Recently, we celebrated a friend who got hired for a ministry position in a town a couple hours up the road. Our friend shared his excitement about the new job, though he was disappointed to be leaving his diverse church. He’s going to a community with virtually no diversity, or I should say with no diversity based on the common understanding of diversity—that diversity is about skin color and ethnicity. His comments made me realize that I take my neighborhood diversity for granted. The zip code where I live is said to be the most diverse in America. See the article at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-diverse-zip-codes-in-america-2012-11#95834-south-natomas-sacramento-1 The diversity of my community has benefits. For example, when Cindy and I go out for dinner, our vast options for ethnic cuisine staggers the senses. I was reminded of the extent of my spoiling when we visited a region of the country where they used ketchup as red sauce on enchiladas (I kid you not).
The peculiar thing about being white and living in supposedly the most diverse zip code in America is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the most diverse zip code in America. I suppose part of the reason for this blindness to diversity is due to the human tendency we all have to live in enclaves of people who look and act somewhat like us (though I pity anyone who looks and acts like me) even when the surrounding population does not look and act like us. Anyhow, the church I attend is mostly white with a broad smattering of people from a wide range of ethnicities. The church has mostly transitioned through the church-plant phase and has entered the comfortable-with-each-other phase. The comfortable phase feels good because we have started to love each other despite our array of differences. Becoming one body as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 takes time and malleable hearts. Becoming one body is not possible without the glue of love found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Out of all our efforts and spiritual gifts in the church, love lasts forever. Prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. … those things are finite. Not so with love.
A church in another part of our town has a reputation for opposition to diversity, they’ve even been accused of racism. They do not go out burning crosses at night nor do they tattoo their bodies with images denoting white supremacy (which would also denote their glittering ignorance regarding God’s kingdom). They just have a reputation for making non-whites feel like they might be better served by finding another church. Are they racist, or are they just afraid of people who might cause change in their church? I’d guess it is both.
There is a movement in the American church toward diversification. I hope it’s more than a fad that gives us bragging rights. Here’s the thing: diversity is not limited to skin color and ethnicity. Diversity can be also achieved in church via a variety of measurements such as: Rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Young and old, employed and unemployed, good part of town and bad part of town, industrialists and environmentalists, gay and straight, single and married, married and divorced, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, contemporary music lovers and traditional music lovers, Giants fans and Yankee fans. Leaders who tweak church outreach efforts and leadership vision in order to encourage the growth of a diverse congregation—however diversity is defined in their community—are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s glowing pleasure. That’s not to say that making changes to increases diversity can be achieved without blowback and resistance. After all, going down the path of diversity is likely to reveal some hidden and unexpected prejudices in places we would not dream they might be found. But what the heck, we need to deal with those prejudices if we want the privilege of considering ourselves genuine followers of Jesus. I’m just saying!