As a South Louisiana boy, of Filipino Cajun-French background, I’ve always felt out of place in churches. I constantly wonder, Do I fit in here? Who am I?
The Census Bureau projects that the multiracial population will be 20 percent by 2050.[i] The Pew Research Center found in 1967 that three percent of marriages were interracial, but as of 2015, 14 percent of all marriages, in the US, are interracial. Further research shows 30 percent of all minority marriages are now interracial.[ii] The truth of this growing populace should encourage our churches to think and operate in a more diverse way. Yet, I estimate less than three percent of SBC churches are multi-ethnic (a congregation where no one ethnicity exceeds 80 percent).
In light of this reality, where should people of mixed ethnicities attend church? Where do I fit in?
In Scripture we find Timothy, a Jewish/Greek person, mentored by Paul and subsequently becoming a major leader in the early church. Inspired by Timothy’s example, I propose that the growth of the “Third Culture Kid” (TCK) population should inspire change within churches and result in believers being empowered to help unite the church.
Here are some examples of famous multi-ethnic TCKs in today’s culture.
A TCK is a person who does not fully fit into either parent’s respective culture. As a result, most TCKs that I know call themselves a chameleon, for they fluctuate between cultural norms.[iii] This cultural ambiguity results in a set of benefits and challenges in the life of a mixed person.
The result of cultural/ethnic ambiguity leads all TCKs to ask three questions throughout their life: Who am I? Can I Trust? What’s wrong with me?
Furthermore, TCK Believers ask three questions throughout their life: Why don’t I feel comfortable at my church? Who should I listen to? How does the Gospel apply to me?
Within the relationship between Timothy and Paul one finds not only a model relationship but an ancient fulfillment of modern TCK studies. As one considers the preserved teachings of Paul to Timothy, one can grasp three types of “theologies”: Biblical theology, Missional theology, and Table theology. These three types of theology helped Timothy to answer the TCK Christian questions and can in general help the modern divided church think beyond the norm.
In Biblical theology one learns that the Kingdom of Christ is much more than one race, style, and language. A friend of mine rightly said, “If we don’t espouse biblical theology we can quickly espouse our culture and language as the Gospel of truth.” Biblical theology permits the TCK to understand there is no uniform church, and that uniformity is not required. Thus, the mixed person fits into the church better than they may initially think.
In 1 Timothy 4:9-10 Paul reminds Timothy of not only the Scriptures (the story of God) but also the reality that Jesus is Savior of all. Fulfilling the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” Missional theology expands the reality of why the church exists. The church is not to preserve the “frozen chosen,” but rather to reach “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth!” By teaching Timothy missional theology and taking Timothy on mission trips Paul helped Timothy to realize that the local parish is just a glimpse into the global eternal church. In essence, Missional Theology undermines the modern geo-political messages by reminding us that the Gospel is the salvation of man, not the salvation of ideals.
Paul’s Table theology, or as we say in Spanish “Teologia de la mesa,” is one of continual practice in front of Timothy. In TCK studies this is called being an “anchor adult.” The TCK may seem to be more mature than others and need less discipleship, yet the milieu of TCK issues proves the direct opposite. The discipler has the privilege and obligation of showing the TCK how to live out the Christian faith, versus the TCK only hearing about the Christian faith through the lens of their church culture.
The statistics prove that the mixed population is growing. In response, I believe Paul’s three “theologies” call the church to strive to understand the complicated nature of the TCK believer and culminate with empowering TCKs to be unifiers. While not everyone will have a congregation of mixed peoples to minister to, the example laid out by Paul and Timothy can aid any church or believer to see the Gospel transcend their local parish.
Mario Melendez, Ph.D. ’19, is the Auguie Henry Chair of Old Testament and Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Studies at Oklahoma Baptist University. He is the author of the recently released Third Culture Faithful: Empowered Ministry for Multi-ethnic Believers and Congregations.
[i] Gretchen Livingston and Anna Brown, “Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage,” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 18 May 2017, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/05/18/1-trends-and-patterns-in-intermarriage/.
[ii] Livingston and Brown, “Trends and Patterns in Intermarriage.”
[iii] Sarah E. Gaither, “‘Mixed’ Results: Multiracial Research and Identity Explorations,” Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 24 (2015): 114–19; Sarah E. Gaither et al., “Thinking Outside the Box: Multiple Identity Mind-Sets Affect Creative Problem Solving,” Soc. Psychol. Personal. Sci. 6 (2015): 596–603.