Representation and Ministry

group of people

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I went to a comics convention a couple months ago. While there were a lot of people in costumes, there was one family that caught my attention. Dad was a black dude. I don’t know if he was cosplaying someone like Luke Cage or just wearing street clothes, but his partner, a white woman with punk-cut blonde hair, wore a Spider-Gwen costume, and their son wore a Miles Morales costume.

So if you’re not a geek or you’ve avoided the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, first off, go watch that movie. As of my writing this, it’s on Netflix. Well, well worth your time. And in case you don’t take my advice or are just plain lazy, here’re pictures of what Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen look like:

In other words… this family found themselves in these relatively new characters. Here, at last, was someone they identified with in comics. And as a family, they reveled in it.

(I’m sad now I didn’t ask to take their picture. It was my first con and there was a lot to take in!)

Now, that’s a fair amount of geekery for a ministry blog. What’s the point?

This family celebrated characters that looked like them. And these characters aren’t just placeholders, nor are they “just a black version and a female version of Spider-Man.” Both characters are distinct, even as they’re part of the Spider-Man mythos. Here were characters this family could celebrate and participate in.

Are our churches as welcoming of people who maybe don’t look the same as everyone else?

My congregation and my church body is historically pretty white, and even within that slice of ethnicity, it’s pretty German. Beyond that, it’s all pretty conservative in how it presents itself. And here I’m not talking doctrine, though we’re theologically conservative and that I won’t apologize for. Rather, we’re culturally conservative, which is not necessarily the same thing.

Could that family come to my congregation and be welcomed?

Yeah, I think they would, actually. My congregation has become a pretty welcoming place, and I’m very pleased with that. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve come a long ways.

On the other hand, in how we do things, in the pictures we use, in the stories we tell,will they find themselves in what we do?

Or will they always be outsiders?

A few years ago I intentionally started using pictures in Bible studies and sermons that were multicultural. If I’ve got a slide of praying hands, I don’t just use white dudes’ hands. I sought out and found African American hands, female hands, children’s hands, old people’s hands. I use these on rotation.

Because it’s not just about race, though it’s also about that. Are we excluding young people by how we talk? How about those who are older? How about women? How about men? (Many churches really do present a feminized Jesus. Jesus wasn’t a macho dude-bro, but he also wasn’t an emasculated wimp. Presenting Jesus as he is in Scripture would actually help a lot of male-female representation problems.)

At my first congregation, when giving applications of what the Bible was telling us, I’d include examples of how that applies to online activity. Many of the members frowned. “No one knows what you’re talking about.”

Yep. And that’s fine. But maybe it’ll help you understand that God’s Word isn’t just for you. Is it for you? Absolutely. But Jesus didn’t die just for old German dudes.

Revelation says that in heaven will be a great multitude from every tribe and language and nation. Not just English-speakers. Or just German-speakers, for that matter.

And how we approach our congregations should reflect that. Culturally, can we welcome in people who have dramatically different backgrounds? People who think and look different than us? When sermon illustrations come, can we handle it if they are about people that aren’t us? In our art, whether it be stained glass or paintings on the wall or slides in presentations, can we show people that aren’t just white? Can we display a variety of ages and genders?

Jesus came to take away the sins of the world.

Let’s reflect that in how we present ourselves, eh?

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