One of my colleagues at this week’s Penn SE Conference’s Clergy Convocation, asked Geoffrey Black, the UCC’s General Minister and President about the limits of diversity within our denomination. What I heard was a question all too familiar to me: “Is the UCC REALLY diverse, if we cannot welcome people who don’t accept diversity?”
I’ll admit I may not have heard correctly what my colleague was driving at. Instead, I heard what I’ve heard so many times before: folks pointing out the limitations of diversity to call into question the denomination’s commitment to diversity.
You see, it sounds reasonable. It seems to be a troubling contradiction. Can one be accepting of diversity while refusing to accept someone just because s/he isn’t accepting? Only it’s not an honest question. Rather, it’s a disingenuous way of casting doubt. Sort of like a whispered, “You know, they’re no different than anyone else. At least, some of us are straightforward; more honest. We just say it plainly, ‘we don’t accept people who are different; we don’t feel diversity is faithful.’”
But, folks, even affirming diversity is not “anything goes.” There are, even within the pro-diversity camp, limits. Diversity demands a modicum of common ground– a shared commitment to respect. It’s based on holding the other in enough regard that your relationship is not threatened by your differences. Can we agree to disagree without demonizing or discounting the other? Yes, I believe we can, but only when both partners in the relationship show one another such respect, resist putting the other down, and want to affirm the diversity they create together.
For me, one biblical passage offers the explicit warrant for respecting diversity– Paul’s hymn to the humility of love. Sharing it with you in a less familiar translation from The Message, may you hear its challenge anew:
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut. Doesn’t have a swelled head. Doesn’t force itself on others. Isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. Doesn’t revel when others grovel. Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. Puts up with anything, Trusts God always. Always looks for the best. Never looks back. But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled…
…We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
See you in church,