Monday, May 3, 2010

UBA 4.0 -- An Open Conversation

Throughout the year I am engaging in ongoing conversations with our UBA leaders about re-tasking the association to take on lostness in our city. But I don't want to limit the conversation to the opportunities I have for a face-to-face dialogue so I've decided to expose my thinking to all who stop by and read my blogs. (Thanks for doing that, by the way.) So let's have an open conversation about UBA 4.0. (Please, feel free to use the comment feature and let's talk.)

In my previous blog (UBA 4.0 ... read below) I postulated that the association has always been designed for the times. During the first three iterations of the association, the association helped churches focus on starting churches and getting pastors on the frontier (1.0), developing our Baptist identity in a predominantly Christian context (2.0), and strengthening churches and helping them change to reach an increasingly secular community (3.0). Today things are continuing to change and the major change is demographic. I referred to it in my previous blog, but let me amplify that thought a bit.

It all began in 1965 with the "Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965." I mentioned this in my previous blog, but let me expand upon it here. (I can tell you are excited about this part of the conversation, but stay with me. It's important.)

Prior to 1965 almost all who immigrated to America were white Europeans. They primarily came from the northern portion of Europe and the British Isles: England, Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, Poland. To a lesser degree they came from the Mediterranean region of Europe.

From 1492 to 1965, 82% of all who came to America, came from Europe. Another 12% were African-Americans, originally brought here as slaves. (Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808.) A small number of Chinese and Japanese worked as farmers or laborers in California and Hawaii. The border between the US and Mexico was relatively open allowing cheap laborers to come and go as needed, but only a small percentage took up permanent residence. So, for the most part, America was a "white" nation.

From 1924 to 1965, immigration was even more tightly managed. 98% of all immigrant visas granted went to Europeans.

By controlling immigration the government was creating an essentially homogeneous population.

* Prior to 1965 America was predominantly White (Caucasian, Anglo, call it what you will, I am using this designation because it has been the designation used by the government on census forms). Immigrants who came to America typically wanted to "become Americans" which meant learning English (especially making sure their kids spoke English), blending in, becoming part of the great melting pot. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians often felt like (and were often treated as) second-class citizens. They found it hard to move into the mainstream of society and culture.

* Prior to 1965 the predominant American worldview was Judeo-Christian. Writing in the 1950's sociologist Will Herberg said to be American was to be either Protestant, Catholic or Jew (Protestant, Catholic, Jew. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1955). Herberg cited data showing 68% of Americans were Protestant, 23% were Catholic, 4% were Jewish (the remaining 5% expressed no religious preference). Whether Protestant, Catholic or Jew, the Bible was foundational for one's worldview. Consequently, the Judeo-Christian worldview was almost universally shared by Americans.

But all that began to change in 1968 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 became law. This particular act has been called "the most important piece of legislation no one has ever heard of." Sometimes called the Hart-Cellar Act, it abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place since the Immigration Act of 1924 making it possible for immigrants from other parts of the world to come to America. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations which has essentially changed the ethnic and demographic makeup of America.

Today only a small percentage of the folks who come to America come from Europe. Most come from Asia, Africa and Latin America. That means their skin is of a darker hue and their religious background may very likely be something other than Christian.

What impact has all that had on a city like Houston? Dr. Stephen Klineberg of Rice University describes the Houston of the 1960s as a "bi-racial Southern city." In 1960, 74% of the population was White, 20% was Black and almost everyone spoke English. That's no longer the case. Houston is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in the US.

Whites (Anglos) are no longer the largest ethnic group in our Houston. The largest ethnic group in Harris County is now Hispanic. (Interestingly, this is a trend that is growing throughout the top 100 cities in the US.)

The number of Hispanics living in Harris County today is greater than the total population of Harris County in 1960 and greater than the number of Anglos living here has ever been! (This is the reason that no matter what other changes we may make in the association, we will maintain a strong focus on working with our Hispanic leaders and churches.)

Houston is a major immigration portal into Texas and the US. One out of four immigrants that live in Texas live in the Houston area.

The number of Asians in Harris County today is greater than either the number of Blacks or Hispanics in 1960.

We know that four out of ten Harris County residents do not speak English when they go home at night. With nearly 215 identified languages spoken here, it may even be that the majority of folks who live here prefer a language other than English (they may be able to speak English, but it's probably not their first language).

What does all this mean? It means the folks who live in Houston can no longer be described as "homogenous." Far from it. We are a diverse people from many faiths -- if any at all (but more on that in a later blog), speaking many languages, with differing sometimes even conflicting worldviews. We are a world mission field, and all evidence suggests we are not doing a good job of reaching our burgeoning mission field. Every day that goes by Houston becomes more diverse and more lost. More about that next.

(If you want to learn more about immigration and the history of America, I'd encourage you to explore the Library of Congress webpage: