For many years my primary way of understanding diversity has been through the lens of race. Theology, class, and gender diversity have been important, but in many ways I relegated them to second tier status. Lately I have begun to wonder about the scope of diversity, especially within the faith community. How far are people of faith willing take this discussion? It is generally accepted that the church must make space for people from all social classes, both sexes, and persons of color or to allow for inter-denominational dialogue.
Is there a diversity line that should not be crossed? I suspect that for some it is sexual orientation and for others it might be faith partnerships that move beyond “Christian.” When we begin to move the diversity discussion beyond theology, gender, and race the level of discomfort quickly intensifies. For some in the church expanding the diversity discussion threatens and challenges preconceived assumptions. There was a time in our country’s not too distant past when including persons of color at all levels of church life was challenging and threatening, it threatened preconceived notions of what was right. There were church leaders who proclaimed passionately and loudly that it was unbiblical to even consider allowing a “mixed Church” to exist. In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone provides a powerful reminder of this period in American history.
As I dream about a future of the church I hope that people of faith continue to grow and mature in their understanding of diversity. The implications are real. Expanding who is included means becoming less white, less male, and less straight. For too long, people of faith have developed elaborate excuses for filtering people out of Christian community. We have hidden behind words like “distinctives” or confessions of faith to justify this exclusion. It is almost ironic that finding ways to include people is the controversial path. Can the church’s future be one of figuring out how to filter people in? I cannot imagine this will not be easy, comfortable, or without controversy.