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Integration and Diversity are Insufficient

October 31, 2009

racial integration[This is the first of two posts on this theme.  Come back Tuesday November 3 for part two]

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.”

embrace diversityDiversity 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.


Related Posts:

Also See:

  • 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


Last 5 Posts by Chris Rice

explosion of energy around initiatives and literature of “inclusiveness” and “diversity.”
4 Comments leave one →
  1. kyle meyers permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:29 pm

    i would like to go deeper into issues of how and why we dehumanize another human being…like a person being defined by a number in prison, or groups of people being portrayed as “terrorists”.

    more than that, how do we learn to “humanize” those we hate, those we have been hurt by, and those we are taught to be fearful of – in a way that can lead to reconciliation within ourselves, and within the relationship?

    i also wonder if Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking) could participate in your book series in the near future? she was my introduction into theological issues of justice and reconciliation, back in high school (like 1996).

  2. November 1, 2009 8:09 am

    Right on, Chris! Integration and diversity only gets us so far. However, we must start somewhere and distance between groups only causes them to demonize each other more. When we get people together, they draw closer to God’s design for them to know him and his image, and ultimately of course, Him as their Lord and Savior.

  3. November 2, 2009 3:05 pm

    Prof van der Borght (Desmond Tutu Chair holder in the areas of Youth, Sports and Reconciliation, at the Faculty of Theology at University Amsterdam) in his opening lecture at the University of Amsterdam stated that,

    “Reconciliation is one of the few words that originated from the Christian tradition which remains in the secularized vocabulary of modern politics.”

    Now we have to reclaim the heart of what the word meant in the Christian tradition.

    Reconciliation, as a grand scheme, is difficult for me to grasp. It makes more sense within the context of real people with names who become part of a Story big enough to form people into beloved communities with God as the Author, Sustainer and most glorious inhabitant. Communities that exist for the good of the people around them (D.Willard)

  4. November 5, 2009 7:38 am

    I agree: the English language does not yet afford us a precise vocabulary for that which we espouse, namely all that flows from a local church reflecting the heart of God for all people – on earth as it is in heaven – so that the world would know (experientially) God’s love, and believe (John 17:20-23). Like the terms “integration,” “diversity” and all things “multi-“, “reconciliation” itself is problematic, as you point out. Even the words “justice” and “community” are inadequate when they describe intended outcomes that philosophically exist without from Jesus. The fact is, apart from the passionate pursuit of the one and true living God, there will be no true and lasting social change. For ultimately, racism (individual and institutional) like classism, too, is a spiritual problem that can be puged only through the transformation of the heart.

    The fact is, we will have a hard time getting everyone to agree to “our” preferred terminology. What is most important is that we expect of one another clear definition of terms to avoid misunderstanding.

    Therefore, in answer to your question – and for me – it is not at all about “racial reconciliation.” Rather, it’s about 1) reconciling men and women to God through faith in Jesus Christ and 2) reconciling local churches to the principles and practices of the New Testament Church, such as existed in places like Antioch and Ephesus. When these two “a priori” works of reconciliation become the “toward what”, then we can rightly expect so-called “racial-reconciliation,” “integration,” “diversity,” “justice” and “community” to follow.

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