Culture

Diversity Is Not Nice

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Last weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at a women’s event at my church. The question I was asked to answer is, “Why does God call us to diversity?” Even looking at the question now causes me to sigh. This emotional response is because I believe that people in the church, at least my multi-ethic congregation, know the answer to that question. Some of us can even quote scripture and maybe tell a story or two about it, but there are still hurt feelings, unasked questions, topics we don’t address, a silent strolling of offensive posts by our so called “friends” on social media, and suddenly, we (the minority group) realize that “they” don’t know us well at all. Perhaps they have not even tried, that is what undergirds the sigh. It is the weariness of understanding that what God calls us to is quite clear, at least for those of us Jesus-loving, Bible-toting, Sunday morning worshipping, bridge building believers. But for some reason we don’t always have a passionate pursuit of diversity. We have simply gotten comfortable with our love of the idea of diversity.

Loving the idea of diversity is not good enough for the people of God. Click To Tweet

But loving the idea of diversity is not good enough for the people of God, and I told God’s daughters the truth on that night. That’s why preparing to deliver that message was like pushing a boulder uphill. Several weeks before, I was in dialog with publisher at a Christian conference talking about their challenge of “finding” theologically sound racial and ethnic minorities to write. I shared some very key steps that would quickly, though not easily, address those challenges. And on the heels of that conference and this message delivery, articles and social media (reference the #speakersofcolor hashtag) again highlight the lack of racial and ethnic minorities on the main stage at big Christian conferences. Unfortunately, this is not news to the evangelical community. I have written on this topic before. And thankfully, new voices from women of color are adding to the conversation. But the lack of racial and ethnic minority representation in evangelicalism is the norm—on the main stage at Christian conferences, on the faculty of our seminaries, on the publishing list, as decision-makers in our long standing Christian organizations, or the recommended reading list of our white, male brothers who identify as leaders. The lack of diversity in evangelicalism continues as a problem because everyone believes diversity is a good idea—it’s loving, politically correct, the way of Jesus, it’s shows tolerance and we are not that bad of a people— but it is not quite necessary.  

These are the words of Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil as she challenges the church to live out the calling of unity in diversity within the body of Christ. In her book, A Credible Witness, she writes that we must identify a thirst for diversity. We must be able to answer the question, “Why do we need the other?” That is the question most leadership teams who are planning conferences, hiring seminary faculty, determining reading lists, and inviting guest speakers (signifying whose voice is elevated, whose voice is credible, and who gets the opportunity to expand his or her resume for future networking and investments) have not honestly wrestled with, and we must.

And here’s the thing, minorities know when diversity is not a critical issue for the establishment. McNeil confesses, “They know when they are just there to fill a quota system or to serve as a type of window dressing. They know that when they are needed, they have the ability to change and influence the organization; when it is just nice to have them around, they know this too because nothing is going to change as a result of their presence.” I want to see real change, and I believe that change is long past due in the church. Several years ago, I made the decision to wrestle and identify my thirst.

I want to see real change, and I believe that change is long past due in the church. Click To Tweet

Having been raised by strong, loving, and affirming black people in South Carolina I didn’t need or wait on anyone outside of my community to determine my worth. I knew that when I left home and carried it with me whenever people tried to make me think differently of myself. I determined that my need for pursuing diversity was necessary so I did not yield to the emotions of hate, anger, or bitterness when the “other” approached me with lies. I wrestled for joy and love and hope and peace. I wrestle to become more like the all-knowing Jew and carpenter from Nazareth. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? I wrestle because this same Jesus, the one who calls us to diversity, invites us into suffering and healing with questions like: What do you want me to do for you? And because I seek answers with the psalmist cries of: How long must we wait, Lord? I want to see and be satisfied. Yes, I’m thirsty for this change. And I am thirsty because I believe like so many leaders, pastors, bridge builders, and reconcilers that have gone before me, and remain on the path to reconciliation still, that this is a gospel issue. Dr. McNeil calls us to be a credible witness of this gospel. Christ prayed that our witness of this gospel would be the very thing that draws people to see the goodness of his kingdom. He prayed to his Father:

I have given them [all believers] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:22-23 NIV).

Diversity is necessary for our witness of the gospel and diversity is the necessary evidence of God’s love to us. I’m reading the book, Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace by Patricia Raybon & Alana Raybon. So far it is a heartbreaking story where I try to hear Alana’s reason for abandoning her Christian faith and upbringing in exchange for Islam. I read her quotes from the Qur’an, her understanding of the many prophets of God, and her loving embrace of people from difference faiths, backgrounds, and traditions. I read her rejection of the infallibility of scripture and the doctrine of the Trinity, and it makes me sad mostly. I know and respect that people have a right to their own faith traditions and beliefs, yet on two separate occasions, Alana makes a comparison between her Muslim faith and Christianity that I can’t ignore. Of her own faith and personal network she writes:

I’ve returned from a baby shower at a friend’s house, a Bolivian woman married to an Afghan. I tell her [Patricia, her mom] that my Muslim friends include South Africans, Vietnamese, Malaysians, Dominicans, Colombians, Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Ethiopians, Anglo and African Americans, and of course, Arabs—among many others. If she were to go with me on any day to my mosque in Houston, she would see that I worship with people from all over the world. I didn’t choose an exotic clan—I chose God, chose him above all others, even family and friends.   

Just like that, I’m immediately convicted by this Muslim because I don’t have a diverse friendship circle like hers, and in spite of attending a multi-ethnic church, I have never personally experienced a worship service like that. And then she turns her eyes towards us, and in a nation that is growing increasingly more diverse, the Christian church cannot avoid her gaze. She asks:

I wonder “what my mom would say about the three churches lined up on the same street, yet not worshipping together. Something is dividing them, despite their similar belief in Jesus. It’s hard to imagine why they can’t even unify. Perhaps it’s a disagreement within the leadership or small-town politics. Despite the purposed reasoning, seeing them all separated from each other sticks with me as we drive by.”

This reconciliation with himself and others is a matter of chief importance to God. Click To Tweet

The division within the body of Christ is what “sticks with” this Muslim as she does a “drive by.” It’s the opposite of Jesus’ prayer for oneness not long before his death. Let there be no doubt that this reconciliation with himself and others is a matter of chief importance to God.

When will it become necessary for all his children?

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