How Advertising Reveals the Need for Multi-Ethnic Churches

Last week Coca-Cola gave one of the best arguments I've heard all year in favor of multi-ethnic churches. 

Unintentionally, of course.

@@Last week Coca-Cola gave us a great argument in favor of multi-ethnic churches...accidentally@@

They released an ad on Mexican television in which a group of white hipsters travel to an indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico to introduce them to the glories of white American culture: Coca-Cola and Christmas Trees. The brown-skinned indigenous people watch in awe as they behold the treasures of their white-skinned heroes. 

Unsurprisingly, Coca-Cola was immediately forced to pull this ad from Mexican airwaves. Even the giant Coca-Cola sponsored Christmas tree in my Mexico City neighborhood suddenly disappeared in response to the public criticism. 

None of this is surprising.

What is surprising is that Coca-Cola chose to fund, write, cast, shoot, edit, and release this advertisement with zero awareness of the possibility that people might have a reason to be upset. Had those involved in the ad campaign been members of multi-ethnic churches, their intimate cross-cultural relationships would have provided them with the knowledge they needed to understand that they were about to present racial and cultural stereotypes, and would have had the empathy they needed to prevent the ad's release. 

They are obviously not members of such churches.

Though you and I may not work for an advertising agency, we face the same dangers. If we find ourselves in mono-ethnic, mono-cultural churches, as opposed to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural churches, our view of differing people groups will be shaped only by those within our own race and social class, and not at all be influenced by those in said differing people groups. Namely, our view will be shaped by the subtle stereotypes of other people groups that are fed to us through television, print, and other media. 

@@Without multi-ethnic churches we learn about other people groups from people outside of those groups@@

For example, without the cross-ethnic relationships that multi-ethnic churches provide, non-blacks will be vulnerable to the message of the Nivea ad below. We will believe the stereotype that black men with natural hair are "uncivilized"- and potentially dangerous - and that only those who are "clean-cut" and dressed in mainstream fashion are "civilized" and safe.



Or, if non-blacks like me don't have meaningful relationships with all shades of people, we might accept the image that is fed to us in this Dove advertisement. As you can see, the "subtle" message of this ad is this: the lighter skin tone you have, the more beautiful you are. If you've lived in America for any length of time, you know that this stereotype doesn't stop at beauty. It also goes as far as discerning one's intelligence and abilities based on skin tone. 




Speaking of which, take a moment to look at the ad below. The message is that a certain category of men express themselves much better with what they can do with their bodies than what they can do with their words. What category of men? The image defines the category for us: dark-skinned black men. Needless to say, this has been a deeply-rooted American stereotype from the beginning. And it is one that non-black Americans are exceedingly vulnerable to believe because of its sheer commonality in every form of media. 



Such as this one.

Once again the dark-skinned black men are portrayed as specimens of physical strength and skill. Yet how is the white man portrayed? As the brains and power behind the operation to whom all others must bow. 


At this point, you might be thinking, "Cole, this is ridiculous. I know better than to believe this foolishness. I don't need to be a member of a multi-ethnic church to know that these stereotypes are false." If you're thinking this, I want you to know that I sympathize with your sentiment. But I also want you to know that you and I are far more vulnerable to stereotypes like these than we think. We may completely disagree with them in our conscious thought, but we nevertheless carry the seeds of these stereotypes in our subconscious. We have to. For the sole reason that we have been fed these images thousands of times through every form of media we interact with.

If this is true, how do we overcome the stereotypes that our subconscious has consumed for our entire existence?

Again, I say: multi-ethnic churches. Through membership in multi-ethnic churches we develop relationships of depth with real-people - in all of their strengths, weaknesses, cultural influences, and human uniqueness. These real-life experiences begin to re-interpret the subconscious stereotypes our culture has taught us to carry. In time, our experiences with people we deeply know replace the stereotypes we have been taught by complete strangers.  

Now, I'll be the first to admit that multi-ethnic churches are difficult. They require an additional level of sacrifice than that of your average church, as they require you not only to prefer others above yourself, but to prefer others' cultures and experiences above your own. Yet after ten years of experience in multi-ethnic churches, I can assure you: they are worth every bit of the difficulty.

And not just because they overcome a lifetime of subconscious stereotypes.

They are worth the difficulty because they allow you to see and know aspects of God's image that you would otherwise never see or know if you only fellowshipped with people like you. They are also worth the difficulty because they reveal the power of the gospel to the world by showing that Jesus is able to unite those that no other leader has been able to unite. 

@@Multi-ethnic churches show that Jesus is able to unite those that no other leader has been able to unite@@

If you're already a member of one, share your story with others.

If you're a member of a mono-ethnic church, consider taking the lead in influencing your church toward loving, serving, and welcoming people who don't look like everyone else. 

If you're feeling a call to pastor, consider planting a multi-ethnic church in your city or another.

By doing so, you can help ensure that when we see people who don't look like us, we don't see the stereotypes promoted below. Instead, we will see the image of the God who creates, sustains, and redeems all things. 

Below are other examples of racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or  facebook.


header image credit to flickr user DryHundredFear: