Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Pneumatological Theology of Diversity

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Pneumatological Theology of Diversity

Article excerpt

After years of effort, racial and ethnic diversity remain a challenge for the church. Practical and constructive theologies of diversity generally depend upon the person and teaching of Christ and ignore the unifying work of the Holy Spirit. The eucharistie assembly, one of the most segregated of gatherings in the United States, must incarnate the diversity of the first Spirit-infused Pentecost to proclaim the kingdom of God. The church is not a static institution; rather, it is a living body, guided by the Spirit to its fulfillment in the other and in the eschatological assembly (Revelation 7:9).


Diversity has been a buzz word in American society for the last two decades, and churches have increasingly joined the movement. Yet despite this growing interest within the church, little has been written about a theology of diversity, and the theologies that have appeared tend to be grounded in Christology rather than pneumatology. This essay posits that a racially and ethnically diverse ecclesiology must also be rooted pneumatologically. The Spirit is the enlivening principle of unity and diversity.1 The cacophony of Babel becomes the polyphony of Jerusalem at Pentecost through the Holy Spirit unifying the disparate nations.

The polyphony of Jerusalem, although manifested at Pentecost, will only be fully realized in the eschaton. The church, called to incarnate the diverse unity of the eschatological banquet, seeks its ultimate reality in the new Jerusalem. Church diversity slogans such as Radical Welcome, for all their rhetorical force, therefore, misstate the reality. The church is not the welcoming one, radical or otherwise; rather, the church is the one striving for its fruition that is found in the alterity of the other.

Ecclesial and Sociological Background

Race and ethnicity rive society and the church synchronically and diachronically. In the 1990s, so-called ethnic cleansing led to the deaths of more than a million people in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In the United States, Martin Luther King said in 1963 during a question and answer session at Western Michigan University, "We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and [sic] Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation."2 Little has changed in almost fifty years. In a study of social survey data from 1978 to 1994, Philip Q. Yang and Starlita Smith concluded, "Progress in black-white church integration had been very sluggish or almost non-existent if socioeconomic, political, and demographic variables are held constant."3 In his recent book Church Diversity, Scott Williams observes, "When Dr. King so eloquently shared his dreams in the famous ? Have a Dream' speech, he shared his dreams that 'little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.' We are still dreaming and that dream still has not come true for the Church."4 The church at the congregational level remains highly segregated.

While the local church remains segregated, American society is becoming increasingly diverse, racially and ethnically. A report released by the Congressional Research Service in 2011 stated:

Once a mainly biracial society with a large white majority and relatively small black minority - and an impenetrable color line dividing these groups - the United States is now a society composed of multiple racial and ethnic groups. Along with increased immigration are rises in the rates of racial/ethnic intermarriage, which in turn have led to a sizeable and growing multiracial population. These trends are projected to continue for the next decades.5

In response to this increasingly diverse landscape, many churches are working to diversify their membership.

These efforts can be seen in two ecclesial communities at opposite ends of the theological and political spectrum: the Episcopal Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. …

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