In her book “Take this Bread,” Sara Miles writes that Christianity is “a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: A dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.”
That’s a powerful statement. And it captures a core value of the Christian faith: diversity. Yes, even though diversity has unfortunately become a politically-charged word, it’s something that is so much bigger than a measly political conversation. In fact, it’s not political at all.
Think about it. Jesus continually interacted with people who he was supposed to avoid. As N.T. Wright says, religious insiders were frustrated with Jesus because He kept celebrating God’s kingdom with “all the wrong people.”
In other words, the idea — and the struggle with it — has been around for some time. Christianity’s earliest days included some deep discussions on it. In fact, a very famous Christian wrote about it in the Bible. Some of the most powerful words supporting diversity in the church come from the Apostle Paul:
In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
You oughta drop your phone when you read that. Let me try to create a modern equivalent:
“In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are American or not, whether your ancestry is European, African, Asian, or Latino; whether you are Republican or Democrat, homeless or the 1%. Christ is all that matters and he lives in all of us.”
Diversity isn’t about fulfilling an ethnic quota. It is about valuing everyone because God loves each of us.
In the early church, debates kept rising up and in each instance the church responded by welcoming people who wanted to become part of the faith community. This is the tradition of Christian faith — bringing people from completely different perspectives and statuses of life together around faith in Jesus.
It’s a local church’s responsibility to model that.
An important caveat here: Diversity isn’t about getting everyone to think, act, or look the same. It’s not about fulfilling an ethnic quota. It is about valuing everyone because God loves each of us. While diversity in some communities does mean welcoming people of different ethnicities, in others it means making a point to reach out to people from different income levels, or families with special needs, or political outlooks, or a million other things.
Here’s the point: A local church should look like the community in which it exists.
That can sometimes be uncomfortable. But if you’re a Christian, let me let you in on a secret: Christianity isn’t about elevating personal enjoyment or comfort. It’s about choosing to love people because God loves them; because they’re created in his image.
That’s not always easy. I get it. In “Desiring the Kingdom,” James K.A. Smith humorously writes:
I often tell my children that one of the reasons we go to church is to learn to love people we don’t really like that much – people we find irritating, odd and who grate on our nerves (the feeling’s certainly mutual, I’m sure!). And sometimes we will even have to work through our frustrations and hurts when we fail one another and disappoint one another.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability.”
So, yeah, it will be tough at times. But it’s worth it.
Also, I should probably mention that diversity is the future. Literally.
A man named John had a vision of Heaven. He wrote that vision down and we now know it as the book of Revelation. In it, he says, “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb…”
Diversity, then, is a core concept of the church. It has been from the beginning. And it will be in eternity. It’s something all of us need to embrace and model. It’s preparation for when God arrives on earth.
It’s not some kind of political ideology. It’s not an issue that one political party owns over the other. It’s for everyone.
Let that sink in.
Thomas Christianson is a pastor, professor, and writer in Baltimore, Maryland. He’s the author of a new book, “A Reason to Hope,” as well as a graduate of Regent University with a master’s degree in practical theology. He blogs regularly at thomaschristianson.com.