"Insecurity is threatened, or perhaps terrified, by genuine expressions of spiritual and intellectual diversity."
I would like to begin by offering two overarching thoughts. The first comes from a Church History lecture I sat it during my undergraduate, where the lecturer boldly proclaimed that “unity does not equal unanimity plus uniformity!” His point was that to be unified in a church context requires neither complete consensus nor complete homogeneity. A simple and yet confounding truth. My second point is lifted straight from the writings of St Paul – namely that there exists between us no social, ethnic, gender or (dare I say) even theological distinctions that remove from us our identity as the “In Christ” community (my paraphrase of Galatians 3:28). Simply put: we are all one in Christ and there is no distinction that exists which can usurp this reality.
It has been my long-term project to attempt to create a sense of diversity within the church. My goal however has not been around ethnic or gender diversity (although these are critical and worthy goals) but on theological, intellectual and spiritual diversity.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic and at one point, only a few years ago, I found myself pastoring in a Baptist Church, teaching at a Pentecostal Bible College whilst finishing some postgraduate work at a Catholic University. Now I am a Church of Christ pastor. On the one hand you could say I was confused (and you might not be far from the truth) but in another sense I was immersed in a rich sense of diversity of thought, from a range of beautiful traditions. As a relatively free-thinker I have always found myself on the outside-of-the-inside if that makes any sense to you. I was on the “inside” by virtue of the fact that I loved Jesus very much, but I was firmly “outside” the norm because my naturally curious mind caused me (and still does) to ask questions that make other people uncomfortable. Curiosity doesn’t just kill the cat – it can do irreparable damage to anyone seeking a deeper experience of God even from within the confines of the church, it would seem.
Allow me a moment of skepticism before I offer some thoughts on how me might begin to breed a more diverse ecclesial space.
It seems to me as though many churches today have homogeneity (and with-it consensus) as their ultimate goal. It is often wrapped up in the language of “culture-making”. The underlying goal is subtle yet pervasive: to create a group of people who all look, think and act according to our established “culture”. Now, culture in and of itself is not a bad thing, but our understanding of culture must be strong enough to incorporate dissent, inquiry and curiosity – even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. This is not an opening of the doors to heresy or the establishing of a theological free-for-all but rather an understanding that the spiritual and theological process is organic and endlessly evolving. We might rest on our core orthodox proclamations: that Christ died and was raised; that we are united with him in discipleship; that our sins are forgiveness and that we are part of the heaven-on-earth project, but outside of these central motifs (and even sometimes within them) there is an opportunity for each person to express their God-given uniqueness of thought and action as a blessing to the Church.
Is it possible to have a united mission, but many different roads to get there?
I think the answer must be: yes.
There are so many challenges that we need to overcome as the body of Christ in order to be able to embrace true and authentic diversity, but let me finish by outlining what I think is probably the most difficult one for us, and therefore the one that should be our initial focus.
We must rid ourselves of insecurity.
Insecurity is an entirely unattractive quality in general, and I’m sure we can all identify its unusual expressions even within our own selves. On an ecclesial level, insecurity is a dangerous bed-fellow. Insecurity claims that our faith is fragile and so one wrong thought or doctrine could easily undo all of the rightness. Insecurity says that diversity of thought and practice is too complex and messy and so we must prescribe what is appropriate. Insecurity says that we must maintain control; of our image, of our reputation, of our congregation, of their souls…
Insecurity is threatened, or perhaps terrified, by genuine expressions of spiritual and intellectual diversity.
Can we exist together in unity even if we can’t always reach consensus? Can we exist together even in the melee of cultural, emotional and spiritual eclecticism? Can we open our churches to new and exciting conversations about the world which is evolving all around us without feeling as if we need to maintain a sense of control? Can we still walk together alongside those we disagree with, those who look nothing like us, and even those we dislike?
I think so. I think this is humility. Perhaps the requirement for genuine diversity to break free in our lives and churches is for us to replace insecurity, with humility.
This post was originally published in the Churches of Christ WA On Mission Journal. For access to the journal collection click here