Opinion—For God’s Glory: A Multitude of Cultures
By Vanessa Wynder Quainoo
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” —Revelation 7:9–12 ESV
This reflection is a focus on the premise that cultures, racial groups, ethnicities, and nations are created by God for his glory. Consequently, the Church should not seek to diminish the cultural identities of her members, but rather strengthen cultural distinctiveness as an expression of the beauty of Christ’s love for every tribe, every tongue, and every nation.
In the spring of 2021, I had the honor of serving as faculty facilitator for InterVarsity’s online faculty course on racism. The course was taught for four weeks by three distinguished Christian professors. More than one hundred enrollees in the class included academicians, clergy, community workers, and graduate students. It was an exhilarating, yet humbling, experience to be charged with the task of “leading” the class. The topic was “Dealing with Racism”—from a Christian perspective. We examined the origins and impact of racism in America, a nation filled with contradiction and currently in crisis regarding racial equity and unity.
How did I approach such an assignment?
First, I prayed. “Lord, reveal and receive your glory.” I had no idea how much the Holy Spirit was leading even in directing my prayer.
Second, I listened to the InterVarsity staff and tried to discern their collective heart and vision for the class. I listened to the three professors who were tasked with teaching the class, and I “listened” to the students who spoke through several pre-course surveys and gave written feedback after each class session. The class was, I believe, a great success. The students wrote their final comments and commended the three professors and the organization of the class and, to the delight of the InterVarsity staff, asked for a repeat of the course.
The InterVarsity staff asked if I would write a summary of my experience and make suggestions for ways that we can all improve in our inter-racial relationships. This is a brief synopsis of my comments:
How should the Church respond to racism?
Thank you for all of your hard work in making this important discussion happen. Thank you for creating a safe space to help us think critically and biblically about an issue that the Church must be able to speak to with love, but with much greater clarity. The issue of racism will not “just go away.” Racism must be acknowledged and responded to—by the Church.
In the words of a friend, “It’s not just, ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD). It is foremost, ‘What has Jesus said and what did Jesus do?’ (WDJD), meaning the historical Christ who lived on this earth and interacted with people of various cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
What did Jesus do?
• He loved people, unconditionally, without partiality, preferential treatment, or political parlaying of status quo interests.
• He loved those who did not show love to him. He knew how to love even those who denigrated his cultural background.
• Jesus, a Jewish immigrant, loved his own cultural people. He deeply understood the prejudices and stereotyping cast against immigrants. Jesus understood the need for people of shared racial and ethnic history to give and receive love from one another. He knew this intracultural love can threaten dominant cultures and hegemonic interests. Jesus had love for all people, including cultural love for his own Jewish community. Among biblical texts, the book of Hebrews bears witness to this fact.
Throughout the course, we focused on a single vision—that cultures, ethnicities, races, tribal communities, and nations exist for the glory of God. We were thankful for the redemptive presence of Christ that gives expression to racial endowment and the unity of our fellowship as believers, simultaneously. This is beautiful and elegant and simple (straightforward) and complex (intentional). It is also evangelistic and powerfully attractive. Yes, they, the world, should know we are Christians by our love, and they should be drawn to Christ and desire to become a part of the body of Christ. And, we, the body of Christ, are made one people, united in Christ’s love and grace.
While this oneness is authentic, it does not mean monolithic neutrality or that we dismiss difference and distinction and uniqueness in the name of unity. No! A more mature view of cultural unity in the Church is the collaboration and alignment of cultures that are fully present, and whose individuals are fully cognizant of their cultural strengths and potential. Holistic cultural citizens, redeemed in Christ, bring depth and richness and appreciation to the tapestry of unity. Instead of denying our cultural heritage, we should fully embrace it and we should give each other ‘cultural space’ to express our ‘cultural selves’ and affirm each other as ‘cultural beings’. We should desire equality in the Church. We should not substitute real cultural presence with superficial structures that are grounded in imperialism, racism, classicism…patterns of ungodly control or exploitation. Most importantly, we must recognize that true brotherly/sisterly love respects healthy cultural identity. We come to the proverbial table as equals, co-partners in the grace of our Lord.
How shall we envision cultural equality in the Church?
One of the instructors of the InterVarsity class, Dr. Elizabeth Sung, taught us about the centrality of Christ in the struggle for social justice. She helped us to understand the necessity for Christians to redefine race theologically and biblically. A second instructor, Dr. Jeff Liou, explored the texts of Dr. Martin Luther King as artifacts of a demonstrative justice and praxis of God’s love. Dr. Robert Chao Romero exegeted Revelation 7 and offered a vision of hope—a vision of one day when gathered around the eternal throne of God, all peoples, all tribes, all tongues, and all nations shall rejoice “standing before the throne.” Surely, it shall be in that “great morning,” a procession for the glory of God. And, if we can receive it, cultural integrity in our churches today can be a foreshadowing of God’s glory, a testament to his awesome greatness revealed through “a great multitude which no one could number.”
Thank you to Brother Carl Stagner for the invitation to share an op-ed with CHOGnews. The open forum for expression of thought and sharing discussion is greatly appreciated.
Questions or comments? Contact Dr. Vanessa Wynder Quainoo at email@example.com. Rev. Dr. Vanessa Wynder Quainoo earned a BA in speech communication from Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois), MA in oral performance from Western Illinois University, and a PhD in classical rhetoric from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, Massachusetts). Currently, Dr. Quainoo serves as interim pastor of Hill City Church (Church of God) in Providence, Rhode Island, and as an associate professor in the Harrington School of Communication at the University of Rhode Island. Her research includes the rhetoric of African American sermons and cultural experience. She is the 2021 recipient of the Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award in Diversity from the University of Rhode Island. She lives with her husband, Bishop Joseph Quainoo, in New England. They have several adult sons and daughters-in-love, and several grandchildren.
For further research, Rev. Dr. Vanessa Quainoo recommends the works and wisdom of the following voices:
Dr. Elizabeth Sung—who earned a BA from Lebanon Valley College, MA from the University of Michigan; MMus from the University of Michigan, MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and PhD (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). Currently she is scholar-in-residence and systematic theologian at Regent College (Vancouver, Canada), visiting professor at Northeastern Seminary (Rochester, New York), visiting researcher at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake (Mundelein, Illinois), and theologian-in-residence at The InterVarsity Institute.
Rev. Dr. Jeff Liou—who earned his PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary, and has contributed chapters to books on Asian American Christianity and ethics in pastoral ministry. He is the anti-racism resource specialist and co-founder of AACC (Asian American Christian Collaborative). He serves on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as director of theological formation. Dr. Liou has also worked as a pastor, university chaplain, and adjunct professor. At Fuller, he studied the intersection of race and theology. Dr. Liou has contributed chapters to books on Asian American Christianity and ethics in pastoral ministry. He lives in southern California with his wife, Lisa, and their two children.
Rev. Dr. Robert Chao Romero—an “Asian-Latino” who received a PhD (UCLA) in Latin American history and his juris doctorate (UC Berkeley). Dr. Romero is a practicing attorney and has been a professor of Chicana/o studies and Asian American studies at UCLA since 2005. Dr. Romero has published fifteen academic books and articles on issues of race, immigration, history, education, and religion, and received the Latina/o studies book award from the international Latin American Studies Association. He is also an InterVarsity Press author. Romero is a former Ford Foundation and UC President’s postdoctoral fellow, as well as a recipient of the Louisville Institute’s Sabbatical Grant for Researchers. Dr. Romero is married, and he and his wife have two children.
For more resources for racial justice, visit https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/resources-for-racial-justice.