Promoting Racial Reconciliation on Campus
Director of Religious Life Paul Sorrentino at Amherst College is a veteran youth worker and a regional coordinator with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Through the years, he has worked to make Christian communities more multiethnic. Here he provides a series of articles with insights from his new book, A Transforming Vision (IVP).

A Transforming Vision demonstrates why Christian communities should be multiethnic and provides a practical vision of how that can take place. The contributing authors worked together in an intentional multiethnic fellowship at Amherst College, and each of them was transformed by that experience. Here they combine personal experience with biblical insight and research on multiracial churches to offer an indispensible guide to multiethnic ministry for church, youth group and campus leaders. The lessons they learned will be deeply relevant to leaders in a variety of church, parachurch and campus settings.

Why do I care about racial reconciliation?
In the summer of 1993, I sat with several InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff members watching a training video on multiethnic ministry. InterVarsity, as a national movement, was beginning to emphasize the need for us to examine the place of ethnic minorities in our fellowships and to consider how they were being incorporated into our fellowships. The video featured an InterVarsity staff worker named Barbara. Barbara was an African-American woman whom I had met at a national conference. She was highly respected throughout InterVarsity, and she was especially known for prayerfulness, gentleness, hospitality and godly wisdom. I was shocked by what I saw on the screen.

The video tape we watched that day had been recorded in 1992, shortly after the Rodney King court verdict. The recording showed Barbara speaking at the podium. She was not quiet, meek or calm. She was outraged, angry and loud. She found the verdict and, what’s more, the reaction—or more accurately the non-reaction—of the white, evangelical church incomprehensible.

I remember Barbara screaming that “every black church in America talked about the Rodney King verdict” the following Sunday. I was stunned. When was the last time I remembered anything in the news being talked about on Sunday? I surely did not hear anything about Rodney King in my local church that Sunday or any other Sunday. In fact, I would have been surprised and maybe annoyed if something had been said, and I would have thought it out of place. Wasn’t that more of a political issue that should not be talked about in church? Aren’t there lots of opinions and perspectives on this issue? Who was I to judge? I liked the sanitized version of church. I did not want anything too controversial to distract me from worship of God through music, prayer, witness and, perhaps, service.

Nevertheless, there was Barbara. Screaming! I had met her. She worked for the same ministry I did and cared about the life and faith of students just as I did. Or was it just as I did? Why was her reaction to the Rodney King beating so different from mine? I was upset at first, too. Then I heard the explanations. I followed the news reports. Rodney King was a big man. He had been on drugs. The drugs made him stronger than 10 men. There was a rational explanation for why these officers, the “good guys,” did what initially seemed so inhumane. Barbara was still screaming. She felt strongly about this, more strongly than I could understand. Why was this godly woman in such a different place than me? Why were our views so different?

A Transforming Vision is not a political book. It is not about red states and blue states. At heart, it is a book about what it means to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17:23: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” The unity of God’s people across denominational, racial, ethnic, class and other lines of difference, is God’s intent and serves as a testimony to the reality of Christ’s incarnation and God’s love. Conversely, a divided church provides a weakened and anemic witness to the watching world.

This is not a book about political correctness. In fact, it would be best to forget about the confines of political correctness for the sake of reading this book and discussing it. Talking about racial matters is always challenging. We worry about how we will say things and if we will offend someone. The reality is that we will make mistakes, and we will offend. We must recognize that as part of the learning process and be patient with one another, for as the apostle Peter wrote, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

A Transforming Vision is divided into two major sections. The first section offers personal narratives. Each writer shares a different perspective on how he or she was affected by involvement in a multiethnic fellowship, and each has a dramatic story to tell, reflecting his or her background as an African American, Chinese American, Cuban American, mixed heritage as European and Chinese American, and European American.

The second section addresses the kinds of changes we found necessary to make in our fellowship if we were to function well as a multiethnic body. We begin with research data on the reality of the racial divide in the United States. Then we discuss more practical aspects of a multiethnic fellowship, including structures, relationships, leadership and music. There is a 10-session Bible study on the Book of Acts that focuses on crossing cultural barriers for the gospel.

A Transforming Vision builds on established research on multiracial congregations and illustrates these principles through stories of people involved in a successful multiethnic fellowship over a period of years. It should be of special interest to those who would like to see their own congregation, youth group or campus group become more multiethnic. It is our hope that reading this book will convince you of the breadth and depth of the racial divide and of the benefits of being a bridge-builder across that divide for the sake of Christ. May God help us to fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 “that all of them may be one.”

Adapted with permission from A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic Fellowship in College and in the Church by Paul Sorrentino (IVP). The book is available at leading book stores including Amazon.

Related Articles:
Moved to Action
White People Worship?
Where Everyone Is Uncomfortable, and that’s OK
A Different Ministry Model
Leading a Multiethnic Fellowship
Multiethnic Worship
A Case for Continuing Monoethnic Minority Fellowships

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