“Los Angeles is American Protestantism in 20 years,” according to Andrew Johnson, a research associate with the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) at the University of Southern California.
At a conference hosted by the CRCC held on February 9 called “Reimagining Religion,” Johnson and leaders in the Christian community of Los Angeles discussed the diversity that the city offers, and how that affects the way pastors and leaders minister to others, during the first session of the conference, called “Place Matters.”
“L.A. has been at the cutting edge of American Protestantism for more than a century, which makes L.A. the perfect place to ask how evangelical Christianity is changing at a time when the movement is undergoing a profound identity crisis,” organizers of the conference stated in a description of the session.
Indeed, Johnson said that the diversity of the city puts it a step ahead of many other cities in the nation in several ways.
For instance, he said that “multiethnic congregations are the gold standard” in churches in this region, and that moreover, “L.A. pushes us away from thinking of multiethnic as white and other ethnic groups.”
Johnson has, on numerous occasions, come across multiethnic congregations in which the majority were mixtures of African American, Asian American, or Latino American members, though the different congregations may have different proportions of these ethnic groups.
This portrait of diversity found in L.A. is what American Protestantism may look like in the future, he explained.
The session also featured a panel of speakers, including Ben Falcioni of Hope International Bible Fellowship; Ruben Nuño of Union Church of Los Angeles; and Judith Tiersma Watson from the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, who shared their own experiences of ministering in the diverse city.
Watson emphasized the need for churches to be proactive in being an agent of positive change in the city.
“Are we just using the space, or are we contributing to that space?” Watson posed. “We need to create culture, rather than just consuming the space.”
Nuño mentioned another layer of diversity in Los Angeles: the diversity across socioeconomic lines. He said that exemplifying love between members of the church that come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds — an African American doctor and an African American who is homeless, for instance — is just as challenging as showing love across racial lines.
The conference took place from 9 AM to around 4 PM at USC’s Town & Gown. Other topics discussed during the conference included the question of who decides authentic practices of religion when they are in contexts different from the religion’s origins; the different voices that emerged in the African American community after the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and the rise of the ‘religious nones’ and the implications of that increase.