Lent – Day 30: Embracing Diversity

The late, great Archbishop Ted Scott talked a lot about ‘unity in diversity.’ The former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada had a keen awareness of who we are as church. The defining feature for Archbishop Scott was really all about diversity. Suggesting that we should all be the same to him was tantamount to failure. The very roots of Anglicanism are embedded in the rich soil of diversity. In its’ earliest manifestation the church took on the climate and culture in which it lived. For Ted Scott part of what made us so unique as a church was our ability to embrace the notion that we did not all need to be the same. Archbishop Scott was a visionary and was instrumental in the freeing of Nelson Mandela and also was Primate of the church when we began the ordination of women in Canada. Ted Scott saw the importance of diversity in the church. Sameness is not always a good thing.

Sally Morgenthaler is an innovator in Christian practices and has written about the need for an end to the CEO model of ministry in churches. She has contributed to the book AN EMERGENT MANIFESTO OF HOPE, which I have been reading throughout Lent. Here is what she has to say about sameness. "…sameness is eventually terminal. Ask any biologist and he or she will tell you that diversity and the adaptability necessary to sustain it are exactly what is required for living systems to thrive. Eliminate even a few species from an ecosystem, and the system begins to fail. So it is in human systems. We need difference, not because it looks good to the outside world, not because it is mandated at some denominational level, but because it is healthy. We think, work, learn, respond, and create better in the midst of a rich tapestry of the human family." Now this is a fresh approach indeed. It occurs to me that we need to heed these words as a community. Part of what makes any congregation or any church effective is the radical acceptance of the diversity of gifts and talents in it. At the same time, it also means embracing the attitudes and theologies that are inherent where groups of people are collected together. The church has tried hard over the years to force people into homogeneous groups and it has failed – miserably. It is time to look to embrace the heterogenous nature of the people of God. 

Morgenthaler goes on to quote a man named James Surowiecki who wrote a book entitled, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. There is some great wisom in this book and I intend on picking it up to read as well. In it he says;

"Groups that are too much alike find it harder to keep learning because each member is bringing less and less to the table. Homogeneous groups are great at doing what they do well, but they become progressively less able to investigate alternatives . . .[They spend] too much time exploiting and not enough time exploring … But, if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart those people are."

The possibilities for who we can be as church are endless when we embrace this idea. I think we can see in our institution how our zeal for a homogenous and in many ways unvarying church has given rise to exploitation instead of exploration. I am convinced that if we explore the bedrock of our communities we could discover mineral deposits rich with Christian talent and soil teeming with seeds of good leadership. On this 29th day of Lent I am praying for the courage to be a leader who will look to tap into those rich deposits of grace that are alive and well in our communities. I am praying that we as church would embrace the idea that it not what is the same in us that we should celebrate, but the diversity that we bring to the table.


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