Someone sent me a link today to a powerful and moving sermon on diversity. The pastor recounts examples of the horrible ways that we humans dehumanize one another. He lays out a typology for how we tend to deal with ethnic difference. Then, after quoting the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, he said, "The heart of Paul’s argument–and this is both new theologically and also basic to the Christian faith–is that diversity is God’s idea. It is not an accident of geography or biology. It is not a nuisance to be overcome or a problem to be solved. Diversity is God’s gift to the church. Diversity is part and parcel of God’s good creation. Diversity is good. It is rooted in the very character of God. And so to deny it, to treat people differently, to do violence to people, to oppress, on the basis of their race, is not simply an affront; it is a denial of the reality of God. It is that basic. There is, in God’s kingdom–and therefore there must be in God’s church–a place for everybody. Furthermore, diversity is for the common good. Mixing it up is God’s delightful intent for creation."
Beautifully said! Sadly, in the course of this message he focuses exclusively on ethnic diversity, and never mentions how the church has excluded people with disabilities from its life and ministry, nor how diversity of ability expresses "God's delightful intent."
After I read that sermon, I searched for "diversity" and "church" using Bing. I had to dig down to the eighth hit before I came upon one that thought about people with disabilities when they thought of diversity in the church.
I'm delighted by the work done by our office of Race Relations and by the work done by God's people everywhere to overcome the ethnic and cultural barriers that separate us. My family and I are members of a church that deliberately cultivates ethnic diversity. God's kingdom IS ethnically diverse; the Belhar Confession articulates a theology for ethnic diversity.
All very good! So why do we church people have such a hard time thinking about people with disabilities when we picture a "diverse church?" When we envision the diverse church, in our minds' eye, we see a diversity of skin colors, foods, ethnic identities, and languages. Usually, we also see we see the young and the old, male and female. But in our vision of the diverse church, we rarely see a boy who uses a wheelchair, woman who lives with mental illness, a girl with Down Syndrome, a man who is blind, or a woman who is Deaf and uses sign language.
Why? What do you think?
Next week, we'll consider additional reasons why we have a limited idea of "diversity."