Written by Kelsey Knoploh and Lauter Eubank. Media by Maggie Schoepke.
How many times have you heard a Christian, newly returned from a mission trip, state that they were inspired by their time in a foreign country? So often they return with a new perspective or new insights about their faith, community, or church. Many people who go to a foreign country expecting to teach and serve others realize that those same people were able to teach them and serve them in unexpected ways. Such experiences can sometimes be an integral part of an individual’s testimony. However, it doesn’t always require leaving the country to gain a new perspective, as people of different life experiences and cultural backgrounds are all around us. The same principles and experiences that apply while on a mission trip can manifest in the most mundane settings if only we open our eyes and hearts to the people around us. Churches and believers from different cultures and backgrounds, regardless of how close or far away, can benefit and encourage each other and give each other a more diverse and complete view of the gospel.
Embracing diversity is a common theme in the New Testament. Time and again, the early Christians are encouraged to accept and learn from people of differing backgrounds and perspectives. Throughout the New Testament, there is dissent between the Jewish and Gentile believers over issues such as circumcision and various aspects of the covenantal Law. Paul chastises such believers and encourages them to reap spiritual benefits from each other. One example of this is in Acts 15:8-9 when Paul says,
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.”
This verse demonstrates that God has gifted all believers with his Spirit and that there is no distinction between them. Therefore, as believers we should not create divisions based on different cultural backgrounds; rather we should benefit from one another.
Justo Gonzalez, in his book Santa Biblia, further addresses the idea that diversity is not only acceptable, but beneficial. Gonzalez explains that our own perspectives are not universal and that they can be made more complete when we interact with and learn from people with differing perspectives. He explains that each perspective enriches the entire community and enhances the lives of others. However, rarely are those in the margins given the opportunity to share their unique perspectives. Their marginalization by those in the center limits the ways in which they can affect change and enhance the community.
Therefore, as Christians, it is our responsibility to create an environment in which we can listen to and benefit from those people who are generally marginalized, ignored, and even oppressed. This requires us to not only become aware of our own limitations and perspectives, but also to become more open to the perspectives of others. Within the Greenville community we should not only call ourselves to grow in our knowledge and acceptance of those of differing perspectives, but also call the school to a higher standard. More diverse curriculums, discussions regarding cultural differences, and the emphasis of the importance of different perspectives could be highly beneficial in promoting a culture in which there is unity in diversity.