Us, them and outreach

file8581285192158As we talk about reaching out to Latinos, it’s important that we not let such outreach lapse into paternalism. (Yes, I’ve written about that before in this same context) We can’t afford to have a “you people” mentality.

Notice that as I’ve addressed this topic so far, I’ve said little about Latinos themselves. Marketers and sociologists have written much about the different perceived needs among Latinos, about how to tailor advertising and political appeals to address those topics. I don’t think that’s how the church crosses ethnic barriers. (please remember that the term Latino does not refer to a specific race, nor even to a homogeneous group of people. It’s an ethnicity.)

As I said last week, it has to be about people. It has to be about relationships.

One of the good things that came out of the church growth movement in the 1980s (along with quite a bit of chaff) was the realization that we have to be intentional about reaching out to people from other social groups. People tend to befriend those most like themselves. If churches aren’t careful, they can get locked into one group, eventually becoming unattractive to those of other groups. (Sadly, the church growth movement chose to exploit that, wanting churches to start new groups within other social groups; that’s far from the biblical picture, in my opinion)

All of this is especially true when there is a history of distrust. That’s true in Texas. Years ago, Latinos were criticized, and at times punished, for speaking Spanish in public situations. One man told me the story of the time when he was a teen and dared speak Spanish to a cafe worker who was a member of the predominantly Anglo church of Christ in town; she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him, saying, “Don’t you speak that Spanish to me, boy!” Many Latinos find it hard to speak Spanish to me, even when their English may not be so good, because they’ve been taught that you only speak Spanish to those that look like you. (Funny thing is, same thing happens to my wife, even though Spanish is her first language)

There other stories, as well. Anglos who have been mistreated by Hispanics. Hispanics raised in the States who have been ridiculed by immigrants. Immigrants who have been taken advantage of by U.S.-born Latinos.

Christ came to tear down walls, to eliminate the hostilities between people. His church is to be a model of people coming together.

None of this began with Martin Luther King, Jr., though we do well to remember the struggle he was a part of. Because of the example of our Lord, Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to unite and heal, to reconcile those who society has driven apart.

Reaching out to those unlike us is a beautiful way to do that.

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2 thoughts on “Us, them and outreach

  1. Harland

    I wonder just how “blended” our melting pot became? There are Irish, Jewish, Polish, etc., sectors of our “old” cities. West Side Story reminds of those struggles when it involved courtship and marriage. It seems that the overarching glue that held them together were the “American” societal and political and civic and religious values. When those values were shared, then cultural difference was something we enjoyed and celebrated. Church potlucks could include goulash and spaghetti and hot dogs on the same table. How do we preserve that strength of shared values?

  2. Tim Archer Post author


    I don’t think the initial generations melt into the pot. But the later generations do, if given a chance to be in contact with others unlike themselves. Hopefully, the “pot” comes to represent a blend of the varied ingredients, rather than an absorption of those elements without a change to the original “taste.”

    In my Christ and Culture seminar, I teach that all cultures retain elements of the original “heavenly” culture, and all cultures are distorted by sin. Hopefully, as different cultures come together, each provides to the group the godly elements, while learning to eliminate the worldly ones. Obviously, that’s an ideal, but we hope to all be changed in the process.

    Grace and peace,

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