Why Diversity Matters

by Jim Eaton, lead pastor, Mosaic Church
Converge Diversity

Everyone is talking about diversity. From racial tensions to Cultural Intelligence*, diversity is the new “it” factor. The question the church wants answered is this: Why does diversity matter? There are two answers: diversity matters because it’s smart and because it’s biblical.

Diversity is smart

Google “American demographics” and you’ll get all the information you need. Since the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 leveled the playing field for non-European peoples, America has been shifting brown. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2014 public school students nationwide went majority-minority** and that by 2043 our nation will be minority-white. Over 10 years ago Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt predicted: “Our country will be the first country in world history that is literally made up from every population stream from the rest of the world; the first country in world history that is pan-world.”

Failure to embrace diversity in our churches will inevitably render our ministries nice but irrelevant to the emerging generation. David Gibbons, a second-generation Korean-American pastor, said: “Today’s generation thinks that if you’re not being multiethnic in your endeavors, you’re not real. They see diversity everywhere else in society, but if they don’t see it in the church, they think the church is superficial.” And Derwin Gray, an African-American pastor, added: “You will be a Blackberry in an iPhone world.” Smart global organizations study, pursue and embrace diversity: Apple, Siemens, Starbucks. Smart global cities do the same: Hong Kong, Dubai, Washington, D.C.

But let’s be candid. The diversification of America will not translate into diversity in our churches unless we embrace this as a biblical matter, a righteous imperative. South Africa serves as an example. For years South Africa has simultaneously functioned as a minority-white nation and a nation of unicultural churches. Demographic variety is no guarantee of diversity in the Church; in fact, it may catalyze a retrenchment into racial enclaves, something we are presently witnessing in our political process.

So we must answer the question: Is diversity biblical? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

Diversity is biblical

Diversity roots in the imago dei, the image of God in humankind. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26, ESV). Diversity is simply another term for the craftsmanship of the Artisan of heaven. Racism’s principal evil lies in its arrogant presumption to unilaterally stratify God’s magnificent creation. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14, ESV).

When humankind fails to appreciate diversity and in its place substitutes oppression, micro-aggression and insult, we injure God’s heart. Our worship fails. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness... to share your bread with the hungry... and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa. 58:6-7, ESV). Church hip won’t cut it anymore. Skinny jeans will not save our souls. Hooping won’t reach the new generation. Our culture cries out for a redeemed people who will see humankind as God does.

When Jesus sent his disciples on the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, he wasn’t sending them to geographical places as such but to cultural groups. Jerusalem wasn’t the disciples’ hometown. They were good old boys, driving pickup trucks with bumper stickers that read, “God, guns & guts built Galilee!” Jesus knew that to these disciples Samaria didn’t mean the next state on the map; it was the other side of the tracks, the place their mothers warned them about. Jesus sent his disciples on an intercultural mission.

In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit came in the metaphor of a tongue, and the believers spoke in tongues — not to create a Pentecostal denomination, but to illustrate God’s new world, the church. Ancient Babel initiated the silos of ethnic isolation, unraveling unity with disunity and trust with suspicion. The church reverses Babel. The gift of tongues created understanding, communication, empathy, harmony. Unity amid diversity. Without diversity you cannot have unity, only uniformity.

The theological impetus of Galatians and Ephesians features the exclusive majesty and purity of the gospel. Within the gospel lies the purpose of God to create the church as “one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross” (Eph. 2:15-16). Peter’s lapse into xenophobia when the leaders came from Jerusalem didn’t just indicate poor manners—it threatened the purity of the gospel. Paul was left with no option but to publicly rebuke Peter: “When I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel...” (Gal. 2:14, ESV).

The church is designed by Jesus to be one people from many, one loving body formed of former enemies, one spiritual entity transcending all earthly entities. “For in Christ Jesus... There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, 26, ESV).

Heaven will be a place of superlatives. It will transcend denomination. No Presbyterian Promenade, Catholic Cul-de-sac, Baptist Boulevard. It will also transcend race and culture. “And they sang a new song, saying ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’” (Rev. 5:9, ESV).

When we arrive in heaven, we will be shocked to discover there is no black church. No white church. No Hispanic church. No Korean church. Just the church. For eternity. We’re in for some serious culture shock unless we start getting ready now.

Is diversity really possible in the church? Yes. But first two caveats: language and demographics.

Churches usually need to worship in a common language. First-generation immigrants live in survival mode; they worship in language-specifc churches because their language is their oxygen. Last Sunday I preached in a Vietnamese church in Fairfax, Virginia, my message interpreted into Vietnamese. The question (and it’s a separate discussion) is this: what will the children do?

The second caveat is demographics. We live and serve Christ within the demographics of our community. If your community is 95 percent black, you shouldn’t stress out because your church isn’t 50 percent white. If your community is 95 percent white, don’t worry about becoming 50 percent Hispanic. The question (and it’s a separate discussion) is this: how are your demographics changing, and how will you reach the change?

Language and demographics aside, how do we go about facilitating diversity in the church? Let me give you two basic principles to launch you on this sacred journey.

First, incarnation

To incarnate means to put yourself into the other person’s experience. It’s the next step along the road from apathy to empathy. Social media accelerates unhelpful vitriol, in which each group stands up for its own and denigrates the other. Ethnocentrism will get us nowhere except more strife and pain. We must sacrificially step into the other person’s shoes, the other culture’s shoes, their lane, their experience, their wound. We must listen to one another. Really listen.

If there’s anything my wife Natalie has taught me through our 30+ years of marriage, it’s the value of listening. Our marriage succeeds not because either of us is perfect (well, she’s practically perfect), nor because we’ve never offended each other, but because we’ve learned to incarnate into each other’s experience. If you’re Anglo, enter into African-American experience; if African-American, learn Hispanic stories; if Hispanic, learn Asian stories; if Asian, learn Anglo stories. Follow Jesus’ example.

Last week the Band of Brothers men’s ministry at Mosaic Church, where I serve, held their Real Talk, a bimonthly meeting for men to talk about their life, struggles and walk with God. It was Tuesday night, right in the middle of all the racial tensions across the country. On this night the black brothers opened up about their anxieties and fears about the police. They began to share extremely painful stories. They cried. At first the white brothers sat quietly, awkwardly. Then one, then a second, then a third opened up with their stories, their struggles. The two-hour Real Talk stretched into four hours as the Spirit of Jesus came into the room and created a breakthrough.

Second, cultural intelligence

Once we’ve begun to empathize with one another’s experiences, now comes the lifelong adventure of Cultural Intelligence, or CQ. This is the fun part. As Emotional Intelligence informs emotions, so CQ informs culture. You are more than the color of your skin. Your race is the house, your culture the furnishings in the house. You can’t do much about your house, but you can do a lot of remodeling inside your house.

You are an infinitely complex human being, created by God and shaped by millions of unique experiences. And so is the other person, the other culture. Black people aren’t white people with black skin. They’re black people. White people aren’t black people with white skin. They’re white people. Culture matters.

Our leadership team studies a topic every year. Last year we spent the year working through Cultural Intelligence. We went to see “Selma.” We talked about white privilege, about Jim Crow, about Michael W. Smith (half the team hadn’t heard of him) and Anthony Evans (the other half hadn’t heard of him).

Enroll yourself in the school of culture. Learn what makes a culture think, emote, behave the way it does. Read books. See movies. Study culturally intelligent sites. Follow insightful people on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. Don’t just hang out with your own people—that’s boring. Expand your relationships. Enrich your life.

Because diversity matters. 

What is Convege doing about diversity? Learn here.

Jim Eaton is lead pastor of Mosaic Church, Frederick, Maryland, and a former Converge overseer.

*Cultural intelligence can be understood as the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures.

**Minorities outnumber the white students in public schools.

    Point - September 2018

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