Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Redefining the Goal of Diversity
Diversity refers simply to the presence of difference, which is a result of our fulfillment of the cultural mandate. Unity and reconciliation speak to how God calls us to respond to those differences. The ancient world in which Jesus walked was full of diverse peoples, yet with all of its diversity, there was a brutal wall of division and hostility, including the division between Jews and Gentiles. In Galatians, Paul sets forth the theological groundwork for racial unity, and we even have an account of the early Church's journey to address this issue in Acts 15. Even the apostle Peter struggled with this issue. In his book "One Blood" Dr. John Perkins draws attention to Acts 10:13 where Peter has a vision of the heavens being opened, and a sheet full of clean and unclean animals being let down. In the dream, God told Peter to kill and eat. God had to tell this to Peter three times, but his response was, "No Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean!" God admonished Peter, telling him not to call anything impure, that He has made clean.
Peter didn't fully understand his vision until he went to the home of Cornelius (a Gentile), to share the Gospel with him. “It was there that God opened his eyes to the meaning of the vision. His words to Cornelius were, ‘You yourself know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean’(Acts 10:28). ” For God, it wasn't good enough for diversity to simply exist, his desire was and is for the diverse members of his body to be united together under the power of the Gospel which claims that Christ took two groups that were divided, “and made them one, breaking down the barrier of division and making the two into one new man, thus establishing shalom! And through the cross, he reconciled them both in one body to God, having put to death the hostility between them (Ephesians 2:14- 16).” How could Peter declare the message of the cross, without living out the unity that it created? Maybe this is why Jesus prayed so boldly in John 17 that his disciples (first for the Twelve, then for all his future disciples) would be one, even as he is one with the father! So that in their unity, the world would know that he was sent by the Father. Jesus knew that the oneness of his Church would be our greatest witness to the world.
A Biblical picture of diversity is laid out beautifully with the analogy given to us in "The Body of Christ." Paul tells us that there is but one body, with different members. Each of those members serves a different function, and it is only when all of the members are working together that the body can become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16; Romans 12:1-5). But the greatest difference between the sort of diversity that is promoted by American culture and the reconciling unity found in Scripture, is power. The analogy of the body speaks not just of working together, but of interdependence and equality; each member needs and belongs to all of the others.
Too often in our search for diversity we settle for something that is less than Biblical. It’s doubtful that anyone would look back at American slavery and call that diversity, yet, what we often seek in our churches is frighteningly similar. During slavery, diverse people groups were occupying the same space, but it would likely make most modern Americans uncomfortable to call that diversity. While Blacks and Whites occupied the same space, that space represented an oppressive system in which one group held all of the power, while the other was subservient and deemed worthless. Our affirmative action diversity results in the same thing: different groups occupying the same space, with little thought given to the balance of power or the dignity of the “other.” Because one cultural group often maintains all of the positions of power, the unintended result is a tacit ethnocentrism which expects and silently demands that minority assimilate into its cultural norms of worship, preaching style, theology, etc. The implicit message is that they are unneeded and at best, marginally valuable. As we think about diversity and reconciliation, we must set our goals towards a true unity that heals wounds and reconciles former enemies, recognizing our own brokenness and need for interdependence.
Something to reflect on:
“A word too soon or at the wrong time about reconciliation only grants the oppressor more power to oppress."
- James Cone
Wherever diversity exists without equality, you can be sure to find at best, tokenism, and at worst, oppression. No conversation about reconciliation or attempt at God-honoring diversity will be successful without also seeking justice for the oppressed. Seeking justice isn't just supporting a local non-profit, or marching in a rally; it starts by making our churches places of racial equity from the top down.
The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah
Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by Brandon J. O'Brien and E. Richards
One Blood by John M. Perkins
America's Unholy Ghosts by Joel E. Goza (read this one at your own risk!)