Diversity and the Church: A Culture with No Excuse

I started listening to NPR a number of years ago because I felt a need to hear a different voice, to listen well, and to give consideration to viewpoints that I did not share. Since then, as the tone of challenging conversations around race and politics has become more shrill, and as opinions have become more ironclad, I’ve been thankful for quiet voices of reason that remind me of the holiness of diversity and the call to love.

Deep divides within the church on everything from immigration and the role of women to worship style and the definition of family challenge the body of Christ to be the force that passes through our differences all the way to grace. In the month of February, The Redbud Post is focusing on diversity as a spiritual issue with a collection of writings from Redbud members that challenge readers to practice the “love that suffers long and is kind” in living out our many roles as believers. A studied intention to live as an Ambassador of Unity invites me to trade my litmus tests for conversations with real people and to seek out opportunities within the body of Christ to remember that we are one.

I invite you to join me today over at The Redbud Post to read my essay in its entirety.   Over the past year I have intentionally read books to broaden my own narrow world, and I’ve folded two of them into the post. And while you’re there, take some time to look around and even subscribe to the post so you can receive regular infusions of goodness to your inbox each month.


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A Culture with No Excuse

Three of my four boys are volunteer fire fighters, so when they get together, the stories pile up, one upon another, and the youngest of the three will, inevitably, be reminded (repeatedly) of his lowly status.  He’s a “probie,” a probationary fire fighter — new, full of enthusiasm, but not necessarily full of experience or know-how.  That’s me on the topic of racial reconciliation.  However, even here in rural Maine where we’re a pretty homogeneous bunch, I don’t have to look further than Portland to find accounts of healthy, positive relationships being built by my friend Beth in her work within the Somali Christian community — or further than Lewiston to read accounts of our own tiny refugee crisis.  Needless to say, my learning curve is nearly vertical.

Russell Moore and Andrew T. Walker have responded to the brother-against-brother of racism with a collection of five essays centered around the theme that “in the Kingdom of God, it is not us against them.  The Kingdom of God is us reconciled to one another.”  Part of The Gospel for Life Series, The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation is intended as a primer for equipping believers with sufficient background to free us from our fear of engaging in the conversation on race and to motivate us toward action that will make a difference.

J. Daniel Hays traces equality among the races — and the dignity of all human beings — to our creation in the image of God, debunking along the way a good many myths and downright lies about issues such as erroneous views of where the Bible comes down on slavery and interracial marriage.  Because God depicts a multi-ethnic congregation from every tribe and language and people and nation at the climax of history, it follows then that the gospel is for all people and ethnicities.

Identity in Christ overshadows all other identities, and Thabiti Anyabwile makes a strong case for the truth that the solution to racial strife will not be simply a matter of re-education, but, rather, change at the “root of man’s being” which results in a longing for equality for all who bear the image of God.

Trillia Newbell emphasizes love — for God and for neighbors — as the driving force behind racial reconciliation.   Not only is our service more beneficial when we link arms with a diverse workforce, but, more importantly, the church that demonstrates unity in Christ through the gospel is putting the transforming work of the gospel on display.  Coming from an era in which I was encouraged to be “color blind,” I was enlightened by Trillia’s encouragement to “see color” in a celebration of ethnic differences that trumpets God’s creativity.  Open conversations about race beat a path away from apathy and its close cousin, racism, and toward open relationships.

There is a theme of reconciliation that permeates the narrative arc of Scripture, and Eric Mason likens the potential for racial reconciliation in the church to the impact that hip-hop music has had on the culture at large, a restoration of friendly relationships (conversations!) based on a shared interest.  The unity Paul calls for in Ephesians 4 is an element of the believer’s sanctification. Since, therefore, racism is sin, the believer is directed to war against it.

The quest for diversity within the church must extend beyond Sunday  morning, beyond a “reconciliation for hire” approach to staffing, and beyond a forced homogeneity that ignores the beautiful complexity of first-generation realities.  Matthew J. Hall and D.A. Horton address the theological influences that shaped our unique, born-in-the-USA-brand of racism, stressing that “if we’re going to get this right, we need to be honest about where we have gotten it wrong.”  May God in His mercy allow the church another opportunity to put on display the beauty of redemption and to represent Him well in our approach to racial reconciliation.

By looking at the issues at the heart of racism, listening to the positions of those who are different from us, learning out of a generous position of humility, and living life together in a community that is redolent with the sweet nectar of Spirit-borne fruit, it may be that we can earn the right to speak truth into our culture.  In the New Testament, there are no fewer than twenty-two injunctions for believers to love one another, and first-century Christians left their world looking for the reason behind their inexplicable love.  What an honor and a miracle of grace it would be if the church could once again engage the culture with the gospel and embody a multicultural, multi-ethnic community that would render present day culture “with no excuse for not pursuing the God who reconciled us to Him and [to] each other.”

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This book was provided by B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.