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Diversity: More Than a Buzz Word

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After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

When did the word “diversity” become controversial? Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, gives the example of the Goleta Presbyterian Church, in California, with a nearly sixty-year history, which has changed in many ways, but remains the same racially. Goleta Presbyterian is not alone. The vast majority of Christian Churches struggle with how to embrace the Christian imperative to affirm diversity.

This is ironic, because Jesus and the earliest Church made a commitment to diversity. Jesus embraced diversity by listening to women, including women of ill repute, women from the wrong ethnic background, and women with health issues that could make him unclean. This did not deter him. Jesus also rubbed shoulders with tax collectors and other sinners. As the early Church was developing, the Apostle Paul nurtured diversity by embracing the Gentiles and inviting them into the Church. The early Church also accepted the diversity of spiritual practices as well. Christians came to embrace the diversity of acceptable food, diversity of acceptable baptismal practices, even the diversity regarding circumcision, and the role of glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Diversity of language and ethnic backgrounds were retained.

It appears the Christian faith is willing to allow a great deal of diversity. This word “diversity” is more than just a post-modern buzz word, but a foundation of the Biblical tradition of the Christian faith. So we shouldn’t be surprised when the contemporary Church celebrates different forms of diversity in its midst. 

At Westminster, for example, we are active in caring for the immigrant and refugee population within the Des Moines area. We have created a large garden, with over twenty different plots, where twenty different immigrant and refugee families learn to grow and sell their own produce. We also provide immigrant/refugee care by helping families make the connections necessary to help them remain legally in our country. Finally, we are making wonderful connections with immigrant and refugee families in our ministry at Monroe Elementary School in the neighborhood. The school serves a large immigrant/refugee population.

Rather than politicizing diversity, or trying to find a faith community where everyone looks, acts, and believes the same, find a Biblical church that embraces diversity. We have so much we can learn from each other. Pray for the Immigrant/Refugee community, and pray that your congregation can set a meaningful example for love, care, and acceptance. Embracing diversity is the work of Jesus Christ and Christ’s Church.