Unity in Diversity

“What we have most in common is not religion but humanity.” (An Altar in the World, Taylor; p. 102)

Recently, my family and I moved to Evanston, IL so that I could pursue my PhD at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. As we explored Evanston, I was so excited to see all of the options of delightful restaurants in the area. There is a Greek restaurant around the corner, a Ethiopian restaurant down Chicago
Avenue, a Haitian restaurant less than two miles away from our house and a lovely authentic Mexican restaurant right downtown. As we explored some more, I also noticed that there was a Bah’ai Temple up the road, a Jewish synagogue around the corner, a Greek Orthodox community in the next neighborhood and more. What would this mean for my family and I who have spent the past four years in the bible belt of the USA?

It brought back memories of the lecture that I heard at the Princeton Forums for Youth Ministry last spring. Eboo Patel, the founder and leader of the Interfaith Youth Core, gave a lecture about being faithful to his religious tradition in a religiously diverse world. He talked about being Muslim in the diverse city of Chicago and raising his children to be Muslim in the midst of diversity. His nanny was a Columbian woman who was a devout Catholic and he was sending his children to a private Catholic school. The question he raised is, “How do I think about raising my kids in a religiously diverse world or working with youth in a religiously diverse world?” He went on to say that as a Sociologist, the question was much easier to answer, recognizing that in the United States, your child could have been born in a hospital founded by Jewish philanthropists, and the lead doctor could have been a Muslim, the nurse could have been Filipino Catholic and the person giving the epidural could have been Hindu. The reality is that in most of Urban and Suburban America, religious diversity is everywhere.

The challenge is: How do we nurture faith in the reality of religious diversity?

What Patel then shared was that from a non-personal, analytical perspective, all of that sounded good, until it became personal and he was raising his own children in the diversity of this world. Part of the role that we all must play, as parents and as youth leaders is to pass on our faith. In the reality of passing on our faith, we must also face the challenge of teaching “truth” amongst diversity in religious truths.

This brings us back to the age-old question of what is “TRUTH?” How do we teach biblical truth today? We cannot ignore the fact that we live next door to those who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. We cannot prevent our children from encountering people of other faiths, other traditions and other truths. In the Christian tradition, we have a compelling need to share our truth with others, because of our biblical mandate and mission of the church. (Matthew 28:18-20) So, where does this leave us as leaders in the church?

Historically, we have reacted in several ways:

  • We have ignored “the problem.” We have done everything in our power to prevent our children from ever having to face diversity by segregating them into sections and groups where everyone is the same. They think the same, act the same and sometimes even look the same.
  • We have approached it with violence. In our recent past, we have sought to wipe away others who are different from us, believing that if we just purge them from the world, the problem would be fixed.
  • We have completely given up our own faith and tradition to embrace a faith or tradition that feels better OR we have given up any faith or religious tradition all together.

I don’t believe any of these reactions have helped people in the world. All of these reactions have only made our children and youth even more disenfranchised and unwilling to encounter any god, let alone our Christian God. So, what is the response that the world needs today? What is the reaction that will incline people to becoming more loving, more caring and more considerate for all of creation? Anyone? What are your thoughts?

Amy Valdez Barker is a long time youth minister from the North Georgia Conference. Soon to be PhD student at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary working with the Vital Congregations Project.


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