A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Everyone is Needed
January 31, 2019
As I noted in my letter last week, “creation’s stunning diversity is inherent to its goodness.” It is also inherent to its sustainability. Sometimes conservationists are mocked for caring so much about tiny little creatures going extinct, yet we know that even the smallest loss unleashes rippling effects, and left unchecked those effects can escalate to the point of threatening the entire biosystem.
When God called creation “good,” it was an assessment of the whole of creation in its breathtaking interdependent variety. Yes, each little creature matters to God; Jesus goes so far as to say that God cares enough about everything in the created order as to count each hair on our heads! (Matthew 10:30)
Paul uses the image of a “body” to address the need for all different kinds of people in the church. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) As with the human body, the Body of Christ relies on the vast variety of its members for its health and capacity. The church is a microcosm of the whole creation, with its splendid array of manifold diversification.
Some church growth “experts” tout homogeneity as critical to church growth. People like to be with people just like them, their reasoning goes, so if you want to grow a church, target people who think and look and act and live alike. Constitute the church as an affinity group, they contend, and it will blossom.
They may be right about a good way to elicit rapid initial growth. But sustainability is quite something else. Jesus warns against placing our bets on things that grow quickly, likening them to seed sown on stony ground, sprouting quickly only to wither soon. (Matthew 13:20-21)
Both the beauty and the sustainability of nature and church alike depend on the interplay of their constituent members in all their breathtaking variety. This is why Presbyterians have lifted up the high value of diversity in the church.
Ah, the troublesome “D-word.” “Diversity” has become a politically-charged category in the church, just as it has in civil society. “Diversity” is often associated with “political correctness,” as though it’s nothing other than a manifestation of a liberal political agenda.
Truthfully, we sometimes do pursue diversity for its own sake, as though it were a goal rather than a means to sustainable abundant life. We all too easily assume that if we get “one of everything” at the table, we will have fulfilled our mandate.
Pursuing diversity for its own sake is futile. Diversity is beneficial only when constituents bring differing contributions necessary to the welfare of the whole. Looking diverse means little in itself; diversity needs to be expressed in the full welcome and exercise of everyone’s gifts.
Whether we realize it or not, by pressing a commitment to diversity in the church and world that honors each contributing member, Presbyterians demonstrate their DNA’s drive to affirm the goodness of the richly variegated world fashioned by our Creator. To lead with affirmation, rather than negation, lies at the heart of our identity as Presbyterians.
We affirm the vast spectrum and infinite variety of God’s created order by seeking to embody that in our life together. This is why we are naturally a “big tent” or “broad spectrum” church – not because of a social-political philosophy that privileges diversity, but because this reflects the way God made the world.
God’s delight in the breathtaking breadth of created humanity is apparent in not only the Bible’s accounts of the vast original spectrum of creation, but also its portrayal of how God’s purposes are finally fulfilled at the end of the age. When God’s reign is finally manifest in its fullness, people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” gather together united in praise of our Savior and Redeemer. (Revelation 7:9) In the holy city of God’s triumphant reign, multitudes of nations each bring “their glory” – their particular, distinctive, best gifts – into its precincts. (Revelation 21:24)
We embrace and nourish diversity because that is the order of both God’s original creation and God’s new creation. We can do nothing less if we truly mean what we pray when we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
No congregation, no presbytery, no denomination should be at peace with its identity so long as its constituency is largely homogeneous. For political rallying purposes, homogeneity helps. But it is beneath the calling of the church. As I have done before, I ask us again: What are we doing intentionally to reach out to those different from us, to make our home a place they feel truly welcome, to walk alongside and learn from them as we bear to them the Good News?
Yours in joyful witness,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister