Integration and Diversity are Insufficient
A workshop last week in Cincinnati at the Christian Community Development Association conference confirmed my conviction that Christians need fresh language regarding our mission and identity in a divided world.
I said that as “reconciliation” becomes both increasingly popular and contested, and as such potentially unhelpful, the critical question is “reconciliation toward what?” I mentioned two dominant paradigms.
Integration is the first paradigm—overcoming oppression through social equality and access to mainstream benefits. There has been deep progress in this area, at the same time the fierce historical opposition to racial and economic integration in American life is a sign of a captivity which is yet to be overcome. Yet as early as the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott Martin Luther King Jr. argued that integration would not go far enough to heal America: “The end,” preached King, “is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” Notions of integration easily lead to “equal and separate” and avoid even more difficult and holy work. As Charles Marsh has argued, “while the civil rights movement defeated segregation and forever changed American society, the nation has experienced precious little repentance, reconciliation, and costly discipleship.”
Diversity has been the other dominant response to “reconciliation toward what?” Over the last ten years there has been an explosion of initiatives and literature around “inclusiveness” and “diversity.” Some Christian denominations and institutions are diversifying their leadership and constituencies in ways which are transformative and to be celebrated. Pastor Mark DeMaz pointed out to me recently the traction that “multi” has gotten in the evangelical world: “multi-ethnic” (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship), “multi-cultural” (David Anderson of Bridgeway Community Church), “multi-racial” (sociologist George Yancey). This is long overdue, and Soong Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism shows how far there is to go.
Yet at CCDA I said that “multi” does not capture the work of the Holy Spirit within history powerfully enough. The story of creation and humanity as diverse and good must be completed by the story of God’s redemption of the ways the fall deformed the gift of difference through the trauma of sin. The trajectory of the Christian story is an interruption and transformation of historical identities and fixed groups (Jew, Greek, male, female, slave, free) toward a fluidity of identity and culture: when the Antioch church becomes a new people across these lines, a community and politics (where Jesus is Lord, not Caesar) comes into existence that is so strange, it requires a new language. It is at Antioch that the disciples are first called “Christians.”
If Integration and Diversity are insufficient paradigms for “reconciliation toward what” in an increasingly multi-cultural America and world wracked by intensifying polarizations, what’s the alternative?
Offer your comments below: What do you think? Are you satisfied with these visions and categories? Do they go far enough? Do you have an alternative paradigm to propose?
In part two, Tuesday November 3, I’ll propose what I said at CCDA
About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. His writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers with Chris Rice.
- In Search of Peace? Take the Google Reconciliation Test
- Hubris and Fall: A Lament for Detroit relates the city’s decline to its resistance to racial integration
- Beyond Intractability: Reconciliation by Charles Hauss of George Mason University, a concise overview of the current “reconciliation” landscape in fields of theory and practice
- The Ordeal of Integration by Orlando Patterson is an account of an ordeal toward progress
- Harder Than Anyone Can Imagine Four working pastors–Latino, Asian, black, and white–respond to the bracing thesis of the book United by Faith. A Christianity Today forum with Noel Castellanos, Bill Hybels, Soong-Chan Rah, Frank Reid. April, 2005
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