“In Christ there is no East or West,” the words of this classic hymn express some of our deepest heartfelt convictions concerning the unity of the global Church. Paul understood this when he wrote to the church in Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 4:28, NIV). How then do we understand Christian unity? It is not in our unity we lose our diversity. Unity is not uniformity, oneness is not sameness, but rather equality in the sight of God. As we seek to develop a genuine Christian witness in a global city this delicate balance between unity and diversity must be handled with much humility and prayer.
Many of us who do multicultural ministry in a pluralistic urban setting have struggled with the tensions of cultural and ethnic diversity. Multicultural ministry has for decades struggled to be a sign of the Kingdom of God in our time and place. The challenge of being inclusive while honoring difference across languages and cultures is a monumental task. Inclusivity means honoring and celebrating diversity in worship and leadership. Inclusivity requires a vision that sees the face of Jesus across the racial-ethnic mosaic that is the urban context. Although, this is a time consuming endeavor that can only succeed through God’s Spirit and intentional leadership, the Church has been making significant strives on this front.
However, racial and ethnic diversity is not the only type of diversity that must be embraced in the body of Christ. In global cities all over the world (New York, Paris, London, Madrid, Buenos Aires) there is an awareness of another diversity challenge spurred by globalization. Economic diversity looms large. How is the Church dealing with the multi-class reality? Certainly Latinos, Asians, Europeans, African-Americans are worshipping together across cultures. Still the question remains, are congregations being increasingly divided across economic barriers? Is there a de facto economic segregation in the Church of Jesus Christ? The challenge for the global pastor is to welcome and treat all as equals independent of their status in life. We, as shepherds in a global reality, must also allow for leadership representation from every stratum of life. I am profoundly challenged in my preaching and leadership as some of the members of my congregation are homeless while others have high-paying jobs. The Gospel has a word for us all and part of that means sitting together even when that makes us uncomfortable.
The dimensions and challenges of diversity are everexpanding in the world we minister. This is never clearer than around political election time in the United States. Some weeks ago, I read in a newspaper about a pastor who lost twentypercent of his congregants because of a perceived political rift. This is representative of what I consider the biggest diversity challenge today. The multi-ideological challenge is often at the forefront of schisms in the body. Certainly, this is not a new phenomenon, just ask Paul or the church in Corinth. In Corinth some argued, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos…” (1 Corinthians 3:4, NIV). In the urban context I have genuine Christians who vote all along the political spectrum. Moreover, in my travels through Latin America and Europe I have found good brothers and sisters who hold to socialists among several other ideological positions. I have been asked, “Pastor, how do you deal with such a range of ideological diversity in your context?” I respond, “ I try to preach the gospel that critiques and challenges all of the limitations of our human understandings.”
The challenge for us as we seek to be true to the Gospel is, how do we refrain from demonizing and attacking our brothers and sisters who worship Christ but have different ways of looking at the world? The Church, as the mystical body of Christ, transcends all of these differences. The challenge of diversity in the Church is for Christian maturity. Christian maturity requires us not to allow politicians, ideologues, or pundits of whatever persuasion to divide the body. As Christians we have nonnegotiables of the faith that should be respected and honored. Nevertheless, the Church is global. It includes urban, suburban, and rural persons. The Church opens its arms to the corporate executive, and the homeless child who often goes to bed hungry. In the midst of the push and pull that often happens in the Church, the paraphrase of a quote familiar to John Wesley and Phineas Bresee may be appropriate, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”1