Diversity: A Christian view

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Diversity is a hot-button topic today. It is as though modern society has realized that it must recognize the wide differences that exist within the human race and allow for their expression. There is an interesting description of this concept on a website linked to the University of Oregon in the United States. It reads thus:

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.  It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

This statement reflects the prevailing mood in modern discussions. It is espoused in official statements by government leaders, proclaimed by celebrities, and championed by several organizations. And as indicated in the above statement, it is a call for acceptance of differences along not only racial lines, but also with respect to sexual orientation and gender.

Modern statements on diversity are not merely written in prose, they also come in drama and verse. One recent example is the 2017 musical, The Greatest Showman. Not a few reviewers have commented on the movie’s celebration of diversity, most conspicuous in that stunning musical piece ‘This is Me’. The movie is based on the life of American entertainer and philanthropist, P.T. Barnum and his troupe of performers, made up largely of social outcasts. While the historicity of the events have been questioned by critics, it’s a fascinating tribute to diversity.

Frankly, the call for diversity sometimes rings hollow – like an attempt to just tag along with a dominant theme in modern culture. When yet another public figure or celebrity makes a speech or statement along that theme, it easily seems like they are striving for cheap publicity or a vain push for relevance.

Nevertheless, I believe the need is real. For society has gone on for so long, nurturing one form of oppression or the other. Whether it is colonialism, slavery, the marginalization of women, or the suppression of minorities in many countries, so much surely needs to be put right. However, the problem with the contemporary worship of diversity is that the concept is but one leg of a stool. And like any two-legged stool, it requires the support of another equally important concept to make it meaningful. This other concept is community.

Community provides the necessary foundation for diversity to be meaningful. For true diversity is a recognition and accommodation of differences that exist within a group. Where no larger group exists, diversity simply degenerates into a cacophony of personalities and objects. It becomes a collection of unrelated objects having no connection to one another.  Without a clear basis for diversity within community, diversity becomes an acid that simply eats away at the fabric of society.

This obviously raises several questions. How do we determine what true community is? How can we even identify the differences to celebrate? Is the lifestyle of a rapist or sociopath equally valid? We don’t appreciate a dishonest neighbour or a violent classmate. But why judge them?  Who is to decide what lifestyle or orientation is appropriate? These are all questions that indicate we need a firm moral foundation which not only grounds community, but secures diversity as well. We need a coherent worldview that helps us makes sense of particular differences within a unified whole. 

Unfortunately, the secular worldview out of which many contemporary calls for diversity are made is simply inadequate as a foundation. Secularism has no provision for transcendent truths or norms; it lacks the capacity to decide that a particular lifestyle or behaviour is ‘wrong’. The best that secularism does is to cast every individual upon themselves as their own ultimate authority – hardly a basis for building society.

The Christian worldview, however, supplies the basis we need. It begins with the fact of a God who has eternally existed. As Christian theology has understood for centuries, he is a trinity of persons within one godhead, an eternal community bound together in love. Thus the idea of a diversity within unity is no mere human conception; it derives from God’s own nature. 

Interestingly, when God would create humanity, he chose to make them in his own image. Refusing to form the human race as a single gender, God establishes diversity within humanity by creating them as male and female. And as the human race develops, we see the idea of diversity further embedded in its progress. Different trades develop as diverse skills are nurtured (Genesis 4:20-22). And the entire human population is spread across the globe, bringing about an amazing divergence in language, ethnicity, and even skin colour (Genesis 10:32).

As God forms the Israelites into a nation, we still find the idea of diversity at work. God chooses different individuals and tribes to handle different tasks in the administration of the community. He calls Moses to lead, Aaron to serve as high priest, with the Levites as a tribe charged with the care of the tabernacle. Later he would call certain people to be judges, choose individuals to serve as kings, and commission a number to minister as prophets. At the same time, the entire community was bound together by God’s covenant principles.

We see this idea of diversity further developed after the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit. As the Comforter brings along diverse gifts in his train, Paul reminds the church that everyone is a member of Christ. Though equipped with distinct and differentiated abilities, yet they remain one body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). And at the end of history we stand as a multitude of people from every tribe and culture, jointly worshipping the God who created us with our distinctions and redeems us in our diversity (Revelation 7:9).

Thus, there is no sounder basis for diversity than the gospel. The redemption of Christ allows men to be men, women to be women, Yoruba to remain Yoruba, and Hausa to remain Hausa. It brings us all to God’s table to receive a blessing which addresses our common problem of sin with a redemption which is equally colour-blind. God transforms us into his children with our distinctions in language, race, and gender. Furthermore, it helps us evaluate other distinctions which might have arisen as a result of our fallen human condition, without destroying genuine differences which are a part of God’s design for humanity.


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