In this profound passage of scripture, the Apostle Paul speaks on the horizontal reconciliation between all people by saying the “dividing wall of hostility” is abolished through Christ’s death and resurrection. This is a temple reference. You see, Gentiles could only worship in the court of Gentiles, which meant they could not worship alongside Jews because there was a dividing wall of hostility between the two physically and spiritually. However, through Christ, the dividing wall of hostility had been destroyed and now Gentiles could worship alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters. After all of this takes place Paul then says Christ did all of this so that He could created “one new man.” In other words, one new man is the idea of Jew, Gentile, and every other ethnicity coming together as Christians, making up the church.
As we all know, the American church has flopped on this concept from scripture. However, even though ten years ago 98% of churches were identified as homogeneous (classified as one ethnic groups making up more than 80% of the congregation), a recent Lifeway Research Poll suggests this number has gone down from 98% to 86%. This is still a bad number, but we are seeing gradual progress from the multi-ethnic church movement in America, which I believe will continue to decease as years pass.
So why has the multi-ethnic church movement been effective? There are many ways to answer this question, but I believe there is one answer we tend forget or may not even know about, and that answer is immigration. That’s right, immigration.
In 1921, the National Origins Formula was an American system of immigration quotas, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the America population. The premise of the National Origins Formula was to maintain the existing composition of the United Stated where immigrants were chosen on the basis of their race and ancestry. According to Tom Gjelten, “This quotas set aside ten thousands of visas each year for immigrants from Northern and Western Europe, while many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East were allocated barely 100 slots each. It was blatantly a discriminatory system.” In other words, this Formula’s goal was to keep American a primarily Anglo english speaking country, and was rooted in racism.
However, at the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was signed. We do not really hear about this Act because it was overshadowed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, this Act abolished the National Origins Formula where immigrants were chosen based on their family connections in the United States and the skills and training they offered. Overall, this Act treated all nationalities equally allowing them to come to the United States.
Last Saturday, October 3, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act in America. The past 50 years, according to The Pew Research Center, 59 million immigrants have come to the United States since that Act was commenced. This Act has drastically changed the face of America from once being a predominately Anglo english speaking country to a diverse land where people from different ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures are living next door to Americans.
With this influx of 59 million immigrants since 1965, Pew Research Center says by 2065 no group will constitute a racial or ethnic majority, and nearly one in four Americans will be of Hispanic origin, and Asian-Americans will make up a 14% share of the overall population. In the year 2065 we will also see a shift in the ethnic and racial makeup of people migrating to the United States. Asian Immigrants will makeup the largest share of the foreign-born population at 38%, while the Hispanic foreign-born population is predicted to top to 31%. As we can see, the Nation of America has become a diverse and multi-ethnic nation, thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
So again, why has the Multi-ethnic Church Movement been effective? One of the most important reasons why is because of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. If this Act would have not taken place, our country today would have been 75% White, instead of 63%, and there would have only been 8% Hispanics, instead of the actual 17%. In other words, if this Act would have not taken place, we would not be having a Multi-ethnic church movement like we see today.
What does all of this mean for the Multi-Ethnic Church?
1. We cannot talk about the multi-ethnic church without talking about immigration
The multi-ethnic church and immigration go hand and hand because one gave way for the other. The God of the universe providentially allowed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 to pass so that our churches could look more like a slice of heaven—so that you and I could worship next to people from different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds. Therefore, multi-ethnic churches must see the importance of immigration and know about this Act.
2. Preach on immigration
According to Lifeway Research, 12% of evangelicals view immigration from a Biblical perspective, and 21% of evangelical churches have ever heard a sermon on immigration. This means the majority of Multi-ethnic Churches choose to view immigration from something other than the Bible–what a tragedy, one, because of the Gospel, and two, because one of the most important reasons why the multi-ethnic church movement is alive and well is because of the Immigration and Nationality Act. In other words, because God ordained the Nations to come to the U.S. (Acts 17). Therefore, the Multiethnic Church must preach on immigration more often! God’s heart is for the immigrant and we see this clearly in scripture, so it only makes sense that we have a heart for the immigrant and equip our congregations on this topic more often.
3. Celebrate Immigrants & Refugees
The month of June is Immigrant Heritage Month and June 20th is World Refugee Day. One of the great gifts of the Multiethnic Church is it celebrates and passionately speaks on Racial Reconciliation. However, many of the Multiethnic Churches I know of don’t speak about the amazing month of June for Immigrants and Refugees. Knowing Immigration to the U.S. has been a big reason why the Multiethnic Church exists, must result, in my opinion, in celebrating Immigrants and Refugees, and their amazing value as Image bearers of God. The Multiethnic Church must begin to find ways to celebrate, recognize, and honor Immigrants and Refugees because this is an implication of the Gospel.
Overall, I pray the church sees the need to talk about immigration more often. I pray we see the importance of having more conversations about immigration in our staff meetings, lunches, and homes. I pray we begin to think through the importance of preaching on immigration from a Biblical perspective more often. I pray we educate ourselves on what God’s Word says concerning immigration and love for the stranger.