This fall, we have collaborated with Destino (Latino ministry), Nations (Native American ministry) and Impact (African American ministry) to write an article called, “Six Postures of Ethnic Minority Culture Towards Majority Culture.” We hope it provides language and categories to further discussion about these significant topics. We hope you take the time to read and discuss it with your teams, families, and churches or organizations.
You can find the article here, if you want to read in its entirety, or share it with others.
But to allow for easier reading and interaction, we have decided to break up the article into posts as well on this blog. We have posted a question that you can engage at the end of each post. No matter where you are on your journey, we hope you will feel inspired to share your own thoughts and stories here!
Posture # 6: Equal and Empowered Partnership and Moving Forward
By Adrian & Jennifer Pei, Destino Kristy, Donnie & Renee Begay (with personal stories by Destino, Epic, Impact, and Nations staff)
If you’re a member of an ethnic minority culture, you have a story that has been largely untold in this country. You have a unique place in a history that has been largely incomplete of your values and leadership. There’s an incredible opportunity to shape the future of your cultural story, and the way minorities relate to the majority culture, as you embrace God’s calling to lead out of the unique beauty and dignity of your identity. It is a call to an equal and empowered partnership, wherein minorities understand and embrace their God-given authority to define their own reality, while still staying connected to the majority culture.
We use the words “equal” and “empowered” because our posture reveals how we see ourselves in relation to others. If we believe we are “above” another culture, we will talk and act as if they have nothing to teach or offer us. We won’t see our own need to learn and grow. Likewise, if we believe we are “below” another culture, we won’t see what we ourselves have to offer. In an equal partnership, both sides give and receive from one another, because they see their need for each other.
If we as ethnic minorities believe we are equal to the majority culture, we will act in empowered, not dependent, ways. We will seek out opportunities to teach about our culture and history. We will not wait for others to initiate with us, but we will bring our leadership to them.
This is a picture that the world may find difficult to understand. When you’ve lived most of your life on the margins of society, and you are consistently silenced, it’s easy to believe that you are powerless. But this is simply not true.
The majority culture has status and privilege that we may never possess in this country. But as individuals made in the very image of God, we are entrusted with a power and responsibility far greater than we can imagine. We as ethnic minorities greatly underestimate this.
We have the power to bring stories to the light of truth, or suppress them in the darkness of secrecy and shame. We have the power to embrace our cultural identity and lead others along the way, and to advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. We must not fail to recognize and steward this power!
We also have the power to wound or heal others by our words and actions. As minorities, we must remember that many in the majority culture are also on a journey filled with confusion and insecurity. They need our compassion and leadership as they grow in greater awareness of themselves, others, and God. As we lead as equals, we must treat them with grace and dignity, even if we feel we have not received that ourselves.
At times this will involve difficult conversations and pain. As ethnic minority leaders, we may share perspectives that force the majority culture to honestly examine the broken parts of their culture and history. Similarly, as our friends and leaders in the majority culture enter into our stories, they may speak truth into areas of our culture that need redemption.
This process can cause both sides to feel discomfort, defensiveness, and insecurity. However, as equals, both sides must be willing to listen and learn from that. Our cross-cultural relationships need to be able to handle truth that leads to transformation, with grace. And as we do this justly and with honor, we live out a picture of God’s body and coming kingdom.
Yet we don’t have to wait for heaven to experience this! As we ethnic minority leaders have embraced our God-given responsibility to lead, we have seen this vision lived out.
We have seen majority culture leaders with the humility to not only cross cultures, but be led by minority leaders. These advocates believe so strongly in the value of other cultures within their ministry, that they have let their own beliefs be shaped in the process. We have seen cross-cultural partnerships, where majority and minority leaders have mutual respect, learning, and trust; where powerful alliances have formed out of the strength of two different but equally powerful voices.
We have seen empowered minority leaders emerge, who are embracing their cultural identity, believing they have a unique voice at the highest levels of leadership. We have seen them influence and empower many in the majority culture. We have seen dignity restored to cultures that had been devalued and silenced, as God has used them to influence change in His greater body and kingdom.
Can you picture this in your ministry or context? Can you imagine mutually uplifting and honoring relationships, in which both side care enough to not let the other stay dependent or disempowered? Can you picture relationships where differences are stewarded with justice, mercy, and humility, and form the foundation for an even stronger alliance?
To What End?
As ethnic minorities, we cannot wait for the majority culture, before we choose to live out a posture of equal and empowered partnership. We lead because of who God created us to be, not out of reaction to how others may define us.
However, many barriers stand in the way of this vision, whether it’s unawareness, anger, resignation, deference, feelings of inferiority, or fear of differences and change. Some of these are deep-seated, and have roots in unprocessed wounds of past generations. Engaging our pain can be costly. Sometimes we feel it’s easier to not think or talk about it, or to stay emotionally or relationally separate from the majority culture.
This is our challenge: how do we move forward, when so much inside and outside of us is telling us to pull away? Moving forward does not mean forgetting or trivializing our past. It does not mean leaving the dreams and hopes of our families behind. It is not denying who we are, or self-sacrificially putting ourselves into unhealthy or abusive relationships.
Moving forward means unapologetically bringing all of ourselves to our leadership and relationships, and inviting the majority culture to do the same for our benefit. It means a willingness to dialogue with mutuality and respect, through our differences and disagreements. It means a heart to learn and serve, not because we feel inferior, but because we see others as equally valued members of God’s creation.
We move forward with the integrity to stand firm in our God-given identity, and the courage to extend grace where pain has been experienced. This requires not just persistence, but perseverance. It is rooted in an unrelenting hope and belief in the dignity of all people, and how they should be treated. It is rooted in a prophetic call to transform our suffering into advocacy, just as Jesus did.
Extending forgiveness is not easy, but with it comes the power to free both the minority and majority cultures from the bondage of their dark past. Many Caucasians have inherited feelings of guilt and shame, due to transgressions of their collective history, that can cause them to withdraw. Yet as we ethnic minority leaders persist in engaging the majority culture and initiating healthy partnerships, we play a redemptive and prophetic role in encouraging Caucasians to live out who they truly are. This is the beauty of an empowered partnership: neither side is devalued at the others’ expense, but both sides are lifted up.
Indeed, there is a beautiful picture of the image of God in Caucasian culture, shrouded by a tainted history, and forgotten in the conforming pressures of the “melting pot” of North America. What have we yet to see of the richness of this culture, and what it can bring to the diverse mosaic of cultures that God has designed?
And as we live out our identity in Christ in the fullness of our respective histories and traditions, we find our place in a story far grander than our mono-cultural history books can record. For God in His wisdom did not allow any one human culture to possess the entire spectrum of His truth, and each of our cultures’ stories is an indispensable part of His greater story!
Some of those stories have been forgotten or have gone untold. But God is at work in the world, not just in bringing His good news to the unreached, but filling in the missing colors of the “unreached” parts of our own hearts. What of His personality and character is waiting to be revealed, through cultures we have yet to experience?
Embracing our unique part in God’s story begins with understanding ourselves, and the way we relate to others. It requires more than a mental paradigm shift, but an expansion of our hearts. It requires a transforming vision of a God more vast and beautiful than we have known, before whom a sea of diverse witnesses will one day gather — clothed distinctly, and unashamed in the dignity of their uniqueness.
Moving towards this bigger picture of God starts with each of us. As we envision God’s bigger story, and consider the stories of our people yet to be told, we have choices to make about our own. What kind of story do you want yours to be? Will you wait for someone else to write it, or will you embrace it as your own?
For discussion or reflection:
- Thinking about your childhood and past, which of the six postures do you relate to the most? Why?
- Consider your friends or colleagues from the majority culture. In what ways can you move towards an equal and empowered partnership with them? What barriers stand in the way of this kind of partnership for you?
- Name one way that you see God differently because of your cultural or family background. Name one way that you see God differently because of a culture other than your own.
Adrian and Jennifer Pei have served with Epic since 2007. Jennifer graduated from Amherst College, and Adrian has degrees from Stanford and Fuller Seminary. You can find them on their website at adrianpei.com, and Adrian on Twitter at @adrianpei.
Kristy is Latina and has been serving with Destino since 2008. She graduated from Texas A&M, blogs at destinoyearbook.com and you can find her on Twitter at @destinokristy. She writes under a pseudonymbecause of her involvement with Destino’s ministry to unreached peoples.
Donnie and Renee Begay have been serving with Nations since 2008. Donnie is from the Navajo Nation, Renee is from the Zuni Nation. Donnie graduated from NMSU, and you can find him on Twitter at @k4pu1yt.
Photography by Clarence Chan (http://www.flickr.com/photos/clarencechan) and istockphoto.com.