For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor 12:14)
On that first Pentecost, God brought together Jew and Gentile into one body. Since then, the church has tried to simultaneously uphold two truths.
First, believers in Jesus are members of the same body; there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female (Gal 3:28). If our diverse nationalities, ethnicities, and political leanings keep us from sharing communion together, we have failed. Second, each member in that body is an individual shaped by a particular culture and unique history. The church, in its very nature, is meant to display the diversity of God’s creation. If our communion excludes or burdens those of different stripes, or is composed of a homogenous collection of people, we have failed.
These two truths will inform our discussion of immigration over the coming weeks; they pertain to how we embrace those who are ethnically and culturally different from us. This week, I want to reflect on how these two truths inform how we embrace those within the church who are politically and ideologically different from us. Our ability to do the former hinges on our ability to do the latter.
We commonly think of God’s emphasis on unity and diversity as two sides of the same coin. We recognize that they must be simultaneously true in any flourishing church. However, I’ve begun to avoid thinking of these as sides of the same coin, because it implies the right balance can be found. It tempts me to think that if we only found the right balance, we could avoid many sins and hurts.
Most dangerously, when there is disagreement, it tempts me to blame others for getting the balance wrong. If the view I disagree with is a minority view within the church, I can reject and silence it in the name of church unity. If the view I disagree with happens to be held by a majority, I can accuse a dominant group of marginalizing my own views.
At any given time, I am prone to draw on either of the two truths for political expedience, causing harm to others. I have found it helpful to consider the following questions.
What happens when I emphasize unity at the expense of diversity? I am prone to exclusion (see my last blog post). I silence and reject views different from mine. I may think I invite dialogue, but others do not feel they can dialogue with me. In some cases, I try to win them “back into the fold” without first trying to understand their position, and without considering the possibility that I might be wrong. This can feel like an act of violence for the person being “dragged back”. I need to ask myself: Am I prone to excluding views different from mine in the name of unity?
What happens when I emphasize diversity at the expense of unity? I am prone to forget my obligation to the others in the body, as I think my views (which may be correct) privilege me over those who are wrong. I start seeing people as friends or foes, seeking out “my tribe” within the larger body. I start excluding foes as oppressors, because there is no reason to care for someone with power over me. I need to ask myself: Am I all too happy to sacrifice unity to advance my perspective?
Is our unity and diversity rooted in truth and justice? Sometimes, we may avoid the two aforementioned extremes, but settle on a compromise that is not rooted in truth and justice. For example, men with differing views about slavery compromised to form our republic, which on some level maintained ideological unity and diversity, but sacrificed truth and justice. I am prone to thinking my own views are rooted in truth and justice, but not those of my opponent. I need to ask myself: Am I willing to lovingly correct others when their views compromise truth and justice? Perhaps more importantly: Am I willing to consider that my own views are not perfectly rooted in truth and justice?
Balancing unity and diversity, while not compromising truth and justice, is a gargantuan task. On my own, the best I can do is pose such challenging questions. Even then, I will certainly get the balance wrong.
However, a body with many members can do better. I need other members of the body who are different from me. I need others with voices, tendencies, virtues, and sins that are different from mine. The strengths of other members may be one way God saves us from my weaknesses. Out of this diverse mess of a body, with us posing hard questions to ourselves and each other, “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths” (Isa 2:3).