One Body, One Spirit
by George Yancey
LET'S START with the end: “It is time to put an end to the racial barriers that prevent us from worshiping together. Are you prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to eradicate these obstacles? Come on, brothers and sisters, let's do the hard work necessary to create the multiracial churches we require for the body of Christ and provide the witness of racial healing so desperately needed by our society.”
So George Yancey closes One Body One Spirit with an urgent call to build multiracial churches. That's his purpose: to encourage Christians living in multiracial communities to live out in public witness the truth Paul wrote to the church in the cosmopolitan first-century city of Corinth. Yancey focuses his call on American Christian ears, pointing the way for God's people to begin to address the contemporary fallout of our often sordid national history of sin-filled race relations. In a time when most Americans tire of grappling with difficult racial issues, yet grow increasingly comfortable in integrated settings, Yancey establishes the scandal that the church remains largely segregated. He offers practical, concrete advice toward a living testimony of God's one people based on the results of his unique study of multiracial churches, funded by the Lilly Endowment.
Yancey introduces One Body One Spirit by establishing definitions and sharing the rationale of this study. In this study, a multiracial church is defined as a church in which no one race makes up more than 80 percent of the members. Fewer than 8 percent of churches in the United States are multiracial by even this weak definition. Yancey contextualizes his topic in chapter two via a history of multiracial churches. Yancey has strong views on racial issues and the proper ways to consider race in our society. While his views are not unusual, neither are they representative of the norm for white evangelicals. Neo-cons should prepare to be slapped around a bit–but hear Yancey out, particularly if you are serious about bridging the divides that keep God's people segregated on Sunday morning. You need not agree with everything Yancey says here, but know that his views on these subjects are tame compared to many who walk the streets of our inner cities. Remember the OJ trial? Rodney King? George Yancey is a well-informed brother speaking his mind in good faith.
Personally, I resonated with chapter three: “Should We Have Multiracial Churches?” Yancey summarizes the two main arguments that are raised against multiracial churches. The first (and the one I heard most often) is from church-growth circles, where monocultural churches are said to grow faster. Yancey believes that multiracial churches grow faster in our society, and has data to back up his beliefs. I've been told the church-growth “homogeneous unit” story so many times, in direct opposition to what I knew God was telling me to do in ministry, that this chapter washed down particularly nicely. Thank you, George Yancey!
The second argument against multiracial churches is from cultural pluralism. From this perspective, monocultural churches preserve culture and avoid assimilation into a majority group. Yancey doesn't believe this is necessarily so. I agree with him, based on my experience.
Yancey is painfully aware of the remaining racial issues that plague our society, yet speaks from a perspective of hope based on multiracial churches. Christians can offer solutions “if we have churches that model how members of different races can learn to communicate and love each other. This model cannot be one of superficial relationships where members of different races merely tolerate each other. We can already see that in our schools and workplaces.” Can I get an “Amen”?
The next chapters–the meat of the book–consider the four different types of multiracial churches and the seven principles for building multiracial churches that Yancey and his colleagues have derived from their study. As pastor of a multiracial church, I can attest that these principles are valid and necessary. While Yancey would not claim otherwise, my observation is that these principles are not sufficient alone. They most certainly do not constitute a system to produce a multiracial church. Rather, I would describe them as symptoms of the type of Christlike attitude and humility that are necessary to the task of building a multiracial church. Deep roots are necessary for the healthy growth Yancey describes; that and, well–since we are the church–the call of Christ to specific, critical leaders and to Christians more generally to organize themselves so as to make the apostle Paul's teaching on one body and one Spirit true not only in theory but in practice.
This leads me to my one main criticism of One Body One Spirit. The overall feel of the text is a bit “clinical,” in spite of the times when the author's passion for his subject is revealed. For example, in spite of the welcome observation that multiracial churches are, on average, growing faster than monoracial churches, it is simple idolatry to believe that the body of Christ is ultimately to be organized according to the statistical wisdom of men. (I do not mean to imply that George Yancey would argue otherwise.) Jesus said to his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15). Are we his friends? The issue is God speaking, us hearing him and obeying. I can't accept either that God is not here or that he is silent on this matter!
Yancey writes, “I believe that most of God's churches are supposed to be a multiracial kaleidoscope.” “Supposed to be” in a church context implies to me that God has a will, revealed in Scripture and (of particular interest to Friends) revealed through our communion with Christ. Has the Head of the church made his will known to the body? Why are there so few Christian leaders hearing Christ's call to build multiracial churches to be a testimony to God's one people? There is more to this than a lack of knowledge or technique.
Should you read this book? If you are a part of a multiracial church or considering starting one, then in One Body One Spirit you will find practical wisdom to guide your work. Yancey's prophetic message is muted in favor of assuming that multiracial churches are desirable and considering social and historical issues. However, in this I fear I may be evaluating One Body One Spirit in terms other than the author's goals for the book. Yancey intended to present the results of an academic study to a nontechnical audience, and has succeeded admirably in his task.