Unity in Diversity
Is it possible to have unity in diversity? My heart is breaking at the division we are seeing right now, especially among Christians. It feels like the North American Church is splintering at an accelerated rate. My heart longs for unity, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know how to achieve it.
Unity > Conformity
What is unity, anyway? Unity is not the same as conformity, but sometimes conformity feels more comfortable and achievable. Conforming keeps me safe from offending anyone, or causing conflict by rocking the boat. But conformity also strips me of my unique voice, which negates God’s unique design for each of us. I don’t think Jesus intended for all of us to have the same opinions when He prayed that we would be one in mind and heart. The unity God has in mind is much deeper than all of us striving to be the same.
The Gift of Diversity
For those of us who are trying to follow the example of Jesus, it is vital that we seek to value our differences, rather than split over them. We need to see diversity as something that enriches us rather than as opposition. I remember over 20 years ago, when people would ask me what denomination I was, I refused to tell them. I always said, “I have no denomination.” That was before I had ever heard of a ‘non-denominational’ church. I have attended many different denominational churches over the years, and I have found the diversity enriching. Faith must go deeper than opinion, and even doctrine. True faith is a connection with God, not just a set of beliefs. I guard my personal connection with God, but I hold my beliefs loosely. This brings freedom to hear other viewpoints and allow my own beliefs to change and grow.
There are two kinds of ‘man-made’ unity that I have experienced. One is controlling my environment by choosing to hang out only with people who think the same way as I do, in a sort of ‘us-against-them’ mentality. This validates my ‘rightness’ and eliminates the threat of opposition, but it also robs me of the insights and experiences of others. It creates a very ‘ingrown’ and unhealthy community. There is no way to grow if my beliefs can’t be challenged. The second ‘man-made’ unity I have experienced embraces diversity by keeping quiet. It requires ‘walking-on-eggshells’ to avoid violating some else’s beliefs. I certainly want to avoid violating someone’s beliefs, but if no one can truly share their hearts for fear of offending someone, it creates a community with very little connection. No one can really know each other or be known.
Jesus’ last prayer on earth was that we as believers would be ‘one’ in the same way as the Trinity (John 17:11). I haven’t begun to grasp what that really means. Let’s face it – that kind of unity is something we can’t do in our own strength. It can only come through living by the Spirit rather than according to our own ability. Living by the Spirit is a mystery, but I think it starts with becoming ‘one’ with Jesus, individually. As we each learn to think and live and love like Jesus, we adopt His heart and mind, yet still maintain our unique personalities and opinions. Paul has a lot to say about unity in the Church in Ephesians 4, for those who want to study this further.
Are we becoming a society of individuals each pursuing our own paths alone? What will community look like 10 years from now? These are questions I wrestle with. I know we will never be perfect, but as we lean into the Spirit and ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3), unity and diversity can come together and bring glory to God.