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November 21, 2008

Diversity in America's Christian Church

5_2 The term "diversity" carries a different meaning for me today than it did 15 years ago.  In the mid-nineties, I was the token Asian student in my high school who always got pegged for representation on the "diversity discussion group."  Or if we discussed China, chopsticks, or fried rice, teachers and classmates always cast an obvious glance in my direction.  Just because I looked Asian (and I'm only HALF-Asian) didn't mean that I grew up speaking fluent Mandarin and related to all the cultural generalizations associated with people from China.  But, try to explain that to a roomful of high school students.

When I went to college, I was thrilled to live in a dorm and attend classes with more people who were like me.  By that, I mean I found friendships with other people of mixed backgrounds who also grew up feeling like they weren't exactly Caucasian, but they weren't exactly fully [insert non-Caucasian ethnicity here] either.  We Half-halfs could relate to one another in a way that no other pure-blood could.  In so many ways, it was eye-opening and refreshing. It helped me realize diversity wasn't being the oddball who tried so hard to fit in to "normal" American culture, but just embracing the uniqueness of who I am because of who my parents and ancestors were. I've had the opportunity to travel to China and Taiwan on more than one occasion.  Visiting my family abroad and exploring my cultural roots was a wonderful journey in discovering the traditions of my ancestors.

As I've matured into adulthood, the pangs of adolescent insecurity in regard to WHO I am ethnically have grown sullen and insignificant. Yet, other arenas of "diversity" draw my attention, most notably, worship in the Christian church.  Since I professed my faith in Jesus Christ as an 18-year-old, I have attended a variety of Protestant churches, and I've seen a number of issues that cause polarization rather than unification of a group of people who profess to worship the same Lord: traditional music vs. contemporary music, old vs. young, large churches vs. smaller churches, charismatic churches vs. liturgical churches, denominational vs. non-denominational, and let's not even get into the multitude of doctrinal differences that cause division and consternation.

I love that different types of Christian churches exist--there are different places to express love and worship in corporate unity.  Such a diverse worship experience wasn't an option 200, 100 or even 50 years ago.  In many European cities, you have two choices: Catholic or Protestant . . . pick one.  With division, comes more opportunities for the expression of art, beauty, and love through the act of worship--however, it also brings the threat of causing rifts among people. 

I am pleased to finally belong to a church that recognizes the racial, socio-economic, and worship style differences of its parishioners.  Instead of ignoring the facts and trudging forward (like so many churches often do), my church has sought to encourage people to love others and to reach out of their comfort zones by simply greeting and talking to someone who looks different from them.  This church doesn't throw all it's doctrinal beliefs out the window in an attempt to be all to all as an entertaining, late night talk show format type of worship service, but it gracefully blends contemporary and traditional worship into one service, thereby uniting everyone instead of segregating the traditional (and usually older) folks from the contemporary (and typically younger) crowd. 

Recently, our church decided against segregating children to worship in a junior church apart from their parents.  Now, everyone now worships together in the same place--side-by-side as one big corporate family.  I love this picture.  Squirmy toddlers may be seated next to elderly folks who look on with joyful, wrinkly eyes. 

I only wish more churches in America were like this one: poignantly aware of people's differences and making every attempt to make them all feel loved, cared for, and included.  Such actions to harbor unity and love in the church would be equally effective in the secular community.  If the parishioners in more churches, and the citizens in more communities across America acted this way, then there would be no need for government-induced or company-induced so-called "diversity" training.      

An original Deep South Moms post.  Dr. Dolly also writes about how motherhood has strengthened her faith and tried her patience at Traveling with Baby.

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