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Reflections : Coming of the Majority Future, Ready or Not!
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Coming of the Majority Future, Ready or Not!

By Tom Sine, Mustard Seed Associates
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First published in the March Seed Sampler -- used with permission from the author

With the election of President Barack Obama, we all learned that there is a racial shift going on in America. But most of us are unaware of the extent of the shift. By 2020, white young people will no longer be the dominant group in the under-18 population. By around 2040, white Americans will simply be another group. They will no longer be the dominant group, and American society will become as richly multicultural as places like Los Angeles, London, and Auckland already are. In fact, the entire world is rapidly moving into a new majority future in which those from European backgrounds will no longer rule the roost.

Western nations are showing resistance to the growing immigration rates of non-Europeans moving into their countries. But when I spoke to European Christian leaders in Spain two years ago, I asked, "How can European nations sustain their economic growth before the recession without immigrant labor?" Europeans simply didn't have enough kids to run their factories and manage their stores.

Churches have an opportunity to lead us into this new majority future. Immigrant churches are usually the fastest growing churches in most Western countries. But Christians from European backgrounds need to start intentionally receiving the gifts other cultures have to share now and realize that this demographic shift is an opportunity for them and their children to help usher in a future that looks much more like the multicultural future of God.

There are churches already discovering how to become like the kingdom in a few Western countries. For example, Kingston Reformed Church in the UK is comprised of Koreans, Russians, Nigerians, Chinese, and English. Pastor Leslie Charlton believes that diversity is essential to being the church: "You cannot call yourself a church if you are all the same . A church like the kingdom of God is forever everybody."

Our faith reminds us that God intended, through Abraham and Sarah, to bless all people from every race and culture. The coming of God's kingdom in Isaiah 2:1-4 is depicted as people from all nations coming home to the mountain of God where justice finally comes to the poor and peace comes to the nations. In Isaiah 25:6-9, we see all people sitting down at a great feast together. In Isaiah 60, people from all cultures come home with gifts to share with a great new transnational family.

In the American church, however, the problem with providing leadership in a new multicultural future is that 11:00 am on Sunday is the most segregated hour in the week.

A growing number of multi-cultural churches, however, are discovering how to become a new kingdom family across race, class, and culture. A good example is Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, pastored by Efrem Smith.

Before white people, like me, can join others in leading the church into this new majority future, we need to come to terms with what it has meant to be white in America. Those from European backgrounds could probably all benefit from participating in one of the growing number of White Studies Programs appearing in universities all over the country. I was surprised to find that these are actual academic programs that focus on the implications of the dominance associated with being white. Usually, we are not aware that we benefit from white privilege and white power. We tend to view our lives and culture as "the norm." To get ready for a new future and the in-breaking of God's new order, we need to rigorously examine our dominant role in American culture and explore how it shapes our relationships with "minorities" and blocks our ability to be fully part of this new future.

It seems like I have informally participated in a White Study Program of my own almost my entire life, probably because I am an incredibly slow learner. I've learned lesson after lesson, and continue to learn to this day. I grew up in a multi-cultural community in San Francisco and had a number of Asian, African American, and Hispanic friends. In high school, I certainly felt I was much more racially aware than older adults I knew, and that was part of my problem. I simply didn't realize how much I had to learn.

My schooling began in earnest when I took a job as a public welfare social worker in San Jose, California, in 1961. I worked with Hispanic families in East San Jose who taught me so much about the quality of family and community life. I quickly learned how deeply my life was steeped in middle-class white values that gave priority to maintaining my possessions rather than investing the same level of energy in nurturing relationships.

In 1963, I took a job at my alma mater, Cascade College in Portland, Oregon. I was given the opportunity to transform a conventional Christian deputation program into an urban service program. The college campus bordered the Albina neighborhood, in which is still the largest African American community in Portland. One of the first stops to herald our new urban missions project was the Albina Art Center. The director of the center was willing to meet with me to discuss a possible partnership. He waited patiently as I gushed all my ideas about how to change the community. Then he took a very deep breath and said in a measured voice, "We don't need any white missionaries here, but if you want to send us your money, we would be happy to receive it." With that, he ushered me out, and I stood outside stunned. But finally, the penny dropped. These people were not living in hope that some young white guy would come in and transform their neighborhood and save their souls.

That was one of my most memorable lessons, but it certainly wasn't the last. It seemed that I was stuck in my White Studies Program during the entire period of the Civil Rights Movement. As Dr. King and his many supporters underwent huge sacrifices to bring racial justice to our country, I served on several interracial task forces to work on more modest levels of change. It was painful how many times I was nailed by my colleagues for my lack of awareness of my own position of white privilege and power in our discussions.

In 1968, I moved to Hawaii to work at Maui Community College, and my education took a whole new twist. For the first time in my life, I lived in a community in which we whites were not the dominant group, of which many locals frequently reminded us by calling us "haolies." Young white hippies, or those mistaken for them, were often subjected to not only discrimination, but also violence.

My experience of being "minority" on the receiving end of discrimination was much more benign, but it still got my attention. Whenever my change was thrown down on the counter at a local shop, I walked out asking myself whether the rudeness was intended to send me a message or if it was just crappy service. Many of my friends from other cultures tell me they ask that question routinely in their daily lives.

I never experienced being denied a job, a place to live, or a seat at a lunch counter because of my race, but I still got a small taste of what it is like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin.

I received yet another challenging lesson when I read Bob Ekblad's book Reading the Bible With the Damned just a few years ago in the process of writing The New Conspirators . By then, I had repeatedly learned that I benefited from being white and male in America. But it had never occurred to me that I was reading Scripture though the filter the privileged segment of American culture. Bob Ekblad serves as a chaplain in the Skagit County Jail here in Washington State. He studies the Bible with prisoners primarily from Hispanic and Latino backgrounds. Like most people with whom we share the planet, these men read the bible with the eyes of the powerless, not the powerful and the privileged.

Over several years, Bob learned to read the Bible from the viewpoint of the powerless, and it radically changed what he found in God's Word. I have just started struggling to read Scripture from the viewpoint of the powerless, and it is really slow going. But I am beginning to see the Good News from a very different perspective.

As an older white guy, I am still in school and still learning. I really want to welcome God's new multicultural kingdom now and yet to come. Thankfully, EliacĂ­n Rosario-Cruz, a member of our community and our MSA team, is willing to take the time to constantly sensitize me to how my use of language comes from a culture of dominance.

At this point, I suspect I will never graduate from my White Study Program in this life, but hopefully my studies so far will help me get ready to really participate in the coming majority future in this world and God's great homecoming in the next. People from all backgrounds and races need to go back to school to fully participate in the future to which God is giving birth, particularly those who are used to being the dominant group in American culture.

I recently heard of a church just south of Los Angeles that merged a white congregation with a predominantly Hispanic congregation that had been worshipping in the same building. The first time the two congregations met was at a Wednesday night church potluck. Abraham Thomas, who is actually from Bangalore, India, witnessed this first gathering of these two congregations. He told me that members from the white church took over the potluck because they thought they knew the "right way" to organize the gathering, completely oblivious that they had done it. They also missed that the Hispanic members simply accepted their "subordinated" status, went along, and never felt included.

Abraham decided that that was the last time the two congregations would come together for a potluck at the church. The young pastor planned the next gathering at a local beach where neither group had a sense of ownership.

On that first evening together at the beach, the relationship between the two populations began to radically change. While the whites started to get their little containers of macaroni salad and carrot sticks out of the cooler, Maria, a young single parent from El Salvador, beckoned everyone to come her way. She started dishing up hot chicken sandwiches she had been cooking all day, and a long line started forming before her. And the center of gravity in this new community shifted.

The Pacific West Coast Conference of the Covenant Church actually requires all their church planters, regardless of whether they are planting a mono-cultural or multicultural congregation, to be schooled in race relations. They are sent on a pilgrimage called a Journey to Mosaic, a three-day bus trip that begins in Oakland, California, and ends in Los Angeles. Typically they start by hearing stories from an African-American congregation that worships in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Oakland. Their next stop is in the Central Valley farm region where they spend time hearing the stories of immigrant Hispanic farm workers. Then they head south to Los Angeles. First, they spend time with those who lived through the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Then they visit with leaders in an ethnic church and conclude their Journey to Mosaic hanging with the homeless in East Los Angeles.

The Covenant Church also sponsors another pilgrimage called the Sankofa Bus Tour. Riders travel 3,500 miles to some of the historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement. Their stops include the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King's Memorial in Atlanta, Georgia, the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and the old slave market site in Mobile, Alabama.

White leaders that take these bus trips begin not only to learn about the lives and viewpoints of those that are going to increasingly comprise the American future, but also to re-evaluate their own dominant role in church and culture. They begin to see life, culture, and even Scripture from the viewpoint of the powerless instead of the powerful.

Any white Christian leader could undoubtedly benefit from taking one of these bus rides as a way to help them lead us into a new majority future. Are you ready to go back to school and help the church lead society into our new majority future?

Here are some practical steps that people of faith from largely mono-cultural churches can take to help lead both church and society into a new multicultural future:

  • Create partnerships with ethnic, immigrant, and multicultural congregations to address the growing needs of those being devastated by the deepening recession.

  • Create collaborative, non-programmatic relationships with churches with different racial, cultural, and class demographics through which you can get to know one another as members of God's new kingdom family and receive gifts from one another's cultures.

  • For those raising kids in the dominant culture, find ways for your kids to have more contact with people from different cultures. Encourage kids to learn another language starting in elementary school so they will be ready to live and serve God in a new majority future.

  • For white young people just starting out, re-examine the unquestioned and the deeply held view that the best place to live and raise your kids is the most the nicest suburban community you can afford. These communities tend to be largely mono-cultural and won't help you learn to live in this new multicultural future.

  • Discover the gifts you can receive from those who are different and create ways for your church to celebrate the rich contributions from God's new multicultural family.

The world is hungry for the creation of a new community that transcends race, class, and culture. If those of us who are currently a part of the dominant culture don't become serious students, not only learning from those who are a part of other cultures, but also coming to terms with our own attitudes, we could miss all the gifts God intends for us. We could also miss out on the rich gift of Salvadoran chicken sandwiches and be stuck with our macaroni salad from now on, and that could really be depressing. I think I hear the school bell ringing.

Tom Sine is author of The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time (IVP Books, 2008). Together with wife Christine, he is cofounder of Mustard Seed Associates, and lives in the intergenerational Mustard Seed House in Seattle. His website is:


1. Tom Sine, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time, (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVPress, 2008) p. 45.

2. Read this short introduction to White Studies from Dr. Gregory Jay at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,

3. Sine, The New Conspirators, 48.


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Jesus was'nt white. God loves everyone regardless of color.
8/5/2009 7:55:15 PM - Don murray, Member of Delve into Jesus since 5/6/2009

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