A Jungle of Letters
A guest blog contributed by Journey of Hope participant and inter-cultural reconciler, Ruwani Gunawardene.
Acronyms – love ‘em or hate ‘em - they have their place in our lives. The NHS being one of the most used in our day to day lives. In fact the medical profession’s sheer existence and participation depends on sound knowledge of the myriad of short forms used by the professionals and their patients, that they have an Acronym Buster app! Every other
industry and trade will have their own list of short forms – creating a peculiar language that evolves within a community that helps people navigate themselves through its processes. A secret code that sounds intriguing and cult-like to the outsider.
Well the church and Christian community are not exempt from this. We are a special breed within an even more special wider world that lends some of their expertise on acronyms for conducting our business – more accurately, God’s business.
You may wonder why such a preamble was necessary for what I am trying to even make sense to myself whilst writing this blog. Something I observe does not sit right, smell right or look right to me. Yes, we may be getting stale around the edges and even allow it to eat into our core by being oblivious in using acronyms that do not describe God’s most precious creation – His people - in an authentic or God-honouring manner. If we do not sit up and take note and act swiftly, we could go down the road to dishonouring his purposes. Well it may be a majority of one that believes so….but let me try and bust it!
Nothing makes me cringe more than to hear or read that my (or any other person of colour’s) presence in a group or a committee ticks the BAME box. I am certain that whoever came up with this colourful acronym had very good intentions of inclusion. However, by listing two people groups and generalising the rest with the latter two letters, one excludes
most other minority groups and even poses the danger of assigning prominence to one group over the other. On another note, what about the white minority groups who are significant in number in Britain presently? Do they fall in the BAME category? The acronym does not point me in the right direction.
Research shows that London’s largest migrant community are the South Asians from the
Indian sub-continent. This people group are BIG (not an acronym!) on faith and culture.
Even though they have left their lands of birth, they will find ways of gathering under their
umbrella of the faith community to which they belong. The Hindus have several magnificent temples in North West London, the Buddhists have the London vihara and so many other shrines dotted around the country, the Jains, the Sikhs their Gurudwaras and our Muslim brothers and sisters have theirs, most notably the London Mosque in Regents Park. Most people in this group have their cultural identity wrapped up in their faith. Just as Narendra Modi, the Indian PM is rigorously trying to instil the phenomenon that if you are Indian you have to be a Hindu, could apply in other contexts too. So where does that leave the Christian South Asian?
What provoked me to think this through was when I was called to help out in a vocations event in London and noticing that there were no South Asian representation in the group, I
learnt that there was a separate gathering for BAME enquirers. Hang on – are we not part of the same Christian community? Can we not be tolerant of one another’s differences in our shared faith when enquiring of vocation in the same faith?
Christian community needs to reconcile cultural unity especially in a time such as this when Global majority believers face marginalisation from their own communities. One might say that worshipping in a language group is important for some people. Just looking around in the neighbourhood I live, makes me believe that Christians are losing a great opportunity of modelling ‘Jesus culture’ to migrant communities as they increasingly become ghettoised. If you are a South Asian Christian and are reading this, and you worship only in your language group, could I encourage you to try joining a larger community which is more multiculturally Christian. You will be amazed at how much you can learn and also share of your own cultural riches with others, whilst witnessing to Christ.
Western Christians may you embrace your ‘other culture’ sister or brother in Christ and watch theirs and your faith grow. I say this with personal experience. Only a week into my arriving in London over 35 years ago, I attended my local church who totally embraced me and took me into their fold. There were other minority group folk there but they were not segregated. We all shared the same bread and wine and took part in the same service. I am so, so thankful to the minister and his wife who are long standing friends of mine even to
this day for the welcome and the love they showed me and others.
So, I feel the reference to one’s colour and cultural origin culminating in one simple acronym when Britain is so magnificently multi-coloured and multicultural could prove a difficult or even an impossible aim. BAME you are busted!
You can follow Ruwani on her Journey of Hope via Twitter - @sangall0
Views expressed by participants are not necessarily the views of Reconcilers Together.