Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"What’s Your Beef With Celebrating Diversity?"

I guess in making a comment about Christians “Celebrating Diversity,” I stepped on some toes. Wow, I sure wasn’t looking to do that! Especially not funnier looking toes than mine! My beef isn’t with diversity. But when Christians are together, we are to focus on our unity.

My comment was not against diversity. Geezer missionaries’ favorite stories about living cross culturally require our enjoying diversity. From the day I learned to eat sugar cane in Haiti (don’t try and swallow it!), to just the other week in a Guatemalan hospital, when I called the nurse three times by mistake (I was just trying to find the overhead light!) and later urgently explaining to her in Spanish (which I don’t speak) that teammate Jana’s I.V. drip was “Es la finito!” (Causing peels of laughter), I’ve always enjoyed cultural diversity. But when it comes to Christian fellowship, it isn’t diversity, but our unity that we celebrate. We are one in Him, and are becoming one in faith.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:26-28

His reason for gifting each of us spiritually, was:

“…that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:11-13

The Apostle Paul sometimes sounded like he was celebrating diversity. But in fact, changing his lifestyle was not for fellow believers. He did this for unbelievers, that they might find faith. His desire was helping those who’d not yet heard the good news about Jesus, to understand.

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:22

Scripture refers to all those who are not following Christ as “the world.” One is either “of the world,” or they are “in Christ.” For those of us in Christ, the bar is set high. We are to be always loving, not only our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also our neighbors regardless of faith, and even our enemies. The world, without the rebirth that comes only through the blood of Jesus applied to them, cannot become vessels of God’s Agape love. His Agape cannot flow through them, as it must flow through those of us who are regenerate (or as Jesus says, “born again.”)

“The world,” in order to survive, needs a plan. They’ve recently chosen the path of “tolerance.” For the Christian, tolerating others is dropping the bar right on the floor! Who are we to merely tolerate those God commands us to love? For the world, celebrating diversity may combat that intolerance which leads many unbelievers to mistreat people who are unlike themselves. But mistreating others is so unchristian that the concern is moot. If a Christian actually mistreats others, the Holy Spirit living right inside them, will be grieved. When the Holy Spirit grieves due to our evil actions or thoughts, we'll suffer. When we suffer, the entire “body of Christ” (all believers) suffers. I’m grateful to have brothers and sisters “in Christ,” who help me with this too. Since our unified goal is to become like Christ, we ignore diversity, and transform “until we all reach unity in the faith.”

Where are your eyes fixed? If fixed on the differences between people, then they aren’t fixed upon the Lord. God has given the regenerated person, “eyes to see” and “ears to hear,” what the Spirit says. So instead of looking around at people’s differences:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”
Hebrews 3:1


The Apostle Paul only observed diversity, in order that the gospel’s meaning would not be hidden from those God sent him to. Most missionaries experiencing God’s love for those they are sent to, will gladly adjust their lives in order that the gospel message can be more clearly understood. God so loved “the world!” Who has crossed cultures more than Jesus? He left His throne in glory, to take on human living. As ambassadors for Christ, all believers surely can learn to eat tofu, put on a pakol, or usul at a new friend’s wedding. How much more so if it will help steer the conversation away from cultural diversity, to presenting Jesus.

Urumchi winters are extremely cold! With Siberian winds sweeping winter down into the region, below zero temperatures can last 7 months. Without hot running water in our apartment, I quickly chose to grow a heavy winter beard over shaving. But before our second winter there I shaved it off for the sake of the gospel. Here’s why:

Our first winter there, my language ability was so low my beard wasn’t an issue. When summer came around I shaved off my beard. Then come October next, I grew my beard again as temperatures dipped below zero. I was also by then conversing much more freely. Re-growing my beard however, became the topic.

My higher hope there was to tell my Muslim neighbors about my Jesus. This was easy to do because there, daily, people would ask me what I believed about God. Muslim folk there believe Jesus to be only a prophet. He is so much more!

Now seeing my beard re-grown however, men began asking me instead how old I was. When I’d say 30, they would ask why I have a beard. Conversations once spiritual now would revolve around my beard. Local custom there dictated that only men who had gone to Mecca for their Haaj sported beards. I was told now daily that only men who are older go on Haaj, because once they have returned, they weren’t allowed to sin any more. The Haaj, I was told, made them holy, and so after going they could no longer drink or smoke, etc.

I tried steering the conversation back to Jesus, but it was difficult. It was simply “bolmaydu” (not done) that a young man who’d not gone to Mecca would have a beard. People seemed to need to talk about it. Nobody seemed offended. They knew I was a foreigner, and it was even interesting to some, that my home culture didn’t include this beard related custom. They weren’t angry. They were just eager to clarify in order to help me live in Xinjiang. But talking about Jesus basically came to a halt. The beard was in the way.

The choice was rather easy. I could either keep talking about facial hair and cultural differences; or I could shave the beard, wrap on a scarf, and go back to talking up my wonderful Lord Jesus. This choice was easy. There were to be many other such choices and changes to come.

The world preaches tolerance and diversity. Jesus’ disciples however, are called to love. So focusing on Christ when talking with non-believers, we notice the diversity just enough to get adjusted. We don’t insist that unbelievers conform to our ways. We conform to theirs (so long as it is kosher) in order to clear the path for those who’ll listen to our message. And when it comes to believers relating to each other, we likewise focus on Jesus and ignore diversity, while urging one another on towards Christ-likeness. For this we have the Holy Spirit and the scriptures, as our guide.

With “diversity appreciation” and “tolerance,” now the rallying-cry of this world, non-believers don’t understand why we aren’t excited about it. We seem non-supportive. That is because the world can’t aim any higher, and we in Christ are commanded to.

To imitate the world is to greatly lower the bar that God has set for us. Called to do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, we frankly would rather be loved than tolerated. The world’s insistence on tolerance, and their demand that we celebrate diversity, is loud however. Christians should be prepared to explain why we don’t participate. Expect to be misunderstood here! Jesus was misunderstood. Something He said, I think applies here too:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.”

Matthew 11:19

Though the world around us has its own agenda and ways of survival, it is important that we be about our Father’s business. We who are in Christ, are called to much more than survival.

I’m really sorry about stepping on toes concerning this. But maybe if your toes were more like mine, that wouldn’t have happened. Hmmm?