Diversity vs. Variety
There is much talk about “diversity” as a public good in institutions and among members of nearly any group. Everyone feels accountable to a generally unspoken standard of diversity, and to be a “diverse” institution or group is perceived as having a positive connotation. This language, like much of our modern secular discourse, has come into our conversation about the life and ministry of the Church. “We need to be more diverse,” or, “we need diversity in our leadership and members,” can be heard from those in a position to opine about church growth and development. Personally, I’m allergic to buzzwords, so I always ask what, exactly, they mean by “diversity.” The response is often, “people who don’t look like us.” Of course, the question is begged, “who is ‘us’?” Furthermore, when used in a political and polemical context, “diversity” often means just the opposite of its denotation, and can be functionally translated as “we need more people who agree with me and less people who agree with you.” Diversity as goal means political supremacy, secured through majority vote. Finally, diversity is in the eye of the beholder: some parishes may think themselves diverse if they have both Democrats and Republicans in their membership!
Is this what God sent his Holy Spirit to create? Is outward appearance or ethnicity truly the measure of our goal as Christ’s body? Is diversity even a scriptural concept? I would answer “no” to each question. Over the last two Sundays, we’ve read the primary text on this issue, 1 Corinthians 12 (it may help to have it out to follow the argument). The word that St. Paul uses is “variety,” and it is fundamentally different from diversity. The root in the latter leads one to the word, “diverge.” It accentuates difference and separation. For St. Paul, the Church begins as a unified body under Jesus’ Lordship. There can be no diversity among Christians on the issue of whether or not “Jesus is [Risen] Lord,” and the Holy Spirit which both enables and confirms that confession is the only power that can bring a community – the Church, in particular – into existence and sustain it in life.
Starting there, one can then gain a sense of wonder and gratitude for variety in the Church. Specifically, the “varieties of gifts … services … activities.” And there is the key difference for our discussions. Diversity, as the world understands it, is based on what one has in terms of identity, history, background, etc. It is, by the nature of the case, based on categories of self-description that exist prior to one’s encounter with Christ. The “varieties” of St. Paul are based on what one can give. The varieties that enrich the Church’s life are based on categories that can be brought into being only through one’s encounter with Christ in the power of the Spirit: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, healing, tongues, wisdom. Diversity is something we can create. Varieties are the gift of the Spirit to the Church.
We should not seek a diversity of people in the Church. Rather, we must ask for the grace to open our hearts to all those who bring various gifts to offer as they serve others in Christ’s Name. In doing so, we will realize variety’s true goal: the agape love of God in Christ Jesus which “is not envious or boastful or rude” and does not “insist on its own way,” but is the only source of our joy, hope, endurance, and faith.