God's dream: diversity in unity


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

For me, one of the richest and most interesting storylines of the Scripture is God’s dream to build a diverse yet unified people. From the creation of a big earth teeming with diversity of life and the plan for humanity to be male and female, the logical conclusion is that humans would geographically spread out. Over time, they would inevitably become diverse as they lived in different regions, ate different foods, lived in different kinds of houses, and so on. To the end of the story, where we see in Revelation 7:9-10 this beautiful dream fulfilled:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

(To see a longer but still concise tracing of this dream through the Scriptures, Jemar Tisby has put together a helpful article here: https://thewitnessbcc.com/a-biblical-basis-for-the-multi-ethnic-gospel/).

Particularly relevant to RZIM Connect is our passion for evangelism. How will we engage all people with the gospel if we are not welcoming, understanding, cherishing, and engaging with diversity? In a global community this is an inevitable part of fellowship and sharing.

There are many directions to take this conversation. For now, perhaps two questions:

  1. What have you learned about following God from conversations and friendships with brothers and sisters from other racial or cultural groups?
  2. How have you seen racism pollute and hinder the work of God?

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #2

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer. It’s really amazing how our one faith unites all of us, even though many of us came from different cultures and backgrounds.

  1. Some things I learned from conversations and friendships with Christians from other nations are:
    a) Tolerance - I learned to not judge immediately a particular culture for a particular practice. I learned to understand their particular culture first, like why they do what they do. It made me a better person as well. I remember before that I judge people who were not good in English, but when I get to meet people from other nations who are doing their best to know the language, I learned how to accept them even as they struggle, and help them. This reminded me of things where I am not good at as well.
    b) Listening - As I came to realize that not all people, most especially, people from other cultures see the same thing as I do, I learned to listen harder. This made me understand how they see the world. It helped me immensely in how I communicate, like thinking how I could help them best understand what’s in my mind.

  2. I’ve seen many people make fun of others for having a different color. I saw many things from some groups online I lurked to that unashamedly flaunt their racism. It’s kind of toxic in such a way that if you let the idea get into your mind, you’ll have some unhealthy stereotypes with some people whom you have not taken the effort to get to know. It results to some form of pride which makes an unnecessary division in the relationships that we have.


(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi @omnarchy,

I particularly connect with your point:

I learned to not judge immediately a particular culture for a particular practice. I learned to understand their particular culture first, like why they do what they do. It made me a better person as well.

I spent one summer in Tajikistan. During our training for the our time there, we discussed “the red line” and “the green line”:

I have found these principles to be enormously helpful to me in many other situations. When I meet someone and there are personality or cultural differences, having the self-awareness to recognize that I am on the red line has helped me transition back to the green line.


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

@CarsonWeitnauer:

I learned a long time ago that brown people who sound like they might be from India can also come from Pakistan or Bangladesh and they don’t like to be confused one with the other. I found this to true universally in all matters of race and ethnicity. (there might be a whole new thread in the “why” question) So I have learned to ask, what is your country of origin? It makes for a much better conversation and I think that it shows that you care who they are and that you are interested in them as a person.

On the subject of race, and the church: we don’t have any race issues in our church because everyone is white middle class. I say that not to be funny or contentious but that is the way it is despite the efforts of the membership to reach out to the community. I have a qualifier here, RSBC is very much a mission minded church, local, state and international. I will add that my previous church of 30+ years was across the street from a rent subsidized neighborhood and I cannot tell you the time that was devoted from the leadership of several successive pastor to have our membership be representative of the community that had sprung up around our church. Many a meeting and many plans never achieved what the membership’s consensus vision was that God had for this church.

So my question, what does the lack of diversity in the membership say about the church and its members?
Does anyone else identify with what I am saying? FYI RSBC has 6000+ members my previous church over the life of 30 yr 600-250.

My thoughts.


(Carson Weitnauer) #5

Hi Jimmy,

Finding ways to be profoundly respectful of one another in this area is challenging, isn’t it? We don’t want to stereotype, we don’t want to make mistakes, we don’t want to be racist. And, as you’ve shared, sometimes we go to great lengths to build bridges and have our churches be representative of their communities, yet things don’t pan out.

I remember the time I spent engaging in campus ministry at a historically black college for about a year and a half, giving the students there my heart and offering the very best I could. Yet, they asked me to leave as they decided to work with a pastor who was culturally similar to them. I don’t fault them for this! I was young and learning so much, this very well may have been the right decision. At the same time, I thank God that black, Asian, and Latino leaders, as well as leaders from other countries, have been instrumental in my own faith journey. Their moral example, faith commitments, and biblical teaching have exposed my own blind spots and enabled me to grow in Christ in ways that have been different from white American pastors and leaders. Then again, the other day I got involved in a discussion on Twitter and belatedly realized that I was being insensitive to a black leader’s family! I quickly apologized, but realized I had already made a mistake and caused hurt - the very last thing I wanted or intended to do. This is not an easy journey, and it is one that majority culture people can opt out of when they want to, but I have found it to be a pathway that leads to growth in Christ and joy in new friendships.

One resource I’ve found helpful on this topic is Divided by Faith:

Also, I would suggest the church in general ‘has a race problem’ - one that is solved by the work of Jesus. From Ephesians 2:11-22:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

My contention would be that our persistent racial divisions - in the US, strongly related to the historical legacy from America’s “original sin” of slavery - continue to challenge the gospel’s narrative. But if God could bring together Jews and Gentiles to become fellow citizens of the kingdom of God, then we can trust him to reform our hearts and church structures to justly and graciously include members of all racial and cultural groups, wherever we live. Until our churches reflect the vision of Ephesians 2, we have work to do.


(Jimmy Sellers) #6

@CarsonWeitnauer:
I don’t disagree with your concluding remarks as this history is woven tightly into the American story. I have offered this link before as I think it addresses an often overlooked human tendency.

To end racial strife we must stop racializing others and stop racializing ourselves. Racialization is the mortar that holds together the edifice of racism, whether manifest at the intrapersonal, interpersonal, structural, institutional, or systemic level.

https://blog.oup.com/2015/11/correcting-the-conversation-about-race/

Racialization was term that I was unfamiliar with and I rarely head anyone refer to the term when speaking to racially charged issues. I would be interested in what you think.


(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi Jimmy, it is an interesting perspective. I respect Carlos’s sustained anti-racism work. He’s quite accomplished - earned a Ph.D., been published by Oxford University Press, is a tenure track professor at Wheelock College, and has an active clinical practice.

At the same time, I would respectfully disagree with his tactics and approach for overcoming racism.

For instance, a recent New York Times article, by David Reich, entitled “How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’”, offers a unique case study.

He summaries the argument that race is entirely a social construct at the start of his article:

In 1942, the anthropologist Ashley Montagu published “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race,” an influential book that argued that race is a social concept with no genetic basis. A classic example often cited is the inconsistent definition of “black.” In the United States, historically, a person is “black” if he has any sub-Saharan African ancestry; in Brazil, a person is not “black” if he is known to have any European ancestry. If “black” refers to different people in different contexts, how can there be any genetic basis to it?

Beginning in 1972, genetic findings began to be incorporated into this argument. That year, the geneticist Richard Lewontin published an important study of variation in protein types in blood. He grouped the human populations he analyzed into seven “races” — West Eurasians, Africans, East Asians, South Asians, Native Americans, Oceanians and Australians — and found that around 85 percent of variation in the protein types could be accounted for by variation within populations and “races,” and only 15 percent by variation across them. To the extent that there was variation among humans, he concluded, most of it was because of “differences between individuals.”

In this way, a consensus was established that among human populations there are no differences large enough to support the concept of “biological race.” Instead, it was argued, race is a “social construct,” a way of categorizing people that changes over time and across countries.

Yet, as he goes into the state of the art genetic research, he finds clear biological evidence for distinctive populations with shared genomic characteristics:

Did this research rely on terms like “African-American” and “European-American” that are socially constructed, and did it label segments of the genome as being probably “West African” or “European” in origin? Yes. Did this research identify real risk factors for disease that differ in frequency across those populations, leading to discoveries with the potential to improve health and save lives? Yes.

I think this line of argument is persuasive. Racial differences are not ‘just’ a social construct; there is a real genetic basis to them. We see this expressed phenotypically. Those observations have led to the identification of different racial groups. Through millennia, all of this together has led to a remarkable and wonderful diversity of cultures. Some would use that story as a basis for racism, but we can approach it from another angle - as the basis of celebration.

For instance, I’ve found this perspective, from Trillia Newbell at The Gospel Coalition, to be helpful:

Carlos tries to head off the charge of colorblindness in his article at Oxford University Press, but I think Trillia has the better argument. Being ‘colorsmart’ has advantages that we miss when we try to ignore or minimize the persistent reality of racial and cultural difference. These differences are not bad, nor are they grounds for discrimination. Instead, for instance, we can see these differences as opportunities for the diversity of the human race to better praise our infinite God.

I look forward to your thoughts!


(Jennifer Judson) #8

Thanks Carson, Trillia Newbell’s article is very insightful.
I’ve often thought that people confuse the idea of diversity with homogeneity.

Also on the NY Times article excerpts, I’m not surprised that there are human biological differences that group populations into races, but I do think the “social construct” does enter the picture with value judgements being made about the races.

Back to your original post, God’s creation was purposeful and purposefully diverse, but humankind was not content to be created in God’s image. We wanted to create in our image–you must think like me and act like me…if you don’t look like me you must be something lower in value…if you are lower then I have power…submit, or else. You see this script play consistently throughout the history of us all. Rwanda being one such tragic case.

I see all the activist voices on the news calling for diversity, but angrily demanding that everybody think like them and if you don’t you are a rascist, or a misogynist, or a sexist, or whatever. The sin is the same. Pride.

On our own we cannot eradicate this sin. Only in Christ can we go back to loving being created in the image of God. Only in Christ can we love and rejoice in diversity. Only in Christ will it really not matter, because we will all be worshiping the one, as one.