Thursday, December 2, 2010


Following on my post from the other day reflecting on something Carol said over at tribalchurch, why diversity?

I mean, yeah, leftys and lib'rals tend to go on about how important it is to be inclusive.  We could klatch endlessly about the liberation of transgendered Guatemalans living with dwarfism.  Sorry, "little people."  Or, oops, that's gente pequeña.  Or transexuales poco de GuatemalaSo hard to keep track of the lingo sometimes.

The reasons to care about difference, though, need to go well beyond simply wanting to include everyone because it's inclusive, even though that word makes us feel as warm and tingly as a hot brimming cup of fair trade Ethiopian Yergacheffe.

Here, I think Christian progressives tend to fall back on the language of secular liberal academe, and we do so to our failing.  To my eyes, the deepest justification for diversity comes from within Scripture.  The great narrative arc of the Tanakh, the Gospels, and the Epistles rings out with stories of how vitally important it is that we be open to the other.

Yeah, I know, you can spin it the other way.  You can get all Ezra and kick out all them apostate furrin' wimmen and their mudblood children.  If you're a social conservative in a strict constructionist sense, there are plenty of opportunities within the tradition to stand firm against the creep of "syncretism" and/or those voices that seem to chip away at the authority you know is your birthright.  You can use the Bible to keep those loud whiny women in their place.  You can scripturally shout down those uppity colored folk.  But just 'cause it's the truth that affirms you in all you've been taught doesn't mean it won't wither to writhing embers in the hellfire of God's inexorable love.

From within the core metrics of our faith, there are some key operating assumptions about hearing the voices of folks different than us.

First, there's the Exodus presumption in favor of the stranger.  At a bare minimum, those who are different and those who are outside of the boundaries of our culture and our should be met with welcome, grace, and kindness.  Why?  Because our mythopoetic memory is of having been strangers and slaves in the land of Egypt. When we cried out for deliverance, it was the cry of the oppressed other that was heard by the Lord.   This is our story.  If we approach the other...any other...without a heart of compassion, then we have failed to understand the essence of the Biblical narrative and our place within it. 

Second, there's God's tendency to consistently use those who ain't part of "us" to school us, save us, or whup our behinds when they needs a whuppin'.  The prophets through whom God spoke stood outside of the structures of human culture and power.  They lived in the wilderness because those in power tended to drive them there, preferring instead the saccharine comforts of those who told them what they wanted to hear.   God goes so far as to use even those who aren't part of the faith at all.  When Israel forgot about covenant and justice and mercy, and got to be all about power and privilege, Babylon was an instrument in God's hands.  When Israel wept, helpless and lost and broken by the rivers in Babylon, Cyrus of Persia was an instrument in God's hands to save them.  God is not part of our culture.  God is not part of any society.  God is not "us."  With us, yes.  Working in us and through us, maybe.  But if the Biblical narrative is to be ours, then we must live into the truth that God is present and active even in those who are radically other.  If we want to hear our Creator, then we have to listen and be present with the other. 

Finally, there's Christ's redemptive work.   Yeah, that.  Jesus reaffirms and radicalizes the Exodus favoring of the stranger.  The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are oriented towards deep and God-centered engagement with the other, and in particular the other who is ostracized, hated, or powerless.  It is that baffling love for not just friends, not just family, but for the stranger and the enemy that makes Christianity a tradition that is 1) ever and always fundamentally countercultural and 2) worth following.

That isn't to say that Wuvvy Sparkleberry Jesus sprinkles lollipops and daisies on everyone.  Those who have worldly power, be it coercive or economic, well...Jesus has words for them.  Those words aren't easy ones.  Why?  Because defining ourselves in terms of society or the gun or the dollar turns us into adversaries of one another and of God.  Those forms of power make us approach others not in love, but with the intent of alienating them, or subjugating them, or profiting from them.

The more deeply we engage with those that worldly power declares other, the tax-collectors and the centurions and the lepers and the unclean, the more we manifest the Kingdom.

That, it would seem, is reason enough to make diversity a priority for Christians.


  1. Dear Frater Dave,

    Amen, Amen.

    My home church is an extremely progressive United Church of Christ congregation that deliberately and intentional espouses and follows a Welcome Table theology and polity. On any given Sunday to worship with us is to worship with young and old and inbetween, black and brown and white, rich and one step away from homeless, gay and straight and transgender, able bodied and physically challenged, and good sprinkling of the mentally challenged as well. And becasue we do not place a great deal of emphasis on doctrinal or creedal statements of faith you will find a wide range of theologies in our members, inlcuding those who doubt or don't belive.

    The scriptural and theological heart of our preaching, teaching, worship and social justice ministries are deeply rooted in the prophetic calls to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. This is played out with explicit reference to the Messianic Banquet to which the honored refused to come and the rejected are swept into off the street. Our immediate inspirtations are the liberation movements in the US of the 50's, 60's and 70's; especially the Civil Rights Struggle, the Women's Movement and Gay Liberation.

    So we aren't doing this because the academics tell us to or because St. Obama will cry if we don't; we do it because that is who God calls us to be as God's People.

    And yet, there is always still someone on the outside that we need to be challenged to make a place for. And that hurts, especially our pride because we do think we are pretty good at this Welcoming thing.

    Two recent challenges: our interim pastor has asked how welcoming we actually are to those who vote differently than we do. That struck a nerve. We aren't and shame on us.

    Second, a small Baptist congregation that ministers to the profoundly unchurched that we worship with on occastion has recently opened their arms to a convicted pedophile. As the pastor of that congregation pointed out, pedophiles are the lepers of our time. Looking around the sanctuary this past Sunday and seeing all the kids running around I am clueless about how such a ministry could work for us. And yet, now that it's been pointed out, I feel convicted. About what other group of people today would we apply the term "unclean"?

    I don't have any answers to these questions but your post stirred up this line of thinking...

    Yours in the Bond,

    -Frater Dawg

  2. @ Dawg: It never ceases to amaze me how willing folks are to talk about welcoming and including, right up until the point they realize someone is a lib'ral. Or a conservative.

    As for the latter instance, that's a tougher one. This isn't just welcoming an ex-con. Pedophilia tends to be wired in pretty early and pretty deep, and I've seen no evidence in any of the literature on that form of predatory sociopathy that it can be cured. Pedophiles are, unless watched like hawks and aware that they're being watched like hawks, dangerous to have around a church with kids. Particularly if church leadership isn't on 'em like flies on [excrement], or if a church gets it into their head that the person is now harmless. Bad, dark things happen when our communities include those as wise as doves and as innocent as snakes.

  3. The centurions? They complicate things, as usual.

    Anyway, its good practice (not as in 'target practice' but as in a way of being) to engage in discussion and dialog.

  4. @ Ben: That occurred to me, too. The centurions, after all, represent imperial power. Meaning, those charged with the power of the state, hated and despised as the Other.

    And yes, it's good to be engaged with the other, be they conservative fundamentalist or liberal atheist. If you can't manage pneumatocentric orthopraxis in that exchange, it's a sign that more Jesus is in order.

  5. Yes. It is not easy to see mafia lieutenants, for example, or abusive pimps, as the powerless other. This is one reason why I believe liberation theology to be quite flawed; that is, partial truth, out of balance and thus no longer truth.

  6. Want to see diversity? Drop by Tully Memorial sometime. Old while folk, African Americans and people from a variety of places in Africa. Our big problem is finding a common language as some of the brothers and sisters from Africa don't speak English. We're working on that one.

    But the old white folks prayed that God would keep their (their?) church going and God answered with a great big YES! It just didn't happen quite like they thought it would. But that's OK. The sound of the children is music to the old folk's ears.

    That doesn't mean that we don't have cultural issues . . . but it is fun most of the time.