Can True Diversity Heal the Church?

Q: How do you believe God might be using racial diversity in these days to heal the church?

When I was in high school, I began having strange episodes. I would be playing soccer, make a sharp movement, and suddenly the entire bottom half of my body would go weak and numb for about thirty agonizingly-long seconds. Each time it happened I was terrified.  I felt paralyzed, like my feet had grown roots into the grass. As the episodes became a bit more frequent and we sought for a cause, doctor after doctor said it was a total mystery.

No one knew what was happening. The episodes weren't terribly frequent or painful. Finally, we just gave up trying to figure it out. That is, until the muscle spams started.

I was in a hostel in Florence, Italy, enjoying the trip of a lifetime during a semester abroad in college, when I bent over to pick up our itinerary for the next day off the bed (remember Mapquest?). That simple act sent a shooting spasm through my body that paralyzed me from the waist up for about 24 hours. Steph had to carry both our duffels to the train the next day and a portion of our trip where we had planned to hike through the Italian countryside was pretty much ruined. 

That pain got me looking for a doctor again, but I didn't see this pain and the previous numbness as related in any way. The felt different. They affected different parts of my body. So I went to see different kinds of doctors then I had before.

They put me inside an MRI and found that I have Degenerative Disc Disease, a condition that causes (among other things) disc impingement on the nerves of the spinal cord and had likely caused both problems. With a proper diagnosis and physical therapy, I've been able to manage fairly well for the last ten years. Some mild chronic pain, yes, but no acute spasms. No paralyzed legs.

Sometimes you need a different kind of pain to diagnose the root problem. In Multiethnic Conversations,  DeYmaz and Fennel Okuwobi asked, "How do you believe that God might be using racial diversity to heal the church?" It got me wondering, "What sicknesses are we being healed of?" Of course, diversity (not assimilation) is helpful in addressing racism, which is one of the spiritual and social illnesses plaguing the American church. However, so many other conditions, seemingly unrelated, started coming to mind as well.

  • Consumerism: Many Christians prioritize their personal needs or tastes when deciding on which church to attend or whether to go at all, rather than the ministry that the church has for its members and city and how they could serve. 
  • Materialism: Even though the American church tithing (giving 10%) could literally end global starvation, water sanitation issues, and illiteracy, the average Christian only gives 2.5%
  • Individualism: Many (especially white) American Christians understand the gospel in personal, spiritual terms, but cannot see it's social implications and get confused when presented with passages like Romans 8:18-21 that speaks of the liberation of creation itself.

Of course, these are just a few of the sicknesses facing the church. But what if the diagnosis and treatment is as simple as Jesus seemed to think it was?

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Loving God and loving your neighbor are two sides of the same coin in Jesus' book, and nothing helps you to truly love your neighbor like living, working, and worshipping together with people who are vastly different from you, submitting your desires to theirs, and seeking their good above your own.

When this happens, your consumer tastes seem more and more irrelevant compared to your love for them. Your few extra dollars...insignificant compared to your sister's well-being. You start to see and care about the systems and structures that oppress each other, because you're family. And you begin to see that the gospel of Jesus, while it includes you personally, is not ultimately about you individually. It is about God's love for this entire world that he created. 

Maybe God really could use racial, cultural, and economic diversity to heal the church.