December 13, 2017

Adam Palmer: Embracing and Excluding

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Our churches have a people problem.

I’m as guilty as anyone, I guess. I would consider myself a “progressive” person, fairly open-handed in my theology, craving diversity when I gather with the church on Sunday morning. I want these things, sure. If they were to show up on the doorstep of our church’s gathering place, I’d welcome them in. But do I want to do the work that brings them about?

Let me back up. This post was inspired by Chaplain Mike’s ruminations the other day about “What can you do with a general?” In that post, we learned of a pastor who was booted from his position not for “moral failure” or skimming church funds or preaching heresy or (worst of all) being boring. No, he was removed from the pulpit for the sin of being too old. The congregation wanted to upgrade to a newer, shinier model, I guess.

And so I saw that and I sent this email to Chaplain Mike:

As you may know, I and some others are in the process of planting a new church community here in Tulsa, one that will be non-denominational, and we see some of the same issues and have some of the same concerns that you do and are doing what we can on the front end (before we launch) to mitigate those problems. We don’t want to build a corporation; we want to create a place for community — and a diverse one at that! We want to value everyone who comes through our doors as equally as possible and provide ways for each member of our community to serve in whatever ways God has gifted them. And I don’t think we’re the only ones in church leadership who feel this way.

Anyway, all that to say: I was wondering if you’d be interested in having me unpack some of those ideas in a post this week? Sort of a corollary to yours that presents what we’re hoping to do and some of the reasons we have for doing it and how we’ve hit upon those things/reasons not on our own but through conversations we’ve had with other church leaders in other parts of the nation?

Sounds pretty good, right? I want to read that post. Maybe some day I’ll write it.

But it’s not today. Because since I sent that email, two things have happened: we’ve had a few meetings about our new church community discovering the beginnings of our core group, and I’ve read a large chunk of Exclusion & Embrace, by Miroslav Volf.

In discovering our core group, I’ve learned that we are indeed seeing a diversity of age. From the looks of it, we aren’t planting a young church or an old church but a human church that spans many, many years of wisdom. At a house gathering Sunday night, one of our pastors’ mothers launched into an impassioned plea for Jesus-oriented faith that became a tidy, moving three-minute sermon; upon conclusion, the pastor said, “If you don’t know, that’s my mother, and yes, she will be preaching!” That’s a good start, I think.

tumblr_ltdreteLU41qksafcIn reading Volf’s kneecapping book, I’ve found challenges to many of my own assumptions about reconciliation and even with the way I interact with the world. One thought I can’t escape as I’ve plunged into Volf’s thinking is this: when we embrace someone, we let them shape us, if even just a small fraction. There’s an exchange: a part of us rubs off on them, but a part of them also rubs off on us.

This is not a challenge when it comes to embracing those we already identify with. If I’m a white progressive liberal who loves craft beer and The Decemberists, I’m going to have no problem embracing another progressive liberal who loves craft beer and The Decemberists. That doesn’t challenge my thinking, my identity — if anything, it reinforces it and shows me that, hey, neato, there’s another me out here, so I must be okay.

But what about when I encounter, say, a non-white conservative inerrantist who loves Diet Coke and Taylor Swift? Can I still greet them with open arms and welcome their embrace? Because I’m happy to shape them and let some of myself rub off on them; but I’m not sure about the reciprocity of this arrangement. What if I embrace them and then start humming “Shake It Off”?

You may have already noticed a way I’ve gamed my examples; if you have, you got there before I did. It wasn’t until I started writing this paragraph that it even dawned on me: I’ve just created two characters and set them up in opposition to one another, and I didn’t mention their faith. Instead of looking to the great thing that unified them — Jesus — I looked at the smaller things that drive their identities.

It seems to me that, in our churches, we do this far too often. We want unity, but we get it in the form of sameness; same musical taste, same political bent, same media consumption, same restaurant preferences, same sexual orientation.

We want unity, but we get homogeneity.

I wanted to write this post because I thought I could spread a little hope that things are looking better for those who feel excluded by the church for whatever reason. And I do think that’s the case! But in the end, I think the problem that Chaplain Mike brought up still exists, and will exist as long as we settle for the norm. We are hardwired to embrace those like us and exclude those unlike us; we must recognize this and start working against our programming and welcoming others for no reason other than Jesus.

Comments

  1. Wouldn’t it just be easier to be gracious to everyone in our path and try to share the gospel with the same?

    Sometimes I feel when we start to go out of our way to single out people of color or gender or sexual preference, we are being phonies.

    I don’t think we can go wrong just treating everyone alike.

    • Because sometimes, just like Jesus took the long way through Samaria to speak to the despised Samaritan woman, we need to make an extra effort to interact with those outside our circles. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit might say to us, as he did to Phillip (Acts 8:26), “Get up and go” somewhere where someone very different than you can be found.

      Broad and deep love requires effort.

      • We are not Jesus..

        He also told the demoniac that He healed to just go home.

        • It’s not either/or, Steve. You made a valid point. But it does not invalidate my point. We wouldn’t have much of a NT were it not for epistles that continually call us to love people that are different and outside our usual connections. So yes, love the neighbor you meet in the natural course of your life, AND respond to the Spirit when he asks you to move beyond those usual relationships.

          It’s the difference between vocation and mission.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “We are not Jesus..”

          Who was given both as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life.

          • According to Jesus, we ARE Jesus. Paul concurs.

          • @Charles: well said, at least we’re to be hands and feet; that’s a very high calling if it’s the hands and feet of Jesus the son of GOD….. I think I just encouraged myself !!!

            @Steve: any chance of you doing a makeover on your anthropology paradigms for 2015 ?? You seem stuck…

      • How often did Jesus site people’s differences?

        It was their sameness…’sinners’…that he was concerned about.

        • Are you kidding? Jesus was constantly pushing social boundaries and challenging people — especially the religious leaders — to see people they considered “outsiders” and “sinners” as human beings worthy of love and attention.

          Your comment is more representative of the Pharisees’ view than that of Jesus.

        • I am confused by your conflation of “citing” with “placing importance upon”. Imagine if Mother Theresa never mentioned the poor once. Now would any reasonable person conclude that she didn’t care about the poor? In the same way, Jesus went out of his way (quite literally, as the Chaplain noted above) to minister to the outsiders, unclean, and outcasts. If all people are sinners and that is all that matters, then Jesus’ ministry model was hopelessly inefficient.

        • But we are not Jesus.

          (see how absurd a response that is?)

    • Gotta stand by Steve on this one, tho I think we probably have different ideas of what sharing the gospel is and I would prefer to think of it as sharing God’s love. Spirit didn’t tell Phillip to go find someone of a different ethnicity, the guy who needed help happened to be Ethiopian, two human beings. Going thru Samaria wasn’t the long way around, it was the shortest way that most Jews avoided to avoid the Samaritans. Jesus didn’t speak with the woman because she was Samaritan, he spoke with her because she was there and they both needed help that each could give, two human beings. Paths sometimes cross if we are awake and listening.

      I agree with Steve that these efforts toward “diversity” often come across as phoney. Too often the effort is to act as if the other person was a human being rather than recognizing that anyone crossing our path actually is fully as human as we ourselves. Not only that but they are potentially Jesus in disguise. Majorities of whatever stripe have a hard time with this, and that is where the effort is needed, more internal than external. The Jews of Jesus’ day were especially bad at this, but white middle-class Americans in general might run them a close second. Yes, broad and deep love requires effort, but not force. And yes, sometimes you have to shake the dust off your sandals.

      • Wow, Charles. Though I agree that contemporary “diversity” efforts are often laughably lame, I disagree with your reading of Scripture almost to the point that I think we might be reading different books.

        THE major issue in the NT — especially with regard to ecclesiology — is the inclusion of the Gentiles and all sorts of “unclean” people into the people of God through Christ. According to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, this is one of the most definitive characteristics of the Messianic Age.

        • It is curious, isn’t it, how the Bible relates to actual history AND current happenings.

          OT and Old Covenant – primarily intended for God’s chosen Israel; intended for the “Insiders,” to keep them “In.”

          NT and New Covenant – primarily intended for the Gentiles (and lukewarm to God’s chosen Israel, the “Insiders”); intended for the “Outsiders” to bring them “In.”

          That’s mirrored all the time today. Is our church community going to remain a country club devoted only to those already “Chosen,” to us Christian “Insiders,” to keep us “In”? Or is our church community going to break out of its country club mentality and reach out to the “Outsiders,” to those who aren’t anything like us, and help bring them “In”?

        • CM, if you had said the major issue for Paul was the inclusion of Gentiles, I would heartily agree. To say it is the major issue of the NT ignores the Gospels, where Jesus specifically was directed to the Jews first, and a lot more. The main reconciliation was with God amongst all nations, tho it showed up first and most dramatically amongst the Jews. Reconciliation between the nations was secondary to that and still is. Even Paul’s issues were much broader than just including Gentiles tho that seems to have been his main directive.

          In any case, it’s a done deal, history, two thousand year old news, even if some remain clueless. I’m not a Gentile, I’m a child of God, as are you, as is Marcus Johnson, whose comment below I hope you and others paid great attention to. If she showed up at my little church, I would be interested in talking with her because she has a masters degree, which I doubt anyone else in the church has, and I would want to know her history, would hope she would come back for what she might have to offer. To want her to come back because we need a “black” face to be credentialed would be highly offensive to her and to me as well.

      • Defining “sharing the Gospel” as “sharing God’s love” is far too broad. The Gospel for the apostle Paul, and for Peter, was the engine behind the destruction of the “dividing wall of hostility” between races, classes, and sexes. This was not a casual or incidental good deed that they did as a matter of being a thankful for the personal salvation or something. It was in the very DNA of the Gospel they received through Jesus Christ. It is so deeply rooted that Paul called the “mystery of Christ,” given by revelation as “the eternal purpose of God.” (Eph 3:1-6)

        There is no way to define New Testament love, or the Gospel, or salvation, absent the reconciliation, through Christ, between peoples (ethne) who were once at odds, even at war. Contemporary liberal-Enlightenment efforts at diversity or unity might be silly and forced, and miss the point (imo, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t). But that doesn’t mean the church’s teaching and practice on the subject needs to be. And there is most definitely no way to teach the New Testament faith or the Gospel without this pattern of the reconciliation of differents being front and center.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      “Treating everyone alike” is not only harmful and dismissive, it’s pretty lazy thinking. Anyone who has worked in a service or helping profession (counselors, ministers, chaplains, even animal shelter caretakers), knows that each creature that comes before you has a set of lived experiences that will impact how they engage with you. If you choose to engage with a non-American sexual assault victim the same way as you would me, a thirty-something African American veteran with a master’s degree, you will most likely fail, because your approach says, “Who you are doesn’t matter to me.”

      • +1. I really hope this is the final word here.

      • -.> ““Treating everyone alike” is not only harmful and dismissive, it’s pretty lazy thinking. Anyone who has worked in a service or helping profession (counselors, ministers, chaplains, even animal shelter caretakers), knows that each creature that comes before you has a set of lived experiences that will impact how they engage with you.”

        YES.

        My church is in a neighborhood that was once fairly Anglo-Saxon Caucasian and is now comprised of people from about 160 different nations and who speak 130 different languages. The high school in our church’s neighborhood has likewise seen a shift in its students from primarily Anglo-Saxon Caucasian to kids from 160 different nations and who speak 130 different languages.

        We were driving by the school on our way to church the other day and my daughter noticed the slogan, “Celebrating our Diversity,” on the side of the main building. She commented that she thought that was cool, but kinda wondered what it meant.

        I told her the history of the school and said, “Do you realize what it must be like for a school and its teachers to shift from teaching primarily white kids to teaching kids of various nationalities and races and languages? It takes a conscious effort to figure out how to TEACH differently, to LEAD differently, to ADMINISTRATE differently. It was a tremendous challenge to do that, and do it well, and from what I hear, they’d done a great job.”

        Likewise, when our church began its downturn several years ago, I think it was because we’d become a country club of 40+ year old white folks who were 20+ year Christians. Clearly we were no longer “serving our community.” With a lot of prayer and other stuff, we have a pastor who is trying to navigate the change, to become a church to our community. We now have about 30+ African refugee families who attend, along with many, many other non-white congregants. It’s been amazing to see. A challenge, for sure, and still is… but Wow.

    • The entire canon of Paul’s New Testament letters is a testimony, and identity-defining ecclesiological map, to the multi-national nature of the church, including each local church. Give the term “nation” a little slack here, there are lots of ways to find people that are “the differents” even within one’s own ethnicity, and you get the point.

      We are not each individually in the role of “apostle to the gentiles” but if no one in the church is going out of their way to point out the problem of homogeneity, and exerting effort in the other direction, that’s a prime example of an unbiblical church.

      Before the objection is raised that this is somehow imposing a “law” on people, grace by definition (and thus Gospel) points ahead to the making of “one new man in place of the two;” in other words the newfound unity of differents in Christ is a symptom NOT of imposition of Law, but of Christ’s very act to “set aside of the law.” (Ephesians 2)

  2. You mean there ARE non-whites who drink Diet Coke and love Taylor Swift???

    Seriously though, I have been exploring the possibilities of getting together with a young man (25 or so) and a few of his friends to talk about this subject. I am 63, mostly conservative and white, but I crave a church that reflects ALL of society and which is NOT a mirror in which I see ME!

    This young man and I attend the same church and have been conversing on Facebook for the past few months. We have varying degrees of disagreement on various subjects, but our conversations have been civil and respectful. Both of us came to the conclusion that we should get together for coffee or lunch because we BOTH want to see a Body that reflects the ideal of a church that welcomes all, and one that all would want to be a part of.

    Also, we both recognize that our church is just a collection of different groups who just happen to worship in the same room at the same time, each with its own “pastor”. Wish us luck…

  3. “We want unity, but we get homogeneity.”

    I’m going to keep this quote in my hip-pocket. It seems like a general phenomenon — our two major US political parties are no longer “big-tent” outfits, and places that talk up diversity only apply the term to a few important aspects of society (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) rather than actual diversity of viewpoints.

    I think you hit the nail on the head in your Mockingbird-grade self-reflection on your “gamed” example, Adam. For whatever reasons, we don’t first identify the commonality of the very thing we otherwise claim is most important — our faith. The scary answer as to why this is so is that our faith is somehow “important” without being fundamental, and that our tribal boundary markers are what gives us a sense of identity and community, rather than that faith itself. I hope that’s not generally the case, but I wonder sometimes.

    In any case, Adam, it sounds like your community is facing these difficult questions head-on at the outset, and I wish you well.

  4. ” I’ve just created two characters and set them up in opposition to one another, and I didn’t mention their faith. Instead of looking to the great thing that unified them — Jesus — I looked at the smaller things that drive their identities.”

    You call them “smaller things”, because we don’t like the idea that our lives are more determined by the “smaller things” that we habitually choose than the “greater things” that we say we identify with. But I think sociology will bear me our when I say that the “smaller things” are greater, and the “greater things” are smaller, than we like to think, and by a wide margin. Most of us flatter ourselves when we talk to ourselves and others as if our lives are more shaped by our Christian commitments than by the non-Christian cultural influences that have surrounded and molded us since infancy. It is a bad thing, but it’s not unusual, that many Christian lives are more shaped by Taylor Swift and Diet Coke (or fill in whatever your own preferences are) than by Jesus. We don’t like to acknowledge this.

    • turnsalso says:

      It’s true–I find myself more comfortable with non-religious people who share my interests than with Christians who don’t… and I find myself readier to talk about religion with the former than the latter, too.

  5. turnsalso says:

    “Instead of looking to the great thing that unified them — Jesus — I looked at the smaller things that drive their identities.”

    It comes to my mind that maybe we’re hard-wired to be this way because of how the brain constructs theories of mind, that the default is to assume that others are exactly like the self, and then modify it when differences are discovered. Looking first at differences would then be a matter of deciding how to construct that theory, and deciding how best to relate to them as a result (and the degree of cooperation that is possible as a result of that).

    Looking at similarities first… that is truly divine. But how does it happen? How is the earth tilled, the seed planted, and the garden watered for God to make this plant of universal charity grow?

  6. I wonder if we find that we don’t fit in the little things so well. I wonder if most of the time we walk this world alone even when someone is right next to us. My favorite subject these days is God, I don’t know so many people that could say that. Other than work and having to interact I find most of the time I have is alone time in my head.

    The people at church are good people yet with all these agendas going on and what it is that they think which often does not jive with what I think. Mostly I keep quiet and only on rare occasions witness to something that happened to me in a way to present thought without being controversial. When I get the blank stare back or the thank you later for sharing I kind of know.

    Some times at church people say stuff that just hurts and its funny how long it stays with me. Not that I don’t pray but still it lingers. I would not one to suffer in the things I’ve known to closely. I think it is here that we find we really want their well being that it is something we have in common as well as blessing.

  7. Jazziscoolithink says:

    The way I started to write this was snarky and mean-spirited. I’m trying to cut that crap out as much as I can. Why, if you don’t mind me asking, do you feel like Tulsa needs another church community?

    I live in Tulsa and have grown weary of its vast amount of churches and the sheer weight of them, and the rate at which new churches come and go. As for diversity, Tulsa is a greatly segregated city. I know next to nothing about your church plant, but I’ve always wondered why people striving for congregational diversity in Tulsa don’t plant churches in north Tulsa (the “bad” side, for all you non-Tulsans). Certainly Life Church will never plant a site in Turley…

    • Now here is a good example of birds of a feather. Given the opportunity to sit in on Adam’s planning committee or to share a beverage with someone known as Jazziscoolithink, no hesitation. We could start out discussing KUVO out of Denver and go from there. Since we made contact here in the Monastery, I’m going to assume we are meeting under the name of Jesus, and according to Jesus himself this would constitute a church, a church plant if you will, if perhaps temporary, in whatever venue seemed most appropriate. Jazz joints tend to be fairly diverse anyway in my experience. And I have absolutely no expectation of what Jazziscoolithink looks like, other than I would bet he or she is younger than me, but maybe not. And I do have kinfolk in Muskogee.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “Why, if you don’t mind me asking, do you feel like Tulsa needs another church community?”

      I was wondering the same thing. Coming from a mainline denominational background, I find the Evangelical church plant culture mysterious. There certainly are circumstances where it makes sense to plant a new church. We would call it a “mission” church, which in practice means it is not yet financially self-supporting. This is quite different from how I understand Evangelical church plants to come about. Those seem to be the creation of someone who imagines himself as Paul traveling through the pagan Roman Empire.

      • I can’t speak to all, but since I was saved in and still attend a planted church, married a member of the church planting team, and have seen the church plant three other churches, I have something to say. We are in Boston, MA.

        At the time of our planting, the sending organization was a ministry of a Southern Baptist Church in a Texas small city with significant college presence. That ministry was all about evangelism and church planting, initially internationally. The timing was right, as their first significant efforts were in a pair of nearby Siberian cities right after the Iron Curtain came down, and the churches planted there fairly quickly transitioned to local leadership and started planting churches of their own, both domestically and internationally. Our church, almost a decade later, was the first domestic church plant.

        About a after planting our church the leaders of that church realized that they had two very different churches within their congregation, and planted that ministry as another church in the same town – and two years later each of them was the size of the pre-plant church. So one reason for planting a second church locally is when there is a significantly large subcongregation inside an existing church that has a different, also healthy vision for how to live as a church.

        The SBC denomination had decided that our city was one of their targets for that period of time, which provided financial support to the church plant but I don’t think influenced the decision to plant. The SBC was targeting the area because domestically New England is a low churched region and had a reputation as a graveyard for pastors.

        Instead, it came because one of the college students attending that sending church had a heart to bring a church back to his home region. He spoke of this with various people, and eventually the youth pastor of the church felt a call from God to lead a church planting team to that home region. My wife had been administrator for that particular ministry of the church for about eight years, and had done enough international shortish (10-12 week, three of them to Siberia) mission trips to have learned that international missions were not her calling. However, she believed in missions, and felt capable of doing a domestic church plant, so considered it and joined the church planting team. The planting team had about 8 people on missions support and about a dozen people who moved with the team to be a part of the church plant but found secular work. In net, there was a person with an initial vision, a leader who came to share the vision, and a sufficient body of people who were willing to support that vision, plus support from the denomination.

        A few years after our church was planted, we attracted (I don’t know how) a sizable group of people attending a Christian college in the North Shore area – about 30-45 minutes drive away. The local reality is that most people won’t consider driving that far to go to church. So their ability to bring their friends was limited. They wanted a church closer to home, and eventually persuaded the young man who had had the vision for planting in Boston to become their pastor (he was a high school teacher at the time).

        A few years after that, our church leadership got a sense that it was time to send out two church plants at once. This was a major change, as the local one two towns over would be led by our senior pastor, while the remote one in Arizona would be lead by our college pastor. We spent the spring sorting out who was called where, whether those feeling called to Arizona could raise support for going as a team member or would be going with the team and doing secular work. During that period, we started permitting the associate pastor to preach more often. Then, with the start of the fall, the senior pastor led the local church plant, and by year end the Arizona church plant also departed.

        The senior pastor leading the local church plant was meeting a reality of the local conditions – people aren’t willing to drive far to go to church. So if you want to reach them, you need to go to them. Boston is a large city for New England (geographically small compared to many large US cities) and has several neighborhoods that either used to be or are the size of towns. Most people will consider a location in their neighborhood/town or an adjoining one, but not one that is two towns away. And the Charles River that is the northern boundary is enough of a psychological barrier that most people won’t cross it for regular events activities.

        The college pastor leading the Arizona church plant was responding to a vision he felt he had from God, and did some exploration and consideration to find the place that matched the vision.

        So you can see in this history of our church’s planting and plants multiple reasons for choosing a location:
        1) An open door to an unreached location in the case of Siberia
        2) A vision for bringing something back home, in the case of our plant in Boston
        3) Issues of local psychological/transportation geographies in the North Shore and two towns west church plants
        4) A vision for an unknown location, followed by the finding of that location in the Arizona case.

        The North Shore plant and Arizona plants are both as large as our sending church. The one two towns west I think is about half our size – and the only one that has been able to acquire ownership of a church building.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          The SBC planting churches in Siberia and Boston makes perfect sense. But Tulsa?

          • Adam said “here in Tulsa”, which to me says that he already is in Tulsa. And that they recently “had a few meetings about our new church community discovering the beginnings of our core group”. To me that says that they didn’t form a core group and then relocate to Tulsa. So I bet his is probably a local church plant, more analogous to our planting churches on the North Shore and two towns west or to our parent church birthing a second church that had already grown up inside itself than to the remote church plants in Siberia, Boston, and Arizona.

  8. What is the driving force for this diversity you speak of? What are its attendant benefits?

    Paul was a missionary to the Gentile who started meeting first with Jews. The Gentiles were attracted to his message and met with him separately from the synagoges. When the Jews saw this, they booted him out and the congregations arose organically.

    I’m not against diversity, but I do feel diversity for its own sake is pointless. Differing opinions and perspectives contribute to the conversation as a whole, but I’m not sure there is a benefit to diversity in and of itself. What is inherently wrong with a diversity among the church universal where a group of homogeneous congregations recognize each other’s worth and have sweet fellowship between themselves?

    • Representing your local demographic is fine, the church should be local. If your locality is predominantly something or other, so too will be the church in that place. If you live in a town where everyone has purple skin, no one should bother you for your congregation being monochromatic. If the area is overwhelming in favor of Ice Cream Socialism, your church probably will be that way politically as well, and I look forward to your delicious potlucks! No one is saying that such a church needs to go seek out mauve-skinned, lactose intolerant folks from a different town in order to “complete” their membership.

      Becoming too homogenous in thought and background leads to a serious danger of becoming an echo chamber, though. A church planted in a homogenous region has to look out for that actively. False ideas and perspectives, once held casually, can become rigid social rules after a few decades completely unchallenged. True ideas and perspectives become so ingrained as obvious that they are never explained, and the next generation finds they don’t know /why/ they believe that.

      There is an extent to which this unavoidable, but within our ability we can try to limit the damage it can cause. Where we fail, we can at least keep in mind that our perspective is necessarily limited.

      Diversity helps because iron sharpens iron and some presuppositions are shown obviously false by just worshipping with someone from a different background. Even if our beliefs stay the same after the challenge, to have them challenged and have to think through them is helpful. Learning how to live in peace with those who disagree with us on some things is a practical way to grow in the love of Christ. It isn’t so important we should make an idol out of it or start doing head counts and finding token members of every possible background and minority, though!

    • Separately from the benefits of diversity, there is the matter of representing Christ well.

      Colossians 3:9b-11 reads “since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

      Galatians 3:27-28 says “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

      Both these passages take major social divisions of the day and say that in Christ those don’t exist. If we are to have a Jesus shaped church, or a Jesus shaped personal spirituality, we need to live as if the major social divisions don’t exist in Christ. It doesn’t matter whether those divisions are ethnic (Greek/Jew or Black/White), gendered (male/female), economic (slave/free), or otherwise (today, liberal/conservative). We are called to represent one in whom those divisions do not exist.

  9. I really like the penguin sweaters, by the way, although I suspect the penguins don’t.

    • flatrocker says:

      No penguins were harmed in the making of this photograph (except for some questionable fashion faux pas)

      • I like the retro paperback book cover especially — not a faux pas at all, but what the well-dressed penguin is wearing at the latest in literary parties.

    • That Other Jean says:

      The sweaters were made for Australia’s fairy penguins after an oil spill, to keep the little guys warm and keep them from preening and ingesting oil until they were strong enough for rescuers to scrub it off; but they turned out to be more stressful than just keeping rescued penguins in a heated tent to recover. By that time, though, knitters had sent in thousands of sweaters—so now they’re used to clothe stuffed toy penguins that are sold to raise money for penguin rescue.

    • +1

  10. Adam, I’m glad to hear that you are starting with an age diverse core group. That makes a difference. The church I’m in started with a young core group – the oldest members were in their lower 30s. Being in a college city (250K college students in the area, 650K year round residents in the core city) and within walking distance of one of the largest colleges we early on attracted enough college students to have about a quarter of the church college students. And more than 15 years later, being in my mid 40s leaves me in the oldest 10% of the congregation. I think we have exactly one pair of grandparents that are part of the congregation, and until last fall I wasn’t sure if they were regulars of the congregation or just regular visitors of their children and grandchildren. I think you are going to have age diversity as you grow because you have started with an age diverse core group.

  11. There are two sides to any church attendance decision, the church and the attender. Church leadership may advocate diversity (part of our church’s early vision statement was “a diverse people, full of faith in God”. The congregation may even support that. But are the church attenders seeking diversity? I think not.

    Parents, quite reasonably, look for a church that will be good for the whole family. That tends to be a church that already has a significant mass of children the age of their children. College students tend to both be invited to churches by older college students and seek churches with other college students. So having a significant college student population leads to having more college students attend. Young singles and empty nesters don’t have as much age driven sorting going on. But if they have been accustomed to wanting a critical mass of people like them…

    And all that was age diversity, never mind the sort of diversity that those who speak of diversity usually mean. My observational experience in a highly liberal, highly secular, east coast liberal city is that despite the theoretical praise of and belief in diversity, in actual life most people spend time with people like themselves, not people unlike themselves. We want to be comfortable in our day to day lives, not challenged. While many worship at the altars of the exercise machine and running track, most people prefer to sit down and avoid the sweat. The same is true of our mental lives. Here at Internet Monk we are largely a self-selected group that values the theological diversity and challenge on offer. But we are in that way unrepresentative of the wider society.

    Adam recognized the church side of the problem when he said “We are hardwired to embrace those like us and exclude those unlike us; we must recognize this and start working against our programming and welcoming others for no reason other than Jesus.” But how do we address the attender’s side of the decision, where they seek to embrace those like themsleves, and rule us out – or never even visit after looking at our website – for being unlike them?

    • I’ve said it before: the parish model works better to guarantee diversity — at least as much diversity as is available in the area — far more than the shopper’s model. Ours is the only Catholic church in the whole county, so it has rural white people, college students and professors from around the world, the Spanish-speaking population, young and old, single and married. There are a few Catholics who drive to another county to go to church, but mostly our church is the hub of diversity in this small town in the midst of farmland and forest.

  12. In my recent re-reading of the Lord of the Rings, I found a brilliant conversation the Fellowship has as they enter Lothlorien, centered on Gimli and Legolas, Dwarf and Elf, the two races in Middle Earth with the most strained relationship.

    The Elves leading the Fellowship into Lothlorien demand that Gimli be blindfolded, because he is an untrustworthy Dwarf. He strongly objects, and claims to be as trustworthy as any Elf. Legolas (the two are not friends at this point in the story) calls him “stiff-necked.” Aragorn, in order to ease Gimli’s discomfort at being singled out, decides that the whole company should be blindfolded. Legolas then objects, angrily declaring that the Elves of Lorien are his kinsman and he should not be subject to such humiliation. To which Aragorn replies “Now let us cry: ‘A plague upon the stiff necks of Elves!'”

    As those who have read the story know, Legolas and Gimli go on to have a friendship so close that it is completely unique in the history of Middle Earth.

    I thought this was a perfect illustration, in a few sentences, of the whole problem of the Chosenness of Israel, the rejection of the Gentiles, the subsequent inclusion of Gentiles by faith, and then the angry rebellion of Israel in response to having to put up with filthy Gentiles in the church, who remained without the Mosaic Law.

    Proleptically, this is the story of every single example of cross-cultural enmity and mistrust that afflicts the church, a problem which Adam is making us all more aware of here. If we allow that Christ has totally leveled the playing field, in such an extreme way that it seems unfair to those previously advantaged (or who fancy themselves so), only then will we truly see a vision of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.

    No wonder we love to simply keep it at “my personal eternal destiny” and keep this part at arms length.

  13. SottoVoce says:

    Those “smaller things” are the stuff that relationships are built of.
    In American culture, one talks about the things one does before one dares delve into the things one thinks. The small talk that is the foundation of any relationship, the list of safe topics that allows us to feel one another out to see whether a true friendship is even possible, is based on these little things. The sports teams you follow, the books you read, the shows you watch, the games you play, what you do for a living, whether you hike or ski or volunteer—these are the threads of our social fabric. And if you try to talk to someone who has never experienced any of the things you do or like, or worse, actively despises the things you do or like (as this very geeky person has often experienced), chances are you are going to have a difficult time building a relationship with them, because the early stages of communication are going to be nearly impossible to navigate. I have no idea how to solve this problem, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. If we did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  14. Yeah, I would agree.
    When you would like to be “deep & meaningful”, you may find that you can’t “identify” with the people in your churches (aka why we are relating on IM). For the sake of unity & the desire to maintain fellowship, one needs to use “the smaller things”. In my case rejecting “sola scriptura” without surrendering to all the claims of RO or EO means I don’t “fit” anywhere. It also means I’ve been able to embrace a lot more Christians than I did previously.

    However, in my local church I find that I can’t really converse about the things I would like to. This hasn’t stopped me trying to develop friendships and become involved with people. True unity is a mandate. John 17 is part of the end game when we are completely transformed to incorporate the divine nature (as per theosis). To me this means being involved in that goal with the “broken tools” the church has supplied.

    All too often we stick with the “small things” because we are too afraid of where the “deeper things” may lead. I think it also depends on how one views mission. If you see it as a synergistic “walk” in discpleship, you will involve yourself in reaching in to someone’s life in opposition to how many people could be led to say a “sinners prayer”.

    Of course my own “brokeness” hampers deeper unity with others also….

  15. ” “If you don’t know, that’s my mother, and yes, she will be preaching!” That’s a good start, I think.” ADAM
    *
    My brother, I am a dinosaur, I know that well. I’m a guy, been one all my life. I’m not a feminist by anybody’s stretch of the imagination
    *
    Having said that, if you Mom’s preaching I’m not coming.

    • Whoa, this sounds really mean-spirited. Was that your intention?

      “Dinosaurs,” guys, and non-feminists listen wholeheartedly to women preaching every Sunday in churches around the world. None of your labels for yourself necessitate such unkindness.

      I can’t imagine that Jesus would tell Adam, “If your Mom’s preaching, I’m not coming.”

  16. Christiane says:

    an ancient Christian hymn concludes with these words:

    ” No race or creed can love exclude, if honored be God’s name;
    Our family embraces all whose Father is the same”

    I don’t know when it became ‘the thing’ to exclude ‘the others’ from a basic respect due to all persons made in the image and likeness of God and gifted with a human soul, who all share the same Creator as primordial Father.

    But I don’t think that it was always ‘the thing’ within the Church.

    Of all the bible verses co-opted and used to reinforce ‘exclusiveness’ by those inspired to do so by the ‘father of lies’ who is also the ‘father of division’,
    the one they don’t dare to use is Christ’s final prayer that ‘they should all be one’.

  17. I don’t like either the Decemberist or Taylor Swift. I guess I’ll just have to find me the DeadHeads Church…

  18. And why would I want to go to a church where no one is like me, where they teach things I don’t believe, and play music I don’t like? Worshiping God in the way my fathers and their fathers worshiped God, for hundreds of years, I’m supposed to reject that, out of hand, to satisfy some stranger’s political concept of “diversity?” Not a chance.

    • I’ve got your back Bro!

    • Boohoo, they don’t play the music I like. Jesus is nice and all, but what I REALLY need is a SMOKIN’ electric guitar!!!

      Shallow churches cease to be churches, clark. Your fathers and their fathers are straw. See if you can find the constitution to show up for the basics of the New Testament, then we’ll critique the modern idea of diversity.