Just as bodies in pews aren’t hard evidence of heart change, neither is a certain type of bodies in pews evidence that a church is racist or self-absorbed—or that a church has practiced true hospitality. Christ builds his Church. Christ is already building a diverse Church from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s our job to celebrate and welcome that while serving each other and spreading the gospel in the time and places in which He has—for now—scattered us.
Somewhere in the tiny Himalayan country of Nepal, there’s a small Christian church. In fact, there’s quite a few. Nepal has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world.
Imagine I—a curious, white, English-speaking, American Christian—land at tiny Lukla airport. Maybe I’m about to trek up the rocky face of Mount Everest. Before heading for base camp, I stop for Sunday services at a small rural church. I’m far from home. I’m really cold. I’m a little scared, too.
Is the church ‘ready’ for me? Is there an English-speaking greeter, ready to make me in particular feel comfortable? Is there a group of English-speaking western worshippers, guaranteed to make sure I don’t feel ‘out of place’ or ‘othered’? Will the liturgy accommodate my western expectations?
To put it another way: how is the Nepalese church’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy going?
The thought experiment isn’t quite fair. But there is a fair number of American Christians and Christian institutions calling for similar diversity efforts here at home. A charitable read of their efforts would suggest more reasonable expectations: that the people who make up our congregations would reflect the communities we’re in; which are on average much more racially and ethnically diverse than a small Nepalese village.
There has been racial and ethnic partiality in the American church in the past. Still, modern calls for focused diversity efforts in American churches are often problematically shallow. The Nepal thought experiment, silly as it might be, offers a helpful illustration. Diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t make sense when it’s applied without context. The American church isn’t just one church, but hundreds of thousands. Widespread undertaking of “diversity” efforts within churches and ministries warrants a few questions on the front end, then.
First: what do we mean by “diversity?” Modern conversations tend to use the word almost exclusively to describe diversity of either race or ethnicity. But what about diversity of age? Of socioeconomic status? And does diversity for diversity’s sake—when we widen the definition — always make sense? Imagine criticizing a college ministry for not having elderly members. Imagine faulting an urban church in a city center for not having enough farmers in its congregation. The logic breaks down.
This leads to another question: why, exactly, should we pursue diversity? Often Christians advocating for diversity programs answer by reminding us that partiality is sinful, and that the global church at the time of Jesus’ second coming will include people of “every tribe, nation and tongue.” In other words, calls to achieve diversity are meant, in part, to encourage Christians to celebrate diversity. Celebrating the wide human diversity within the body of Christ is a good thing in itself.