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Hugh Osgood and multiculturalism: “We must respect our differences”

The co-Chair of the Pentecostal Leaders Conference spoke to The Prisma about the Church’s acceptance of multiculturalism at a seminar on the subject.


Miriam Valero

Martin Luther King once said that the 11 o’clock Mass on Sundays was “the most segregated hour in Christian America”.

This quote from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate shows just how difficult it has been for the Church at certain times in history, and how they have embraced multiculturalism and accepted people who were once distanced from the majority of the community.

From within, the Church today admits that it is yet to achieve total integration and tolerance, and perceptions of difference and inferiority remain. For example, there are some sects that continue to promote a mono-cultural Christian community, thus marginalising certain cultures and races.

It was recognised in the meeting “Multiculturalism in the Church?” held in Wickford last weekend, that today the Church “still has a lot of work to do to achieve true tolerance in its community”.

The meeting highlighted the need to put a stop to the racial discrimination that still occurs in many Churches in the UK, while also recognising that the characteristics of religious communities have changed.

It is now estimated that 60 per cent of the country’s Church attendance is black, while only 40 per cent is white.

At this meeting, organised by “New Life Church Crouch Valley” and “Together in Ministry”, The Prisma spoke with one of the speakers, the co-Chair of the Pentecostal Leaders Conference, Hugh Osgood, about the current situation of multiculturalism in the Church.

Osgood emphasises acceptance of multiculturalism, without compromising Christian convictions.

What does the Bible have to say about multiculturalism?

Well, I think the interesting thing in the Bible is the- there is obviously throughout the pages of the Bible lots of evidence that people from different nations can come together and live together and I really do think that that is an expression of God’s ultimate plan and purpose. So, I get very excited when I see just how that has been on God’s heart all the way through, that people should live together with that unity and that harmony. So, I’m very excited about multiculturalism. I think that we build barriers very often whereas we should see these distinctives [sic] as being opportunities, really.

Sometimes the Christian Church is criticised for its past that has, on occasion, not been particularly tolerant of different cultures. Has this discrimination been left in the past? Have you put an end to it?

I think that you can find areas of intolerance in every area of society. You can pick up people here, there and make them have an intolerant attitude. I think that if we were to judge everything by those who are most intolerant, we are going to end up with a very negative picture of society. I think it’s possible to make progress, I hope that something like today where we’re looking at multicultural issues are going to help people make progress to see the real unhelpfulness of intolerant attitudes.

Now, toleration itself isn’t everything because you can end up with tolerating things that need to be confronted. But, I think that there’s a need for much greater wisdom and I hope that in the course of the day we can share some of that wisdom.

What can we do to improve acceptance of multiculturalism in society and in the Church?

I think that if we look at society there are a lot of problems that hang about because of racial tension, where there’s misunderstanding, an inability to appreciate one another and I think we’ve got to get beyond that and come to a place where we really, really are able to embrace one another and to realise that we add to one another by appreciating our differences, so I think we’ve got a long way to go but we’re getting there.

Sometimes people from different religions feel disconnected, how can we bring them together, and find points in common?

I think that sometimes it’s not so much about finding points in common, but respecting the differences as well. And if we can respect each others differences and begin to understand one another, I think then that makes for effective discussion and engagement. I think when we exaggerate the tensions, that just adds to the difficulty, really. So, I think that a lot of the questions about multiculturalism have to come down to respecting each others’ differences but at the same time having that ability to still dialogue and work together and appreciate the variety that can come.

What points do you believe different religions have in common? Apparently they are very different.

It’s a difficult question because in some ways the differences are as important as the similarities. And I think that whether you’re talking about religious culture or just even sort of day-to-day culture, home life and those kind of things, it’s good to see the differences. When you try and pick up the similarities, obviously yes there are some key things. You’ve got a lot of emphasis on the one-ness of God and the importance of creation.

You do then get into differences on the whole way of salvation, which I think is something that should be openly discussed rather than fought about. So, I’m very much in favour of understanding where everyone else comes from, but maintaining our convictions without compromising them.

Do you think that in our society we need to work on our approach to multiculturalism?

I think it’s interesting. I think society struggles with multiculturalism. I think the church has an opportunity to demonstrate that we can come together from different backgrounds and have that appreciation of one another and relationships can work, it doesn’t need to lead to tensions.

(Introduction translated by Grace Essex:

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