Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Inclusive Church - without racial bias

I've lived all of my life in Melbourne, which as long as I can remember has always been described as a multicultural city. I'm still fascinated by how certain suburbs have different cultural 'flavours' that are sometimes indicated by the visibility of certain types of shops or by the cultural mix noticable in the local schools. Sydney Road, Brunswick near where I live is well known for its variety of restaurants bringing food from many different parts of the world.

Not all of our churches reflect this rich mix of different cultures though. Of course, to a certain degree this can be explained by a strong historic connection with other denominations or religions. However, despite a few notable exceptions, The Salvation Army is pretty monocultural in expression here. Why is this? Is it to do with language? Is it the colonial roots of the movement? Is it the military metaphor or some other internal TSA cultural shaping that doesn't translate well? The Salvation Army seems to work ok in other countries, so why is it not so attractive when people from those countries come here? I have noticed that we often send white officers from Western countries to be leaders in developing countries, but I can't think of any examples where we've done the opposite. To be honest I really don't know the answers to these questions. I think they are questions we need to explore though because we have much that we can learn from other cultures.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this 'series', it has been great to see someone asking the questions. I'd love to thrash the ideas around with you - next year!

I think that the reasons for the monocultural reality are all the things you mention. But also that sometimes people moving to Aus use it as an excuse to escape from TSA and there is not much about what we do that will draw them back.

My experience of Aus Corps is also that they are pretty protectionist! They don't want the chaos that often comes with the exploration of cultural sensitivity and relevance - it's easier to maintain the status quo and unconsciously communicate the idea that you can 'join us on our terms'.

In my experience it is rarely about language. People are willing to adapt and even assimilate linguistically. But it is a convenient excuse not to attempt to include.

Even the colonial roots and military form I believe are minor barriers. We know they exist - but to be inclusive they must be flexible - and certainly taken off the altar of the 'holy cow'.

I think sometimes we make cultural inclusiveness harder than it has to be. There will always be challenges, there will always be cultural differences... perhaps we should start by celebrating the similarities and being friendly first!

JDK said...

Thanks Daryl for your comments. Definitely interested in talking further next year. It may be that your new appointment is a good testing ground for this particular theme. All the best, JDK