God made creation wonderfully diverse. Diversity can be found nearly everywhere, on city streets, in uninhabited forests, and in churches, even churches that we think of as homogeneous. For example, a church comprised of Korean immigrants will have first generation, 1.5 generation, and second generation members, people with varying income levels, ages, professions, and abilities.
Though diversity brings richness to life, diversity should not be an end in itself. In fact, a very diverse groups can be unbearable. At their worst, diverse groups can break into factions that engage in gang warfare and “ethnic cleansing.”
When churches consider creating diverse communities, they need to focus attention also on welcome, hospitality, and inclusion.
In her newsletter, True Livelihood, author and speaker Denise Bissonnette describes what she believes are “Ten Essential Shifts in the Quest for True Inclusion.” Although she slanted her article toward the workplace, her insights on creating a welcoming environment apply well to churches too.
Many of her points revolve around developing respectful, mutual relationships. She echoes the apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 when she writes, “To the extent that any member is denied the opportunity to contribute their gift, it is a collective problem. The exclusion, oppression, or marginalization of any member of our community does an injustice to us all. To me, the real spirit of True Inclusion will be reflected in the extent to which each member’s sense of well-being is inextricably tied to the well-being of every other member!”
She continues, “True Inclusion is about celebrating our shared humanity, finding kinship, nurturing connections, building relationships and fostering deep affinity with one another in the midst of the beauty and the tragedy, the joys and the sorrows of everyday life.”
For relationships like these to flourish, members of the group must humbly celebrate the gifts of the others, and accept their own limitations. Self-sufficiency destroys relationships because those who believe they are self-sufficient think that they do not need others. In a poem Bissonnette includes with the newsletter, she writes from the perspective of a person looking down on someone with a disability:
This puzzle’s not quite finished,
we’re missing an essential piece,
We know much more about what you can’t do,
than your possibilities! (from Clueless)
The essential piece of the puzzle that’s missing is the understanding of the other person’s gifts and assets. Bissonnette calls this a “Shift from a Focus on Barriers to a Focus on Assets.”
As we anticipate the celebration of the world’s greatest Gift, we will do well to celebrate the gift of each individual whom God brings to our church fellowships, especially the people with disabilities. After all, in 1 Corinthians 12:22, the apostle Paul wrote, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (NIV)