By Thilini Cate
“Mommy, I’m biracial.”
“Biracial? Where did you hear that word?”
“I didn’t hear it. I saw it.”
“OK, when and where did you see it?”
“On the 1st grade student profile page. I’m biracial and my friends are Anglo. What is biracial and Anglo?”
Nothing could have prepared me to discuss such a simple yet intricate topic with my 6-year-old son. He has always understood skin color differences, particularly in having a father of European descent and a mother of South Asian heritage, with our complexions landing on opposite ends of the spectrum as day is to night. Our families and circle of friends combine eight dialects, five ethnicities, and three skin tones. In this colorful variety, our son identifies himself as “orange,” even excitedly relating his looks to Mowgli from The Jungle Book.
The hues and tones of brownness, pinkness, and yellowness in the world is an ocean of racial plurality that becomes even more opaque, complex, and remote with gender, ethnicity, physical ability, and social status. We call this phenomenon diversity.
The word’s general understanding is in stark contrast from one individual to the next. However, the common terminology used in each interpretation is “us” and “them.” This inevitably perpetuates a faulty attitude, making us culprits of division who pander to preferential presuppositions while unapologetically grooming opposing attitudes. Thus the pendulum swings, progressively increasing the dichotomy of “us” and “them.”
Perhaps the problem with diversity is the lack of understanding of what it actually implies. In its purest form, Webster’s Dictionary 1828 defined diversity as “difference, dissimilitude, unlikeness.” It continues to describe it as a “distinct being,” characterizing a unique creature that is made in the image of its creator, recognizably different and set apart from others. The distinction of diversity, then, alludes to the fact that foundationally we are the same.
On a very basic level, all human beings are designed with the same essential attributes, given the same values, and created for the same underlying purpose—relationship with God and fellow humans. If God gives his creation the same human essence of being stained by the color of Jesus’ blood, then the illusion of cultural opposition is nothing short of a fruit of sin. Sin, the human problem, deceives us into pointing issues at others, blaming them for the world’s evil in a downward spiral of scapegoating. This phenomenon is never revealed more clearly than when “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) invites us to break down hostility against the other and stand beside them as a fellow human.
How then do we transcend meager human-contrived perceptions and realign, reframe, restore, and reawaken diversity to be a powerful encounter between two people who create unprecedented moments that etch the landscape of humanity?
Shift Paradigms of Identity
Identity tends to be the main standard humanity uses to draw comparisons, whether it is personal or cultural. When Paul said to the Galatians that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28), he was speaking to a Greco-Roman-influenced community where they perceived one people group as identifying over and against another. The class of worth in that culture was established by what they thought determined one’s identity—ethnic background (Jew/Greek), socioeconomic status (slave/free), and gender (male/female). Paul’s statement was radically countercultural. Today in America Paul may even be growled off the pulpit in the name of American nationalism. However, Peter declared in 1 Peter 2:9 that Christians are none other than a holy nation and a people of the cross. As such, a nation knows only the border of those who possess the Holy Spirit through salvation in Christ over those who do not.
The identity of the kingdom, the community that supersedes all other communities, rearranges the very fabric that defines a human culture. Kingdom living does not syncretize both personal and cultural identities with Christianity but unwaveringly roots itself alone, against all others. Christians, therefore, are called to tear down walls to attract rather than build them to repel. If we are to genuinely participate in Christ’s commission of making disciples globally, we first need to capture an accurate identity of the kingdom through our diverse lives.
Recognize Shared Human Value
Since Genesis we have been the exclusive recipients of God’s mark. God’s image bestowed on every living human intrinsically grants each of us personhood. Therefore every life is innately valuable to the Father, and as such, should be valuable to the follower of the Son.
We must humbly recognize the pleas for shared human value that we witness in societies today. Conversation in the church becomes increasingly necessary when a single group experiences continued oppression, even decades after freedom was given from slavery, and years after social justice sought to tear down practices of discrimination. In human weakness the retaliation of such oppression remains violent, as history always seems to project, and rejection becomes too easy when those accused of oppressing focus their attention on the expression instead of the cause, thus further perpetuating the cycle of strife.
Personal prejudice is largely masked in the church because we have unwittingly given our minds a vacancy for discrimination. Irony occurs when a Christian goes on a mission trip to another country, pours compassion onto those who are poor and less fortunate, then returns back to native soil, purportedly changed, yet continues to further agendas that would suggest otherwise. Being from a third-world country myself, I can only imagine the cynicism maintained in such global communities being served.
As inclusive of a church we claim to be, in reality we have ruthlessly widened the gap of diversity while polarizing the body of Christ. C. S. Lewis, in his book A Grief Observed, said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” We do not determine human value. It is already determined for us. Our biblical responsibility then is to create an influential spiritual brotherhood that is free of distinctive human-ordained agendas.
Contemporary or Traditional? Both.
Blue-Collar or White-Collar? Both.
Man or Woman? Both.
Local or Global? Both.
Millennial or Boomer? Both.
Able-bodied or Handicapped? Both.
Leader or Manager? Both.
Discipleship or Evangelism? Both.
Citizen or Refugee? Both.
Native or Immigrant? Both.
Black or White? Both.
God values, supports, and defends both. Therefore we, his created, should value, support, and defend both.
Sustain the Cross-Cultural Church
The church is God’s holy nation. And its role is inherently cross-cultural. Kingdom believers must first recognize the personal conflict between their culture of flesh and the culture of Christ. As bearers of a symbol—the cross—national identities must only be maintained through the lens of the greater culture, subject to the eternal nation of which Jesus is King. True kingdom community is the most effective rejection of the world’s attempts at solving problems it doesn’t fully understand. In this era of postmodernism, rather than celebrating diversity, the attempt at tolerance seems to amplify the conflict it seeks to dissolve. Essentially what leads us to conflict with each other are worldly layers, lenses, influences, and environments that are misappropriated forms of God’s image.
But it is precisely on this level that we must acknowledge the biblical lens—the only perspective that offers objective truth. Ignoring the internal discomfort and angst over the issue of diversity, we need to allow God’s presence and truth to penetrate both “us” and “them.” Each of us must communally join on a deeper level, seeking to renew the mind through transformation into God’s truth, rather than conforming to the world’s confusion, as the apostle Paul commissioned. If this is accomplished, the church will not only achieve diversity in its true, God-intended form, but also prove itself to be the only cross-cultural solution in the battleground of diversity.
How we, the church, both universal and local, live as an alternative to the broken world defined by opposition will prove the gospel as the solution. The kingdom is called to be in the world and for the world but not of the world—so that it solely can be the alternative to the world.
Thilini Cate writes for Vanderbloemen Search Group while pursuing a doctorate in Educational Leadership at Oral Roberts University.