Separate No More
2007 Church of the Brethren Statement
The Church of the Brethren as a denomination is giving serious attention, in its “Together” emphasis, on being transformed by God’s Spirit. One expression of this quest is highlight-ed by the deeply searching question, “What are God’s yearnings for Church of the Brethren?”.
After much prayer, study, research, and deliberation, our committee concluded that one essential part of the answer to that question is for us to be SEPARATE NO MORE.
We accomplish this by deliberately and intentionally moving toward becoming much more intercultural than we currently are. Our reasons for this conclusion are Biblically-based.
We began with the Revelation 7:9 vision:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
The text goes on to describe the profound worship experience of God’s angels and people of diverse backgrounds.
We believe that this vision is not merely a description of God’s church at the end of time, but a revelation of the true intended nature of God’s church in the here and now.
Acts 2:9-11 lists fifteen (!) ethnic or language groups as being present at the Pentecostal “birthday” of the church when the Holy Spirit came upon the people of faith. Some Bible scholars suppose there were more than that, saying that the list was intended to represent “every nation under heaven,” (v.5). The sense that the church should be ethnically diverse is emphasized broadly in many other New Testament passages. These passages include, but are not limited to the following:
- Matthew 22: Jesus’ second greatest commandment – Love your neighbor (and illustrated by a parable of a person from a diverse background – the Samaritan);
- Matthew 28:19-20: Jesus’ commandment to make disciples of all “ethna” – The primary meaning of this Greek term is “ethnic groups;” “nations” is the secondary meaning;
- Acts 10: When Peter resisted the intercultural nature of the church, the Holy Spirit sent him a soul-shaking vision to redirect and prepare him for intercultural evangelism;
- Romans 12: Members of Christ’s church differ greatly, but are all parts of one body;
- I Corinthians 12:12-27: Many members, transformed into one body;
- Galatians 3:26-28: Neither Jew nor Greek, etc. All one in Christ;
- Ephesians 2:14-22: No longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens;
- I John 4:7: All God’s children to love one another.
Jesus’ ministry was to people from many different backgrounds. He expressed God’s love for all people in his teachings. The Bible describes the church as being intercultural (1) at birth, (2) throughout the New Testament and (3) as being so at the end of time. We believe that God loves and values the many faithful monocultural churches (a majority of members from one culture) in our midst. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, monocultural churches have been and can be effective. We also believe that God has long yearned and still yearns for the church to be intercultural – that is, different cultures united in one “Christ culture” (Colossians 3:10-11), furthering Jesus’ mission to make “all things new (Revelation 21:5).” Thus, Jesus calls us to be SEPARATE NO MORE but instead to truly be one whole body. We pray that we can all be open and supportive of this long-range goal and undertake incremental steps toward achieving it.
In the parable-telling style of Jesus, we share a summary of this story from India. It demon-strates how our individual journeys of faith can limit our experience of God. The summa-rization is far too brief to capture the beauty or full impact of this story, but adequate to illustrate its main point:
“Six blind men, after much disagreement about the nature of the elephant, decided that an actual encounter with an elephant would be most informative in assisting them to discern the true nature of the elephant.
- The first to approach it reached out and touched its huge side. He concluded, “The elephant is like a wall.”
- The second felt the elephant’s trunk and said, “The elephant is like a snake.”
- The third felt the elephant’s tusk and said, “The elephant is like a spear.”
- The fourth put his arms around one of its huge legs and concluded, “An elephant is like a tree trunk.”
- The fifth felt one of its ears and said, “An elephant is like a fan.”
- The sixth grabbed the elephant’s tail and said “An elephant is like a piece of rope.”
Which man was right in his perception of the elephant and which man experienced him best? Each of the six had a separate, but only partially correct perception of the elephant. Later in the story when all six perceptions and experiences were combined, a more comprehensive picture of the elephant emerged.
The story illustrates that none of us has a monopoly on the one “correct” perception of God from our faith journeys. But by attention to God’s Word and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, plus the willingness to share our faith journeys and experiences of God with brothers and sisters from different cultural backgrounds, each of us can experience and see God – and his vision for us – more fully. Only then are we transformed to embrace what this report calls a “SEPARATE NO MORE” philosophy, leading to that richer and fuller experience of God.
There are other reasons why it is imperative that we become a more intercultural denomination. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- The need for evangelistic outreach and compassionate service to a wider group.
- The realistic accommodation of the national demographic shift to a multi-ethnic population.
- For some local churches that might otherwise shrink or die, interculturalism may allow survival, revival and growth in accommodating changing demographics.
- The value of embracing the spiritual giftedness of all ethnic and racial groups.
- The witness of many individuals in intercultural churches is that being members of such a church is life-enriching and transforming.
- The intercultural church provides a model for healing racial and ethnic divides in society by demonstrating how to communicate and love one another across these “boundaries.”
- The transformation of society from Sunday morning segregation and compartmentalization of God’s people can be a time where we as Christians, reach out in reconciliation.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul held up the Macedonian church as an exam-ple for emulation. We also have examples of other denominations that have made sub-stantial progress toward becoming more intercultural. For example, our committee has drawn from the experience and models for progress in intercultural ministry found in denominations such as the American Baptist Churches USA, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church of America, and the Mennonite Church USA.
Lutheran theologian Dr. H.S. Wilson, in his article about multicultural churches, “A Bouquet of Multiple Flowers,” maintains that when churches became too comfortable with a monocultural norm, it was – at least to some extent – a sliding away from God’s pre-ferred norm. He says this: “Embracing multiculturalism is not an option for Christians, but a mandate. It is a call for discarding a false notion of Christian community, despite its long-cherished legacy.” How can we embrace true Christian community? We can embrace Christian community by following Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors from diverse backgrounds – by building lasting and deep relationships with them that result in the Christian community to which Christ calls us.
Moving Toward Being “Separate No More”
As a result of many conversations over our three years together, we feel there is an urgent need to celebrate our current diversity and build on it. It is very clear that we, as a denomination, widely agree that despite differences in how we worship and relate to God, we are members of God’s family and have shared faith values.
These values and our discipleship in Christ unite us and allow us to see past our differ-ences, even when they manifest themselves in different ways. These same forces allow us to focus on being God’s family – a family that builds authentic relationships and commu-nity by embracing, respecting and loving each of its members, regardless of their background.
Merely acknowledging or tolerating another’s existence is not enough. Healing and recon-ciliation must occur because Christ calls us to love our neighbor, with all its ramifications!So, where do we begin?
First and foremost, let us seek God and be open to God’s leading. We then need to make a long-term commitment to achieving more of the Revelation 7:9 vision. We must be real-istic about what a commitment to this journey entails and know that change does not occur quickly. We also need to recognize that there will be challenges to building a whole body of Christ so that we are prepared to work through them in love.
Secondly, listen, listen, listen to each other and respect one another! While we share common aspects of believing in Christ and “being Brethren” that transcend our divides, ultimately we need to transform our worldview to see others as Jesus sees all of us by growing in the likeness of Christ, by gaining greater self-awareness and by learning more about those from other racial/ethnic cultures. We build our diversity by building deeper and more authentic relationships with one another. Flexibility and adaptability are key con-cepts for relationship building.
We need to be careful not to make assumptions about or judgments of others who are different from us. The willingness to expand our Brethren identity by not “doing church” the way we’ve always done it can keep the larger vision of Christ’s calling in front of us. Living “Christ’s call to oneness” through the intercultural family of God will require that we as a denomination be intentional, inclusive and committed to transformation and healing.
Study Background, Process and Initial Conclusions
This study committee’s work commenced with the adoption of two queries and five tasks at the 2004 Annual Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Of the five original tasks assigned to the committee, two remained unfinished at the time of our report to the 2006 Annual Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. They are:
- Recommend actions we must take to bring us (the denomination) into conformity with the vision of Revelation 7:9.
- Formulate a mechanism to report intercultural ministry progress at Annual Conference through 2010.
While working on the tasks assigned to us, we realized that many people were drawn to our denomination because of our core values. For clarity on this matter, the Church of the Brethren Website (http://www.brethren.org) states , “Faithful following of Jesus Christ and obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures have led us to emphasize principles that we believe are central in true discipleship. Among these are peace and reconciliation, simple living, integrity of speech, family values, and service to neighbors near and far.” In repeated conversations with majority and minority ethnic and racial church members, almost all who came into the church from outside the denomination cited our peace witness, service to others, and community as the top three reasons they were attracted to the Church of the Brethren.
We also attempted to explore demographics related to the various ethnic/racial minorities within our denominational and congregational make-up to understand our current diversity. In doing so, we found that there is a severe shortage of reliable and useful informa-tion about the ethnic, racial and other cultural elements in the Church of the Brethren. The only centralized data collection tool is the three-page Congregational Statistical Report Form sent each fall to congregations by the District offices.
To the best of our understanding, the Ministry Office and the Brethren Press staff who work on the yearbook share this tool to collect demographic information about congregations and the pastoral body. The form has few cultural diversity indicators of any sort, and those that do appear only relate to the denomination’s pastors. Cultural diversity within congregations is generally interpreted by the respondent rather than by using standardized definitions of ethnicity, race or other forms of cultural diversity. The response rate is poor.
Therefore, there are no reliable demographic statistics to provide a current “snapshot” of who the Church of the Brethren is in the United States and Puerto Rico.
Lastly, we reviewed Annual Conference papers and recommendations (1989, 1991, 1994) and Annual Conference resolutions (2001) related to interculturalism (please refer to 2006 interim report to Annual Conference for details). We examined these recommendations’ implementation status. This exercise elicited:
– Great admiration for the deep theological insight, Christian integrity, and idealistic nobility of the stated goals, ideals and expected outcomes of these documents.
– A feeling that our committee has been assigned to “reinvent the wheel.”
– Consternation that, for all the resolutions and recommendations, there have been few applications or results.
We concluded that the application of the recommendations and lack of outcomes resulted from:
- A lack of will to implement the recommendations, thereby leading to an even greater reluctance to dedicate funding for the implementation of the recommendations.
- A lack of a formal process to assess the progress of implementation of the recommendations.
- A lack of assigned accountability for monitoring denominational achievement of outcomes.
- The failure of implementation, assessment of outcomes, and accountability for follow-through (which was a result of too few champions of the cause and no real structural changes within the denomination to facilitate them).
These issues are acknowledged at all levels within the Church of the Brethren. Today, there appears to be cautious willingness to find funding for intercultural efforts, a willingness to consider some structural changes and more champions for the cause. To reiterate, we as a committee, recognize that the move to interculturalism within our denomination will not happen overnight, but requires intentionality, commitment and priority, resulting in a fun-damental shift in the way we “do church.”
The Church of the Brethren as a denomination has taken some steps to move toward the diversity depicted in Revelations 7:9, such as starting churches for separate language groups. While this strategy of planting “language churches” is a stepping stone to achiev-ing Christ’s vision, we must not stop there! The vision is to be SEPARATE NO MORE, meaning that we all worship Christ together. Further, the Church of the Brethren has been involved in mission work in other countries, resulting in separate denominations in some of them. Is God now calling us to be SEPARATE NO MORE in regard to our sisters and brothers in other countries? One suggestion we have heard that requires further prayer and exploration is to establish a worldwide Church of the Brethren, which could help draw us all together.
God has led us as a committee to recommend specific actions that we as the Church of the Brethren can take at all levels of our denomination, so that together we might realize more of the Revelation 7:9 vision and experience God more fully.
Foundations for Intercultural Progress
Many common ideas emerge in the literature about interculturalism and among denomi-nations that have made strides toward it. They are non-specific but foundational and nec-essary underpinnings for intercultural efforts to come to fruition.
To paraphrase the New Life Ministries’ Diversity Project Findings by Mennonites Rocky Kidd and Alan Rowe (see resource list), the Church of the Brethren as a denomination needs to commit to the following:
- Listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
- Be intentional concerning interculturalism in our congregations and denomination.
- Make a commitment to work on racial reconciliation and to “speak the truth in love” concerning racial, ethnic and class issues that will lead to healing and wholeness.
- Call and embrace multicultural pastoral staff as important.
- Commit to culturally appropriate music and worship styles.
- Invest ourselves emotionally, spiritually, financially, and physically in a multi-ethnic neighborhood when possible.
- Make a long-term commitment to a ministry and a community in that neighborhood, and “walk alongside” our neighbors.
- Avoid the “just fix it” attitude.
- Respect those within the community. Allow the community to accept us and the ministry on their terms, not ours. They are our partners, not our mission project.
- Be aware that individual ethnic [Church of the Brethren] culture can overshadow the gospel and our evangelistic efforts if we are not very careful.
Task 1: Recommend actions we must take to bring us (the denomination) into conformity with the vision of Revelation 7:9.
Task 2: Formulate a mechanism to report intercultural ministry progress at Annual Conference through 2010.
As we prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Church of the Brethren, we call all our sisters and brothers to recommit themselves to radical discipleship that embraces our traditional witness of peace, simplicity, compassion, and stewardship of God’s creation. We give thanks for the old wineskins (Matthew 9:17) that faithfully carried forth the living witness of Christ in our world. But in the spirit of transformation found in Romans 12:2, it is time to make new wineskins for the future of the Church of the Brethren. Therefore, we recommend that the denomination widen the relevancy of our witness to those “from every nation, people, tribe and tongue” by adopting Revelation 7:9 as our denominational vision for the remainder of the 21st century. Thus, we can clearly artic-ulate to ourselves, our friends, and the unchurched that we are – and will be – SEPARATE NO MORE.
We further recommend that the Annual Conference and its reportable agencies:
- Include the concept of intentional intercultural inclusion in their purpose/vision statement.
- Establish a discernment process during hiring which considers candidates’ intercultural competence and the denominational needs.
- Require annual intercultural orientation/education for staff and program volunteers.
- Develop programes to include and formally mentor young adults of every ethnic/racial background into leadership positions for the church’s future stability and growth.
- Update the Congregational Statistical Report Form to include standardized cultural indicators, so that collected data may be improved and provide an accurate “census” of the Church of the Brethren.
- Annual Conference and all its reportable agencies’ national conferences (NYC, NOAC, YAC and NYAC, CCS, etc.) will intentionally include intercultural themes and diverse speakers, offer intercultural-awareness activities and training, and provide adequate translation services.
- Provide new member materials, evangelism materials, and Christian education mate- rials that are intercultural and translated into appropriate languages.
- Require that all of Annual Conference’s new Standing Committee members on the Nominating Committee have attended at least one (1) Intercultural event (e.g. Cross Cultural Consultation and Celebration, workcamps) in the past five (5) years.
- Require all new at-large agency Board of Directors nominees to have attended at least one (1) Intercultural event (e.g. Cross Cultural Consultation and Celebration, work camps) in the past five (5) years.
We recommend that Bethany Theological Seminary:
- Make intercultural church planting and intercultural education a priority.
- Pursue a policy of intentional recruitment of people of color among its students.
- Seek qualified faculty from various ethnic and national backgrounds.
- Include the religious history and heritage of nonwhite church members, along with intercultural communication, in its curriculum.
In regard to structure, we recommend that a full-time, funded specialist position be estab-lished within Congregational Life Teams that would:
- Assist in facilitating intercultural activity within the denomination.
- Serve as a denominational clearing house for intercultural resources.
- Assist in data collection about intercultural activity.
- Compile annual intercultural progress reports to be included in the Congregational Life Ministries’ reporting to the Annual Conference from the updated Congregational Statistical Request Form. (See Appendix 1: Draft of Proposed Position Description for further details.)
We recommend that we as a denomination renew our commitment to existing and new urban ministry sites and intentionally work toward planting new intercultural congregations.
We recommend that the accountability for monitoring the implementation of these recommendations rest with the Annual Conference Standing Committee. Annual Conference and its agencies will report on their applicable progress at Annual Conference each year until 2010, and every two years thereafter.
We recommend that Districts:
- Develop and implement strategies for realizing the Revelation 7:9 vision in the District.
- Require that all pastors have ongoing continuing education focusing on intercultural activity. (This could be accomplished by having pre- or post-conference workshops for pastors, online training, dedicated pastoral training sessions or retreats, etc. These activities could carry credit for continuing education units, or CEUs.)
- Require intercultural content CEUs for re-ordination and relicensing.
- Require all district staff and program volunteers to have intercultural orientation and experience.
- Implement a formal mentoring programme for new minority pastors.
- Require that all new District Executive candidates and new nominees for the District Board, committees, and their representatives to the Standing Committee and General Board must have attended at least one (1) Intercultural events (e.g. Cross Cultural Consultation and Celebration, work camps)” in the last five (5) years
We recommend that each District Board be accountable for the implementation of the above recommendations by reporting on the District’s progress on intercultural activity at the end of two years during their District Conference, and every two years thereafter, with progress reports sent to the General Board.
We recommend that each District implement and promote an annual event emphasizing the blessing of the increasing intercultural nature of our Church of the Brethren family, and our need to move even closer to the Revelation 7:9 vision.
We recommend that Districts be intentional about collecting congregational and pastoral statistics using the Congregational Statistical Report Form which will be revised to include diversity indicators.
Across numerous discussions, case studies, readings, etc. in which our committee members engaged, the salient principles of churches moving toward becoming an intercultural family of God include leadership, intentionality, adaptability, and integrated worship. The appendices contain “Stages of Intercultural Church Development” (along with key principles, actual case studies and resources), which may be a helpful guide to congregations desiring to become more intercultural.
We recommend that:
- Congregations reach out intentionally to people from different backgrounds in their neighborhood and love them as neighbors by building authentic relationships with them.
- Congregations become informed about the conditions of life for ethnic and racial minorities within their neighborhoods and their congregations, so that when inequities are uncovered, they can make strong commitments of time and financial resources to local organizations working on these issues.
We recommend that:
- Individual Church of the Brethren members and families be intentional about forming authentic relationships with diverse neighbors, learning about their cultural back- grounds and personal stories, and learning more about how they experience and view God.
- Individual Church of the Brethren members and families become better informed about racism and other discrimination, and that they stand in solidarity with victims of all hate crimes, offering compassion and assistance to them.
- Brethren students, staff and faculty at Brethren institutions of higher learning continue their commitment to be open to people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and seek to build relationships with those from traditionally ethnic institutions of higher learning located near them.
- Brethren residents and staff of the Brethren retirement communities continue to be open to people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, and seek to build relationships with traditionally ethnic institutions near them.
How can we experience God more fully? What does it truly mean to be God’s family? What does it mean to truly be one in Christ? What prevents us from realizing the vision of Revelation 7:9? What do we need to do to achieve this vision?
As an intercultural team, these are the questions we have wrestled with and prayed about over the last three years. We have sought God’s guidance as we worked together to answer them and complete our assigned tasks. What we found was that God has taken each one of us on an amazing journey. We have heard God calling for the complete transformation of each of us, of our churches and of our denomination.
This is a plea for transformation, calling each of us to more fully and completely follow Christ’s example of loving all peoples – in loving our neighbors. Through Christ’s love, we become the all-inclusive family of God envisioned in Revelation 7:9.
To do this, we must be completely open to God’s work in us and among us. In truly open-ing ourselves to God, there is no limit to what God can accomplish. This is the way it was in the church described in Acts 2. This is the way it was with our roots in Schwarzenau, Germany. We began as Christians who allowed ourselves to be transformed.
God is calling us today, to be transformed into a whole body of Christ, so that we are SEPARATE NO MORE. So this is not merely a paper containing recommendations. This is a call for transformation. Without transformation, there may be no effective implementation of the recommendations. For as Matthew 9:17 says, “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Sisters and Brothers, this is a call for new wineskins – for total transformation through being open to God’s guidance. This is the only way to realize more of the Revelation 7:9 vision. In this transformation and moving toward this vision for the church, we are called into reconciliation – and God can use this message and ministry of reconciliation to liter-ally transform and heal our society and our world.
Respectfully and prayerfully submitted by the Intercultural Study Committee:
Asha Solanky, Chair
Darla Kay Bowman Deardorff
Thomas M. Dowdy
Nadine L. Monn, Recorder
Glenn Hatfield, Ex-officio, American Baptist Churches USA
Action of the 2007 Annual Conference: Annual Conference approved the report of the Intercultural Study Committee.
Appendix 1: Draft of Proposed Position Description
This Congregational Life Team position includes a specialty element and by virtue of its function is a highly collaborative position. Salary Range: $ 40,000 – 42,000
This staff person would carry the duties of Congregational Life Team members but their portfolio would include functional expertise in areas of collection and analysis of cultural demographics, including but not limited to race, ethnicity and gender. The person would also collect, monitor and analyze intercultural efforts and ministry occurring within the denomination and make recommendations when and where appropriate. The individual would also compile and report data on these activities to be included in the Annual Report presented to Annual Conference.
Note: The person in this position would not be responsible for prescribing or directing intercultural activity within the denomination. Rather, the person in this position would serve as a conduit for information and connecting persons with specific needs regarding intercultural ministry and activity to known experts and other available resources within the denomination.
Report to the Director of Congregational Life Ministries.
The following criteria will be considered in the discernment of an appropriate candidate: Pastoral experience (five years) or equivalent service
Master’s level education
Demonstrated intercultural competence Bilingual: with both verbal and written fluency
Demonstrated ability to communicate and network effectively with persons from a variety of ethnicities, races and cultures Expertise in data collection, analysis, and reporting
Responsibilities include but are not limited to:
Actively collect data and compile data about intercultural activity, ministry within the denomination (through routine contacts with other Congregational Life Team members and own initiative).
Serve as resource who would connect persons with need to persons with the expertise for various intercultural activities: contact, set up meetings.
Find and connect to translators for various denominational events. Involve youth and young adults (Youth and Young Adults under CLM).
Compile information about available statistics on minorities within the denomination with input from Ministry Office and Yearbook Office.
Compile written report to be included in an annual report to Annual Conference that would include an update on intercultural activities within the denomination.
Appendix 2: Stages of Intercultural Church Development
Congregations can be anywhere along this continuum (including in between stages), ma