Edwin McManus, leader of the “young, growing, multicultural” Mosaic congregation in Los Angeles, called for bold and daring action to become a new kind of church that thinks beyond buildings and traditions to reach out to those who didn’t grow up in the church, who yearn more for divine mystery than for institutional busy work or theological head trips.
Bravo to Kim and McManus and kudos to the Coalition for welcoming these two prophetic voices. Both offer challenges that liberal as well as conservative Presbyterians need to hear and heed, lifting up a biblically based mission/vision around which both sides could unite to become a church on fire with Jesus’ passion to reach out with God’s love to those who have been left out.
Intentionally or not, Presbyterians have, by and large, turned away younger generations, people of color, immigrants, folks of lesser means, those of minimal education and sexual minorities. I do believe that liberals can learn from evangelicals because evangelicals generally do a better job of being inclusive and diverse (except, of course, on the last point in the preceding list). Evangelicals are more focused on reaching out in general; they are less rigid about “traditional” Presbyterian worship and music patterns; and they are less fixated on maintaining upper-middle-class identities that too often are central to life in many liberal congregations — in a word, freer in these ways to follow Jesus. On the other hand, from my viewpoint, evangelicals have much to learn from liberals about being true to Jesus by reaching out to those who are rejected because of their sexual identity, the modern equivalent of lepers to many conservatives.
This radical notion of liberals and conservatives learning from each other is, in my experience, more than a pipe dream. For a number of years now, in addition to leadership roles in the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, I have been actively involved with the Multicultural Church Network of our denomination. I have been blessed to attend, in some cases to help plan, three of our four nationwide Multicultural Church Annual Conferences. There increasing numbers of us each year have experienced liberal and conservative Presbyterians united in a vision of outreach, diversity and inclusion that fills us with energy and enthusiasm, passion and purpose. There we have enjoyed worship experiences that transcend traditional cultural and class boundaries and fill us with the joy and power of the Holy Spirit. There we have been filled with new vision and vigor to transform our congregations.
Here, I am convinced, is the salvation for our dispirited, divided and dwindling churches, even for our apparently successful but homogenous and self-satisfied churches. We can find it in a determination to hold on in faith to the best of our Reformed tradition, plus an eagerness to heed the call of the Bible and the Spirit to “reach out to the left out” with greater passion and creativity, sharing in word and deed the good news of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.
Want to witness how and where it’s happening? Want to experience a vision and a unity that transcend liberal or conservative identities? Come to our denomination’s next Multicultural Church Conference in Dallas-Fort Worth, April 22-25.
Posted Feb. 4, 2004
Robert A. Chesnut, pastor emeritus of East Liberty church, Pittsburgh, now lives in Santa Fe, N.M.
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