In talking about my last post with a friend, we discussed the difference between what Donald McGavern talked about in the pivotal book "Understanding Church Growth" as planting and building churches that reflect the cultural aspects of a people group versus the niche-marketing of many American evangelical churches.
There is one large cultural aspect that is not often discussed in the Evangelical US world--mostly because it is not much discussed in the broader US world either--and that is what my friend called the "privatization of culture." By and large, Americans demand (sometimes subtly, sometimes overty) assimilation to certain cultural norms. Those could be as big as language, perceived work ethics, and relationship styles; and as small as public mannerisms and modes of dress. This is one of the key reasons that Hispanic immigration is a big issue. Moreso than the immigrants of the past, Hispanics tend to keep their cultural distinctives when they come, assimilating at a slower pace. There are some churches that attract people from different cultures, and again, that's a far sight better than the country club deal. But does that truly make a church multicultural, in the sense described in Revelation, or do those people who do come simply understand that they need to become a part of the dominant culture? Are they people who have already committed to assimilation, or are already assimilated? I would submit that they are at least assimilated in one key factor--economic--if they attend and stay at the typical USAmerican Evangelical church. Like my bro-in-law stated in response to my last post, the biggest cultural obstacle most churches never cross is the level of wealth one. But there are a lot of cultural baggage issues, and unless someone sheds their baggage that isn't like the dominant culture of the church they are attending, they aren't going to stay and may not even be welcome.
Is there a way to celebrate and practice true multicultural community? From the standpoint of public, consumer-oriented church programming, I'm not sure it can be done.
I would also submit that the "predominant obstacle" to doing this is almost always the predominant culture. This is vividly displayed in Kenya right now. I think it's one of the reasons that for 2000 years Christianity has thrived in places where it is not the dominant culture and struggled when it actually becomes so (yes, I'm sure this statement is simplistic, but worth thinking through...). So yes, here in the US, whatever American culture is (I'm not fond of "Anglo" but have yet to find a good sub; even "American" is not too good, considering that every other country in North and South America does not like USAmericans usurping sole use of that word) is the primary obstacle. No matter how hard we try, non-conformity to the USAmerican cultural values is ostracized.
The really bad stuff happens when the dominant culture's values are equated with God's values--the typically pattern when Christianity becomes the dominant culture of a people-group. Jesus' message was about so much more than getting your sins forgiven. When he talks about the kingdom of heaven he's challenging the cultural values of the kingdom of earth--even the American ones, and even (maybe especially!) the religious ones--when they function according to the world's system. Jesus came not just to destroy sin's power over my life/death, but to destroy systemic sin as it operates in the world, and this includes the tribalism of Kenya or the US.