Isaiah 64:6-9 (CEB)
We have all become like the unclean; all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag. All of us wither like a leaf; our sins, like the wind, carry us away. No one calls on your name; no one bothers to hold on to you, for you have hidden yourself from us, and have handed us over to our sin.
But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. Don’t rage so fiercely, Lord; don’t hold our sins against us forever, but gaze now on your people all of us:
Diversity is hard work! In my youthfulness and young adulthood, I had only heard of diversity as a celebration! Let us celebrate all the wonderful places we come from. Let us celebrate all the different elements of our cultures. Let us celebrate how God has crafted us, uniquely and wonderfully different from one another. And yes, it would be a very bland world if we all looked alike and thought alike. But, no one really talks about how our diversity may still be cause for wounding words and painful perspectives today.
As children of God, we have been taught to love one another and offer one another signs of peace and reconciliation. We have been taught to be gracious to one another and learn to accept one another for who God created us to be. But, what if the way God created us, individually and collectively, bothers the way God created someone else?
I work in a world where I am very familiar with personality assessments like True Colors or Myers Briggs. And in these assessments the goal is to help people understand their natural tendencies. For example, I am a feeling person, introverted and very much concerned with how people get along. One of my best friends is a logic person first, but she can pull out her empathy in order to relate to whatever may be challenging my emotional, feeling tendencies. In most cases, we embrace the differences amongst us because it helps us become better people, better community members and it helps us build relationships that lead to peace, grace and love. On occasion, our difference of opinion on matters may be so great that we have a hard time finding common ground, but because of our love for one another, we set aside our differences and come back to our friendship as the primary place for our common ground. We love one another and find ways to build the bridge of love, rather than burn the bridge because of our diverse perspectives.
Over the past month, I have witnessed several occasions where our diversity has been a source of pain and conflict, rather than joy and possibility. It started in my home church, when our church made the decision to be a church without walls and confront the realities of racism. The first sermon raised challenges in my own family when my Caucasian spouse and mother-in-law felt accused for their white privilege, when they had never seen themselves as racist. The words used by my African-American brother stung, and they weren’t sure this was a safe place for them. The next place where I was wounded by diversity was at an international event for United Methodists. A leader in the church used oppressive and accusatory words that felt like it was an attack on my being. Her experience of a common process had brought her pain and my experience had brought me hope. But, we didn’t have enough of a relationship to be able to openly discuss our diversity in a safe and grace-filled place.
Diversity can be a gift, if we use the foundation of God’s love to unwrap the gift and look at it through God’s eyes. However, our sin-filled world often keeps us from seeing it through God’s eyes and instead we can perceive it as a threat on our being, rather than a gift for our lives. It is hard work, but it must be done. We cannot perpetuate the sin by ignoring diversity and hope it will go away. Instead, we must love one another and build the grace-filled space to discuss how our differences can enhance the kingdom of God, rather than destroy it. We must teach our children and youth that even in conflict, God seeks peace for us, so let us teach them how to use the language of love, instead of the language of hate. Let us model for them ways that build the kingdom. Yes, speak the truth in love, but in the safety of a grace-filled relationship built on trust. Our challenge is to remember that God is with ALL of us, even in our diversity, God is there!
What struggles have you had in your youth ministry regarding diversity?
How do you best teach on diversity/racism in your youth ministry?
What advice can you offer on talking about diversity/racism in your church?