by Wayne Stapleton
NAB VP of Cross-Cultural Engagement
We are in a cultural moment when previously unheard voices are now being heard. In the church in North America, members of the First Nations community historically have been some of those voices that have not been heard. In February, as part of the NAB initiative to grow in cross-cultural engagement, a dialogue was hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, with NAB leaders, people with a background in ministry to the First Nations community, and members of the First Nations community. Our goals for this dialogue included assisting NAB leadership to learn what we don’t know in issues of race and ministry and to articulate next steps that can help the NAB move forward in these areas.
In addition to myself, the participants were:
- Heather Breitkreuz – Kairos Advisor at Taylor Seminary
- Mark Buchanan – Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University and Chair of Continuing Education and Pastoral Formation
- Jeff Caouette – Active Member of Central Baptist Church
- Stefan Dick – Missionary with InterAct Ministries
- Terry Fossen – NAB Regional Minister
- Nathan Gullion – involved in church planting with the Reformed Church in America in Edmonton
- Harry Kelm – Lead Pastor at Grace Baptist Church
- Alice Kung – Associate Pastor – Family Ministries at Grace Baptist Church
- Doug Meyers – Associate Pastor – Adult Ministries at Grace Baptist Church
- David Williams – Professor of Theology and Ethics and President of Taylor Seminary
We heard personal stories from two members of the First Nations community, as well as from people who minister to the First Nations community. There was valuable sharing about the challenges of multicultural ministry from pastors of Grace Baptist Church, a majority White Canadian church with a significant number of members and attenders from the Filipino community, as well as many from other Asian as well as African countries.
Through our conversation, it was evident that every church has a culture of its own, and it was noted that typically the culture of the local church is against change. Each church has systems and cultures in need of correction, often in regard to the inclusion of people of minority communities. There are mechanisms in our churches that at times are working in oppressive ways.
We discussed how the way evangelical theology is practiced can be a hindrance to openness in the church community among people of different cultures. We have a tendency to read Western values into the text, and we sanctify Western values, importing our own culture into how we do the Gospel in ways that can minimize other cultures. Practically, there were many calls to acknowledging the First Nations folks in church community, which is not happening in a way that would engender more unity and relationship.
A few recommendations were made regarding the role of the church in helping members of the First Nations community to heal. The first suggestion mentioned – and reaffirmed – was that real change is a matter of the heart, of developing a love of others that issues forth from the Spirit of God in us and among us. Other suggestions included acknowledging current and historic oppression of First Nations people, providing pulpit teaching that addresses issues of cultural distinctions and how the Gospel plays a role, opening up the opportunity for cross-cultural dialogue, and showing a willingness in our church cultures to worship alongside people who may be economically and culturally different. It is so vitally important to consider the desires of Jesus Christ Himself for those who gather to worship Him.
Developing relationships in the body of Christ was noted as a path to healing for Christian members of the First Nations community. Mark Buchanan described healing relationships as “genuine, deep, sustained friendships with First Nations folks, relationships that are mutually formative.” In our discussion, we heard very clearly that there is so much pain – based not only on historic oppression but current, ongoing racism – that the embrace of a community of Gospel-based Christ-followers who are White can bring healing to people in the First Nations community.
When asked about the church’s blind spots or hindrances, Nathan Gullion opened up by stating that First Nations people are not understood by those from the majority culture. There are cultural differences to be sure, but there sometimes seems to be a lack of desire to understand the differences. It was asked if we love the Lord and our neighbor enough to make the sacrifice to see ourselves through the eyes of the “others” around us. Certainly it is work, but expected work if preceded by love. In his closing comments, David Williams stated, “Though our dysfunction and the systems that oppress break the heart of God, we can be encouraged that the Spirit of God longs for us to put ourselves in situations for Him to work. We just need to allow Him to work through us.” This is a valid, excellent point. We have all we need in the Scripture and by God’s Spirit, but we still must learn to apply the teaching of Scripture in new ways and contexts that may cause more sacrifice than we have been willing to make in the past. If we are willing, we will bring more glory to God as we embrace those different than us and show the Gospel-unity that Jesus prayed for us to have (John 17:22).
We ended the day acknowledging that this was a tough subject. However, this conversation was conducted with mutual love and respect. Honest, authentic words were spoken, but at all times the overwhelming desire was that Christ be honored. It was eye-opening to consider that Gospel unity calls for our willingness to sacrifice for one another and that this is a path to healing. This revelation applied to our conversation that day, but it can be applied to every context in which we gather to worship and represent the Lord. Our plans are to take the next six months to develop new eyes to see the ways that our cultures create unintentional barriers to “others” engaging in authentic biblical community.