Vox Veniae, a church in East Austin, Texas whose name means "voice of forgiveness" in Latin, has taken a unique approach in becoming a multi-ethnic congregation. Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times comments:
"But what’s really unexpected about Vox, to anyone who knows American Protestantism, is that what began as a church for Chinese-Americans quickly became multiracial. Last Sunday morning, whites were in the majority, and in addition to Asian-Americans, there were Latinos and African-Americans in the pews — or, rather, the metal folding chairs around the small stage where a six-piece band played before the pastor, the Rev. Gideon Tsang, delivered his sermon.
In a country that is growing more racially diverse, and in an evangelical movement that is becoming more politically diverse, Vox Veniae, which is Latin for “voice of forgiveness,” may be, as Jesus said, a sign of the times.
Racially diverse churches are often led by white pastors who recruit in minority communities, usually by hiring nonwhite assistant pastors. It is less common to see an ethnic church attract whites. It may be that white people avoid churches where at first they will be outnumbered. Or perhaps the ethnic churches’ worship styles feel alien (especially if prayers and sermons are in a foreign language). Whatever the reason, white churches sometimes succeed in drawing minority worshipers, but minority churches rarely attract white people.
Mr. Tsang sports arm tattoos and the modish, buzzed-on-the-sides, long-on-top haircut that many young men who request it call “the Hitler Youth.” He was raised in Toronto, the son of a Chinese-Canadian pastor of an ethnic church. In 2006, he started Vox Veniae as an independent planting of the Austin Chinese Church, a larger church that wanted a mission to young people, especially University of Texas students. In 2007, the church opened Space 12, and in 2009, it moved its worship services there. Along the way, it began to draw older people. And whiter people.
“The average age when we started was 22,” Mr. Tsang said. “Today, the average age is 27, 28.” Last Sunday, I sat behind a woman who must have been in her 60s. When she had trouble reading the passage from I Corinthians on the monitor above, her neighbor, about 40 years younger, whispered the words in her ear."
The nation's college students are growing in number and our campuses continue to become more diverse. Taken from the most recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac and the Open Doors Report, the following statistics from the 2011-2012 school year contain some interesting facts concerning the current make-up of college students in the United States:
There are now nearly 22 million college students studying within the United States.
Of those 22 million students, 4 out of 10 are American ethnic minorities and international students studying in the U.S.
Within the state of California alone, there are over 2.8 million students. This is an amazing 13% of the country's total! Of these students, over 1.7 million are American ethnic minorities and international students.
Texas has over 1.6 million students in the state, including over half a million Hispanic students.
Primarily due to the presence of New York City, close to 1.3 million students attend college in the state of New York. Over 500,000 of them are American ethnic minorities and international students.
The number of Native American students across the country is close to 200,000.
Asian Americans now number over 1.2 million students.
There are nearly 3 million African Americans on our campuses, close to 14% of all students.
Hispanics and Latinos are rapidly growing in number and influence and now comprise over 13% of all students, totaling over 2.8 million students.
There are well over 800,000 international students currently studying in the U.S., many of whom will return to their country of origin.
In demonstration of the country's increasing cultural diversity, over 400,000 of America's college students define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
Another 1.4 million students do not self-identify as belonging to any particular ethnic group nor do they define themselves as being multi-ethnic.
Students of European descent are still in the overall majority with 11.8 million. If current trends hold true, however, there will be no ethnic majority by the time we reach 2020.
What does this all mean? The college campuses of the United States are becoming more diverse, the coasts are rapidly growing and our cities are home to many of the nation's students. In order to reach these students, campus ministries like those that I work with need to adopt new approaches that will effectively reach: 1) students of color; 2) those that speak a primary language other than English; and 3) those in our major cities. The world is here. How will we respond?
I'm guessing that most of us have likely sought to improve our physical appearance in some form or fashion in order to enhance our job prospects. Whether it be updating our wardrobe or changing our hairstyle, it is not uncommon for people to seek to maximize how they look so that it will benefit them in the workplace.
But is undergoing plastic surgery in order to please an employer going too far? Or to take it another step, is it wrong to alter aspects of our appearance which are tied to our ethnic identity so that we can move up the corporate ladder?
Television personality Julie Chen recently revealed that she underwent plastic surgery early in her career in order to minimize her Asian features. Chen, probably most well-known as the host of CBS's "Big Brother", shared on a recent episode of "The Talk" that she underwent surgery in order to become more identifiable with mainstream America.
Chen offers background on her revelation:
"My secret dates back to — my heart is racing — it dates back to when I was 25 years old and I was working as a local news reporter in Dayton, Ohio," Julie began. She then set the scene by showing a clip of what a young Julie Chen looked like as a reporter at one of her first jobs and explaining how it was her dream to be a network news anchor some day.
"So, I asked my news director … over the holidays if anchors want to take vacations, could I fill in? And he said, 'You will never be on this anchor desk, because you're Chinese.' He said 'Let's face it Julie, how relatable are you to our community? How big of an Asian community do we have in Dayton? On top of that because of your Asian eyes, I've noticed that when you're on camera, you look disinterested and bored.'
"So, what am I supposed to say to my boss? I wanted to cry right then and there. It felt like a dagger in my heart, because all of my life I wanted to be a network anchor," she continued. She then went on to explain how the situation took her back to her childhood growing up in Queens, New York, experiencing racism, and how the kids on the bus would make "ching chong" comment on the bus. "It was racism," she said.
"So I started recording my newscasts every day and all I could see was my eyes, and I'd ask myself, 'Does he have a point?' I'd always ask myself, 'Do I look bored?' "So I started meeting with agents for career advice, and this one big-time agent basically told me the same thing. He had the biggest names in the business. And he told me the same thing. He said, 'I cannot represent you unless you get plastic surgery to make your eyes look better.' He then whips out a list of plastic surgeons who have done this procedure."
Julie then explained to the studio audience and her fellow co-hosts how half of all Asians are born with a double eyelid, and that the excess skin hangs down. "But the agent said, 'You're good at what you do. And if you get this plastic surgery done, you're going straight to the top.' "So, I consulted with my mother, and [she greeted me with] silence. She said, 'This is a deeper conversation that we have to have with your father.' We talked about if this was denying my heritage, and whether or not I should have this done.
"And this agent — he represented the most famous Asian broadcaster out there at the time — you know who I'm talking about and I'm not going to say names. "So, this divided my family. Eventually, my mom said, 'You wouldn't have brought this up to me unless this was something that you wanted to do.' And they told me that they'd support me, and they'd pay for it, and that they'd be there for me."
Julie then showed the audience side-by-side photos of what she looked like before and after her procedure. "And after I had it done, the ball did roll for me," she confessed. "And I wondered, did I give into the man?"
Unfortunately, Chen's dilemma is an all-too-common predicament that women in Hollywood face, but also in our society at large. Rather than being judged for their intelligence or aptitude, women are often limited by men based on their physical appearance. In Julie Chen's case, it was her "Chinese look" that was holding her back. So she changed how she looked.
As a white man, I can only begin to imagine the internal struggles that Chen (and so many others like her that find themselves in similar situations) went through in deciding to have plastic surgery that would alter her appearance. I do not judge her. I feel sorry that a talented broadcaster felt that she had to go under the knife to fit the definition of beauty that others had established for her. And when you add the ethnic component to it, there are all sorts of questions that are raised about what lengths we should go to in order to achieve professional success.
Because the standard of beauty within America has traditionally been that of the skinny, blonde-haired, blue-eyed model, women that don't fit this stereotype are often left questioning not only their own beauty, but also their self-worth. In thinking about this story, my mind was drawn back to an interview that I watched earlier this year when actor Dustin Hoffman comments on the profound impact that playing a woman in the movie "Tootsie" had on him. Here is the video:
Hoffman's point is well-taken. Too many men throughout history have not paid attention to certain women simply because of how they looked. Whether it be in the marketplace, in romantic relationships, in ministry settings or simply in friendships, we often fail to look below the surface. The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:14, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." Because each of us are made in the image of God, our physical attributes represent only a small part of our humanity We are each beautiful because God made us. It is too bad that we often don't see that.
You can read the rest of the article about Julie Chen's confession here.
With the increasing availability of reproductive technology, a growing number of Christian families that have struggled with infertility have chosen to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF) and even surrogacy.
However, according to a recent Pew Forum report, a large number of Americans (46%) do not view IVF as being a moral issue. In comparison, only 23% view abortion as not being a moral issue. In contrast, 49% of Americans view abortion as being morally wrong, whereas only 12% of Americans are opposed to IVF on moral grounds.
In an article on the Hermeneutics blog entitled "The Overlooked Ethics of Reproduction", Jennifer Lahl raises some thought-provoking questions about whether the creation of life should be viewed in moral terms in a similar fashion to how we view the taking of life. In other words, the question at hand is whether God, as the author of life, cares about the circumstances in which life is created?
Lahl offers this:
"While grieving with those who struggle with infertility, Christians still need to look more carefully at today's reproductive technologies such as IVF in light of our beliefs about God, life, our bodies, and our children.
Since the time of the Old Testament, infertility has been part of the human experience. Many of us know someone who has struggled desperately to have a child or have experienced that difficulty ourselves. In the 21st century, though, infertility is met with "options," "solutions," and countless technologies offering hope to those in our midst struggling with fertility issues. Rather than rushing to embrace any procedure that might bring us a child—IVF, sperm or egg donors, surrogacy—we should consider the appropriate use and limits of technology.
The fact that so many people fail to consider the moral implications of IVF suggests that in the age of fertility treatments, surrogates, and modern family-building via parenting partnerships, a woman's womb has come to be seen as a somewhat arbitrary location. NBC's The New Normal quips that women are "Easy-Bake Ovens" and children are "cupcakes."
In Scripture, God affirms that what happens in utero matters and cannot be casually or disrespectfully dismissed. The womb, where God first knits us together (Ps. 139:13-14), is not an arbitrary place for a child to grow and develop. In fact, modern science has proven just how important those 9 months are—for both mother and child.
Renowned marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier, in her book The Primal Wound, writes about how mothers are biologically, hormonally, and emotionally programmed to bond with their babies in utero as well as at birth. A baby knows his or her mother at birth, and both the mother and the baby will experience grief at any separation at the time of birth. This primal wound is forever present.
In other words, it's nowhere as easy as the Easy-Bake metaphor. In the case of surrogacy, we can interrupt the natural rhythm for mother and child and risk negative effects. (It is worth noting that surrogacy differs from adoption in that surrogacy intentionally establishes a situation that demands that a woman not bond with the child she is carrying.)
These are some important issues to consider and each Christian family should prayefully consider the ethics involved in utilizing modern technology in creating new life.