Lifting Up Diversity as a Core Value

While on our recent pilgrimage of the Holy Land, we encountered impressive religious and ethnic diversity.  I can recall a wonderful discussion with one of the guides who is a conservative Jew and another guide who is a practicing Syrian Orthodox Christian.  They were able to articulate both their own positions and give respect to those who shared other perspectives (including Muslim).  The diversity enriched and enhanced our experience of the land called Holy by three major monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  All this must be noted in the context of the ongoing conflict with and over diversity in that land!  Being diverse and honoring diversity as a core value is not easy! In same time period, back in America we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  The still powerful echoes of his “I Have a Dream” speech linger in our consciousness and guide our higher aspirations. (If you haven’t read it already, I invite you to go to the Central Texas Conference Website and read the feature article “50 Years Later – Is the Dream Closer to Reality” which contains a thoughtful letter from retired Bishop Woody White, the first chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.) It all leaves me asking the question, how are we doing?  Is the dream closer to reality for us and for our churches?  Do we reflect the diversity God so loves and that we incorporate in our core values?  John 3:16 challenges our actions – “for God so loved the world!” The quick answer is we have a long way to go!  We are not where we desire to be nor aspire to be.  The follow up answer is that we do show evidence of moving in the right direction.  By way of responding, I asked the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth to come up with some data for me.  They engaged in a brief “Diversity Research Project report” at my request.  They used the measurements endorsed and employed by the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. UMCORR (United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race) defines “approaching diverse” as a church having “between 81% and 90% of one ethnic group as predominate.”  They define “diverse” as a church having “between 70% and 80% of one ethnic group as predominate.”  The results are as follows:
  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Approaching   Diverse 6 5 8 6 6 6 10 13 15 18
Diverse 3 3 2 4 4 3 3 2 4 6
We have long way to go!  We are not where we desire or aspire to be.  We are not yet where God wants us.  If we follow a God who loves the “world” (John 3:16) we need to reflect the diversity God so loves! At the same time, we have made genuine progress.  Well done, thou good and faithful servants.  They are accomplishments to celebrate in, through, and by the grace of our Lord.  May the divine dream continue to call us forward together!