Both the wife and I are pastors. We are pastors in a denomination that believes and preaches diversity . . . the need for congregations to be diverse. Both of us would be quick to admit that since we entered the ministry over thirty years ago, our denomination has done a remarkable job at becoming more diverse . . . or at least attempting to be diverse. We recently were having a conversation about how churches have preached and begun to embrace diversity. We remarked at how much the “church” has shifted in welcoming people of different colors, races, cultures, and sexualities into the fellowship. We nearly broke our arm patting ourselves on the back at the success we have been a part of . . . and, it is true . . . our denomination has become more diverse . . . after all, a lot of our congregations in the denomination have an unofficial motto of “all are welcome.”
At least on the surface it appears that we are beginning to get this diversity thing down; but, I am not too sure.
On the surface I think that we are trying really hard to accept people who are different from us . . . different in the way that they look, different in the culture they come from, different in the way dress, different in the way that they express their sexuality . . . it is a form of acceptance of differences, but in the end, I think that we—the “church”—are still missing the boat. I don’t think we are as diverse as we might look. Yes, the “church” has begun to remove the physical barriers that separate us . . . color, race, culture, and sexuality . . . but, the reality is that the congregations we worship in are not as diverse as we think they are. They may look diverse, but when it comes to living one’s faith . . . well, I think that most congregations are still pretty homogenous. We may look different, but we think a lot alike when it comes to our faith. When it comes to congregational theology, we are not too diverse.
The bottom line in life is that people are different. People look different. People also think differently . . . primarily because of the same reasons we have those difference in visual and physical diversity . . . we are raised differently . . . live in different cultures . . . so, why wouldn’t we think differently? Yet, I have rarely encountered a congregation that was not pretty homogenous when it came to their faith and theology. Even more eye-opening was that undercurrent that expected people to believe and think in the same way. I say “undercurrent” because it is not consciously expressed, but it is there none the less . . . present in non-verbal cues . . . present in the silence. I think that churches and congregations have learned to accept those who look and act differently, but struggle with those who think differently.
Thinking differently . . . believing differently . . . it is all a part of being diverse. Yet, I think that the “church” fails at this level of diversity . . . fails to the point that it is killing the “church”.
It is sad when the diversity of thought dies. Many years ago, singer/songwriter Harry Chapin sang to this idea in a song titled Flowers are Red. In this song a young child is coloring in his kindergarten class . . . coloring away and using every crayon color in the box . . . colors everywhere! The problem was that it was not time for art . . . after being reprimanded the teacher told him he was wrong in his coloring:
She said, "It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red"
"There's a time for everything young saw
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one"
And she said, "Flowers are red young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen"
Of course the child disagreed:
But the little boy said
"There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one"
Being a child . . . well, the child bends to the teacher’s way of thinking. Bends so that he can fit into and be a part of the class . . . to avoid being lonely and left out.
Eventually the child moves to another town . . . begins a new school. At the new school the teacher is different . . . tells the children to color away . . . use every color; but the child cannot do it . . . he replies:
"Flowers are red, and green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen"
I think that there are many who have grace the doors of many churches and congregations to experience the same sort of reception to their coloring outside of the lines . . . of considering all the colors of the rainbow . . . of thinking for themselves. I think that they are the ones out there identifying themselves as the “spiritual but not religious” . . . those on the outside longing for the fellowship of God’s family, but finding no way to be welcomed because they think differently . . . think outside of the homogenous boundaries found in most churches and congregations. And, that is where I think that the “church” is failing the diversity test . . . failing it miserably.
Oh, we give it a lot of lip service . . . but, we fail.
If we are going to truly be the family of God . . . we have got to embrace diversity completely . . . we have to accept it all . . . not only the way that people look and act, but also the way that they think. It is one thing to say that all people are welcome at the table for the meal, but it takes a little more effort to want to sit at the table and actually relation to one another . . . to talk . . . to dialogue . . . to learn and grow . . . to come into conversation . . . to hear. It is to want the best for one another . . . isn’t that what love is all about? Wanting the best for the other?
Over the years, as a pastor, I have come to realize that my role in the process of faith is not to try and sale people a “package” . . . a “one size fits all” package; but, it is to assist people in discovering their own relationship with the God who created and loves them for who they are. My role is to be a companion on the journey, not the trail boss. Because of that I ask more questions than give answers . . . I discuss more than act definitive . . . enter into conversation. I have found that it is in the conversation that the answers are discovered . . . not for me, but for others. As a pastor it is arrogant to think that I have all the answers and the only way. Hey, there are so many colors in the rainbow and I want to discover every one. Pastors should be open to the Spirit in its many forms and shapes and movements. Pastor should learn to accept diversity not only in the way that people look and act, but also in the way that they think.
I am sure that to some this sounds like blasphemy . . . but, is it? Or is it just another way of thinking? Is it diversity?
Someone once said that “united we stand, divided we fall.” The whole story of God is one towards restoring the family . . . of bringing all of creation back into relationship with God and one another . . . of accepting who we are in the face of God and one another . . . of being that diverse gift of life God meant us to be . . . of being family. There are so many colors . . . shouldn’t we want to experience and know every one? There will be no Kingdom of God until we can truly embrace diversity in its wholeness . . . in its holiness.