I think that diversity is over rated. There, I said it. Somebody had to point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Before you get ready to throw me over the nearest cliff for being so “non-PC” please hear me out.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that we are all created in God’s image, and that every person should be respected regardless of race or socio-economic condition. I also believe that we can all benefit from getting to know some people from a background very different than our own. I know that it has been a great benefit to me. But when you want to form a close, supportive community, too much diversity is not a good thing.

What is “community?”

Our word “community” comes from the Latin word “communis,” which means “common.” The dictionary definitions of “community” include two basic ideas: (a) people living in the same geographic region, or (b) a group of people who have something in common. The latter can include anything from race and culture to interests and hobbies. The point is that a “community” is a group of people who are connected by something that they have in common. If they have very little in common then there is no community.

That’s why I find it a bit odd when people in Berkeley talk about “the community” as though we are all one, big, happy family. That is nonsense. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of communities in Berkeley. Some of those communities are are made up of people with whom I have very little in common. Some of them are united around beliefs or values with which I strongly disagree. I am not a part of those communities nor are they a part of mine. There is a single community only in the superficial sense of people who happen to live within the city limits.

For Christians, you say, it should be different. As Christians we are all united in Christ. In heaven there will be people of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). But we are not yet in heaven, and here on earth it is another matter. Theologically all true Christians are part of the universal Body of Christ, but the close relationships that define true fellowship require additional common ground.

How broad should a church attempt to be sociologically? A while back I attended a workshop for Christian leaders held in Berkeley in which the speaker said that a church here should be a place that could be a spiritual home for anyone living within a 10 mile radius. I thought to myself, “he must be kidding!” There must be people from at least 50 different cultural and language groups within 10 miles of the site of the seminar–is it possible for all of them to feel at home in a single church? Will the service be translated into a dozen languages? Will any meals served include 20 different ethnic foods? Will the music blend elements from all those cultures in such a way that everyone feels at home?

Let me hasten too add that racial prejudice has absolutely no place in the church. A church can be racially diverse while having other things in common. Some of the multi-ethnic churches started recently are populated mostly by middle class college educated single or young married professionals. They may be racially diverse, but culturally they have a lot in common. Otherwise people would not be able to experience community in those churches.

I can imagine that there are people who would like to take me to task on several of the points I have made here. It will be interesting to see if I receive any comments. Perhaps I will write more on this topic in the future. In the meanwhile, what do you think?

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  1. But we are not yet in heaven, and here on earth it is another matter.

    but God’s power is supreme in both. a church with at least 50 different culture and language groups does sound absurd, but i don’t see why God can’t make it happen. if He wants it to happen, it’ll happen. i don’t think it’s an idea that needs to be discouraged in any way. rather, a lot of prayer should be encouraged beforehand if people are thinking of taking on such an ambitious plan–that way, the community will be built for Him and His people in mind, as opposed to being built for diversity’s sake or with diversity as the end goal or something.

    Theologically all true Christians are part of the universal Body of Christ, but the close relationships that define true fellowship require additional common ground.

    i think the close relationships that define true fellowship require active love and a sincere commitment to abide by that love. naturally, we are attracted to and find it easier to love those who are more similar to us (similar interests, hobbies, cultural backgrounds…the “common ground”) but i don’t see how true God-given love and the power of the Spirit can’t conquer these dispositional tendencies of ours.

    of course, i’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has NO experience in leading a church /fellowship or what it takes to start up a church from scratch or anything even remotely close to any of that…so there’s a lot i don’t understand when it comes to organizing communities and trying to get them to work effectively. just imagining the kids from agape fellowshipping with the elderly from the chinese side shows me that there must be truth in what you’re saying, that additional common ground is required in a community in order for the fellowship among the members to be at a level that is most meaningful to all…but part of me feels that to say that would be to say that God’s love and power isn’t enough, that our own weaknesses are too great to allow for such pure fellowship to occur. so i hope you’ll write more, pastor ken, as my interest in this subject has definitely been piqued!

  2. Hi Tiffany,

    I don’t think that it is a question of God’s power, but of the relationship between the Christian faith and culture. There is a biblical world view, but not a single biblically prescribed culture. The Gospel is “incarnated” in many different cultures. God’s truth is absolute and unchanging, but His truth can be lived out in many different cultures. So our unity in Christ won’t cause all of us to somehow like the same kind of food or enjoy the same type of music. The kind of things that people enjoy doing together that help to build community are influenced by our cultural background. I don’t think that the Gospel erases all those differences.

  3. I think tiffany means that perhaps God’s power can cause those who are not tied by common interests/culture/food/music to share a bond or closeness that is equally strong, purely because of their commonality in Christ. Do correct me tiffany, if that’s not actually what you meant. I do see what you mean PK, that a multi-ethnic church wouldn’t seem to work, practically speaking. However, I think multi-cultural churches these days are more multi-racial rather than multi-cultural. People may come from different cultural backgrounds, but they are actually more American than anything else. I definitely think it’s not practical to put a bunch of immigrants into the same “community” but I doubt that was what that workshop speaker had in mind either.

  4. Hi Kathryn. I understand Tiffany’s comment the same way that you do. Sorry if my earlier comment was unclear. I do believe in the power of God to overcome cultural barriers, but I don’t think that this means that the barriers are irrelevant.

    I also agree with you about multi-ethnic churches. The reason that they work (when they do work) is that there are signicant cultural factors that the members of the church have in common other than their ethnicity. For that reason I think that many “multi-ethnic” churches are not really “multi-cultural” churches.

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