Commentary: Talking about Cultural Diversity in Your Church

I just finished Michael V. Angrosino’s book Talking About Cultural Diversity in Your Church. Angrosino is a Anthropologist at the University of South Florida  and writes primarily about the South, Mental Retardation , and more recently Religion.  Since Angrosino is not a theologian or religious scholar, his perspective of faith and the church comes from a cultural, systems of people viewpoint.  He does not lay out a specific theology for cultural diversity, rather he operates from a given that diversity is present and will be increasing, thus the question to Christians of “how” that is done. Moreover, he allows cultural diversity to be deemed in broad terms (including disabilities, sexuality, gender, race/ethnicity, etc.) again, he does not argue a theological basis for any specific acceptance of cultural perspectives, rather he attempts to provide a broad text that could be applicable to Churches of various orientations.

Angrosino packs a lot of information in this 112 pages book, but today I am curious to hear some feedback on the three sociological ways Angrosino, propose folks engage with diversity (these are my summations of his presentation).

Functionalist Theory – The belief in the stability and essential cooperativeness of the social systems. Under ideal conditions, a society is in a state of balance, with all its parts working in harmony. When problems arise, it is because some parts of the system have become dysfunctional, often as a result of rapid social change. Functionalist believe that all problems associated with diversity can be resolved through adjustments to the social system, returning it to a state of equilibrium through small corrections to an already harmonious society.

Conflict Theory –  Influenced by the Marxist image of the elite exploiting the masses, such that society is defined not by its stability, but by its disagreements, tensions, and inter-group clashes. Perceived difference almost always results in discrimination, as those in power seek to maintain their control by devaluing those who express alternative behaviors and values. 

Interactionist Theory – This approach focuses on such small scale behaviors and social distance , not on the large social institution that concerns the functionalist and conflict theorist. Interactionist emphasizes the shared symbol and definition people use when communicating with one another. By means of symbols such as spoken language, gestures, body langauge, tone of voice, appearance, and popular culture, and images people communicate, create impressions, and develop an understanding of the world. Interactionist theory sess diverse cultural groups as engaged in a set of negotiations of dialogue, rather than conflicts. 

When I read these categories, which are not unique to Angrosino, I see the necessity of them being interwoven with one another to truly grasp the way that problems of diversity manifest themselves within society. Any thoughts about how these theories apply to Christianity at either the universal (international and/or American), local, or congregational level? Do these categories correlate with your experiences?

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