Chapter 9 – Uncomfortable Diversity

From the book: “Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community” by Brett McCracken

“Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division.” – Christena Cleveland (p. 135)

  • This statement is not about cross-racial, cross-gender, or cross-aged issues.

We can all visually appear nearly identical and still have significantly different cultural attitudes. Consider the cultural differences within the same-appearing people in the United States. From the north-east, the south, the mid-west, the south-west, and the west coast, we are culturally different. And this is just not among white people. Thomas Sowell relates the cultural differences in the black communities from the south, where he was initially raised, and New York to where he moved when he was young. He addresses this in his book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Here is a short video discussing elements of his book. Thomas Sowell – Black Rednecks. (8:10)

This cross-cultural issue constantly challenged the first-century church. They were bringing the gospel to Jews, Romans, and Greeks. These had significantly different cultures that had to be considered when coming together. Not only that, but consider the problems within the church regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols.

“You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols …” (Acts 15:29, NIV)

But at the same time:

“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.’” (1 Corinthians 8:4, NIV)

It is about the impact our actions might have on another Christian.

“It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:21, NIV)

The real issue is our relationships and witness to everyone around us.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” (Romans 14:17-18, NIV)

Not that we are to seek human approval, but we will receive human approval when we live lives of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Not because of our actions, but because of our attitude and lifestyle.

“… he knew that unity-in-diversity was fundamental to God’s Trinitarian character, central to the gospel’s subversion of hierarchy and ethnocentric pride, and crucial to the church’s witness.” (p. 137)

  • Our author addresses six ways to prioritize diversity in church life.

Before we go any further, I want to add here that we need to be careful of some terms used here. Many are politicized and bring up issues that are more harmful than helpful.

  • First, Know Your Own Culture. Recognize It Isn’t the Gold Standard. We must know how our cultural lenses inform the way we practice church. This involves every aspect of our church practices: service format (e.g., liturgical, contemporary, modern), music selection (e.g., hymns, choruses, instrumentals, a cappella), outreach ministries (e.g., individually or working with other churches or agencies), technology (e.g., broadcasting services, social media, etc.), or even congregational style of dress (e.g., formal, professional/business, casual, etc.). “To break out of this complacency, we should get in the habit of exposing ourselves to other perspectives and church cultures.” (p. 139)
  • Second, Don’t Color-wash Diversity. Our author addresses what he refers to as ‘white-washing’. This refers to the attitude of bringing culturally different people into our congregation, expecting they will conform to our way of doing things. It is ironic that our author sees this as a white-only issue. It is just as easy to ‘black-wash’, ‘Latin-wash’, or any other form of ‘culture-wash’. Even within completely white congregations, there are vast cultural differences (liturgical, evangelical, and Pentecostal).
  • Third, Create a Culture of Listening, Humility, and Open Conversation. This book is totally about this challenge. Differences bring discomfort. The only way to effectively deal with differences is through open and loving dialogue. Willingness to change our way of thinking and willingness to accept that we will continue to have differences. Learning lovingly to live with these differences is possible through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
  • Fourth, Acknowledge Privilege and Power Differentials. These are two terms I mentioned earlier that are politically loaded. While there are certainly some valid arguments to be made for abuse of power and examples to be shown, it has become too easy to automatically assign privilege or power to issues that are not relevant. Similarly, being blessed by being born into an environment in which you have inherent advantages from the beginning does not mean that you automatically use these advantages to impose on others. Here is a video discussion with Jordan Peterson about the aspects of power and competence. “The Idea That Every Hierarchy is Predicated on Power is an Assault on Competence.” (9:58). The real issue is whether we are offering people opportunities to engage in roles within the church in which they have something to offer. Not just the ones at the top of their skill set, but also those who show potential and whom we can grow in the development and maturity of those skills.
  • Fifth, Practice What You Preach. This applies to much more than diversity. It is the key to the Gospel message. However, it is easy to put out platitudes without actually doing anything about them. As with the last point, we should not wait until someone is perfectly skilled before we involve them in ministry. We must mentor them when they first show an interest, but while they are still raw and minimally skilled. In fact, we should also reach out and find people to assist in development before they even show an active interest. We need to get them involved to find their gifts and interests.
  • Sixth, Prioritize a Diverse Leadership Staff. I agree we need to reach out to others who differ from us to bring in different perspectives, but it would be easy to overcompensate. We want to bring in other perspectives, but we must be careful not to make this a goal unto itself. The ability to diversify your culture must start somewhere, sometime. If done correctly, diverse leadership is the most visible and probably the most effective approach to diversifying a congregation. But we must balance the need to reach out to others without alienating everyone already here. This will take intentional effort, time, and discomfort to become ingrained within the congregation.

  • Diversity is something we should value and enable, but we must not make it a priority over all other things.

If we are doing our ministry correctly, diversity will happen. As stated above, we will receive human approval when we live lives of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

I want to repeat something from the notes on Chapter 8 – Uncomfortable People.

“There is much made of the term ‘multi-cultural.’ Unfortunately, multiculturalism focuses on our differences. It pries us apart and divides us into separate tribes. It creates an ‘us vs. them’ attitude. A better alternative is the term ‘omni-cultural.’ Omniculturalism focuses on our commonalities. It brings us together. From this perspective, we see our differences as additive to the relationship rather than the divisive nature of multiculturalism.”

“But we are aliens together, sovereignly placed together as residents in our community for such a time as this.” (p. 134)

As stated in the book “Resident Aliens,”

“Christian community, life in the colony, is not primarily about togetherness. It is about the way of Jesus Christ with those whom he calls to himself. It is about disciplining our wants and needs in congruence with a true story, which gives us the resources to lead truthful lives. In living out the story together, togetherness happens, but only as a by-product of the main project of trying to be faithful to Jesus.” [1]

“Everyone committed to it must accept that diversity is going to mean discomfort.” (p. 144)

“We have to live in discomfort for the sake of each other, for the sake of the kingdom.” (p. 144)

“For majority-culture Christians, we have to be willing to engage in uncomfortable situations and relationships and conversations, for the sake of the unity in Christ.” (p. 144)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Considering this reality, please watch the following video interview with Konstantin Kisin on Thomas Sowell’s greatest insight: “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.” Even though this video addresses political issues, it is just as relevant to Christians in a diverse community.

He Saves Us Video (1 min.)

Here are four video interviews with people that might challenge your understanding of who is a Christian.

Testimony of Rosaria Butterfield (7:58)

Kat Von D on Becoming a Christian (1:19:17)

Sexual Detransitioner Daisy Strongin Ultimately Finds Christ (47:32)

Hulk Hogan Was Just Baptized.

[1] Stanley Haurerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1989 (p. 78)

Similar Posts