Here is the Winepress article from April’s issue of the Multnomah Voice. I hope you enjoy it! You can also read about the John 17:23 Network at Paul Metzger’s website, Consuming Jesus.
One Sunday night a month, the John 17:23 Network (a ministry partner of New Wine, New Wineskins) hosts a gathering at one of its member churches around Portland. The activities during the meetings range from worship services to forums on topics like illegal immigration but what they all have in common is a focus on racial unity within the church. This is, in fact, the purpose of the John 17:23 network: “to encourage, exhort, and equip the multi-ethnic Body of Christ in the greater Portland area to fulfill Jesus’ prayer that we might all be one.” In Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, the evangelist records how Jesus prayed a prayer of intercession on behalf of his disciples and followers then and now.
In verse 17:20-23 Jesus prays, “”I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” During meetings and in between, the John 17:23 Network prays and works so that the unity which Jesus prayed for may be a reality for the church and so that it will be a tangible signal to the nations that God is not dead and God is not a figment of overactive imaginations; rather, God is the Living God, at work in His church even today, mighty to heal old, deep wounds and might to save. In this way, may many be brought to faith.
The John 17:23 network exists because Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous statement that “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” still holds true in many cities across America. Portland is one of those cities. Stemming partly from Portland’s dark history of race relations, there are, in Portland, black churches and white churches (and Asian churches and Hispanic churches), but few churches that are actively seeking to build healthy, multiethnic congregations which reflect the true, diverse nature of the Kingdom of God. It is a symptom of illness in the church that these divisions exist. This symptom is one that is observable to the public at large. For many Portlanders, walking into a church on Sunday morning and seeing rows of white faces turned towards a white pastor or seeing the board members and faculties of evangelical seminaries and seeing almost exclusively white men provokes the question: What is wrong with this body that they do not embrace the ethnic diversity which the secular world (at least nominally) espouses?
And so, I, as a Christian, should look at my church and if not I do not see people of many ethnicities praying, working, and leading together, I should wonder: Might not something be wrong? Why are we not really incarnating the Kingdom in the here and now? I admit – as a white person in American Evangelicalism, I cannot truly understand what it means to not be part of the majority. I don’t truly understand how my brothers and sisters of different ethnicities feel when faced with (often unintentional) white church hegemony. But through conversation and prayer and fellowship with them, I am beginning to understand more, I am being sensitized. And as much as the divisions are a symptom of the illness, the fellowship and prayer of multiethnic brothers and sisters together, once a month and more, is part of the cure.