Understanding one’s own culture and those of others, and the ability to worship, work and live effectively and in harmony with diverse persons are critical to those called to follow Christ. So, we are called to develop intercultural competence, “a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts,” according to Janet M. Bennett, co-director of the Intercultural Communications Institution.
Broader definitions of “culture” are far more complex than racial/ethnic/national identity. Gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, heritage, language, socio-economic status, immigration status, region, relationship status and level of formal education all inform one’s “culture.”
However, the history of The Church and society – particularly in the last half of this millennium – have been marked by world-altering warring, colonialism and exploitation based on skin color prejudice, notions of “manifest destiny,” racism and xenophobia, which have divided the human family of God, including The Church. For this reason, the United Methodist Church has assigned to the General Commission on Religion and Race issues of race-ethnicity, national, language and tribe as its primary focus.
As global issues have affected The Church in the Twenty-First Century, GCORR has expanded it’s role with the church. GCORR is also in the early stages of discussion on partnering with the General Board of Global Ministries to sponsor an Institute for Intercultural Leadership in Europe in 2019, and with Africa University to hold an Intercultural Leadership Institute in Africa in 2021. If these projects prove viable, we intend to continue them through the next quadrennium.
Additionally, in response to the growing global migration crisis, GCORR is developing resources for local church leaders to engage and serve migrant communities. While the church offers significant resources on its stance on migration and migrant rights, and on ways to advocate for the rights of migrant people and to provide legal and political support for those seeking asylum or citizenship, there is not much support for churches seeking to actively build relationships with migrant populations. GCORR is being asked to fill that gap by helping lay and clergy persons engage migrant communities in effective, appropriate, just and equitable ways that affirm their humanity and embrace them as equals, rather than as inferior communities who must be dictated to, socially segregated or expected to assimilate.
GCORR’s work on intercultural competency is inspired by the words of our Savior Jesus Christ – who bids us “go make of all disciples” and to make tangible the Great Commission to love God and love other people as we love ourselves. Our work is also informed by the teachings of United Methodism’s founder John Wesley, who embraced the whole of God’s world as his parish.
GCORR develops training, resources and networking to help United Methodist congregations and cr/cc appointments build intercultural –and self – awareness, openness to and appreciation for other realities and experiences, empathy and bridge-building relationship skills. GCORR’s goal in fostering intercultural competency is to raise up a new generation of clergy and laity in church leadership who, fired by the grace of Jesus Christ, will engage in discipleship and spiritual formation that is effectively contextual to the cultural realities of those seeking to walk with God.
In this way, GCORR’s work is critical to the United Methodist Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Jumpstarts for your congregation:
- Ask your pastor, youth leader, United Methodist Women, or United Methodist Men’s chairperson to involve your church/group in intercultural competency training at the district or conference level.
- Current statistics show that fewer than 40% of pastors in cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments feel that the environment is healthy for them and their families, and fewer than 40% of cr/cc appointments last longer than two years, typically ending due to conflict. Knowing these facts, discuss how relevant Intercultural Competency training is for your Conference and congregation.
- Plan a seasonal Bible study with members of one or two churches from racial-ethnic groups other than your own (Lent or Advent, for example). Ask a small group with representatives from each church to select curriculum and plan the study, which should be the start of a long-term, new relationship, with an emphasis on intercultural understanding.
- Partner with a neighboring congregation of another racial-ethnic or cultural group for the purpose of learning about each other’s heritage, history (including racial/cultural issues) and community involvement. Let your only agenda for the first six months be getting to know one another.