I am sitting in a Bible Study group–well, I am actually leading the Bible Study, although leading might be too strong a word for the open style I have adopted with Bible Studies. In this particular (fictional, of course) group, we have a variety of individuals with different experiences, different levels of faith development, different understandings of God’s love, different native languages. We are united by our common faith and our experience together, drinking tea and coffee, talking together and being stuck in the same space for an hour or two each week for several months. We are a diverse group but we like each other and because we like each other, we tend to ignore our diversity, choosing to celebrate our common desire to grow together in faith.
And that is great–some days, it feels like a piece of heaven as this diverse group shares and cares and supports and enables and laughs together. We can forget our diversity and enjoy our similarities, our common faith and all the rest. But diversity doesn’t disappear just because we are feeling good and comfortable. And so, in the feel good time of the Bible study, it makes an appearance.
Some one begins talking about their faith experience. They had a really bad experience in Denomination A, an experience which has affected their whole life and which they are just now beginning to deal with. Denomination A is filled with demons–there are no believers in the denomination, there are only fakers and frauds and liars and abusers. As the speaker is talking, we are all aware of the pain, the fear, the hurt that drives the words. We are aware as well of the beginnings of a sense of liberation from the past that the speaker is experiencing and we feel some sense of joy because part of the liberation is coming through our group.
But we, or at least some of us, are aware that at least two members of our group are members of Denomination A, active members whose faith and Christian experience have been shaped and enhanced by their membership–they are with us because their local Denomination A congregation doesn’t currently have a Bible Study.
Fortunately for our group, the members of Denomination A are caring and loving and are more concerned with the speaker’s pain than with the actual comments about the denomination they love and appreciate. Eventually, we help the speaker understand that the pain is real but the generalization can be a problem.
The potential danger is diffused but the unfortunate reality is that because we are diverse as believers, there is always going to be the potential for someone to say or do something offensive to another. We are diverse–even our basic and important Christian unity doesn’t remove the diversity that God gave us and which is as much a basic part of our being as our human and faith-based similarities. And if not understood properly, that diversity can undermine and destroy the carefully build unity of the group.
That is not hard to see. We live in an increasingly divided culture, with everyone demanding that their particular slice of human diversity be given priority over every other slice of human diversity–and with more than a few slices calling for the punishment or banning of competing slices of diversity.
I really don’t have much impact on the increasingly fragmenting nature of western culture. But I am a pastor and I do work with groups of people whose unity in faith is exercised in the reality of their diversity. And so I work with that. I try to understand our diversity, both its good and bad. I try to model acceptance of the individual in the face of disagreement with some aspect of that individual’s thinking or practise. I teach and preach the need for real communication and real openness and real understanding. And when the reality of diversity threatens our unity, I work hard at helping the diversity of our group become an opportunity for growth and love.
Our Christian faith calls for unity within the reality of our diversity. Loving one another isn’t dependent on our being the same. Loving one another is based on our understanding that just as God loves us in our diversity, so we are to love each other in the diversity that we were created with. We are not called to be the same–we are called to love each other as we are.
May the peace of God be with you.