Get a Life! A Paradigm Shift for Dealing with the “Problem” of Diversity

We are not happy.

We are not doing so well together.

We are dying.

Christians are so busy arguing about trivial internal matters that the world is swiftly moving on without them. Whereas church largely used to be a societal symbol for serenity, innocence, and morality, now it is a quick reminder of news headlines about financial shadiness, sexual abuse, and extreme divisiveness. The clergy were once reflexively respected and sought after for moral guidance; nowadays, they are often caricatured as models of manipulation, inconsistency, and lukewarm selfishness. As we keep on fighting, “outsiders” don’t care, think we are out of our minds, or hate us vehemently. In any case, we certainly are not making a difference — definitely not setting an example the world wants to follow.

It is not working, and we are in a crisis! We do not deal too well with diversity and most of us are dedicated to keeping our status quo (yes, even the fighting) out of fear. Thus, we must immediately recognize such an unfortunate reality and be honest about our role in its perpetuation. However, God’s church can also draw hope and strength from a knowledge (albeit imperfectly) of God’s dynamic activity from alpha to omega. The triune God was with us from creation’s beginning, is still with us through the sealed redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and will be with us eternally after the catastrophe has been completely reworked.1

Here is the crux of the problem. Christians and their churches are not only becoming increasingly isolated, but they prefer the status quo; familiarity or comfort gives us the illusion of safety, stability, and security. Through millennia of closing itself off, the church has forgotten how to relate with the world, and we cannot do much more than stay busy fighting for control within the church because — as individuals or community — this little territory is all we have left.

The starting point for our problem is a misguided worldview about the nature of evil. Witnessing the horrifying results of evil makes most humans question God’s goodness and omnipotence because church tradition has long taught them that evil is the exception in this world. Sadly and all too often, “evil” for many is misguidedly someone who does not agree with them, especially in theology and ecclesiology.

But why should evil and suffering be surprising? After all, the Christian message is fundamentally based on the belief that sin has separated all creation from its intended perfect communion with God, and that God in Trinity has an ongoing salvation plan intact until the glorious apocalypse when all wrongs will be right again. In this context, one can reasonably surmise that the exception is not suffering and evil, but goodness! Whenever we witness an inkling of human goodwill (in ourselves or others) or the tiniest instance of undamaged beauty in nature, the extraordinary — the exception — has occurred. The point is not why this world has evil, but how we are to relate to God and each other in a world that inevitably will have evil in it.

The Adventist Church suffers from spiritual and theological macrocephaly while the heart and spirit are grossly malnourished. The medicine, then, is not to surgically decrease the head size but to fill the heart with exuberance and nurture the spirit by making the whole life a witness to the world. In this challenging sense, a healthy faith community is indispensable. We must nurture each other for organizational survival as a minimal necessity but more importantly should look outward. The mission is to strive for making all humanity (and creation) whole again in gratefulness for what God has already done, in careful and current stewardship of Christ’s body, and complete joy in Spirit for what we know God will do in the hopefully near-future. This, then, is not a paradigm shift; it is looking deeper into a cleaner mirror to see ourselves for the blessed, privileged, and potential-laden people we have always been in God’s sight.

Diversity is having differences as the natural state of things, and we absolutely do not have a way of existing without it. Neither is unity the same as uniformity; by definition, one cannot unify two things that are the same. As such, harmony is not achieved with one note; again by definition, at least two notes are required, and more notes in the right chord make a fuller sound. One must also remember just having many notes and varying instruments do not necessarily lead to a beautiful symphony; cacophony can ensue without an able conductor, countless rehearsals, and plain hard work alone and together. Thus, our opponents are not people who hold different opinions from ours but distorted versions of ourselves that shut out those who do not know that the church is their safe-haven — because we have not yet told them.

Further, fear often manifests secondarily as anger, hyperactivity, and the need to control; the deeper this phobia is in one’s psyche, such emotions will grow and fester. What’s more, many Christians fear losing everything in their grasp (e.g., materials, status, and ideologies) largely because their status in the church seems to be all they have to place a mark in this world. Christians and their church, which is actually a name for a group of Christ-followers and not an illusory entity apart from them, become inseparably codependent. This dangerous set-up largely stems from three types of fear:

First, the fear of uncertainty is not just about what is unknown, but also toward everything that makes us question what we hold to be fundamental truths in our worldview. Even a hint of someone or something that might shake our false sense of security in social positions, theological beliefs, or material comfort becomes suspect.

Second, we fear losing scarce resources. Initially, they seem “scarce” because the Christian either believes they are limited — or because one is jealous of what seems to be readily available only to others. When Christians lose sight of God’s three-fold gift of abundance in primordial creation, redemption through Jesus, and future consummation with the Holy Spirit, they cannot help but grasp desperately (albeit futilely) onto temporal and temporary things.

Third, we fear ourselves either when we do not like the face that looks back from the mirror, or when we lack the courage to step out with the beautiful image of God already in us. In other words, we can shun our true selves from either inability to make the best of the self’s potential or bona fide self-hatred. Xenophobia also ensues when they remind us of these realities.

So what? How do we “get a life” in real life as one way of effectively managing diversity in the church for genuine vibrancy?

First, we need rehabilitative education to clear up the misunderstandings about God and ourselves. The end goal is re-identification — seeing all of us for whom we really are and the potential we have of making a real difference within and outside the church walls. We must first know what we have been doing wrong to start looking at a new future together.

Second, Christians pride themselves in having “cleaner” lives than does the general population, and Seventh-day Adventists especially are taught to hinge their whole identity on healthy living. Both in the church and at home, the commitment has to be made to raise emotionally and mentally — not just physically — happy human beings.

Third, church members need to support each other to be successful in “the real world.” Christian children first should be taught to choose a fruit-bearing career, train to be excellent in their fields, and to become exemplary citizens of society. All in all, we must teach each other to make a difference individually and communally in the world-at-large.

We need to be relevant.

We need to offer something to the world.

Good theology must have an (be an) answer to the all-too-apparent suffering in this world. For far too long, we have ignored the cries of our brothers and sisters who feel homeless on this earth because we have been too busy bickering and keeping the doors closed. We — as individuals, families, and congregations — need to be an answer to someone who doesn’t see a real reason to meet tomorrow. We are their answer, for we can point them to The Answer. Church attendance cannot be dictated (nor faith measured), but religious life must make sense and be enticing to non-Christians.

Humanity is very small cosmically, but our incomprehensibly big God cares about us and chooses to freely depend on us for a love relationship as if the fate of this world depended on human choices. We cannot bring God’s kingdom to earth; only God can do that. Our happy lot is to revel in the unity in which we do exist and to be ever-increasingly relevant to the world.

Will we be brave enough to let go?

Notes & References:

1. I am indebted to Dr. John W. Webster of La Sierra University for his lectures on the three-part Advent theodrama.

Jeeyoung Lee is currently finishing her MDiv (2019) and EdD (2020) at La Sierra University. As a former navy reserve officer and a hospital chaplain, she’s also been blessed to receive an MBA in General Management, MA in English, EDs in Brain, Affect, and Learning, MFA in Acting for Film, and MMin. In Jeeyoung's “other life,” she creates films and music that aim to instill hope in audiences of all backgrounds.

Image by rawpixel.com

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9573
1 Like

Problems in the Church Body have been fostered by Terroristic Activities that
have been dropped on the Church Body by those in Administration at the Top
[Silver Springs]. This has brought a lot of Fear, Anxiety, and Uncertainty to
all of those responsible for the Church Body beginning with the Divisions, and
filtering down to the Unions, Conferences, Health Care Institutions, the
Educational system grades K through Doctoral Programs, and even the local
Church Bodies.
Threats to those who wish for Both Men and Women Ordained Pastors seem out of place
in a Church who CLAIMS that the Giving of the Gospel is Primary in its task.
Having Policies which PREVENT the Whole Body of Christ from preaching and
baptizing seems out of place for the same reasons.
Among our 28 Doctrines there is NO ROOM for being ALL WELCOMING to ALL
Believers who desire an improved relationship with God.
Local Church Bodies who ARE All Welcoming are TALKED ABOUT, are BLACK
LISTED, and those pastors who are ALL Welcoming tread on shaky ground with
their Employer – Conference or Union.

YES! Get a LIFE! But it is those who are being Terroristic in their attitudes, whether
on staff at Silver Springs, or the person in the pew who NEED to get a NEW LIFE
IN CHRIST!!

2 Likes

it would be well to define we! Of course it could apply to all of mankind. But the trend seems more narrow. It is particularly true since Fall Council. Are beards to hid or to exclude? If we are to come together is it because of our need or because we had found the Grace that divinity had offered to us fallen ones. If the later, how do we effectively share the Good News. At 94 and modestly handicapped I find that a thank you well said has a power of its own. As Chief Of dental surgery at Milwaukee Children’s hospital. I had the good fortune and pleasure to get a smile from some very hurt children. I remember the little boy who as a baby the mother placed him in a tub of boiling hot water. now after four years of care. I gave him piggy back rides at the end of my work day before going home to my three very healthy and happy children and a very wise and loving wife. We need to ask can a health provider carry the same message as the First of Three Angels? Sometimes it is just a thank you.

6 Likes

Our church needs to embrace it’s diversity as a gift and not as a “problem”. Diversity is not a problem it is in fact a solution to many of our theological impasses and social obstacles. Ddiversity is understanding, accepting, and valuing differences between people including those:
• of different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities, and sexual orientations
• with differences in education, personalities, skill sets, experiences, and knowledge bases. Our church needs more diversity.
Interestingly, research finds that diversity is perceived differently by generations. Millennials view diversity as the combining of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, and they believe taking advantage of these differences is what leads to inclusiveness and innovation.

4 Likes

Well said, You stated the problem clearly and challenged us to respond. I know God will use your words to lift us and to motivate us!

This topic was automatically closed after 30 days. New replies are no longer allowed.