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Center for Action and Contemplation

Diversity in Community

Friday, April 22, 2016


Diversity in Community
Friday, April 22, 2016

Most of our churches are rather homogeneous. Yet church, of all places, should be inclusive and reflective of our diverse and complex world. Shane Claiborne describes the all too familiar scene:

We are always most comfortable around people who are like us. I think that’s true of almost any human being. For those who have been in a majority population as white, middle class folks, we have to be extra deliberate about putting ourselves in places where we are a minority. Maybe we should worship where we’re a minority, where we can hear the Gospel with new ears. Martin Luther King, Jr., lamented that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. That must break the heart of God, that we often reinforce segregation rather than the reconciliation and the diversity of the Kingdom. Some of that doesn’t change in our congregations until it changes in our living rooms and at our dinner tables. We really have to begin having relational friendships that stretch us. And we also have to challenge the systems of privilege and racism. [1]

Christena Cleveland, one of our presenters at this year’s CONSPIRE conference, acknowledges that diversity is challenging. Cleveland writes, “In racially diverse churches, I can’t control the environment. . . . People might worship in ways that make me uncomfortable. . . . People might not be able to relate to my experience as a black woman. . . . People might hold perspectives that shatter my worldview.” [2] Being in community with those who are somehow different than us challenges our familiar ways of knowing, doing, and being in the world. It forces us to see things differently and thus to change our attitudes and behaviors.

Diversity in community also helps us recognize our own selfish preferences for ease and comfort. If we’re truly going to follow Jesus, the way will not be easy or popular. As Cleveland writes, Jesus “was so passionate about creating a diverse family with us that he crossed metaphysical planes, abdicated his privilege, morphed into physical form, and spent 30 years on earth just hanging out with us—all the while knowing that his pursuit of diversity would ultimately cost him his life.” [3]

Observing nature, we see that diversity is essential to balance, wholeness, and resilience. Ecosystems thrive when a variety of species of plants and animals nourish each other. Diverse environments are much stronger and less susceptible to pests and disease than mono-crop fields. The world is a relational system full of complex inter-dependence among very different creatures. If we want sustainable communities, we must always welcome the “other” and learn to see our neighbor as ourselves. Without it, we do not have community at all, but just egoic enclaves.

Gateway to Silence:
We are one in the Spirit.

[1] Shane Claiborne, The Francis Factor: How St. Francis and Pope Francis are changing the world (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015), MP4 video download.

[2] Christena Cleveland, “3 Reasons Why I Hate Diversity,” Christianity Today,

[3] Ibid.

Image Credit: Sharing a Meal by alfonsejaved
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