Valuing Multiethnicity

Excerpted From

The Race-Wise Family 

By Helen Lee and Michelle Ami Reyes

Valuing Multiethnicity

One of my (Helen’s) favorite hobbies is bird-watching. The Bible does, after all, say, “Consider the birds” (Matthew 6:26, CSB)! On a beautiful day, I can spend hours of Sabbath time sitting outside and watching all manner of feathered friends enjoy the multiple forms of bird food I supply. (For now, let’s put aside the fact that the Bible doesn’t say, “Feed the birds,” as my husband regularly teases me!) I absolutely marvel at the variety of flying creatures that frequent my yard, ranging from large hawks swooping overhead to miniscule hummingbirds whizzing by, their wings in constant motion. I often reflect on how much enjoyment God found in creating each one. I don’t think it was a chore; I think it was an overflow of his creative spirit. 

Unsurprisingly, God’s creative spirit is manifest in the way he designed humanity. As the Bible says, “Are you not much more valuable than [the birds]?” (verse 26). There is a reason God created humankind with so much wondrous variety as opposed to making all of us the same. In our different ethnicities, appearances, languages, and more, God’s value of diversity is on display. As Old Testament professor Bruce Waltke said of the creation account in Genesis 1–2, “All created species follow God’s master design and appointed purposes.” Whether we are talking about the birds of the air, every kind of flower and tree, or people, the opening chapters of the Bible declare that God delights in a universe that reflects his incredible creativity, especially as “all his works everywhere in his dominion” praise him in full submission and worship (Psalm 103:22, NIV). 

In Scripture, God also repeatedly demonstrates his love for humankind as a multiethnic body. From the creation mandate for humans to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28; 9:7, NLT) to the diversification of people into numerous tribes and languages at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9, NIV), we see God’s commitment to humans flourishing as a multiethnic group. Creating human beings who reflect multiethnic diversity was God’s idea from the very beginning, and it is also part of what it means to be made in God’s own image—the Godhead itself is three diverse, unique persons in one. Moreover, from God’s promise to Abraham, which included a name change such that he became “the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5, NIV), to God’s willingness to save the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in the book of Jonah, to the multiple ways that Jesus showed love to people groups whom the Jews thought of as outside God’s mercy and grace (i.e., Samaritans and Gentiles of various ethnic backgrounds), God showed that he embraces people from every nation (Acts 10:34–35, NIV) even when human beings don’t do the same for one another.

God has clearly valued multiethnicity from the earliest days of the church, which was given the directive to share the gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV). In Acts 2, the apostles, full of the Holy Spirit, began speaking in languages they didn’t know: “God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven . . . heard their own languages being spoken” (verses 5–6). In this moment, a multicultural group of Jews broke out in a multilingual choir of sound. The beauty of this significant day is not that people’s ethnicities were erased but that their differences were bridged. God did not brush over the ethnic differences of the people in Jerusalem, but he leaned into those differences and used them to bring more people to a saving knowledge of himself. More than three thousand people became Christians that day. Clearly, the gospel goes forth when we celebrate diverse peoples, languages, and cultures. Pentecost offers a truth we so often fail to embody: God’s dream is for his followers to reflect his love for diversity, not homogeneity. 

The principle of multiethnicity applies just as much today as it did at Pentecost. My (Helen’s) friend James Choung is a second-generation Korean American. His wife, Jinhee, is formerly a Korean national who immigrated to the US after they got married. James notes that when he says, “I love you,” Jinhee understands what he is saying. But when he says, Saranghae,” that touches her in an indescribably deep way because Korean is her heart language. Ethnic identity and experience are key channels through which God delivers the gospel and calls people— in their heart languages— to their heavenly home. Jesus himself reached across gender, class, generational, religious, and ethnic lines in order to declare his lordship over all and to proclaim his gospel message to everyone. Jesus valued ethnicity and culture, and we as individuals and as families are called to do the same. 

Finally, God repeatedly foreshadowed in his Word what will ultimately happen when every tongue, tribe, and nation worships before the throne (Revelation 7:9–10, NIV). For example, in Daniel 7 we read, 

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (verses 13-14)

Daniel 7 and Revelation 7 remind us that “multiethnicity is that dream, that ideal [realized], that all of God’s people— of every tribe, tongue, and nation—are welcome and cherished in God’s kingdom. It is the hope and vision of a community of Christ followers that represent the diversity of God’s creation.” We will exist as a diverse people group for all eternity. Moreover, the purpose of teaching our children to value people of every language is not to have multiethnicity for multiethnicity’s sake but to showcase the power of unifying in worship before the Lord Almighty. The barriers that often exist when people of every stripe and color are together vanish as they collectively focus their full attention on God.  

Our primary identity as Christians is that we are citizens of God’s kingdom and coheirs with the rest of God’s chosen people. Our spiritual identity, however, doesn’t diminish our ethnic identities. God values the diverse ethnic groups he created, and we will retain our ethnic and cultural identities in the new heaven and the new earth. Similarly, God is calling us, as race-wise families, to acknowledge and respect the diverse ethnic contexts of the people in our lives.

Excerpted from The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope by Helen Lee and Michelle Ami Reyes. Copyright © 2022 by Helen Lee and Michelle Ami Reyes.  Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.