S OMEWHERE between the blaring music and exotic displays, there was a sagging white banner at last week's Student Activities Fair that Caucasian students overlooked. Perhaps they had a good reason. The banner read clearly, "Chinese Christian Fellowship."
The title might have sounded intensely narrow-minded and even snobbish to the non-Chinese and non-Christians who stared at it. But race-based religious fellowships like the Chinese Christian Fellowship have good reason for existing.
It isn't surprising that outsiders might not see it this way. Critics regularly blame race-based institutions for the rampant self-segregation plaguing college campuses nationwide or for giving minorities an unfair advantage in admissions. Just last week, a federal appeals court struck down a University of Georgia admissions policy that it said "unconstitutionally enhanced the chances of some blacks and racial minorities to gain admission into the school" ("Court strikes down Georgia admissions policy," Washington Post, Aug. 28). At the University of Florida, officials last week were making headlines by trying to phase out race-based scholarships.
But specific aspects of race-based religious fellowships make their existence useful and perhaps even logical.
First, talking about religion is a lot like talking about Fallopian tubes. Sensitive issues don't get addressed easily in an assembly of strangers. Just as people would find it awkward discussing their reproductive systems with a man on the street, they would also feel uncomfortable raising deep religious topics with people they have little in common with.
This may also explain why missionaries and sidewalk preachers are sometimes more irritating than inspiring. A subject so touchy needs to be presented with tact and sensitivity. Flamboyant street evangelists generally cannot get the intimacy and trust they demand by passing out literature, carrying a sandwich board or acting rambunctious. That's simply because they have nothing in common with the pedestrians they minister to.
In the same vein, it would not be surprising if new attendees to a religious fellowship felt apprehensive when asked to discuss personal beliefs with new people. That is, unless they already shared a common bond. This is where the culture-based fellowship comes in.
Black students probably know best how to approach the religion issue with other black students. Korean students know best how to arrange a fellowship to serve the needs of Korean students. Granted, there aren't studies supporting these assumptions, but the bottom line is the need for tact and a pre-existing foundation when approaching a big religious conversation. Otherwise, university fellowships will have become no more successful than the street evangelist peddling flyers.
Secondly, middle class white men can't jump like black drug dealers. If Rev. Anthony Motley weren't black and a former drug dealer, he probably wouldn't have as many Christian converts as he does now. Motley, who was profiled in The Washington Post Magazine ("Hustling for Souls," Aug. 26), works on the streets of Washington, D.C. ministering to some of the meanest drug dealers and gang members in the area. The dealer-turned-pastor is credited with quelling violence at local high schools, drawing hundreds to his inner-city ministry and taking dealers off the sin-laden streets.
It is conceivable that a clean-faced white pastor from the suburbs could have done the same thing. But it's not likely. Sociologically speaking, chances are the middle class white man is neither fluent in ebonics nor blessed with the experience of dealing cocaine in the poorest sections of a major city. Yet he would need these attributes to gain the trust and acceptance of hardened gang members and drug dealers.
For ministries and fellowships to extend beyond the suburban masses, they need to speak the language. It may be ebonics, or it simply may be Korean. Race-based fellowships can do that.
Third, the Bible never said no. The parable of the Good Samaritan clearly showed that true godly love extends past all racial boundaries. And the apostle Paul clearly said in the Bible that believers "are all one in Christ Jesus." Distinctions aren't made by color. Therefore, it should not faze believers in the least if they were to form or join a culture-based fellowship.
Granted, delineating fellowships by race may indeed sway Christians to favor people of one culture over another. But since the Bible commanded believers to make disciples of all nations, there is justification for these fellowships. Americans are merely trying to make the Western belief system more welcoming to all nations by forming fellowships representing all nations.
The bottom line is that religious groups demand a sense of intimacy and trust. Fellowships become the safe haven for people to openly discuss religious beliefs and issues. One of the best gimmicks to invite this candidness is this underlying background in racial culture. It may faze some folks at the student activities fair, but the only thing that matters is that race-based fellowships work.
(Juliana Chan's column appears Thursdays in The Cavalier Daily. She is a member of the Chinese Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)