Reaching out-the Christian values of inclusion & diversity

Church Practices  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:57
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Why does Christianity continue to grow? What are the values that drive its culture-spanning history? How does it transform cultures and people into better versions of themselves, rather than forcing the one culture on everyone? The values of inclusion and diversity, which lie at the heart of Christianity, account for all these questions. But then why does the church struggle so much with the modern Western values of inclusion and diversity? Where did they come from? How are they different? Join us as we grapple with these questions in the hope that we can understand how, as modern, Western Christians, we can embrace the values of Christianity while reaching out to a broken world.

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Diversity and Inclusion

Our culture has recently recognised two powerful values which improve people’s lives when they are promoted at work and elsewhere. You’ve probably heard about these values, you may even have been trained in them.
They are: inclusion and diversity.
Let me quote from, first on diversity:
“Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another.
“In a nutshell, it’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.
“Diversity allows for the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It means understanding one another by surpassing simple tolerance to ensure people truly value their differences. This allows us both to embrace and also to celebrate the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual and place positive value on diversity in the community and in the workforce.”
That generally sounds good, right? There are a couple of things that Christians might find questionable, such as the idea that respecting and appreciating someone’s religion or sexual orientation is going to empower them in some helpful way. Let’s put that to the side for the moment, though.
What about inclusion? says:
“Inclusion is an organisational effort and practices in which different groups or individuals having different backgrounds are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed.
“These differences could be self-evident, such as national origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion/belief, gender, marital status and socioeconomic status or they could be more inherent, such as educational background, training, sector experience, organisational tenure, even personality, such as introverts and extroverts.
“Inclusive cultures make people feel respected and valued for who they are as an individual or group. People feel a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that they can do their best at work. Inclusion often means a shift in an organisation’s mind-set and culture that has visible effects, such as participation in meetings, how offices are physically organised or access to particular facilities or information.
“The process of inclusion engages each individual and makes people feel valued as being essential to the success of the organisation. Evidence shows that when people feel valued, they function at full capacity and feel part of the organisation’s mission. This culture shift creates higher performing organizations where motivation and morale soar.”
This particular definition seems quite reasonable, right? You and I might baulk a little at that final sentence which makes it all seem so focused on efficiency and utility (which it is—our society’s values are strongly influence by business).

The Christian perspective

You’re probably wondering where on earth I’m going with this. What does this have to do with evangelism, or even the church?
It actually has a lot to do with the church. Like most Western values, these new values of inclusion and diversity are derived from Christianity. Indeed, it is these two values that have driven the global expansion of Jesus’ body—the church.
Jesus expressed the value of inclusion constantly. For example, just before the last supper in John’s account of Jesus’ ministry, we find him expressing this:
John 12:47 NLT
47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it.
The first part of this verse might sound strange to Christian ears, but the second part is very familiar. Jesus came into the world to save people, not to judge them. We’ll come back to this verse and its context in a moment, but let’s move on.
Jesus final commission for his disciples was also a clearly inclusive command:
Matthew 28:19 NLT
19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There is no exclusion here, no peoples or individuals that the disciples are banned from inviting into the kingdom.
And we see in this command, an openness to diversity. Jesus uses the Greek term ethne, translated “all the nations.” This is the Greek root of our word “ethnicity,” and it has a very similar meaning to that word. In the Jewish use of the New Testament, the word often refers to the Gentiles, in other words, to all other ethnicities than the Jews. The church is built on a radically cross-cultural diversity.
That diversity is enduring, it will be present at the end of time. In John’s revelation, his vision of the final entry of the church into their place of rest, the New Jerusalem, says,
Revelation 21:23–26 NLT
23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. 26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city.
In this beautiful vision, we see the inclusion and diversity inherent in Christianity. All the nations will enter into the kingdom.
Finally, Christianity has perhaps the most powerful appeal for diversity in all of history. It is made by the apostle Paul in his letter to that very diverse city of Corinth:
1 Corinthians 12:12–14 NLT
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.
Paul’s argument in this passage is that the body of Christ, the church, is like a human body in being made of many different parts. The difference between the parts is intentional and necessary, he says, and is designed-in by God.
This wonderful image of diversity in unity has served the church well, and has been of great use in our society, too.
But this image really emphasises the difference between the Christian conception of inclusiveness and diversity and our society’s version. So let’s address that now—it’s a crucial difference.

Christian inclusion and diversity

The Christian ideas of inclusion and diversity differs from our society’s in three ways:
The Christian idea of being included envisions a much greater sort of inclusion than our society’s
The Christian idea of inclusion requires more than mere participation or presence from people
The Christian idea of diversity values people for who they are, not for what their differences may contribute.
Remember how that definition I read of inclusion talked about respecting and embracing people’s difference? You might have wondered why it only used words like respect, appreciate, value, embrace and celebrate. It doesn’t mention caring or loving or serving or even “doing life together” or being friends.
Contrast that with Paul, who sees inclusion interacting with diversity in this way:
1 Corinthians 12:22–26 NLT
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
Note the language here, caring, suffering for and with one another, serving, giving honour to, protecting, etc. How different is that?
Christian inclusion, you see, is inclusion in a family. John explained right at the beginning of his gospel:
John 1:12 NLT
12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
And this simple sentence reveals that extra requirement of Christian inclusion over and above mere participation: the need to believe and accept Jesus.
Remember, our society’s idea of inclusion and diversity is that people can simply come together with an attitude of celebrating each other and everything will be wonderful. Tragically, this doesn’t work. It is a utopian view of reality.
“Utopia” was the name of an island in Sir Thomas More’s satirical novel of that name, and he constructed the name from the Greek words for “not” and “place,” indicating that his idealistic island did not (and could not) exist.
The same is true of our society’s utopian idea of inclusion and diversity without personal cost. It doesn’t exist. It can’t.
The reason is simple: our society’s idea of diversity places no limits on the type of diversity, and that diversity is driven by personal desire. When you put two or more human beings together (inclusion) and encourage them to go their own way (diversity),
conflict becomes increasingly likely. With no greater good to moderate our differences, we have no way to resolve those differences. Simply forcing people together with the mantra that they must accept one another doesn’t work, it just makes conflict more likely. That is why no prior cultures have ever expressed these two values together—humanity has no way to resolve the conflicts they cause.
Here’s an example of why it doesn’t work. This is a news report from Tasmania earlier this month:
“Lesbian activist Jessica Hoyle alleges she was ordered to leave the Launceston Target store by a non-binary staff member who called her a “TERF”, a term for feminists who exclude trans­gender women.
In a complaint lodged with Equal Opportunity Tasmania, Miss Hoyle said at the time of the incident she was wearing clothing featuring the logo of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Tasmania, which does not advocate for transgender ­people. According to Miss Hoyle and witnesses, she was talking to two other shoppers about “the need for female-only lesbian events” and female, rather than gender-neutral, toilets.”
We see here two people who most in our society would consider to be perfectly comfortable with inclusion, since they both belong to the popular group of LGBTQ+ people. But in reality, the desires of Ms Hoyle seem to be at odds with the non-binary Target staff member. One wants biological women to be recognised as women, and treated as distinctive, different from biological men. The other, based on their actions, wants this distinction broken down at any cost. These two desires are in direct conflict, and no amount of “embracing” or “valuing” each other is going to change this.
Our society has these values of diversity and inclusion because it inherited them from Christianity, which did make them work together. But our society has abandoned the crucial step which allowed these two values to work together, and is well on the way to discovering how foolish that was.

Making diversity and inclusion possible

Which brings us, finally, to that crucial step that makes the inclusivity and diversity of Christianity possible.
A few moments ago I quoted John’s expression of that step as “believing and accepting Jesus.” Perhaps the most powerful way the Bible talks about it is using the term “repentance.”
In his second sermon, after healing the beggar at the Golden Gate, Peter gives a succinct explanation of how Christian inclusion works:
Acts 3:19 NLT
19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.
Repentance is the act of “turning back” to God, from whom we have previously turned away in rebellion. All people are rebels against God, and so are mired in sin—the attitude of self-centred arrogance.
All people, therefore, are invited to return to God. All people are included in this invitiation.
And repentance doesn’t remove diversity, as Paul expresses it to the Corinthians, God has designed diversity into the human race. Repentance allows diversity to lead to harmony rather than conflict. God is the greater good that allows us to moderate our differences, so that only the designed differences that work together harmoniously remain. The selfish differences that ultimately cause others harm (even when we think they won’t) are peeled away by the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Remember that strange verse from John? Let’s now look at the context, because it will show us what Christian inclusion and diversity really look like:
John 12:46–50 NLT
46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”
Now we can see how Christianity makes inclusion and diversity work together, by recognising that we are included into a greater good than us, who has designed our diversity.

What then is our role?

What do we, the people of Renew, do with all this? What can you do with this?
You know, one of my greatest struggles with evangelism is, weirdly enough, shame.
When I was in High School I got a tract pocket from somewhere. It was a vinyl wallet to hold tracts—you can still buy them and they look like this. I put that thing in my school uniform’s shirt pocket and I carried it with me everywhere. I hoped that people would ask me for a tract. But, guess what, no-one ever did! And, despite praying regularly, I found few opportunities that fit any of the tracts I had.
I still have memories of the shame I felt in not handing out all the tracts in that wallet to my classmates.
That shame has no place in evangelism!
In reality, I encouraged my Christian friends and kept them strong. I challenged my classmates to recognise the reality of Christ, much to their ongoing irritation.
I did this simply by inviting people. I invited them to ISCF. I invited them to youth group. I invited them to camps. I invited them to church. I invited them to talk and debate with me. Inviting people who constantly say no does hurt, and I didn’t invite people as much as I could have, I confess. But back then inclusion wasn’t a value of our society, so my inclusion, driven by my faith, looked weird.
Today we can be inclusive without looking weird. Don’t be afraid to invite people to stuff. Invite them to our Christmas events. Invite them to watch The Chosen with us (when it comes out). Invite them to our Australia Day BBQ next year. Invite them here!
Neither should we be ashamed of the gospel’s demand for repentance. The trajectory of our society increasingly shows how important transformation is. In fact, society itself offers many attempts to solve people’s problems, from the crystals of Byron to the gyms, therapists and plastic surgeons of the Gold Coast. We watched a movie last night, called The People we Hate at the Wedding, and its theme was how everyone needs to repent from their sins for their lives to function well. The difference between us and the world is that our way actually works. There’s no need for false humility.
So, we don’t need a tract wallet to evangelise. We just need to love our neighbours, to include them by inviting them to join us, and to share with them the not-so-secret secret to a wholesome and abundant life: obedience to our loving Lord, Jesus. We can do this anywhere, anytime, with anyone.
Let’s pray,
Dear Lord Jesus, you told us to go out into all the world and to make disciples. Help us to do that. Give us your love that is so inclusive. Help us to see the value of diversity through your eyes. And help us to communicate how gentle your yoke is, and how light your burden is, compared to the burdens that our friends and neighbours carry without you.
In your name we pray, Amen.
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