kang Nam in Pacific Southwest. We also see integrated congregations such as First church in Chicago, First church in Baltimore, and Lower Miami in Southern Ohio.
Each model has something to commend it and is rooted in scripture.
The Ethnic Model. “Church growth” literature encourages the model of ethnic churches. The literature on the whole maintains that people like to worship with people who are ethnically, culturally, socio-economically, and theologically like themselves. Language does not present a problem because all the people share a common worship language. The nature of conflict is substantially less intense with this model. The parent or sister congregation can adopt a “live and let live” policy on a number of things that ordinarily would prompt major church fights.
The Multi-ethnic Model. This integration model often creates struggle over power in the congregation and the changing of church traditions. Church conflict in this model gets substantially more intense. The “live and let live” way of dealing with church conflict becomes almost impossible. In some cases language also will be an issue. However, this model prepares ethnic minority persons for the life of the denomination at the district and national level.
Language. Where the church especially needs to discuss and pray about these models is around the issue of language. In the life of churches there are two languages: the language of worship (liturgical language) and the language of decision making (legislative language). Currently in our denomination these two languages are more or less the same. But in a more inclusive church, these languages will no longer be the same.
Worship has some of the most difficult and technical terminology no matter what the language. Therefore almost all people require worship language to be in their own native tongues. Many persons who are able to understand the English of the workplace are unable to penetrate the English of worship language. Therefore the denomination must make available worship and Christian education resources in the native tongues of the larger ethnic minority languages of the denomination—in this case, Spanish, Korean, Filipino (Tagolog), and Haitian/Creole.
Legislative language of the Church of the Brethren comes not so much from Annual Conference as from the myriad of committees and boards that help do the work of the church on the every level. It seems unlikely that these settings will become multilingual. Therefore we must devise a way so that ethnic minority leadership understands that while English is not required for worship it nonetheless orients the decision-making of the denomination.
Leadership, Ordination, and a Seminary Education. The Church of the Brethren has struggled to promote an educated clergy. As a result, ordination and education often are seen as going hand in hand. Ethnic diversity challenges that model in places. The ethnic minority church often has bi-vocational pastors, as many smaller churches have less money for pastoral support.
Like the issue of language, the short-term and local solutions may not work as effectively over the long term at the district and national levels. One can argue that formal seminary training is not always the solution. The denomination provides programs for persons who choose a different path. However, the ethnic minority persons seeking ordination and a profession in the Church of the Brethren will find the lack of a seminary degree a severe handicap. The education and socialization that take place at seminary, especially a denominational seminary such as Bethany, are an important part in the professional life of clergy. Therefore the church must maintain a policy on seminary education comparable to the one on language. We encourage ethnic minority theological education at Bethany or another accredited seminary, while at the same time providing educational opportunities for the ethnic minority pastors who find such a path onerous.
Power and Polity. Every denomination has pattern of participation and leadership. However, in most denominations, including the Church of the Brethren, must of the preparation for participation in leadership of the church takes place in informal ways. Ethnic minority Brethren are cut off from this by culture and the traditional Brethren network. Many ethnic minority persons and congregations are accustomed to organizational structures different from those used in the Church of the Brethren. Therefore, particular patience and education are required on matters of polity. Two examples that immediately come to mind are the role of the pastor, and polity and church property.
Many ethnic minority congregations view the pastor as having high status. Church of the Brethren congregations have moved away from a hierarchical model to one of power-sharing church leadership. The movement away from that model has been so strong that the encounter between the ethnic minority churches and other Church of the Brethren congregations is particularly jarring.
The Brethren understanding of church property as held “in trust” on behalf of the district is not always understood even by long-established congregations. The issue does not come up very often in the life of a congregation. Ethnic minority congregations new to the denomination, especially if they have been non-denominational before, will need significant help in understanding this part of polity.
We commend nominating committee for a tradition of seeking to include all members of the denomination. However, the challenge for the denomination is to improve the talent search for ethnic minority persons. Many persons on nominating committee do not know many of the ethnic minority persons in the denomination. Having a few ethnic minorities on the nominating committee will not solve the problem, since ethnic minority Brethren do not know the Korean Brethren and vice versa. Somehow the pattern for the talent search should be improved at every level of the Church of the Brethren.
V. Nurture: Recommendations and Challenges
The recommendations in this paper underscore the Goals for the ’90s passed at the 1988 Annual Conference, particularly as the Goals relate to evangelism, witness, and leadership development.
At the congregation level experts tell us that if a denomination can win one ethnic leader to its faith it then often gains entrance into that cultural group. However, we recognize that this model works more often in certain types of cultures than in others.
As the ethnic minority church comes into the fellowship, it is important that it have someone from an older congregation (or the district) to walk with it every step of the way. While much of Church of the Brethren tradition on theology, ethnics, and polity are clearly delineated, much of the social customs, as well as leadership and power remain unwritten and often unspoken. Without a mentor, these unwritten and unspoken parts of church life are cut off from ethnic minority Brethren.
The mentor also acts as an advocate. The mentor is someone who understands the cultures of the ethnic minority as well as the district. The gospel mandates inclusiveness, but does not indicate that it will be easy. The early church struggled with the Gentiles. Paul was not only a mentor to the Gentiles, he was also an advocate for the Gentiles. In the struggle before us, there will be conflicts where ethnic minorities cannot be the only ones who voice their needs.
Our recommendations consistently come out of the scripture and heritage concern of the Goals for the ’90s. “We are called to embody the spirit of the Scriptures . . . to celebrate Brethren identity as informed by scriptures . . .” The mentor studies the Scriptures and prays with the congregation and the district on these matters of inclusiveness.
At the district level: Employment of ethnic minority staff and programming has much room to grow in many districts. Leadership in the Church of the Brethren is developed primarily at the congregational and district levels. We applaud the Council of District Executives for discussing the recruitment, training, and placement of ethnic minority leaders for the Church of the Brethren. The role of district executives is a crucial one, as a pastor to pastors and a resource to congregations. District ministers/executives have to help congregations catch a vision of a more inclusive church and then develop plans for district boards and congregations.
At the national level: Employment of ethnic minority staff at the management and programming level at Bethany Theological Seminary and the denominational offices shows plenty of room for growth.
Shantilal P. Bhagat represents the only culturally ethnic minority presence at the management level in the denominational headquarters. (It should be noted that the General Board does represent ethnic diversity that is missing in the staff.) Fumitaka Matsuoka is the only ethnic minority person on the Bethany Theological Seminary faculty and staff. Further, that selection is new and controversial. Functionally it would be incorrect to say that we have an affirmative action program in place at either institution. While we do comply with federal law, the hiring practices indicate that the church is not yet committed to ethnic inclusion. We yearn for more in-depth visioning of an ethnically diverse denominational staff. Programming for ethnic minorities is also weak. The programs of Training in Ministry, Church Development, and Hispanic Ministries have excellent staff but insufficient support to be a catalyst for the Church of the Brethren turning the corner toward being an inclusive denomination.
In order to implement a vision of an inclusive church, we offer specific recommendations for congregations, districts, and the General Board and seminary.
Recommendations for congregations:
1.) Where feasible, every Church of the Brethren congregation is challenged to develop an ethnic minority congregation using its facilities while maintaining cultural identity of its own. These new ethnic congregations most likely will be reached through worship services they understand and in a language with which they feel comfortable. The older congregation becomes a friend, a shelter, a brother and sister to help nurture the new group in our common life and faith. The establishing congregation remembers the time when the Brethren were immigrants in a new land that was not always hospitable. They offer friendship in Christ.
2.) Every Church of the Brethren congregation is challenged to develop a multi-ethnic congregation. Though the multi-ethnic model may present greater challenges, benefits are realized in a more cohesive and stronger denomination overall.
Recommendations for district boards:
3.) We request that every district ministry or evangelism commission develop a network of mentor advocates in dialog with ethnic minority congregations. The mentor acts as a bridge builder and interpreter between the congregation and the district. The mentor knows and has the trust of both the congregation and the district.
Recommendations for the General Board and the electors of Bethany Theological Seminary:
4.) We request that the General Board and the electors of Bethany Seminary in their reports to the 1990 Annual Conference and every year for the next 10 years help us as a denomination to understand how they are developing ethnic leadership and hiring ethnic minority persons in keeping with a vision of participation and inclusiveness.
5.) We request that the General Board develop for the predominantly white congregations an educational program on church growth and inclusion of ethnic minorities.
6.) We request that the General Board explore the feasibility of making all Christian education and worship resources of the Church of the Brethren available in Korean, Filipino (Tagalog), Haitian/Creole, and Spanish.
7.) We request that the General Board and Bethany Theological Seminary develop programs for nurturing ethnic minority leadership. Such programs may use the Mission Twelve model, the youth leadership laboratory model, or a newly created model.
8.) We request that Bethany Seminary develop curriculum that will enable the Euro-American Bethany graduate to deal more effectively with the issue of cross-cultural ministry. This may require every Bethany student to take a course on this subject. Further we recommend that every person seeking ordination in the Church of the Brethren be asked to demonstrate ability to work in the area of “Ministry in a Multi-Racial and Multi-Cultural Setting.” Such could be accomplished through appropriate course work.
9.) We recommend the following additions to our polity.
a) “The congregation shall send delegates to those official conferences of the Church of the Brethren in which it is entitled to have representation.” (This is from the 1987 revisions to the polity.) Add to that: “The organizers of said conferences will seek to provide adequate translation of the process for the non-English speaking delegates.”
b) Under the topic of organization of new congregations: “A body of members or the district board through its appropriate commission may call for organization when, in the judgment of said commission, conditions of the place from which the call comes justifies such organization.” Add to that: “Normally this follows a year-long study of this history, theology, and polity of the Church of the Brethren in consultation with a district representative.
The letter to the church at Ephesus holds out a vision that we should take for ourselves, an image used by the National Council of Churches at its first national assembly, in May 1988: “We are no longer strangers.”
Appendix: An Introduction to Ethnic Minorities Among Us
The image of the Church of the Brethren as a group of German families has not been the whole picture for some time. However, all too often we as a denomination have been content to allow this perception to protect us from the challenge of ethnic diversity and evangelism to persons of different cultures.
In many cases, the idea that there are no ethnic minority persons near our congregations does not bear up under careful scrutiny. On the contrary, many Church of the Brethren congregations are set in communities with some ethnic diversity. The inclusion of ethnic minorities means the inclusion of persons who are literally outside our doors.
We must ask about the decline in participation of Japanese-Americans. After World War II, because of Brethren working with Japanese-Americans in internment camps, we had a significant group of Japanese-American Brethren. Today there is barely a remnant of that community in our midst. We celebrate Fumitaka Matsuoka as dean of Bethany Theological Seminary but hope for a larger Japanese-American Brethren population 10 years from now. In addition to the decline of Japanese-Americans in the Church of the Brethren, there has been a nearly complete loss of Chinese-Americans in the Church of the Brethren, even though there were many “Chinese Sunday School” missions in the Church of the Brethren at the turn of the century.
The Church of the Brethren has some ethnic diversity now. In fact there has been some ethnic diversity in the Church of the Brethren for the past two centuries. It has always been accidental. However, grace abounds. Of the 1,100 or so congregations in the Church of the Brethren, there are around 160 which Parish Ministries classifies as “urban.” Most of these congregations are in touch with ethnic groups in their communities interacting with them in different ways.
The districts most seriously attempting to promote and incorporate ethnic minority ministry are Atlantic Southeast District, Atlantic Northeast, Illinois-Wisconsin, Western Plains, and Pacific Southwest. Other districts are at work on this as well. Oregon-Washington recently received a Korean congregation. Southern Plains has a vigorous ministry in Falfurrias, Texas. Western Plains has three projects: 1) a Navajo congregation, 2) new church development with Hispanics in Denver, and 3) a strong Cambodian ministry at the Antelope Park church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Northern Indiana has two projects: 1) a new church development project for Hispanics (in cooperation with the Mennonites) in South Bend, and 2) Communion Fellowship in Goshen, which has strong ties to Filipinos and Hispanics.
The new church in Cranberry Township, Western Pennsylvania, has a black pastor from Guyana and strong American black leadership among its laity. The Good Shepherd church in Blacksburg, Va., is an international congregation with Asian and African members. Sou