Article: Radical Welcome?


Take a look at the table above (if you can read it). It shows the difference between being an inviting church, an inclusion church and a radical welcome church. These are just labels and have no official designation or meaning but their descriptions found just below in “The Message” line tells us a lot. I think it begs the question, “What kind of church do you want to be?” and “What kind of church are we?”

An “Inviting” church might be very friendly to all, but there is an expectation that any new comers that decide to stay will be assimilated in to the dominant identity (and culture) of that congregation. For many Lutheran churches that is white and of Northern European descent. Lutheran churches that take this approach tend to stay mostly white.

An “Inclusion” church wants to be more diverse. They make an effort to welcome people of differing backgrounds but there is no real change in how the church “does church.” This type of church has good intentions but does not have the capacity to change how it can truly incorporate and value others from differing cultures but of the same faith (Lutheran/Christian). These churches struggle to retain people of differing cultures because value is still placed on the dominant culture of the congregation (white and northern European).

A “Radical Welcome” church not only works toward being more diverse but they also value what the “other” brings to the congregation. As the note says in the table, a Radical Welcome church says, “Bring your culture, your voice, your whole self—we want to engage in true mutual relationship.” This type of church is intentional about incorporating the gifts and values of those who are not of the dominant culture of the congregation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (of which we are a part of) has been struggling with this for many years. One can look at this issue in many ways. I think it is valuable for us to think about how welcoming we are… after all one of our core values at Bethel is “hospitality.”

If the expectation is, “everyone is welcome but in the end we expect you to be like us” we are going to be more like an “Inviting” church and less like a “Radical Welcome” church. If we are going to connect with people on a deeper level in Silicon Valley with all of its diversity, it may be worth our time to think about how receptive we are to the cultural differences of others (including some of our current members) and how to lift up those differences in a positive, affirming way.

I have zero expectation that everyone should be alike within the Body of Christ. Yes, we all share the same identity as the children of God but how do we also recognize and value those who bring different ways of practicing their faith within the Lutheran expression of Christianity? I don’t have the answer to that today but it is worth asking the question and pondering for a while.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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