Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Church's Struggle with Diversity

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

The Church's Struggle with Diversity

Article excerpt

Christopher Duraisingh, then Director of the World Council of Churches Commission on Mission and Evangelism, addressing the Annual Meeting of the United Church Board for World Ministries in November 1990, commented that many local congregations are organized as if mission was simply one among many functions of the church. In challenging that notion, he boldly stated that the church is a function of God's mission. If the church at its very core exists for mission, and mission indeed "flows from the heart of God," then the local congregation must embody the inclusivity modeled by Jesus. To be effective agents of change and transformation in the world, local churches must represent that new life in Jesus Christ.

The house of God should be a safe and secure place for all God's children not as an escape, but as a place where people are free to be who they are without pretense. At a very basic level, the local church as an agent of mission should extend hospitality to all who seek a place where God's love is present and unconditionally available. David Maitland speaks of people who, in later life, are able to get "ever more deeply in touch with [their] own particular lives." They are able to understand "the distinctive reason for belonging to inclusive fellowships."

It is not simply that, like a herd of animals, we may have company and protection. More central is the conviction that we need the widest variety of other people in order to get in touch with the variety of characters within each of us. We are not self-made. It is by learning to love the range of "personae" within, which means, at the least, to acknowledge our distinctive complexity, that we develop oursense of kinship with all sorts and conditions of men and women.(1)

To experience diversity as a gift of God, communities of faith should develop the environment that encourages the development of this "sense of kinship" described by Maitland. He goes on to suggest that one of the results of aging is the discovery that people are more alike than different: "Having for decades been encouraged to establish a distinctive identity, and having eagerly and repeatedly undertaken the work, it gradually dawns on some people how much more like others they are than unlike."(2) The local congregation, in order to fulfill its missionary mandate in today's world, will seek to be inclusive of age, gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation without apology. The God of Jesus is one who reaches out to those in need of forgiveness, acceptance and redemption - creating communities bound by love and protected by God's presence. The house of God responds to a world that is unlikely to affirm humanity with the same depth and integrity.

As communities become more multicultural, interracial, and multireligious, the local church will face exciting mission opportunities. Sharing life in Jesus Christ will be based on openness and mutuality, allowing room for the Spirit to interact with communities who may have as much to give as to receive. Throughout the world today, human beings by the millions are on the move. They are being displaced by war, hunger, politics, genocide, and racism. I have always believed that they are messengers of God's gift of pluralism to the societies that they inherit and that they serve God in seeking to unite our world. Hebrews 13:2 counsels: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." An old Polish proverb declares: "A guest in the house is God in the house." The anti-immigrant hysteria that is sweeping the western world, fueled by politicians who seek quick benefits from an alarmed electorate, is unconscionable. Strangers often seek new identities, helping us move beyond ourselves into the realm of a new heaven and new earth. While the curse that displaces people must be halted, the gift of pluralism must be encouraged as God seeks to make one of this world. The more people on the planet who discern the true meaning of hospitality, the greater the likelihood that we will learn to live together in peace. …

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