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Living with diversity

AS THE 10th Assembly approach-es, it is apparent that the issue of living with diversity in the church will again be the focus of considerable attention and reflection, not least because further debate on sexuality and leadership will be a major item on the agenda.

How much diversity is a good thing?

When we look at the world around us, the outcome of God’s creative energy and wisdom, we can only conclude that the complexity and diversity of the created order is truly astounding.

In God’s world, diversity is a given. We either learn to live with it, celebrate it and love it, or its all pervasive presence will be a constant source of tension for us.

One vital dimension of diversity was faced and dealt with by the Christian church very early in its history when, inspired and influenced by the leadership of Peter, it came to understand that everyone seeking a right relationship with God was to be included in its fellowship. (Read the story in Acts 10-11).

Of course, this was entirely consistent with what Jesus had taught about the nature and purpose of the Kingdom of God. Nonetheless the church still had to work out what that meant in the context of particular issues and circumstances.

We shouldn’t be surprised that from time to time we have to do exactly the same thing!

However, from that first history-making debate and decision until now the church has wrestled with both the reality and the implications of diversity.

Even a basic knowledge and understanding of church history will give an appreciation of the degree to which this process has impacted on the life of the church.

At its worst the church has dealt with diversity by suppressing anything considered unorthodox and cruelly punishing those it believes have moved outside the boundaries it has established at any given time.

We now consider many of those dealt with so harshly to be epitomes of faith, vision and courage!
At its best the church has encouraged and celebrated diversity so that it has been a source of enrichment and inspiration. Within the Uniting Church we have experienced this response in a variety of ways.

There is diversity in our styles of worship, in the membership of our church, and in the way our congregations and agencies engage in ministry and mission.

There is also diversity in our theological thinking and in our approaches to the interpretation of scripture. For some people it is this dimension of our diversity about which they feel most anxious.

In this matter particularly we have to understand that the principles involved have themselves been the subject of passionate debate in the life of the church from the early centuries until now.

For those who feel that we must have uniformity and conformity in regard to our approach to theology and the scriptures, these ongoing debates have been unsettling, even disturbing.

Others have experienced this process as a source of spiritual and intellectual stimulation, leading to a stronger faith and a capacity to engage more meaningfully and deeply with the profound and challenging questions that are inevitably raised in the context of our daily life and work.

How sad it would be if we were to relinquish our commitment as a church, to not only live with diversity, but to be blessed by it!

In the midst of such diversity in the life of the church, what is it that holds us together?

We are held together by our faith in the triune God; because Jesus Christ is at the centre of our faith and life; because in Christian community the love God has for us overflows into love for one another; and by our common commitment as disciples of Jesus to work together for the sake of the Kingdom!

We do not have to fear diversity, for the infinite variety of our world and the diversity within the church are ultimately gathered up into that indissoluble unity created in Jesus Christ, who is both Lord of creation and Head of the church!