Diversity and Differences

For many years my primary way of understanding diversity has been through the lens of race.  Theology, class, and gender diversity have been important, but in many ways I relegated them to second tier status.

Lately I have begun to wonder about the scope of diversity, especially within the faith community.  How far are people of faith willing take this discussion?  It is generally accepted that the church must make space for people from all social classes, both sexes, and persons of color or to allow for inter-denominational dialogue.

Is there a diversity line that should not be crossed?  I suspect that for some it is sexual orientation and for others it might be faith partnerships that move beyond “Christian.”  When we begin to move the diversity discussion beyond theology, gender, and race the level of discomfort quickly intensifies.  For some in the church expanding the diversity discussion threatens and challenges preconceived assumptions.  There was a time in our country’s not too distant past when including persons of color at all levels of church life was challenging and threatening, it threatened preconceived notions of what was right.  There were church leaders who proclaimed passionately and loudly that it was unbiblical to even consider allowing a “mixed Church” to exist.  In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone provides a powerful reminder of this period in American history.

As I dream about a future of the church I hope that people of faith continue to grow and mature in their understanding of diversity.  The implications are real.  Expanding who is included means becoming less white, less male, and less straight.  For too long, people of faith have developed elaborate excuses for filtering people out of Christian community.  We have hidden behind words like “distinctives” or confessions of faith to justify this exclusion.  It is almost ironic that finding ways to include people is the controversial path.  Can the church’s future be one of figuring out how to filter people in?  I cannot imagine this will not be easy, comfortable, or without controversy.

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1 Comment

Filed under A New Kind of Christian, Christian, diversity, questions of church, racism

One response to “Diversity and Differences

  1. glenn

    In the 90s I visited in a series of “conservative” churches across a couple of states. I discovered (as a Canadian) that churches were struggling about what to do with the “Militia.” Whether or not it was coincidence, moving from West to East, it went from,
    “What’s the big deal as long as you aren’t a Democrat,”
    “A Militia can be a member but not a leader. Same goes for Democrats.”
    “We’re worried about pastor so-and-so, he’s got a brother in the militia. Can you believe some people think you can be a Christian and a Democrat?”
    . . .
    When I was furthest East (but still in the Midwest of the US), I stayed in the home of a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor of the State. He couldn’t believe that anyone thought you could be a Militia and a Christian.

    Now all that to say, I can’t imagine that local churches (or any other human organization) will ever stop contesting over what it means to make space for others who are defined as different and I can’t imagine that difference will ever be defined out of existence.

    The NT Epistles wrestled with what it means to erase privilege based on sex, race (defined differently than contemporary neo-Darwinian race), and economics. They call for the Church to strive for unity. But not any kind of unity. I want to suggest that unity is a unique task for the Church and while the world can judge the church for hypocrisy and failure, she cannot show the Church what it means to be one in Christ or strive for the unity of the Spirit.

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