Diversity, Unity, and the Bible

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This article originally appeared on Advocates for Truth as “Should Christians Celebrate Diversity?”

Introduction

During the campaign, Joe Biden made a commitment that his presidential cabinet and appointments would “look like America.” Presuming that his nominees are confirmed, he is on track to have the most diverse presidential cabinet in U.S. history.

Diversity is one of those words that we hear often in our culture today. In the United States, we are increasingly becoming more diverse along racial and ethnic lines. According to the Brookings Institute, in 2019, nearly 40% of the United States is non-white (compared to 30% in 2000). The Census Bureau projects that by the year 2045, the United States will be majority non-white. Surveys from Pew and Barna have also shown the growing religious diversity in the United States, with those identifying as Christian declining and those identifying as religiously unaffiliated (often called “Nones”) on the rise.

Yet, as diversity continues to grow, how should Christians think about diversity? Is it an inherently good thing? And how does unity fit into the picture?

Definitions of Diversity

The definition of diversity can be different depending on who you ask. To a lot of people, diversity tends to be thought of as “any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another.” In other words, diversity is simply the variety and differences we see in humanity and God’s creation.

In more formal, professional, or academic settings, additional aspects are usually added to the meaning of diversity. One study done by the Department of Defense looked at various definitions of diversity used by different military branches and major corporations. Their report concludes that “at one level, diversity can refer to the differing characteristics of people in a group or organization or it can refer to the climate or culture of the organization.” 

For many, creating this “climate” or “culture” is a key element of what it means to truly be diverse. Global Diversity Perspective is a consulting firm which helps companies with diversity-related issues. Their definition of diversity states that diversity is about “empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different…It means understanding one another by surpassing simple tolerance to ensure people truly value their differences.” Similarly, Queensborough Community College in New York, which prides itself for its diversity, says,

“Diversity” means more than just acknowledging and/or tolerating difference. Diversity is a set of conscious practices that involve: Understanding and appreciating interdependence of humanity, cultures, and the natural environment; practicing mutual respect for qualities and experiences that are different from our own; understanding that diversity includes not only ways of being but also ways of knowing; recognizing that personal, cultural and institutionalized discrimination creates and sustains privileges for some while creating and sustaining disadvantages for others; building alliances across differences so that we can work together to eradicate all forms of discrimination.

Many of these additional elements of diversity are often put under the umbrella term of “inclusivity.” Thus, you will often hear not just about a company’s policy on “diversity” but “diversity and inclusion.” 

Diversity in the Bible

Diversity has existed from the very beginning of God’s creation. When God made man in his image, he created us male and female (Genesis 1:27). In this, we can see that gender provides an element of diversity essential to human nature. Additionally, God created all of the varieties of plants, animals, insects, landscapes, climates, planets, stars, etc. God called all these things “very good” (Genesis 1:31). All creation serves to glorify God and declare his sovereignty to the world (Psalm 8:1-9; Romans 1:20). The Psalms are full of songs which draw upon the variety of God’s creation to praise him (Psalm 19:1-6; 96:11-13; 104:25; 148:1-14).

In fact, the very act of creation itself happens through division and differentiation. It is interesting how the creation narrative of Genesis 1 is framed as a series of divisions and separations (Genesis 1:4, 6, 14). To create something new is, in essence, to create something different from what already exists. In other words, the act of creation inherently serves to increase diversity. 

God also gave within his creation the capacity to grow and develop more diversity over time. While Adam and Eve didn’t have a race, nationality, or ethnicity per se, it is from them that people of all races, nations, and ethnicities have descended. Paul describes this in Acts 17:26-27 when he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

In a very real way, the diversity expressed in our physical attributes (like skin color, hair color and texture, height, bone and muscle structure, etc.) as well as through developed characteristics (like culture, nationality, ethnicity, etc.) are all an incredible outgrowth of God’s original creation and serve to magnify and glorify him. This is perhaps why in the book of Revelation, many of these things appear to transcend into eternity. In John’s vision, he sees Christians from every people, tribe, tongue, and nation standing before God clothed in white praising him (Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10).

Ultimately, diversity is rooted in God’s very nature, being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, this cannot be separated from the fact that he is one God, existing in perfect unity. It is to the topic of unity that we now turn.

Unity in the Bible

While diversity is certainly emphasized as a good expression of God’s nature and character, the Bible (particularly the New Testament) more often draws our attention towards unity.

In the creation narrative, while the diversity which is created is good, it ultimately serves to point towards the unity that all things were created by God and for God (Genesis 1:1, 1 Chronicles 29:11, 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, Colossians 1:16-17). Diversity is good, but it is good because it points us towards the good Creator, in whom we all live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Humans, though diverse, are united in being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Despite our different races, nationalities, cultures, and various physical features, we all share a common lineage to Adam (Acts 17:26). And because we all share that common lineage, we are united in our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness through Christ (Romans 3:21-26, 5:12-21). 

As Christians, the most important point of unity which Scripture emphasizes is the unity that we have through Christ in the Church. While Adam and Eve had communion with God in the garden, sin brought about separation and broken relationships with God and one another. It is because of our sinfulness that people often use our differences and diversity as a means to divide, to hate, and to rule over one another—in short, we use our differences as an excuse to sin against one another. But through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, all humanity can regain that access and spiritual unity with God and one another once again. In him, we have a common identity which transcends our group identities and individual differences (Romans 10:12, Colossians 1:19-23, 3:11; Galatians 3:28). Where there was once division, we become reconciled into God’s family through our shared faith (Ephesians 2:14-18).

As with diversity, unity is rooted in God’s nature. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though distinct persons, are one God united in essence and purpose (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 45:5-6; John 1:1, 10:30, 17:21; Ephesians 4:4-6).

Are Unity and Diversity Opposed to One Another?

In some ways, unity and diversity can feel like opposing forces. Diversity focuses on what makes us different, whereas unity focuses on what we share in common. How can Christians find the right balance between the two?

Part of the answer is to not think about unity and diversity as competing forces. Rather they should complement one another. The prime example of this is the Trinity. God himself exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in both perfect unity and diversity. Without unity or diversity, God ceases to be who he is. Thus, unity and diversity are interdependent with one another.

This principle is also seen in 1 Corinthians 12. Here, Paul uses the analogy of a body in order to describe both the unity and diversity of the Church. He writes, 

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Just as we see in the Trinity, so we see in the Church—diversity needs unity and unity needs diversity.

To pursue diversity without unity is no different from division or disunity. Without unity, diversity will lead to tribalism or radical individualism. Godly diversity is beautiful when it is bound together by a greater unity because it serves to point to the unity we have through God and in Christ. Godly diversity does not pursue its own ends or seek its own desires (in other words, diversity should not be sought as an end in-and-of-itself—diversity for diversity’s sake) because doing so necessarily comes at the expense of unity.

Similarly, to pursue unity without diversity is no different from uniformity. Without diversity, unity will lead to conformity and the suppression of our God-ordained differences. Godly unity is beautiful because it has the freedom and security to allow diversity to flourish and does not feel threatened by diversity. Unity does not seek to eliminate diversity out of fear or prejudice because doing so diminishes its own beauty.

Because of our sinfulness and finitude, it must be stated that no human society or church will be able to perfectly achieve this. Nevertheless, this must be our goal as we must strive towards both unity and diversity, however that might look in our particular context. 

Seeking Godly Unity and Diversity

As we seek both unity and diversity, what other insights does Scripture offer us for how they can be achieved? What pitfalls should be avoided?

  1. Christian unity and diversity do not lead to jealousy (1 Corinthians 12:15-20). In verse 15, Paul states, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” In this context, jealousy is the result of failing to appreciate who God has made you. It is easy for jealousy to arise because we desire the gifts which God has given to others or the advantages which their particular diverse characteristics might offer them. But God made you exactly who you are for a reason. Do not downplay the particular diversity with which God has given you. He wants you to faithfully use every facet of your being to serve the Church and glorify him.
  1. Christian unity and diversity do not lead to contempt (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). In verse 21, Paul tells the Corinthians, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Contempt results from failing to appreciate how God has made others. The members of Christ’s body which some might consider dispensable are actually “indispensable” to its full functioning and edification (vv. 22-23). Every Christian brings something different to the body because there is no other individual exactly like them. No Christian should look down upon the ways in which God has made us different because our differences are what make the body of Christ able to respond to the numerous challenges that we face in this world.
  1. Christians must avoid elevating sinful forms of diversity. This is often the case when discussing LGBTQ+ diversity. Most secular definitions of diversity will include sexual orientation and gender identity as a form of diversity that must be respected and celebrated. But viewing these things as a form of diversity undermines fundamental truths in God’s Word about gender and sexuality. In Scripture, sex is a binary division between male and female (Genesis 1:27, 5:2; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). While this male/female divide is a form of diversity, modern definitions of “gender” and “sex” diversity will view it as a sliding scale between male and female, or reject the binary altogether. This reduces gender to an individualistic expression rather than an expression of God’s design and glory. Such a definition of diversity cannot coexist with Scripture.

    Similarly, with sexual orientation, modern definitions of diversity will make sexual attraction a fundamental part of one’s identity and essence. It exists on a spectrum from homosexual to heterosexual or rejects the binary system in favor of it being an expression of one’s individualism. Just like before, such definitions conflict with the Bible’s clear teachings that sex and sexual desire were designed to be between one man and one woman in marriage (Genesis 2:23-24, Matthew 19:4-6). Of course, we can honor individuals who repent of sin while still struggling with temptations in their sexuality or gender as well as appreciate any unique contributions that they might offer to the church (1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5). But diversity which is rooted in sin must not be celebrated.
  1. Likewise, Christians must avoid sinful forms of unity. Just as our culture can elevate sinful forms of diversity, they can also be united by sin. This is what we see in Genesis, when God sees that  “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). In the events surrounding the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), humanity had one language and was united in their intent to disobey God and glorify themselves. Therefore, God confused their language and scattered them so that their evil could not be as easily multiplied. Today, Christians must also reject any such unity that is rooted in sin, such as unity derived from the taking of innocent life (like abortion), injustice, sexual perversion, etc. 
  1. Christians must shun tokenism or seeking diversity as an end in-and-of-itself. Tokenism is defined as “the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly.” Thus, an all-white board of directors might hire someone of a different race merely to avoid the accusation of being racially biased. Tokenism can also look like hiring someone who is a minority but unqualified for the position. Doing these things doesn’t truly value that person for their diversity or honor the image of God in them but looks at them as a means to an end or a quota to be checked off. It ultimately makes an idol out of diversity and reduces people to their individual characteristics rather than viewing them holistically as an image-bearer of God.
  1. Lastly, Christians must resist the sins of partiality, favoritism, and deliberately sowing disunity. In the midst of such great diversity, it is easy to make our differences of greater importance than they ought to be, such that we “make distinctions among ourselves” and “become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4). Scripture is clear that God does not judge based on external appearances or show partiality (1 Samuel 16:7, Acts 10:34-35, Romans 2:11). Similarly, we are told not to be partial or show favoritism (James 2:1-9, 1 Timothy 5:21). Those who sow division in the church or stir up unnecessary controversy are likewise condemned (1 Corinthians 1:10, 12:25; Galatians 5:19-21; Titus 3:9-11).

    Although our differences are important and good, our sinful nature tends to emphasize our differences at the expense of unity, and thus, unity is often the harder goal to achieve. Thus, Jesus’ prayer “for those who will believe in me through [the disciple’s] word” (That’s us!) was that “they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23) Even though godly diversity works in tandem with godly unity and beautifies it, it is our unity that ultimately serves as a witness to the world.

There are many other points which could be discussed. In all these things, let us seek to honor God and honor one another by striving towards love, which binds our unity and diversity together through Christ (Colossians 3:14).

What About Joe Biden’s Cabinet?

In light of these principles, how do we think about Joe Biden’s efforts to have a diverse cabinet?

When thinking of diversity, politics often comes with different considerations than we might have in the church. Since the government of the United States seeks to represent and serve the diverse states, districts, communities, and people groups, it is good for the government to desire to be diverse like the people they serve. Legislation can be incredibly complicated, and having a diverse government can help navigate some of the complexities of public policy and how it might affect different communities.

Nevertheless, seeking to be diverse in the political sphere can have several of the same cautionary notes as mentioned before. The most obvious drawback is that, in politics, it can be especially tempting to seek diversity as an end in-and-of-itself or to engage in tokenism. Many of Joe Biden’s harshest critics in his appointments have come from his own party for some of these same reasons. Another drawback can be that in seeking to be diverse and satisfy the various branches of identity politics, there will always be constituencies which say that they aren’t being represented enough. Some groups will always feel left out. Conversely, many groups will desire to be represented in a disproportionate manner so as to have greater power and influence. With a nation as diverse as the United States, no government can be perfectly representative in all aspects. In the end, while many have applauded Joe Biden for his efforts, whether or not he succeeded in building a diverse cabinet is a matter of opinion. 

Christians can recognize that having a government which is representative of its people in multiple dimensions is good and offers numerous advantages. Yet, Christians should pay greater attention to the principles which unify his appointments. While they may be diverse in many facets like race and gender, we should also recognize that they will tend to share a worldview similar to Joe Biden. In many ways, their worldview will have a greater impact on how they administer government than their other diverse characteristics. As a result, their views will likely run into tension or opposition to what Scripture says regarding abortion, marriage and sexuality, and other issues. As was mentioned in our article about Kamala Harris, we should be careful that our appreciation of diversity is not misinterpreted as an endorsement of those policies that are contrary to Scripture.

Conclusion

Diversity, when coupled with godly unity, is a good thing. This is exemplified by God, who exists as a being in perfect unity and diversity: unity in his oneness and diversity in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Out of his nature, He has made creation diverse in form but united in glorifying Himself. Though we are all unique, we are united in being made in God’s image and our need for salvation through Jesus Christ. God has likewise built the Church which transcends our differences and unites all people under Christ, yet is beautified by its diversity. Seeking unity or diversity apart from the other will lead to errors in the church and society.

When dealing with politics, Christians can recognize that it is good to have a government which can represent its people in a multitude of ways as Joe Biden has sought to do. Yet, this should not be disconnected from the principles which unify his administration, many of which oppose biblical values. Christians should continue to pray for their leaders, especially that they may do what is right in order that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).

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