Book Review: Right Color, Wrong Culture, by Bryan Loritts

Review
09.25.2015

Bryan Lorrits. Right Color, Wrong Culture: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic. Moody Publishers, 2014. 208 pps.

 

Here are three quick questions for you:

  • What are the demographics of the location in which your church building is located?
  • What are the demographics of your church?
  • What are the demographics of your elders?

Are any of those substantially different from each other? Then Right Color, Wrong Culture could be a good book for you to read. Bryan Loritts has written an engaging “leadership fable” that helps church leaders consider how to be more sensitive to ethnic realities so that they can better care for their churches.

Why should we care? Unfortunately in the US, Loritts writes that only 2.5 percent of churches are multiethnic (defined as where one ethnicity does not make up more than 80 percent of the church). Though whites are roughly 80 percent of the US currently, the US is forecast to be majority minority by 2050 given factors such as immigration, higher birth rates among minorities, etc. Thus, we should prepare for this coming diversity by cultivating churches that are welcoming for people of different ethnicities.

Loritts’ main thesis is that that there are three types of people depending on how they relate to other ethnicities:

  • C1: person from one ethnicity who has assimilated into another (e.g., Hellenistic Jews of Acts 6 or, in another of Loritts’ examples, Carlton Banks of the TV series “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”)
  • C3: people who are culturally inflexible (e.g., Pharisees, or Al Sharpton)
  • C2: people who are “culturally flexible and adaptable without being ethnically ambiguous or hostile” (e.g., Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 when he talks about being all things to all people, or Denzel Washington)

Loritts states that each type can have a place in church leadership, but that it is essential to have a C2 leader “at the highest echelons of any organization if they want to be multiethnic.” Otherwise, a C1 leader will not be able to lead people from their own ethnicity and C3 people will not able to lead people from other ethnicities.

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE BOOK

The book is arranged in terms of a story, which is interesting for the reader and helps get Loritts’ points across in a non-polemical way. It’s a good read.

Second, Peter, the protagonist of the story, is an African-American consultant and former pastor. He is also a good model of someone who engages issues of ethnicity boldly and winsomely. He’s a helpful “third way,”, as many people are tempted to err one of two sides: not engaging at all or being too belligerent.

Third, Loritts has an excellent treatment on white privilege throughout the book that is helpful and illuminating. In one section, he writes (in the words of Peter the main character):

I believe most white people don’t see themselves as being white. And this is a huge disconnect in our society, because minorities are constantly in tune with their ethnicity, while you’re not in tune with yours. It would be like me pointing out to you that you have two arms. You’d shrug as if to say, Big deal. You don’t see yourself as having two arms, and neither do you see yourself as being white. But now imagine I had only one arm, and was constantly made aware that I was different in a two-arm society. If we’re going to get along, you’re going to have to understand what life is like for me having only one arm. That’s the disconnect between whites and minorities. We live in a white world—a two-armed society, so to speak—but we minorities have only one arm. Life as a minority can feel like you’re handicapped at times when compared to our white brothers and sisters. (159)

Fourth, Loritts’ C1 to C3 grid is also a helpful one. It’s useful in considering different types of people and why they may be more or less suitable for church leadership. It’s also helpful in understanding church members and for building unity; for example, when there are ethnic jokes, minorities will be less offended if they’re told by people who are C2 than if they are C3.

Fifth, the grid can also be useful in an international church setting where the determinant might not be ethnicity but rather socio-economic background or citizenship. For example, in Dubai it could be easy for Americans or Westerners to spend time together regardless of ethnicity, but harder for the Asian-American to spend time with the Malaysian Chinese or the Filipina.

MY MAIN CONCERN

That said, the C1 to C3 grid is useful but it shouldn’t be seen as the most important determinant in selecting church leaders. At times, it seems that Loritts’ grid is a bit deterministic and that a leader’s placement along this grid trumps other considerations (e.g., their preaching, how they love others, whether they’ve demonstrated fruitfulness, etc.). I would suggest that this grid should be one factor to consider among others. For example, I can think of someone who was probably a C3 who came to a multiethnic situation and, given his deep love for people in general, has become a wonderful pastor in his multiethnic church.

The grid is also a bit simplistic, though this is probably just to explain Loritts’ helpful points. For example, C2 is probably more a continuum, with some who are more or less able to empathize with others. Therefore, I wouldn’t want a C2 to be complacent in the fact that they are C2, but we should desire for all people to grow in their ability to love others not like themselves for the simple reason that they are united by the gospel.

FURTHER THOUGHTS

Loritts’ book provides helpful thoughts for future consideration on a couple topics.

Elders

I propose that in an elder board of a church that desires to be multiethnic, the majority of elders should be C2, or actively desirous of becoming more C2 (every member of Loritts’ church’s leadership team is C2). Being an elder involves being a shepherd, watching over the flock, and being eager to serve them (1 Peter 5)—all of which are difficult to do if we are culturally inflexible. Certainly, whether a man is a C2 or not should not be the only consideration but it should be an important one. In my own congregation, we desire to see elders who have shown that they are able to care for a variety of people, whether of different ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, or life situations (e.g., singles, marrieds, families).

Affirmative Action

Loritts also introduces the concept of affirmative action in the church, which is worthwhile to consider. Affirmative action can be an emotional issue politically, but we need to separate what may or may not make sense politically with what we should consider in the context of a church.

Consider the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3; they do not say that elders must be the absolute best in each of the qualifications compared to all their peers. Practically speaking, when we’ve recognized elders in our church, we haven’t compared prospective elders to each other. Instead, we ask whether elders are qualified or not. In other words, we do not see the qualifications as a measuring stick, for example in baseball where we might award an MVP to the player with the highest OPS (combination of slugging percentage and on-base percentage). Instead, we see the qualifications as binary considerations, such as whether someone is able to be naturalized as a US citizen (e.g., must be over 18 years old, be able to read, write, and speak English, etc.).

Therefore, when recognizing an elder, to the extent there are multiple potentially qualified individuals, it can be helpful to proactively consider minorities who are qualified and underrepresented. Perhaps their leadership gifts are less apparent than others’ because they are exercised differently in their culture than in a majority one. Or perhaps adding them could help the elders know how to better care for members in that particular minority.

This is where a focus on just “preaching the Word” yourself might not be enough. Doing so assumes that you have a culturally neutral perspective. In these cases, it’s helpful to have others challenge you. For example, in Galatians, Peter probably did not think what he was doing was wrong when he stopped eating with the Gentiles until Paul opposed him.

For Those in Majority Culture

Read this book because it can help you understand minorities better and how you can care for them.

For Those in Minority Culture

Read this book so you can consider how you, too, can care for others better. For example:

  • If you are a C3. consider how you can learn to reach out to other minorities or to the majority culture.
  • If you are a C2, think through how you can continue to grow in caring for others not like you—and ask yourself whether there are minorities that you have overlooked in the past.
  • If you are a C1, consider how you can serve people in your ethnic group better.
  • Consider how you might essentially be part of a majority culture even though you may be a minority (e.g., Westerners in Dubai are a minority numerically but they would have the privileges in church associated with a typical majority culture).
By:
Sam Lam

Sam Lam works in international development in Washington, D. C.