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?

Articles of Note (Updated)

I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and did some online reading. Here is a sampling:

Superiority Complex (with minor revisions)

I wrote these thoughts in an email to family members, and then I decided to post this portion of the email here as well:

In the past month, some of you know that while I was at an SDA gathering, I overheard a racist conversation about the moral degeneracy of American Indians. I’m still trying to figure out how to address one of the participants, but I know I’ll be sharing a bit (e.g., this article [look for the 85 stat] + thoughts on the moral degeneracy of the US ethnic cleansing efforts) with a certain teen who also heard the comments (these 2 book also fits the conversation–Disruptive Christian Ethics and A People’s History of the US). American white culture has no moral high ground to talk down to anyone, let alone members of First Nations. My lack of direct intervention in their conversation demonstrates my own moral shortcomings; not what Sophie Scholl would do (WWSSD?). [i had mentioned this film about Scholl earlier in the original email]

Dominant groups like to overlook their flaws while focusing on supposed flaws of those outside the dominant culture. “They” are drunks. “They” are lazy. “They” are greedy. “They” are sex addicts. “That whole group is X, and my group isn’t.” Stereotypical prejudice.

The article linked above mentions rape as a tool of war. A recent example: “Christian” Serb forces used rape camps to demoralize Muslim Bosniaks during the last Bosnian war. 20,000-50,000 (or more) women raped by “Christian” soldiers. White people, Europeans, North Americans… It’s ridiculous to hold ourselves up as virtuous while pointing out the flaws in others. I had to roll my eyes (and follow-up later) about a visiting speaker who in his sermon extolled the virtues of American culture with roots in northern Europe… when the quote he used was from the same period as slavery. Why are we (Christians of Euro descent, CEDs) so blind?!

And speaking of possible blind spots and racism… Some still insist there is no such thing as white privilege here. We (CEDs) have such a hard time seeing it, like a fish trying to see water. And I’m not claiming to have eyes entirely wide open either; I’m on a learning journey too. The rejoinder that all kinds of people of various backgrounds “make it”–even the president is African-American–so privilege doesn’t exist misses the crux of the cultural phenomenon that is white privilege. Quick example, white is the default; what George Bush did in office wasn’t attributed to his whiteness, but Barack Obama has to be careful about being forceful or else the media writes about “the angry black man” (but that example opens up a whole batch of cans of worms). I believe we (everyone, not just CEDs) would all benefit from prayer and reflection on the fundamental attribution error, which is in no way limited to racial issues.

Christians are no better than anyone else. White people are no better than anyone else. North Americans are no better than anyone else. Adventists are no better than anyone else. Middle class people are no better than anyone else. Males are no better than anyone else. Peace activists are no better than anyone else (one study found that peace and justice activists in one denomination have higher rates of domestic abuse than than the general population of that denomination). [these characteristics were chosen by me because they are descriptions of me] We all have the same fundamental human nature, though I agree that the interplay between culture and genetics and history means we are not identical at micro or macro levels. Nevertheless, we share the same fundamental human nature with the same capacities for good and for evil.

Next time we feel better than someone–either an individual or a people group–let’s remember that we share a common humanness with them (unless the individual has an inactive amygdala or limbic system contributing to true sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies; and then that’s something beyond the differences of traits–personality, character, virtues and vices–that make up the geography of human individuality. in that case, yes, your genetics has arguably made you a more moral person than the axe-murdering sex fiend who is biologically incapable of experience empathy, fear or remorse. so congratulations on that; let the moral gloating commence).

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2).

>Three Cups of Freshly Squeezed Ethical Juice

>I posted the following item on my ethics class’s forum. I’d thought I’d re-post here as well:

1) Smedley Butler, AKA “Old Gimlet Eye” (You just can’t make this stuff up):

War Is a Racket (By Smedley Butler)

  • http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket
  • “[T]he title of two works, a speech [1930] and a booklet [1935]… in which Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests have commercially benefited from warfare.”
  • “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
  • “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

2) Narco Cinema

Want to disappear down a rabbits’ hole of cultural and ethical surrealism? Then this be for you:

3) Zimbardo & the Prison Hoopla

I might not remember a lot from Social Psychology a decade and a half ago, but at least three things have stuck with me: marshmallows (Mischel), shocks (Milgram), and… prison insanity (Zimbardo).

Zimbardo’s experiment shows that the power differential between those playing the roles of officers and inmates led quickly to social problems. In fact, the experiment was called off after just 6 days because the “experiment quickly grew out of hand. Prisoners suffered — and accepted — sadistic and humiliating treatment from the guards. The high level of stress progressively led them from rebellion to inhibition. By the experiment’s end, many showed severe emotional disturbances” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbardo_experiment).