The social and ethnic diversity in the metro DC area is strikingly different from the rural Pennsylvania community, where I grew up. We were all white. There was only one black family in our high school and the only Hispanics we met were occasional seasonal workers who came to pick tomatoes on a nearby farm. We were all from different Protestant denominations. The biggest religious differences were Catholics and a small Jewish community in a nearby city.
There was a clear distinction between “us” and “them.” We hardly knew these other people but had lots of stereotypes. I still remember the prejudiced things we said about them. A significant part of my life story and my faith journey is my transition from that world to being the pastor of our church in one of the most diverse regions of our world.
Our diversity in metro DC is similar to the diversity in the first-century Mediterranean cities and churches to which the Apostle Paul wrote his letters. Especially instructive is his teaching about how we bridge such differences to create an inclusive community. Like those churches we need to figure out what it means to confess that there’s no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, that we’re all part of one body (Galatians 3:28).
Asian feminist theologian Yong Ting Jin writes “Each person has a unique and creative role to play as inspired and sustained by the Spirit. Everyone is charismatic, no one is useless. As such, each member has a decisive place in the community, but all serving one another, all having and enjoying equal dignity” (In Boyung Lee, Transforming Congregations through Community, 38).
Different cultures can rub each other the wrong way. Laid on top of this is the cruel history of how our country treated Native Americans and African slaves. This is our original sin and those hurts still run deep. A different but related matter has been our recent church fight over sexual orientation and same-sex relationships that has consumed so much of our energy in the past several decades. This has been our test of finding unity in diversity and to discern together what it means to be a fellowship where all who proclaim faith in Jesus are welcomed and nurtured.
My alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, recently announced that it will not “discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or any legally protected status.” Their hiring practices and benefits will now expand to include employees in same-sex marriages. It’s a change I welcome. This should not be a church dividing issue and I look forward to the day when it no longer absorbs so much of our energy. It’s one among other issues of inclusion and there are many other things that cry out for our attention.
One verse in the song of our heart is to be a diverse church that welcomes everybody no matter who you are or what your background may be. I want our neighbors to know that about us. Perhaps we now have a unique opportunity to be welcoming in this broader sense. As the apostle Paul insisted, there is no distinction between people on any basis in the church. All are valued, all are gifted, and all are needed.
“Different cultures can rub each other the wrong way.” That struck a familiar chord. On Sunday – at the meeting of the little San Diego Mennonite group – I presented the paper that I read on my last Sunday with the Northern Virginia Mennonites. It was a revamped version – so as to fit into the general theme of Immigration and Refugeeism. If you read that paper, Earl, you recall the dispute between the Anglicans and the Sudanese over disciplinary practices. We had a brief discussion about this matter, after the chairman pointed out the cultural differences. I’m still wondering about the ethics of trying to change people when you are convinced you are right! – and the other person is equally convinced the other way. Should we respect cultural differences regardless of any other consideration? The Sudanese elders felt they were doing the right thing by whipping the kids – harshly – who attended our “school”, the minute they spoke out of turn. These were Christians who evidently followed Solomon’s thinking to the letter. It was pointed out Sunday that Jesus had a gentler way. Personally, I prefer the New Testament!
Again, I have to admire your recent project – workshops on Positive Parenting. Would the principal players – whoever they are – be willing to do more of the same?
(would this be a good use of the 3rd floor of the church? – parents are generally younger people with fewer disabilities!) – Margie
Margie, all cultures are gifted and all cultures also have broken places. While outsiders are never in a good position to try to fix someone else’s culture, we also do not subscribe to a cultural relativism. Harsh, corporal punishment of children goes beyond what we should condone because it’s a cultural practice.
The apostle Paul also insisted on some other very important things found in Romans 1:18-32