At a conference at the Catholic University of America in the late 1970s, prominent Latino theologian Orlando Espin, now at the University of San Diego, objected in no uncertain terms to the appellation “multicultural church.” He said, “Latinos don’t need this. Latinos don’t want this. We’d rather think in terms of catholicity.” A more radical commitment to cultural diversity could come to fruition by taking the presence of Christ more seriously -- as one who unifies different cultures.
Recognition is a category that does more work than multiculturalism in my judgment. Recognition asks not just who is at the table, but what agency do these individuals have? I still think that there is a place for group rights or group identity, even though I’ve come out rather strongly against identity policy. But whether you’re in a student life office, a parish or some kind of multicultural office, the bottom line is what kind of agency is given to the underrepresented groups? How can their agency be promoted?
Every time I flip through the various new "multicultural" settings in the Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) book or hear someone talk of doing a world music service incorporating African American spirituals or Spanish language hymns, I struggle. Why do we not incorporate such settings and hymnody into worship on a regular basis, along with what many would call "more serious, theologically rich" selections? Why do we relegate such voices and expressions to isolated worship events like "Holy Spirit" day, rather than allowing them to teach and enrich us as we submit to them on a regular, ordinary basis?
During last year's controversial ELCA Churchwide assembly, several representatives from Hispanic, African-American, and Asian-American parishes came forward to voice their legitimate concerns about the implications the ELCA's actions held for the integrity of Scripture. They were almost entirely ignored, ironically, by an assembly championing diversity and touting itself as progressive. I wonder what happened to their agency - they certainly were not recognized as equals in the debate or within a church supposedly founded on its commitment to justice and the Gospel. In Cavell's parlance, recognition, or, what he calls "acknowledgement" would mean a confession on our own behalf that we have too long been negligent in backing up our language with our actions. Multiculturalism becomes one more proxy term - ironically and disturbingly, promoted not by the conservative but by so-called liberal and progressive leaders and bishops - masking a latent disregard for the agency and interests of our brothers and sisters in Christ whose views and contexts disqueit, unsettle, and ultimately, expose us.
I am thankful that the voices of homosexual Christians are finally being given the opportunity for agency and being heard that is theirs by baptism. I pray their justice will not come at the expense of others whose justice has yet to be legitimately pursued - on Gospel terms, not ours. These, at least, seem to be the terms their voices will not let us forget.