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The Diversity We Seek: The Danger of Manufactured Pre-Determined Diversity

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I had a conversation with someone the other day at “the Vine” about diversity and seeking diversity. At “the Vine,” we’re in the process of planting/reviving 2 missional communities and I argued that one of these contexts – Hyde Park – had to be the most diverse place in the Midwest. She said no, that a different place – Waukegan – was. We were working with two different concepts of diversity.
The actual demographics of each place can be debated. But I argued numerically that Hyde Park was more diverse because its inhabitants included a wide range of ethnicities (white people are probably in the minority here), a wide range of economic classes (from wealthy to poor across all ethnic spectrums), and a wide range in levels of education (from the intellectual elites of Univ. of Chicago to the under educated poor of the Chicago public schools system).  I said as far multiple kinds of diversity, Hyde Park had to be the most diverse place in the Midwest.

My friend said Waukegan is more diverse than Hyde Parke. What she meant when was that Waukegan is a place which is more “not us.” We are middle class suburban (majority) white people with the comforts of education, stable families, homes and jobs. Waukegan is more on the “margins,” people who are struggling for all those things. When I said Hyde Park is more diverse, I was referring to the makeup internal to that community, and its broad differences within one community. When my friend said Waukegan was more diverse, she was saying Waukegan was more “other” than us: diversity as a function of a relation external to us.

As we plant communities what are the opportunities and pitfalls of each? Which diversity should we seek to plant in? Diversity a.) or Diversity b.)? What different things should we consider in terms of God’s redemptive purposes in each? Which diversity should we seek as the most appropriate context for a church like ours to seek to inhabit?

I think these are important questions. There are opportunities and pitfalls in both. I offer a comment in relation to both kinds of diversity.

In the case of Waukegan, there is an opportunity to go to the margins and minister the gospel. Given the ubiquitous poverty, this represents “the deserted places of the empire.” These are the folk God has called us to be mindful of. There is the great readiness here, fertile soil here. “Blessed are the poor, the open handed, the ready to receive, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Just as important, here is where we can learn the Kingdom, for God is at work here in unusual and different ways than we are used to.  Yet there are dangers. How do we go here and not be people of privilege? Coming with the answers? Coming with our value systems we learned in the suburbs? How do we enter with proper humility? Most importantly, we must resist the temptation that we know, can predict, what redemption will look like here we inhabit these places for the Kingdom. There is a temptation it will look like our pleasant lives back in the prosperous suburbs. This is the false promise of “the American dream”.

In the case of Hyde Park, we have opportunities here as well. We have the opportunity of calling this community into the diversity of the Kingdom, the community of reconciliation and renewal that God is bringing thru Christ.  The ones who are wealthy will learn from the poor and vice versa. The ones who are educated will learn from those not and vice versa. The various ethnicities will learn to love and care and understand and learn from each other. Yet we must be careful here not to allow a manufactured diversity to take shape where somehow we all look the same. We cannot appeal to some preconceived notion of what such a diversity might look like in this context. We cannot assume what our music will be, what wealth will mean. We must avoid the mistake (and this is true of many communities) that those who are successful in economy must somehow be minimized, what their success in the world might mean here (I’ve learned this from the Afro-American church communities). They surely must model how to live differently with wealth but they also must teach us how to live in the economy for witness. There is a danger of a manufactured pre-determined flattened diversity that is often shaped by the bland vision of American democracy. God wants to create something anew here through His life of forgiveness, reconciliation and renewal.

I have noticed (a times) a manufactured diversity in large churches in majority white suburban wealthy communities. Here people of different ethnicities and social backgrounds are hired to be visible and lead from up front. Is this a good thing? Sometimes this can work for some good. Sometimes, I’m afraid it is manufactured and is niot the diversity we seek. Kingdom diversity is a culture of renewal worked out on the ground in real relationships. I tend to discourage such attempts at manufacturing diversity. What about you? Is this a temptation where you minister? In what ways do you see manufactured pre-determined diversity taking shape in Christianity? Are you against the ‘token hires’ to promote diversity? How can we avoid the tendency to do manufactured pre-determined diversity? Do we need to?

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