Deal or no deal

Before Doug and I were married, I worked as a coffee roaster for very dear friends and one way we used to amuse ourselves was to discuss what our “deal-breakers” would be in romantic relationships. It was always fascinating to have deeply held values or expectations revealed through the silly game.

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend yesterday where we discussed some of the very real challenges of being members of multicultural faith families. We each had stories to share of times when two different cultural groups ended up in conflict over something because of a “deal-breaker” issue they held deeply. And we talked about how fascinating it is to uncover what those deal-breakers are for each other. Too often things go unsaid, unexplained, and one group ends up feeling bitter or betrayed.

But the reality is, different people see the world very differently, and followers of Jesus are no exception. Certainly this political season makes that abundantly clear.

The challenge for those of us committed cross-culturally is to figure out how to both talk honestly with each other about these differences as well as learn to sometimes shut up and submit.

I know that for me, there are many things I am willing to shut up about. I may hold an opposing viewpoint or feel like a decision is a poor one, or simply think a different approach would be better, but for many things I can submit pretty easily. But I have discovered that, not surprising, I have some deal-breakers just as we all do. And when these beliefs or principles are stepped on, my reaction is very, very different.

My friend and I talked about how valuable it would be to tease out some of these cultural deal-breakers that can too easily become either land-mines or separating issues among us and talk about how to live together in the midst of these differences. Sometimes I fear we keep the multi-cultural discussion at a substantially surface level and choose cheap peace over deeper knowing and understanding and authentic commitment to one another.

I remember one multi-cultural church leader who share that differences in parenting philosophies was the recurring deal-breaker issue that kept resurfacing in their African-American/Anglo congregation.

Issues of pastoral authority and congregational respect for the pastor is another issue I have heard discussed, especially in congregations where democratically-minded Anglos are involved.

As leaders, it can be extremely challenging to navigate these waters. I have seen this kind of leadership exercised well and performed badly. I myself have led well and totally failed in this very arena. And as the homogeneous church landscape would suggest, it is easier for most to simply avoid the whole thing altogether.


  1. I find that most congregations choose cheap peace over authentic commitment 99, if not 100% of the time. I would really like to know if a church exists anywhere out there that values authentic commitment to one another – in anything, really, not just in the multi-cultural arena.

    Great, thought provoking blog entry, Erika – in many different ways. I enjoy your blog!

  2. There are deal-breakers in all churches, whether multi-cultural or not, and what a gift it would be if in every church, people felt safe enough to be honest and share their “deal breakers” with each other openly and lovingly. I guess the key is learning how to create a safe space for this to happen.

    Our leadership team has been studying the book “Becoming A Blessed Church” It has been quite inspirational. It has wonderful ideas about how to be a place where the deal breakers are dealt with in nurturing and supportive ways.

    There will always be some in congregations who are unwilling and unable to participate in these discussions. The key for all of us us is to learn to be loving, accepting, and to find ways to be in authentic relationships with these folks, especially when they are creating dissension in the church family. It can be quite a challenge.

  3. Shutting up and submitting gets harder, not easier, as the years go by. Not what I expected given my earlier enthusiasm for a certain kind of religious ideology and preaching.

  4. Thanks for weighing in, everyone. I had that same thought when I was writing, that this issue is not exclusive to cross-cultural relationships and multicultural communities. I guess I was just highlighting that that there are perhaps even more than normal in such communities.

    It is hard to know when to submit and when to stand up and speak, and I feel like it is a delicate and constant task of discernment, a dance with the Holy Spirit I suppose, to understand when something is about me and my pride or preference and when it is about God’s truth or work.

  5. You really summarized the struggle in your last paragraph above, Erika! For much of the time it is really hard to make that discernment!

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