Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How The Help Helped Us Become (More) Bi-Cultural

On vacation in July, my wife and daughters all read The Help. and I'm man enough to say I read it too. Though all the main characters are women, it isn't 'just a chick book' but it's a rather a stimulating book about our recent past prior to and during the civil rights movement. Another pastor I respect wrote a great review I don't need to repeat.

I wanted to comment on the tag line for the movie. It's change begins with a whisper. But I think the result of 8 or 10 women in our English-speaking congregation reading and discussing The Help for their book club has revealed and spurred on some change. And it shows how we are making progress in our mission to be a justice-seeking, reconciling, bi-cultural, multi-ethnic church.

The Setting of Our Change
Sunday July 31, we got back from vacation to witness an historic Sunday for Crosspoint Encuentro Church. Our Pastor to Hispanics for the last few years, Hector Guzman, an immigrant from Mexico City, preached in Spanish to our English-speaking congregation for the first time. (He was translated by a 2nd generation Puerto Rican man in our church). He spoke as one who knows us well and who loves us crazy Americans but had some good corrections and some needed insight into our vision to be unified - one church two congregations. He was right on and we needed to hear from him!

The Background of Our Change
When we started 8 years ago, the vision was always for a multi-ethnic church. But, as you may know, I'm a white guy from Tennessee. I really had nothing in my family (except some racially-mixed adopted cousins but that is a whole other story) or in our staff to show visibly our desire to be not 'just another white church.' So we just kept holding the door open, telling all the people who visited (most of whom were white) that it's our vision and aspiration to be a church of many nations, races and languages.

So miraculously, three years into the church plant, God brought some bi-lingual people - the Mateos, Santiagos, Rodriguezes - and through them, six years in, the Lord sent us the Guzmans to start a second Spanish-speaking congregation.

The Problem with Change
It is a challenge to start being a bi-cultural church after its always been a mono-cultural church! We had been somewhat multi-cultural and multi-racial in our first six years but adding a second language requires a significant amount of  work and sacrifice so that we can truly be ONE church, instead of two churches that like each other.

Over the years we have held combined worship services. I spent three weeks at language school improving my Spanish. I attend all the Encuentro worship services I possibly can. In our English worship services, we sing one song a week with Spanish. Some of our people are making friends slowly during our education hour when both congregations are in the building together. We send a van around to pick up families. But it seems like we have a long way to go to be unified like a family in Christ.

The Help is Helping Us Change 
We are beyond whispering now! When these ladies read and discussed this book, I was told it led to some deep and perhaps surprising discussion! When Lisa Payne spoke to me after hearing Hector preach, I was shocked at what they had discussed the night before at their The Help discussion.

She said it made them ask, 'Do we do this same sort of thing today? Are we prejudicial in our treatment of Hispanics? What is it like to raise children in a sub-dominant culture?' Wow. Wow!

Only the gospel could have prepared all these English-speaking women (who are quite diverse themselves) to look at themselves and ask such an honest and hard questions!

And only pressing into the Gospel and Scripture and each others' lives will lead us to further answers about the issues. I am deeply excited about how The Help discussion is helping us make progress!

We Aren't All Better Now - But We are Changing at Different Speeds
And now more people are investing themselves in the questions, the issues and the struggle to be united as a diverse church. As your pastor, it's so encouraging to see!
  1. One Saturday after their The Help discussion, the ladies book club re-assembled to invite Hector and Cecy and me discuss issues immigrants face living under a dominant culture. The answers were not neat or easy. It makes us uncomfortable. But it was good. (more in future posts).
  2. Pastor Jose Mateo (who is a 2nd generation Puerto Rican) just joined our pastoral staff as a volunteer to develop Outreach and Discipleship in our two congregations. Though he thinks and speaks English mostly, he can bridge both cultures in a way that neither Hector nor I can.
  3. Sunday 4 people who's primary language is Spanish will lead 18 English-speakers in beginning to learn or improve their Spanish. Our hope is this will develop an appreciation for each other's lives, cultures, families, worship songs and maybe deeper friendships as we learn to obey the Lord together.
  4. Next month, in our bi-monthly combined worship service, Hector will preach instead of me.
  5. I posted a resolution some of us have made about welcoming immigrants into our church. Its posted here on this blog.
I wonder what else God will do with and through Crosspoint Encuentro as we continue following Him together?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Resolution about Welcoming Immigrants into Our Church

Over the last few years as we have sought to become a truly bi-lingual and mulit-cultural church, it has come to our attention that there are few churches, in our denomination anyway, who have any official written statements that welcome Hispanics (yes, even people without documents) into their churches. There is a fertile and strategic mission field right here in our city!

I know we are stepping into a hornets nest, but since we have many immigrants in our church membership and we want to reach more, we realized we need to start thinking and writing about this issue from a pastoral perspective. The recent Georgia law House Bill 87 (HB87) and the heated argument about immigration and deportation has only sped up the process for us. 

Scripture has much to say about immigrants, sojourners or aliens. So this resolution starts with a 16-point summary of what the Bible says about immigrants. The nine resolutions are our attempt to address some key issues first in our church, Crosspoint Encuentro Church.

I would be interested in talking with others who have or want a similar statement about welcoming immigrants into their churches.

May 25, 2011

A Resolution from Concerned Pastors and Elders of Crosspoint Encuentro Church
Regarding Welcoming Immigrants into our Church

  1. God is the Sovereign King over all the earth and all governmental authority is subject to His authority and rule,God, after the Fall, subjected Adam and Eve to an immigrant status upon removal from Eden, (Genesis 3:23) and,
  2. God sent Abram to be an immigrant with his family (Gen. 12:2) sojourning in a strange land, then made His covenant with Abraham while he was an alien (Genesis 17:9),
  3.  the children of Israel, through God’s divine providence, were immigrants in Egypt for generations (Gen. 50:22-26), were led out of Egypt by Moses, an immigrant (Ex. 2:22) and celebrated the first Passover in Egypt with converted strangers and sojourners (Ex. 12:43ff) who were led out of Egypt with Israel.
  4.  God audibly and repeatedly commanded His people to give aliens/sojourners with them Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:10; 23:9, 12), identified them as former aliens and commanded His people to not mistreat or oppress sojourners/aliens among them (Ex. 23:9),
  5.  God commanded His people to maintain the same regulations for non-native born people as native-born (Num. 9:14 and Num. 15) and required equanimity in temple worship (Lev. 17 and 19),
  6.  God charged the courts of His people to judge righteously between fellow countrymen and aliens living among them (Deut. 1:16) and promises to defend aliens along with the fatherless and widow because He loves the alien and provides for them through the generosity of His people both directly and through the tithes of His people (Deut. 10:18, 24:14-21, 26:12-13),
  7.  God curses the man who withholds justice from the sojourner, as well as the fatherless and widow (Deut. 27:19),
  8.  Christ Jesus immigrated to earth from heaven,
  9.  in His humanity Christ was an immigrant, persecuted by his fellow countrymen,
  10.  we were all alienated from God and strangers to the covenants of promise without hope except through God’s grace by faith alone (Eph. 2:12)
  11.  through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, He became our peace, made all believers one, broke down the dividing wall of hostility, created in Himself one new man, and by His reconciling work on the cross will make all things new in heaven and on earth by His blood (Eph 2: 14ff, Col. 1:20-22)
  12.  his people are and will be from every nation, tribe, tongue and people united in Him, heirs and sons – neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:26-29),
  13.  all of God’s people are citizens of heaven first and citizens of a nation on earth second (Phil. 3:20)
  14.  there is no human governmental authority outside of God’s sovereign will and all government is established by God (Rom. 13:1-7) but does not supersede the government of God,
  15.  legal status is not a requirement for salvation or church membership,
  16. ministers and elders of God’s church have a moral duty to speak against injustice.

We Resolve…
1.      We resolve to pray for immigrants and their families out of concern for their souls and well-being. We will pray as well for our US governing authorities – local, state & federal – who are responsible to God for their personal, legislative, executive (including enforcement) and judicial decisions in regard to justice and mercy for all people.  We will urge people to pray for the US electorate to consider immigration issues according to God’s Word so that His Word is exalted and obeyed as US immigration policy is debated and decided.  And equally important, we will pray for other nations’ governing authorities who will also one day answer to God.        
2.      We resolve to welcome all immigrants into our church for relief, assistance, development and the hearing of the gospel.
3.      We resolve to accept anyone who meets the requirements of faith in Christ alone by faith alone, they shall be welcomed into full membership in our church, regardless of legal status before the US government or any state in the Union.
4.      We resolve to disciple and train immigrants to ‘glorify God and enjoy Him forever’ and treat them with dignity as image bearers of God.
5.      We resolve to prepare all church members and attenders, whether immigrants with status or without, or citizens of the US, to live as missionaries wherever God may, in His divine providence, send them to live, work and worship Him.
6.      We resolve to protect and teach all children, regardless of status or citizenship, to love God, receive Christ by faith and follow the doctrines of our holy religion.
7.      We resolve to work for the protection of the weak, oppressed and alien during legal proceedings and to urge our political representatives to develop a just and equitable means for immigrants whose status has expired to be reconciled and/or acquire legal status according to the laws of the USA.
8.      We resolve to educate English-speakers in our church about the issues, challenges, problems and struggles for immigrants and to educate Spanish-speaking congregants about their rights and duties as a sojourner in the USA.
9.      We resolve to prepare any immigrants under our care who are not currently under proper status to comply with the laws of the US and if they are unable to rectify their status, prepare them for the potential return to their home nation and accept these consequences peaceably and with grace.

Under the Grace of God and to His Glory Among All Nations,

Jim Moon, Jr. – Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Hector Guzman – Pastor, Crosspoint  Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Jim Payne – Pastor, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA
Gordon Hwang – Elder, Crosspoint Encuentro Church Smyrna GA

Friday, August 19, 2011

'It's All Good' Tolerance Trend in Morality

"Whatever makes you feel good."
"I'm not judging."
"It's your life and your choices. There are no absolutes."

All sound so tolerant but really aren't tolerant of anyone who disagrees or takes exception to them.

And the irony is the last quote is this: The statement about absolutes IS an absolute.
The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for. That may not be surprising in a Church in which a minority believes there are moral absolutes dictated by the scriptures. 
The challenge today is for Christian leaders to achieve the delicate balance between representing truth and acting in love. The challenge for every Christian in the U.S. is to know his/her faith well enough to understand which fights are worth fighting, and which stands are non-negotiable. There is a place for tolerance in Christianity; knowing when and where to draw the line appears to perplex a growing proportion of Christians in this age of tolerance.
Who wants to be tolerated anyway?

Don't you want MORE from life than being tolerated? I want to be loved.
Real love requires constancy. It requires truth and faithfulness. Or it was only love to the degree that one was tolerated.

Jesus Christ said, 'Greater love has no one than this than he lay down his life for a friend.' And then the next day, he did just that. He laid down his perfectly obedient life for sinners.

And that required a perfect morality in order to display a proper love. that is the Truth and the Love the church is called to demonstrate in every culture.