Baptist World Alliance Leader, Neville Callam, Says Ethnicity – Not Race – Thwarts Christian Unity

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Ethnic labels and segregation at the Lord’s Supper table thwart Christian unity, Baptists’ international leader told participants at the T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics .


Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance , delivered the 12th annual Maston Lectures April 16-17 at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary.
“‘Ethnicity’ … is a term that is used to convey a diversity of meanings,” said Callam, a Jamaican Baptist leader and the first person of African ancestry to head the BWA. The way “ethnic” and related terms are used presents problems for the church, he added.
To illustrate, he cited occasions when European and American religious groups spoke of “ethnic churches” and “ethnics” to describe immigrants and people who are not part of the majority in those specific regions. 
Sometimes, “race” and “ethnicity” are used almost interchangeably, which is inaccurate and misleading, he said.
“To speak of ethnic groups is to point to constructed identities which often depend on notions of common origins, common heritage and memories of a shared past, which are not necessarily grounded in confirmable historical fact,” Callam reported.
“In popular American usage, as also elsewhere, the label ‘ethnic’ seems to reflect a categorization of people not in order to affirm their common belonging in the species homo sapiens, but to highlight the contrast between them,” he explained.
Recounting the history of the term, Callam noted that by 1940 in America, “ethnics” was used to refer to “Jews, Italians, Irish and others deemed inferior to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”
Among Christians, “the use of the expression ‘ethnic churches’ is caught up in the politics of establishing borders, defining separate identities (and) classifying people over against each other, notwithstanding their common bonds in Jesus Christ,” he said. In that context, “the term ‘ethnic’ refers to people who are not ‘white.'”
Callam leans toward the “constructivist” perspective on ethnicity, he said. It is “the belief that ethnic groups are artificial social constructs that have no exact correspondence in actual society.”
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SOURCE: The Baptist Standard
Marv Knox