The Five Questions Evangelicals Need to Answer from Pew Research Study

This week, a lot of ink is spilling about the recent Pew Research US Religious Landscape Study. Some are debunking it, some are screaming “run for your lives,” and others are pleading for the church to become more relevant. In my estimation, most will not engage what is probably the most significant finding that will shape the future of evangelicalism: Evangelicals are increasingly diverse.

The study points out that 33 percent of adults that identify as evangelicals are non-white. That’s more than 3 out of 10, and that number is only going to grow. Close to a quarter of the membership in American evangelical denominations are non-white, up 19 percent from only eight years ago. Already in major metros, such as New York City, most of the population classified as evangelical is non-white.

Extra grace is needed

This is not a small thing, mainly because the days of downplaying the role of race and ethnicity, in the formation of our churches, colleges, and other evangelical institutions, are over. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when will non-white challenges arise. Recent incidents, such as the #mbiprivilege twitter movement and reaction to a culturally insensitive skit at Wheaton, demonstrate this reality.

This diversity trend should be viewed as an opportunity to reshape our values and practices as evangelicals. When decision-makers are unintentional, people assume there are no problems with ethnic diversity. Most people think that if there is a race problem it is because other people are prejudiced, and, of course, they are not. Most who work in evangelical organizations would assume there were problems in the past with race in the U.S., but not now.

Extra grace is required when leading. It’s hard for people to bring themselves to believe the realities of racialization, and some never will, in spite of your best efforts. In their minds, racism isn’t reality, but a perceived reality. Racialization is like a bad cold, something people simply must get over. Our response to this type of attitude is critical.

What’s in your foundational DNA?

Most evangelical organizations don’t have multi-ethnicity within their founding DNA, which is the distinguishing doctrine of a particular Christian tradition mixed with the intent of the founder(s) of that particular organization. Whatever the racial practices of the day were, our organizations probably mirrored them. It’s your founding DNA which forms the base of your organizational identity.

Like the shift to multiculturalism in the 1970s, we are now in the midst of a paradigm shift into globalization. Globalization is a catch-all term that describes how foundational social institutions of the world (political, economic, familial, religious, and educational) are moving toward forming global citizens.

The challenge at hand is to function together in unity in spite of our racial differences. Here are five questions evangelical organizations should be discussing in light of the Pew demographic findings:

  1. Are there any historical incidents in our organization where racial issues caused trouble or negative behavior from people?

  2. How did our founding DNA help or hurt the situation?

  3. What are five steps our organization must take in order to move forward with ethnic diversity?

  4. Why haven’t these steps been taken before now?

  5. If these steps are taken, what do we anticipate the reaction will be among our stakeholders?

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