In his final week as Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo posted a tweet declaring that, among other things, multiculturalism is not who the United States of America was. Now I understand that multiculturalism can be something of a cipher (as is much of our contemporary cultural and political discourse) however, at bottom multiculturalism denotes the presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society. I would suggest Pompeo was referring to the latter, the cultural support for several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within the United States, and was suggesting that cultural and political support did not represent what he understood to be America’s identity. To be fair, we don’t know precisely what he meant because of the fundamental brevity of tweets. In any case, I argue that marginalizing multiculturalism as an expression of a political philosophy of governing is wrong-headed and misguided, and I ardently disagree with Mr. Pompeo; however that opinion is not the reason for this post. The reason for this post is to express why I disagree with Mr. Pompeo’s position. I particularly want to explore the theological roots of my disagreement. I find this particularly important to articulate because I am concerned that Mr. Pompeo’s position may also be influenced by his theology, which I believe must be contested and critiqued by his fellow Christians.
Why do I believe his position is a reflection of his theology? Mr. Pompeo has connected his official governmental responsibilities and his Christian faith on many occasions. For example, in a speech as Secretary of State addressing the American Association of Christian Counselors in Nashville, Pompeo noted, “I want to use my time today to think about what it means to be a Christian leader, a Christian leader in three areas. First is disposition. How is it that one carries oneself in the world? The second is dialogue, talking. How is it that we engage with others around the world? And third is decisions, decisions that we make.” As a Christian who fundamentally coupled his governmental responsibilities with his faith, it seems Mr. Pompeo may be voicing an underlying theological commitment that is expressing itself in his decision making. Since Mr. Pompeo does not express those theological commitments in his tweet, I will not attempt to parse them here. What I do want to do here, is briefly articulate my understanding of the theological relationship between the Christian, ethnicity and culture, and how I believe that theology diverges from the cultural and political vision cast by Mr. Pompeo.
I recently preached a sermon on Acts 11:1-18. Interestingly, this blog (in a first for me) almost ends up serving as an addendum to that sermon. I want to start with this passage and the passage that preceded it in Acts 10 as a diving in point. I want to argue that multiculturalism represents a fundamental Christian value that must shape the Christian’s disposition toward both the cultures in which they are embedded, and the cultures that they experience as foreign and unfamiliar to them. In Acts 10 Peter is directed by God to eat foods that the Hebrew Law had declared unclean, an act that was so anathema to Peter that he had to be directed to partake three times before he even began to consider the request. In the meantime, God had given a vision to, as the text describes him, a “God-fearing” Roman military officer named Cornelius to send for Peter, which he did. His men arrived soon after Peter’s vision, and request that Peter come to their master’s compound in Caesarea. Peter and six men followed them to Caesarea, where they shared fellowship and food. In what follows Peter shares the Gospel with Cornelius, the soldiers under his command, and his family. In the following chapter (11) there are many in the Jerusalem church who were upset that Peter had apparently broken the Law’s prohibitions on eating unclean foods. His defense is something to effect of, “yes I did it, but God told me to, and here’s why.”
These chapters make clear that God, to the surprise of Peter and his Jewish brothers and sisters, had included the Gentiles in his project of redemption from the beginning. Part of the take away from this passage is that there can be no such thing as an ethnocentric, culture-centric, or nation-centric Christianity. The call to faith in Christ respects no social, national, political, ethnic, or cultural boundaries. In addition, there is no call in Acts 10 and 11, or anywhere else in scripture, that demands that one’s ethnicity or culture must be entirely left behind in favor of a Christian expression of ethnicity or culture. When one comes to faith in Christ he or she begins the process of reorienting the manner in which they ascribe value to their culture and its values. God doesn’t demand that the Jews adopt a Gentile way of life, and vice versa. Each begins the process of becoming this third thing, inhabiting a new identity that shares the commonality of Christ and an appreciation and even a respect for their cultural and ethnic differences. This multi-cultural, multi-ethnic project of redemption continues through the book of Acts and through the rest of the New Testament. It culminates in the book of Revelation as John records witnessing, “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” in chapter 7 (and earlier in chapter 5). This is the telos of the church, and it is fundamentally multi-cultural.
I would argue that this is a part of what Jesus is expressing when he declares that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son,” in John 3. If I am correct, and this multi-ethnic, multi-cultural gathering in Revelation represents both the church’s telos, and a value bound up in God’s affection for the world and the people God created, then it represents something that God values now as well. The same God that gathers all those differences in Revelation is working toward that end now. God seems to value our nations, tribes, peoples and languages while simultaneously transcending them. It is important to note that nations, tribes, peoples and languages are expressions of culture, and to quote theologian William Dyrness, culture is what humans make of creation. To be human is to make creative use of creation, and thus to participate in and to create culture. While God transcends those cultural differences, we must note that in Acts 10 and 11 and in Revelation 5 and 7 God does not obliterate those differences. God draws them into the project of redemption, to the extent that those differences are present still at the culmination of time.We can have a conversation I suppose about the presence of political expressions of multiculturalism in our political life in America. However I am concerned that those who desire to marginalize the manifold and parallel expressions of ethnicities and cultures in our common spaces and in our public square may be doing so because of a misguided theology that does the same; Or perhaps equally as troubling is allowing particular sets of political commitments to produce malformed expressions of Christian theology. I fear one of these scenarios may be coloring Mr. Pompeo’s assertion that multiculturalism is not consistent with the identity of the United States. I make no judgment other than asserting what I already have in disagreeing with Mr. Pompeo’s brief thesis. At any rate, I pray that Mr. Pompeo’s assertion is not who the church in the United States is.
 This definition is taken from the Oxford Dictionary
 Cortellessa, Eric, “‘My Walk with Christ’: Pompeo Give Contentious Speech on Being Christian Leader,” The Times of Israel, 12 October 2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-secretary-of-state-delivers-contentious-speech-on-being-christian-leader/