I’m sitting in a wonderful little bakery/coffee shop in my favorite small town, where we hope to retire. It’s noisy and eclectic, sort of, filled with a mix of ages, genders and expressed lifestyles. As I look across the street, I peer into windows of international non-profits, mainstream religious institutions, shops and the like which feed the environment here in this quaint hub of activity. The question that comes to mind, having limited experience with organizations here who value diversity; What does that really mean? I’m different culturally, biologically (age), my worldview is consistent with my faith yet in the midst of the stated celebration of diversity and inclusion, I’m excluded. So it’s really not a celebration of diversity, it conformity, different like us. I’m not being critical. There is a style here that is consistent with the blending (or not) of old west and environmental cultures. There is the air of limited acceptance of diversity from both sides. Is that their intent? We’ll coexist but . . . .
In psychology the concept of being accepted is demonstrated by ingroups and outgroups. This is a very normal process. We gravitate to the places where we are completely accepted and avoid, if possible those places where we feel rejected. ‘Feel’ is an important word, because, regardless of the reality of the situation, how we interpret that situation is run through the colors of our own world. There may be people sitting here in this quaint place that share my worldview, or who may be from a different part of the country, but I still ‘feel’ like an outsider.
Because of my worldview, my mind moves towards the personal spiritual application. What and how am I to address this diversity and exclusion dynamic? First, this is not a new concept. Scripture is fraught with examples of this very dynamic. In John 17, Jesus prays for his followers, that they would be in the world but not conformed or transformed by the world. Separate from but influential in this world. Certainly the culture then was different from today but the environment this dynamic created is the same. Hatred for those who follow Jesus. Exclusion or outgroup is the consequence of following Jesus. So what is the point? This really feels bad sometime, right? How should my behavior, as a follower of Christ, reflect the heart of God within this world where I do not fit by design? I don’t think God is surprised by the internal conflict of this dynamic. I think he fully understands the difficulty of walking in the light in the midst of darkness and hard places. I’m sure there is a list of do’s that could be provided here but my experience with ‘do’s and don’ts’ leaves me empty and feeling like a continual failure. So let me suggest what Paul says in Galatian 5, as he addresses a group that has shifted from the design of sanctification to conformity to the ‘former things’. He underscores the behaviors associated with a life conformed to the world and calls these behaviors bondage. You can explore the list in Galatians 5:19. Consistent with our theme, dissensions, rivalries and divisions are included in the list. I realized he’s talking about within the body of Christ, but the idea is that we begin to look like the world as we become conformed to the behaviors of the world; as we try to become part of the ingroup. The counter positions Paul offers begins in Galatians 5:22 with the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is synonymous with behaviors or attitudes, in my opinion; the visible and attitudinal results of a surrendered life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Perhaps for the follower of Christ ‘celebrating diversity’ means seeing this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Maybe it means living thoughtfully as an outgroup that is its own ingroup by design, fully surrendered to the Spirit of God, given us for personal instruction and guidance. We’ll know that’s where we are dwelling when we see the fruit of his spirit emerge in places we simply do not fit, either real or imagined. The peace of God will rule our hearts and mind and we can love like Jesus, praying for those different than us, that one day they can be different like us… saved by God’s grace and led by God’s spirit for eternity.