Multiculturalism: Introduction

December 03, 2020

Multiculturalism: Introduction

Bill Peirson

One of my best friends grew up in Australia, but his parents had grown up in Italy. Through his lived experience, I had early exposure to the stupidity, prejudice and viciousness of racism. A question that continues to haunt me is whether I supported him sufficiently during this difficult period.

My friend lived—and continues to live—between two cultures. One, his family heritage, was rightly honoured by his parents, but he was immersed in another that held his future. This second culture has been, at crucial times, very unkind to him and his family. Many of those living cross-culturally would identify with his experience.

That was 45 years ago. If my friend was growing up here today, his experience might be very different. Multiculturalism is now celebrated, and the enormous Italian contribution to engineering, art, medicine, music, and technology (to name but a few) well recognised. Australians count themselves richer for the Italian presence here. Instead of being viewed with suspicion, his sister might have envious neighbours asking her for family recipes and cooking secrets!

This edition of Case Quarterly explores some of the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural society. Brooke Prentis opens our eyes to the many cultures indigenous to our continent even before waves of settlers from overseas arrived, and encourages us to learn more about this multicultural, Creator-honouring heritage that has been so ready to embrace Christianity. But often the different cultures making up a multicultural society are the result of living in a place that has become home to immigrants from around the globe, and many of the articles presented here offer Christian insights into life and ministry in this context.

Kamal Weerakoon argues that Christianity not only allows, but encourages, people to simultaneously belong to distinct cultures and be united in Christ. Dani Scarratt examines what the Old Testament story of Babel has to say about the blessing (or curse?) of ethnic diversity, while Joshua Ng demonstrates from the book of Hebrews that salvation comes through Christ alone, whatever your cultural or religious background.

Archie Poulos shares his experience of the advantages and dangers of ministries based on homogeneous ethnic groups. Although his key illustration is a shipwreck, the outcomes for those ministries who kindly and strategically recognise language and culture are potentially enormous. I was heartened by some of his guiding principles in recognising culture in a church context. At the other end of the spectrum, Susan Bazzana shares her insights into the intensely multicultural context of international university students, and the wonderful opportunities it offers for sharing Jesus’ love.

Cultural differences are not always based on race or ethnicity, however; they may be the result of changes in societal norms. We in the West have seen the mainstream become ‘post-Christian’, as a cultural gap has opened between religious adherents (Christian and other) and secularists. Every church and ministry must grapple with these changes. New ways of getting along must be negotiated. Our lead article by Prof. Patrick Parkinson addresses this, offering sage advice on how Christians should adapt how they live and minister in this increasingly post-Christian multicultural context. The article is based on the 2020 New College Lectures Family and Faith in a Multicultural Society (the full set of lectures can be accessed through the New College website).

As editors, Dani and I do not know who will be reading these pages, where you have come from, what your experiences have been, or what your expectations of this edition are. While some cultural tensions have abated, such as those my Italian friends suffered through, we are keenly aware of others that have arisen in Australia as well as internationally. A principal objective of this edition is for us all to consider Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of multiculturalism, as well as of the Christian faith (Hebrews 12:2).

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