Our modern world has a current obsession with diversity, equality and inclusion. These are buzzwords that guide social media, news coverage and even political discourse. Today’s politicians need to know less about foreign policy or the finer points of the Constitution and more about diverse groups and their sex practices, while having an open mind about their gender identity and a sensitivity to their feelings and emotions. Also, it helps if you are really good at Twitter, or if you can’t be good, at least have a lot of followers, likes, re-tweets, etc.
While each of these terms has varied definitions, it seems that the basic agenda is to convince everyone that the world is diverse, and that everyone in their diversity is equal to everyone else in their diversity, and that all of these equally diverse people should be included in whatever might otherwise exclude or marginalize them for whatever reason. Because these things are deeper in reality than mere dictionary definitions, it makes sense to mine out the implications of celebrating diversity, demanding equality and including everyone.
The church has jumped back and forth on these issues for centuries. On one hand, there is no more diverse, equal and inclusive body on the planet, than the church of Jesus Christ. Of course there is always another hand, but let’s look at one hand at a time.
Consider first, the diversity of the church. Across national borders, language barriers and racial differences, the church meets in cathedrals, cinder-block buildings, conference rooms, living rooms, public parks and prison cells. Members range from all levels on the economic spectrum, with every possible level of education. It worships in every musical style and in every imaginable manner. From no instrumentation, to minimal musical accompaniment and ability to professional musicians with electrified bands, the church has a local, accessible and free external iteration more diverse than any other organization known to man.
Think of the equality of the church. Where else does the newest member of a group have the same inherent access to the highest levels of power within that organization as the church? Each and every believer contains the same Spirit that empowered and infused Christ, the head of the church. It is not a B-level version of that Spirit, but the same Spirit, connecting each member not only to one another in the ultimate show of equality, but to all of those who came before, lending authority to both the past and the present. This equality is the great link between what they had and what we have. No more, no less. Governments look back and envy the purity and intelligence of their founders, and bemoan what passes for leadership today, but the church need have no such disappointment. That same Spirit that fell at Pentecost is still moving today.
And what about inclusion? What message, to what people, in what time or place, is more inclusive than, “When Jesus died, all died, and God has reconciled all men back to Himself?” Or, “Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved?” Included within the body of Christ are those who are life-long believers; brand-new believers; and those who, occasionally, have a hard time believing. Included within the church are those who appear to be perfect in their actions, worshipping alongside those who struggle with everything under the sun. There’s room at the cross for all, an admission that never excludes a trip to that cross, where real inclusion happens.
But of course, there’s the other hand; that side of the church that dances on the other side of the line; that side in which diversity, equality and inclusion are things to be debated and defended against. While our positive examples of these three within the church was in regards to the body of Christ at large, represented on a global scale, when we pull the microscope in to see the local body of believers we find a church that often struggles to make these three a reality.
At the local level, sometimes, the church is the least diverse representation of community. Often, the same race gathers together, while not explicitly excluding other races, it is also not doing anything to include them.
How about diversity of income? This one is so difficult for the local church to achieve that many have just ignored it entirely, moving their growing churches out of ghettos and projects and closer to the freeway and the mall. Sometimes its under the guise of “We are going to where there are more people,” but most of us know that it’s really an attempt to get out of the violent, less safe neighborhood, where people are more likely to have less disposable, and thus donate-able income.
At the individual church level, equality is less obvious as well. The hierarchy of leadership and power that is evident in most local churches actually tilts away from equality. Silliness like, “Don’t sit in the man of God’s chair,” or “learn your place,” both abound and taint the otherwise beautiful message of servant leadership espoused by our founder and preached and lived out by our church fathers.
Inclusion? At the level of the local church? Please. See how long it takes you to wade past the various clicks and groups to find where you belong. When you do find a church home that looks like you, acts like you, and even better, accepts you, lets hope you are prepared for the truly diverse ways that your inclusion will come about. It really depends on which door you happened to walk through. Some will include you if you speak in tongues, some will only include you if you don’t. Others will include you if you are baptized, others, only if you are baptized again, into their church. Oh, you’ve been baptized? Great, but don’t get too cocky. Were you baptized in the name of Jesus, or in the name of Jesus Christ, or in the name of the Son, or in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost? Were you really baptized, in a river, or were you dunked in a baptistery. Not dunked at all? Sprinkled? Excluded.
When you acknowledge this back and forth, it’s easy to get discouraged or disillusioned. I want to encourage you away from that feeling. At various levels, almost everything is more than meets the eye, and as long as fallible human beings are a part of the process, there will be moments of absolute beauty and moments of complete terror.
Take, for instance, the idea of the church as an organism. The classic illustration most pulpits love to use is that the church is an organism, not an organization. Often, this is preached just before the closing announcements that there will be a meeting of a certain committee to “organize” an upcoming event. It’s tough to get away from that organization part. Maybe it’s tough because we shouldn’t be running from it. We should be leaning into it, making the organization of the organism a part of understanding the organism at large.
The church is referred to as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). It has built in diversity, equality and inclusion. Paul said it has many members, baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and that we are all set as God sees fit. In capitalistic terms, we would be a corporation. That flies in the face of the “we are an organism not an organization” argument, but go with me for a second, because I think we can, and should, be both.
The word “corporation” comes from the Latin word corpus, or “body.” This is also where we derive “corpse.” One word, two entirely different ideas of what a body is. One positive, one negative, maybe we have to deal with the fact that the positive and the negative are simply realities that we must overcome. If the body of Christ is diverse and equal and inclusive, and the local iterations of the body struggle to be those things, it doesn’t mean that the local body is not part of the body at large, but it might be the corpse within the corporation. Cutting out the corpse is one solution, but we are new creation people. Perhaps we should consider resurrection over extraction.
In his 1794 Treatise on the Law of Corporations, Stewart Kyd defined a corporation as something that sounds very much like the church:
(A corporation is) a collection of many individuals united into one body,
under a special denomination, having perpetual succession under an artificial
form, and vested, by policy of the law, with the capacity of acting, in several
respects, as an individual.
The church does indeed act as an individual; the representation of Christ upon the earth. The problem, of course, are the individuals within that individual! Though she struggles and shows signs of decay, my heart is to see the body live again. It certainly lives at the corporate level. The global church is the greatest agency for change on the planet. The local church is the greatest outlet for community within the community. With an infusion of life, it too could be the agent for change that the world needs.
How do we accomplish this task? Maybe one way is to restore the identity of the local church and the people within it. We could do this by celebrating what unites us more than what divides us. The world pushes the agenda of diversity, equality and inclusion on us in every possible way, constantly. I believe their heart is right, but they are misguided in the process.
To make human beings want to work together, and to accept one another as equals we should focus more on our similarities than on our diversities. It is common to hear diversities applauded and accented, but we notice a society not less-divided in the midst of the applause, but more divided. Why is that? Jonathan Haidt said it this way, in The Righteous Mind:
Don’t call attention to racial and ethnic differences; make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating the group’s shared values and common identity. A great deal of research in social psychology shows that people are warmer and more trusting toward people who look like them, dress like them, talk like them, or even just share their first name or birthday. There’s nothing special about race. You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals, and mutual interdependencies.
I would add my own thought to that: You can make people care less about denominations, worship styles and biblical translations by drowning all of those differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals, and mutual dependency on Christ. We learn this from the Apostle Paul, when in the previously mentioned 12th Chapter to the Corinthians he tells us that the body is made up of Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. Then, at the end of the 3rd Chapter to the Galatians he tells us that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free. Maybe Paul grew to realize that in order to bring us together he should celebrate what unites us, not what divides us.
I’m ultra careful how I speak about the church. She is the bride of Christ, and one can not be too careful when speaking of another man’s bride. But I fear that our insistence at in-group speak, often masked in nationalism and the protection of values, is leading to a turtling of sorts, where we are pulling in rather than reaching out. The corporation is better than this, even if its parts don’t quite know it. We are on the earth as an agency of the kingdom. We are under no obligation to treat things like diversity, equality, and inclusion with the same mixed and misguided applications of the world. But we just might be under an obligation to take them serious and to define them the way our Father does. If we haven’t figured that out yet, that’s okay. It’s just not okay to stay there.
Grace to you.