Unity in Diversity

Introductory note: Diversity can analyzed in at least three spheres—behavior (action and lifestyle), belief (what we hold to be true), and belonging (social cohesiveness). This post focuses on the third category—the social aspects of unity—though the other two are lurking between the lines as well. All three areas relate to spiritual gifts, so I’ve included diversity of gifts in this consideration as well.

Which is true: “birds of a feather flock together” or “opposites attract”? Reality defies a simple answer. Social psychologists tell us it depends on a number of factors, including the level of relation one is considering (e.g., friends, romantic partners, clubs, etc.) and the type of characteristic under consideration (e.g., male-female [different gender = opposite] in heterosexual couples [both heterosexual = same]). While both forces are a social reality, it’s the flocking together of similar people that has been on my mind lately.

Social sorting is normal and natural. We develop bonds with people who share our interests, whether the commonality is professional, religious, political or recreational. Often multiple factors influence who we connect with (e.g., people in my faith community who have children the same age as mine, or people in my office who share my political views and are the same gender as me).

I do this. You do this. We all do this in some way.

Unity in Uniformity

This selection process is not entirely beneficial. We can easily cut out of our lives nearly everyone whose differentness makes us uncomfortable. We may only reach out to people of the same age, race, and socio-economic level. We may only make friends with people in our own denomination or religion. We may un-follow or un-friend everyone on Facebook who posts quotes for that other political party. This is the comfortable route. This is the least unsettling-path. This is also the best way to lose a broad perspective on life and the world.

Unity in Diversity

In my understanding, social diversity is a central feature of the kingdom of God. Jesus worked to break down the dividing walls of age, race, ethnicity, gender, social status, economic level, and all of the other major divisions.

Jesus welcomed the young children who the disciples tried to push away.

Jesus taught women (not just men) and had them travel with him.

Jesus called the rich tax collector and the poor fishermen to follow him.

Jesus sent his followers to every corner of the globe.

Jesus prayed that this diverse group would be unified (John 17:11-23).

Paul understood this social revolution and highlighted its significance for the church. We should not jump too quickly over the emotional content of these lists:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11, NIV)

Paul also spoke to the need for people with various gifts to be unified in one body (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4).

John wrote of the diverse group of humanity gathered in the age to come.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9; see also 5:9)

Ellen White, an early leader in the Seventh-day Adventist church, spoke much of unity in diversity.

From the endless variety of plants and flowers, we may learn an important lesson. All blossoms are not the same in form or color. Some possess healing virtues. Some are always fragrant. There are professing Christians who think it their duty to make every Christian like themselves. This is man’s plan, not the plan of God. In the church of God there is room for characters as varied as are the flowers in a garden. In His spiritual garden there are many varieties of flowers.—Letter 95, 1902 (Evangelism, p. 99)

It is the Lord’s plan that there shall be unity in diversity. There is no man who can be a criterion for all other men. Our varied trusts are proportioned to our varied capabilities…. Each worker is to give his fellow workers the respect that he wishes to have shown to himself.—Lt 111, 1903. (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 423)

Unity in diversity is God’s plan. Among the followers of Christ there is to be the blending of diverse elements, one adapted to the other, and each to do its special work for God. Every individual has his place in the filling up of one great plan bearing the stamp of Christ’s image…—Lt 78, 1894 (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 800)

I believe God’s call for the church is to be an inclusive, diverse body. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to overcome the forces that push us away from each other. I believe the church is to be a community that shows the world how people of different ages, income brackets, races, genders, political orientations, and other factors can live in harmony with love and respect.

I want to stand in that diverse group (Rev. 7:9), and I want the church to be a foretaste of that day now. May we live up to that high calling, and may I do my part by asking God to open my heart, mind and home.

Reflection Questions

  1. When have I experienced unexpected hospitality and inclusiveness? How did this make me feel, and how did it affect my own approach to others?

  2. What social division is most obvious in my life? That is, what is the characteristic that most of my friends have in common? What are the benefits and problems with this social situation?

  3. What steps might I take to move beyond this barrier (in #2)? What changes in attitudes, words and actions might I need in order to reach out to people who are different in this way?

  4. What social divisions has my congregation overcome? What divisions persist? What factors contribute to this division, and how might God move through me to change this?

  5. In a world polarized by political dissent, how can Christians demonstrate better communication both within the church and in the broader society?

  6. All religions and denominations have boundaries relating to belief, behavior and belonging. This is how one is distinguished from another. What are the positive and negative aspects of these boundaries? What purposes do these serve, and when or how might they become a problem? How do we decide where to draw these boundaries, and how do we decide how absolute or porous these various barriers should be?

  7. How might these themes be applied to relations between Christian denominations or between Christians and those with other religions or worldviews?

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Plank Versus Sawdust

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus’ teaching on self-assessment is important to me in many contexts. Beyond the purely individual application, I think it is appropriate material for contemplation anytime I find myself differentiating between my group and “the other.”

I support self-evaluation and discourage judging the other party. I’m Seventh-day Adventist, and I think we should focus on dealing with abuse within the church instead of pointing fingers at others religious communities that struggle with abuse. I’m a male, and I think guys should speak about “reproductive ethics” to other guys instead of telling women what they should do with their bodies. I have dark hair, and I hope I never hear another “blond joke” from anyone who wasn’t born with bleach-blond hair. And I’m also white. I think that the white community should focus on fixing its own issues rather than telling other racial groups what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

This came out again for me in the recent killing of Michael Brown. It’s just seems wrong to hear white people talking about what black people should be doing–stop rioting, stop speaking a certain way, stop getting into trouble with police. With our nation’s history of white people always getting the race issue wrong–genocide of First Nations, slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison-industrial complex, treatment of Chinese immigrants during building of the railroads, policies of disruption in Central America, etc.–how are we in a position to tell anyone else how to act morally? Why do we think we have it right this time (see this Tim Wise video)?

If the rioting doesn’t make sense to you, then dig into it deeper. White people riot too. Find out what about the human experience brings this out. If demonstrations and protests don’t make sense to you, then dig deeper. All people groups demonstrate. This is not unusual behavior, so if you can’t understand why these people in this community at this time would feel motivated to speak their minds publicly, then look into their stories more deeply. You can judge from a distance or you can get closer and begin to understand. You may never agree with certain actions–I certainly don’t (and this applies to my views of violent people and groups regardless of race or economic level)–but if you don’t understand, then you need to go deeper.

So, my white friends, let’s refrain from telling other groups how they should act, especially if we aren’t friends with a number of people in “the other” category, whatever it might be. Instead, let’s focus on getting things right with ourselves–right thoughts, right attitudes, right words, right actions. We’ve got some planks to deal with before we try to deal with anyone else’s sawdust.

Above all, may we play our part in supporting the beloved community. This is to be on the right side of the “race question,” the right side of history, the right side of eternity.

– – –

NOTE: See my earlier list of articles on the killing of Michael Brown–link.

News and Commentary on the Shooting of Michael Brown [UPDATED]

I asked my communities on Facebook and Google+ to share the most insightful articles they’ve read about the recent killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a Ferguson, MO, police officer. Even though Brown was not the only unarmed black male to be shot in the last few days, it is the situation receiving the most press. Here are the articles people shared with me, plus a few that I’ve added to the mix (listed by date):

READ: DOJ Report on Civil Rights Violations in Ferguson, Criminal Probe of Officer Darren Wilson (DemocracyNow!, 4 Mar 2015)

Most Shocking Parts Of Ferguson Police Report (Sevilla, KRON 4, 4 Mar 2015)

Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police (McKenzie, Black Girl Dangerous, 12 Aug 2014)

So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

We’ve Been Here Before (the beautiful due, 12 Aug 2014)

my god, my god, what year is it?

In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, Police and the American Dream (Cooper, Salon, 12 Aug 2014)

The police mantra is “to serve and to protect.” But with black folks, we know that’s not the mantra. The mantra for many, many officers when dealing with black people is apparently “kill or be killed.” It is that deep irrational fear of young black men that continues to sit with me.

11 Things White People Should Stop Saying to Black People Immediately (Clifton, Mic, 14 Aug 2014)

A growing number of black people have been ruthlessly beaten, shot and killed by white police officers of late, a fact all too easy to gloss over for white people who will continue moving through American life with white privilege. White privilege means not having to deal with the disproportionate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and exclusion from everyday social settings and public accommodations.

When Terror Wears a Badge (Herring, Sojourners, 14 Aug 2014)

Over the past three weeks there have been four separate incidents that have led to the deaths of four unarmed black men at the hands of police. For many black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a black man in America, my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public.

Ferguson Perspective from a Cop’s Wife (Neace, 14 Aug 2014)

I’m frustrated.  I’ve watched the news and heard all the reports…the rants…the chants…the demonstrations.  Perhaps it’s time to hear the perspective of a cop’s wife on the situation in Ferguson.

In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson (Bessey, 14 Aug 2014)

I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

I Don’t Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson (Barthwell, XOJane, 14 Aug 2014)

How do I talk to white people about this!? How can I possibly explain the rage, fear, sadness, and every other emotion I don’t have a name for yet as I watch these events unfold?

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police (Paul, Time, 14 Aug 2014)

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

Get the Military Off of Main Street (Beavers & Shank, New York Times, 14 Aug 2014)

The police response has shocked America. The escalating tension in this town of 21,200 people between a largely white police department and a majority African-American community is a central part of the crisis, but the militarization of the police is a dimension of the story that has national implications.

While You Were Talking About Gungor, Driscoll, and Walsh (Schell, OnFaith, 15 Aug 2014)

While the white Christian world debates who’s going to hell, the African-American community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.

The Police Are the Issue in Ferguson, Not Michael Brown’s Character (Klein, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It’s not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown….

Later on Friday afternoon, the Ferguson Police Department clarified that Brown was stopped because he was jaywalking, not because he was thought to have been involved in a robbery. So, as far as we know, Darren Wilson had no reason to believe Brown was involved in any kind of violent crime at all. Which makes the Ferguson PD’s decision to release the robbery photos today, absent this context, look even more like an attempt to sow doubts about Brown’s character.

How We’d Cover Ferguson If It Happened in Another Country (Fisher, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

How would American media cover the news from Ferguson, Missouri, if it were happening in just about any other country? How would the world respond differently? Here, to borrow a great idea from Slate’s Joshua Keating, is a satirical take on the story you might be reading if Ferguson were in, say, Iraq or Pakistan.

4 Dead Unarmed Men and the Police: What You Need to Know (Edwards, The Root, 15 Aug 2015)

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford.You should recognize these names. They all belong to unarmed black men who were killed by law enforcement since July 2014 for seemingly inexplicable reasons: allegedly selling loose cigarettes, allegedly holding a toy gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart, allegedly running away after a scuffle with the cops, and allegedly complying with police and lying down on the street. All of these cases are in varying stages of investigation.

Black People Are Not Ignoring ‘Black on Black’ Crime (Coates, The Atlantic, 15 Aug 2014)

There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people.

Behind A Twitter Campaign, A Multitude Of Stories (NPR, 16 Aug 2014)

Earlier this week, media outlets across the country (e.g. NPR, the Los Angeles Times, TIME, Mashable, the New York Times ) devoted coverage to a hashtag — #iftheygunnedmedown — aimed squarely at them. (Us.)

Michael Eric Dyson spells it out for white people: Police won’t ‘kill your child’ (Edwards, Raw Story, 16 Aug 2014)

“Especially white people, whose white privilege obscures from them what it means that their children can walk home and be safe, they’re not fearful of the fact that somebody will kill their child who goes to get some iced tea and some candy from a store,” he remarked. “Until that equality is brought, the president bears a unique responsibility and burden to tell that truth.”

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race (Abdul-Jabbar, Time, 17 Aug 2014)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

Eyewitness: ‘The Police Force in Ferguson Is Lying, and I Am Bearing Witness’ (Wilson, Sojourners, 18 Aug 2014)

I have never had 50 guns trained at me before, running with camera gear, hands in the air. The inexcusable and irrational level of violence is terrifying. Towards the end of the evening, more looting did happen. But there was none before the police attacked us repeatedly.

5 Things Ferguson Got Terribly Wrong over the Weekend (Bogado, ColorLines, 18 Aug 2014)

But authorities in Ferguson continued to make even more trouble over the weekend, especially when it came to dealing with journalists during the ongoing state of emergency. Here are just five of the ways Ferguson continues to get things wrong:

“A Human Rights Crisis”: In Unprecedented Move, Amnesty International Sends Monitors to Ferguson (DemocracyNow!, 18 Aug 2014)

After a week that saw a militarized police crackdown and the imposition of a nighttime curfew, Amnesty International USA has taken an “unprecedented” step by sending a 13-person delegation to monitor the developments in Ferguson, Missouri. It is the first time the Amnesty organization has deployed observers inside the United States.

Iraq Vet: Ferguson Cops Have Better Armor and Weaponry Than We Carried in a Combat (Rivera, The Raw Story, 18 Aug 2014)

In my year in Iraq, I lost track of how many times my guys asked me why so many Iraqis viewed us with distrust when we were trying to help them. The question would arise while we were walking the beat with Iraqi police officers, manning checkpoints, or in our forward operating base after we went off-duty.

Invariably, my response went something like this: “Imagine that you’re back home, OK? Suddenly, you got a whole mess of Iraqi soldiers in your town. They’re all over the place, doing the same things we’re doing right now. How do you think you’d react? You’d probably get pretty hot, right?”

Ferguson: Nixon Would Make a Solitude and Call it Peace (Knapp, Center for a Stateless Society, 18 Aug 2014)

American “police forces” of today, on the other hand, are de facto military organizations, occupying  the communities they claim to “protect and serve.”

An uproarious, moving John Oliver is perfect on Ferguson (VanDerWerff, Vox, 18 Aug 2014)

John Oliver’s monologue on the protests in Ferguson in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown is exactly as angry and hilarious as you might want it to be.

Ferguson Police Busted – Attempt To Defame Shooting Victim Blows Up In Their Face (VIDEO) (Downes, Addicting Info, 18 Aug 2014)

When the Ferguson police department released the name of Darren Wilson, they also chose to release video footage which they claimed was of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store for some cigars. The problem is, the video shows Michael Brown at the register, paying for the cigars.

Reparations for Ferguson (Coates, The Atlantic, 18 Aug 2014)

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body.

Caller Says She has the Officer’s Side of the Ferguson Shooting (McLaughlin, Ford & Yan, CNN, 19 Aug 2014)

The renewed tensions came after the preliminary results of an autopsy that Brown’s family requested were released, as was a new account of what allegedly happened in the moments immediately before the teenager was killed by a local police officer.

Michael Brown shooting: ‘Stark racial divide’ in American views (Botti, BBC, 19 Aug 2014)

Over a week after teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, events there remain fluid and tense. In response, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll at the weekend to gauge how Americans view what has happened in Ferguson. The poll’s results shows an America divided along racial and political lines over the complex issues at play in the shooting’s aftermath.

Wake Up, America: Why We Can’t Afford to Ignore Ferguson (Guess, Red Letter Christians, 19 Aug 2014)

But this change can only start when we all open our eyes and acknowledge the truth of injustice that has been played out for way too long by local police forces across the country. We can’t just cover our ears and eyes and hope this storm goes away.

Not As Helpless As We Think: 3 Ways to Stand In Solidarity With Ferguson (Evans, Sojourners, 21 Aug 2014)

But when it comes to violence and oppression, we are rarely as helpless as we think, and this is especially true as the events unfolding in Ferguson force Americans to take a long, hard look at the ongoing, systemic racism that inspired so many citizens to protest in cities across the country this week.

Alex Landau’s Bloody Beating By Denver Cops Goes National Thanks to Echoes of Ferguson (Calhoun, Denver Westward, 20 Aug 2014)

Last Friday, the morning after communities across the country held rallies to protest police violence against African-Americans — and, specifically, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — National Public Radio’s StoryCorps ran a particularly appropriate piece. It focuses on Alex Landau, an African-American who was adopted by a white couple as a child, grew up in Denver and had his own unfortunate encounter with cops when he was nineteen — one that left him beaten and bloody.

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson (Jones, The Atlantic, 21 Aug 2014)

Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies—which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights—to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.

Ferguson Feeds Off the Poor: Three Warrants a Year Per Household (Daly, The Daily Beast, 22 Aug 2014)

A report issued just last week by the nonprofit lawyer’s group ArchCity Defenders notes that in the court’s 36 three-hour sessions in 2013, it handled 12,108 cases and 24,532 warrants. That is an average of 1.5 cases and three warrants per Ferguson household. Fines and court fees for the year in this city of just 21,000 people totaled $2,635,400. The sum made the municipal court the city’s second-biggest source of revenue.

EXTRA

A National Shame (Sales & Smith, Sojourners, Sojourners, Aug 2014)

These police killings of black people emerge out of a culture and system of white supremacy. In such a context, police killing of black people is not a black problem. It is an American problem that shreds the curtains of democracy.

18 Things White People Should Know/Do Before Discussing Racism (Drayton & McCarther, the Frisky, 12 June 2014)

Discussions about racism should be all-inclusive and open to people of all skin colors. However, to put it simply, sometimes White people lack the experience or education that can provide a rudimentary foundation from which a productive conversation can be built. This is not necessarily the fault of the individual, but pervasive myths and misinformation have dominated mainstream racial discourse and often times, the important issues are never highlighted.

White Privilege Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means (Rage Against the Minivan, May 2014)

I realize now, as I hope Tal can someday realize: white privilege isn’t about me individually. It’s not a personal attack. White privilege is a systemic cultural reality that I can either choose to ignore, or choose to acknowledge and attempt to change. It has nothing to do with my worth as a person or my own personal struggle.

Mapping the Spread of the Military’s Surplus Gear (New York Times, 15 Aug 2014)

State and local police departments obtain some of their military-style equipment through a free Defense Department program created in the early 1990s…. Highlighted counties have received guns, grenade launchers, vehicles, night vision or body armor through the program since 2006.

Racial Reconciliation 2.0 (Carrasco, Christianity Today, 18 Aug 2014)

A founding philosophical principle of CCDA is reconciliation, which is defined in two ways. First, reconciliation is about reconciling humanity to God through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Second, reconciliation focuses on racial reconciliation, bringing together people from different ethnic groups in relationships that reflect the vision of Revelation 7:9, a great multitude of people from every tribe, nation and tongue, united in worship of Christ.

Last night I was reading about activism in the Philippines that looked at “five aspects of the damage created by poverty” (Salvatierra & Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing, 157-158). Elements of it reminded me of Ferguson. Number 3 is cycles of denial and explosion. “The cry of grief, rage and terror can be disabling. To manage daily tasks, the cry must be suppressed, where it builds internally until it finally erupts. Oppressed people often live with these cycles of denial and explosion, which complicates  the process of analyzing problems and finding solutions: during periods of denial, the person ignores the problem, which interferes with a clear and comprehensive analysis; during periods of explosion, the person becomes the problem” (p. 158).

>The Lord’s Supper in Community

In Neither Poverty Nor Riches Craig Blomberg addresses the controversy surrounding the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. He begins by describing the social context.

The well-to-do who did not have to work long hours at manual labour could arrive for the Christian gathering early, bring excess food and drink, and consume too much of both. The poorer members, arriving later with fewer provisions, were unable to enjoy an equal share of what was intended to be a communal meal or ‘love feast.’ (p. 183)

A few pages later, he returns to the Lord’s Supper.

When one understands the sociological factors at work behind the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Supper, well-known verses in Chapter 11 appear quite different….The Corinthians who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord ‘in an unworthy manner’ (1 Cor. 11:27) are not those who are particularly aware of their sinfulness or who feel unworthy to partake….Those who should refrain from the bread and wine lest they profane the eucharist are…those who are actually eating and drinking in an unworthy fashion. And verse 21 explicitly recounts what that unworthy fashion involves: ‘each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.’ (p. 187)

Next Blomberg connects the teaching with our context.

Obviously, few if any contemporary worship services have this exact problem with the Lord’s table. But once one understands that the gluttony and drunkenness described take place during a large communal meal at the expense of the needy Christians in their midst, then ‘eating and drinking unworthily’ applies in our modern culture to any who continue glibly to partake of the Lord’s Supper, yet who have no track-record in their own lives of giving from their surplus possessions to the poor. The question of who should and should not take the Lords Supper in any given church could be revolutionized if we began to obey Paul’s words and apply them as they were intended in their original context. (pp. 187-188)

Finally, he concludes the section by stating:

Those who eat and drink without concern for the needs of the poorer members do not recognize the nature of the church–a refuge for refugees, in which all must care for one another. (p. 188)