The word multicultural has become a common slogan used in political rhetoric and public discourse. When used in politics, it is associated with any of these words; integration, assimilation or segregation depending on the policies of a given country. Some European countries such France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands have policies shaped by assimilation. This means that these countries aim at turning people of other cultures into ‘French’ citizens or ‘German’ citizens; substituting their culture with French or German culture, language, law and customs. Simply put, minority cultures are required by the duty of citizenship to be absorbed by the majority culture. Britain on the other hand appears to have integration at the heart of its multicultural agenda, but sadly due to several factors the opposite, segregation, seems to have been achieved. This has created frustration within the UK government and is partly what led to David Cameron’s statement in February 2011 that state multiculturalism has failed. However I must mentioned that whatever the failures of state multiculturalism, Britain compared to other European countries has achieved integration to some extent. This integration was in the provision of the co-existence of minority cultures with the majority culture.
David Cameron’s statement at Munich and the resurgence of fresh evidence in the murder investigation of Stephen Lawrence has caused us to reflect again on multi-racial Britain and the issues and challenges that come with it. While state multiculturalism is going through identity crisis in Britain, and the way forward is not clear, the Church as an alternative radical community is trying to get to grips with this subject. I have been to several seminars, conferences and lectures on building a multicultural Church, however it remains difficult to arrive at a definition of multiculturalism.
Added to this is the issue of the common narrow consideration of multicultural Churches simply in terms of the binary black and white. This can lead to a Black Majority Church (BMC) being dismissed as a mono-ethnic Church. A Church can be a BMC and still be multicultural; this is made possible where there are people from different countries. This implies that an African Church in Britain with people from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Angola and Zimbabwe is a multicultural Church; the fact that they have all come from Africa does not mean they are the same. The same logic can be applied to Caribbean Churches and even white majority Churches. In the case of Caribbean Churches, we must remember that Jamaica and the Caribbean are not synonymous. In essence, there are other countries in the Caribbean such as Barbados, Bahamas, Trinidad, Tobago, St Lucia, St Kitts, Dominica, Guyana and so on. What about white majority Churches? This is possible when we have white Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English, Australians, New Zealanders, Polish, Romanians, Canadians etc. In essence I am trying to say that in our working definitions of a multicultural Church we need to look beyond the dichotomy of black and white. This includes considering other cultures such as South Asians, including Indians, Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, and South Americans such as Brazilians, Argentineans and Peruvians.
Other features of culture or factors that should be considered in the meaning of a culturally diverse Church are, class (middle class, working class), gender (women in leadership), intergenerational (elderly people, young adults, children) and disability issues. Whatever definitions we arrived at, let us remember that building a multicultural Church, if our context and demography demands, is biblical (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 12:13) and prophetic (Revelations 7:9-12).