Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ethnic diversity predictions for Brethren from 20 years ago

by Brian Gumm

Late this past spring I opened my campus mailbox at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and found three VHS tapes (!!) therein contained. No note was attached with these tapes and I still have no idea who gave me these (I'm guessing a seminary professor trying to reduce office clutter). They were labeled "Brethren in Transition," the name of a conference or symposium held at Bridgewater College. The date provided was October 3-5, 1991. My audiovisual gear situation was such that I couldn't even watch these tapes, so I took them to the Learning Resources Center folks at EMU and paid them $11 to get them all converted to DVD.  I was then able to weave these video resources into the syllabus for a directed study on Brethren Beliefs and Practices which I'm working through this summer.

So today, I popped in the DVD with my first assigned lecture, which was given by Donald Durnbaugh and entitled "Closing the Loop: Germantown and Philadelphia." Durnbaugh's historical look at Brethren in transition was focused through the lens of these two congregations and their lives through the late 19th and 20th centuries.

From the conclusions which Durnbaugh drew from this historical analysis, he moves to a number of implications for the Church of the Brethren at that point in history, nearly two decades ago. One such implication he describes as, essentially: "The Brethren will persist, but they will need to change." One potential area for change was ethnic diversity. He cites a Brethren pastor, Olin Mitchell (sp?), as having then-recently predicted that ethnic minorities in the Church of the Brethren, then (ca. 1991) comprising less than 1% of membership will increase to a full 50% by 2010." Mitchell's reasoning for this was based on his observation that the spiritual vitality he was seeing was happening in that less than 1% group, ethnic minorities. Durnbaugh immediately comments that he's not so sure of that prediction, but found it interesting enough to share.

Well it's 2010, so how are we doing in that department? I ask this question out of genuine curiosity. My experience in the Church of the Brethren has been limited to a rural Midwestern, vastly white backwater of the denomination (I don't say this disrespectfully). I didn't go to a Brethren college (not that there are a whole lot of Brethren at those to begin with) and I'm not attending a Brethren seminary. So I'm not trying to be flip or sarcastic by asking that question, which I'll ask again in closing, somewhat differently (and much more verbosely):

How well is the Church of the Brethren doing in terms of being a group of believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, who called into existence a kingdom not of this world, invited our participation in/hastening the coming of that kingdom, which transcends (doesn't necessarily erase) all manner of categories including ethnicity? Are we a group grasping the spiritual vitality to make such a staggering new reality more apparent in our world?


Nancy and Irv said...

You raise excellent questions. I wish the COB denominational landscape, as it were, were more encouraging these days in terms of the progress toward diversity and inclusivity. Olden Mitchell’s dream of a membership marked by 50% ethnicity is truly exciting to me (as I work here as denominational staff in the Dominican Republic.) He was correct in observing the spiritual vitality present among minority groups among the COB. Although his dream hasn’t been realized, there are small signs of hope, I believe. I find hope in the calling of a denominational staff person, (Director for Intercultural Ministries), the dedicated work of the Intercultural Ministries Advisory Committee (formerly the Cross-Cultural Committee), and the growth in diversity seen in a few COB districts, namely Atlantic Northeast and Atlantic Southeast. There are persons tirelessly trying to deepen the denomination’s commitment to fulfilling Annual Conference mandates for becoming a multi-cultural church.
You might find it interesting to read the results of a recently-conducted Intercultural Survey taken among selected denominational leaders. It reveals a sampling of the current openness in the COB to growing toward the vision of a multi-cultural church. The results are summarized @ Quoting the web site, “An overview of the survey results was given by Darin Short of In[ter]sights, which conducted the survey. In[ter]sights used an "Intercultural Development Inventory" to survey leadership competency for health intercultural engagement.
The survey assumes that cultural differences always are present in an organization, and that there is gradual movement and growth toward an intercultural mindset among leadership, Short told the board. He showed a graph of the Brethren survey, on a continuum from denial of other cultures, through polarization or minimization of cultural differences, to acceptance, and finally to adaptation to other cultures.
The majority of Brethren individuals surveyed (64 percent) showed a primary orientation of minimization, with 24 percent displaying a "reverse polarization" toward cultural differences—indicating more regard for other cultures than one’s own, 6 percent at a level of acceptance of other cultures, and small numbers in other categories. The survey results will provide a framework for the church to move forward in its intercultural work, Ruben Deoleo said.”
Someone who is working on intercultural awareness and leadership development is Eric Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute in Los Angeles. I see he will be speaking at the next event sponsored by the Intercultural Ministries office to be held in November in Harrisburg, PA. It will be a workshop entitled “Intercultural Competency: Being an Effective Leader in a Diverse Changing World.”
Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, Santo Domingo

Brian Gumm said...

Wow, what an excellent response, Nancy; thanks for bringing me into the 21st century on this front. Excellent info, and promising trends.