This morning at a local foodbank I experienced a first, the opening prayers usually offered by the local Minister was instead shared by a recent refugee in Arabic, a Muslim prayer. I am going out on a limb here but I hunch most of us did not understand the words that were spoken. But watching and listening to this young man was inspiring none-the-less. The cadence of his words, his facial expressions, the way we could tell he meant every word, left an impression. This refugee was sponsored by the church that hosts this foodbank. The pride and affection of the volunteers at the foodbank for this young man was obvious. And now the clients could share that feeling. I witnessed many hugs.
There are still many in our country, in churches, in our local communities, who just don’t get the power of diversity and inclusion. Of course both can be used as a self-righteous wedge to drive home that “they are pure and open” and you are not. I witnessed this first hand in my graduate studies. In the 80’s the HIV-AIDS epidemic was in full crisis mode. We all knew someone who lived with that disease. In our classes was a man no one liked. He was rude, difficult and insensitive. People would avoid this man. But then he would share that he lived with HIV-AIDS and was dying. Rightly we all rose to the occasion and visited him often. But there also became a self-righteousness to his care, people would brag they had visited more, that those who were not visiting clearly carried judgment in their spirit. This was not so much a story of diversity and inclusion but guilt and self-righteousness.
And diversity and inclusion cuts both ways. I know men of colour who rightly rage about the racism they encounter but dismiss their sisters when diversity and inclusion is defined by gender. And now the transgendered community is challenging us to examine our culture for ways we can better offer hospitality. No one is immune from being the wrong side of these challenges, we are all sinners, we all make mistakes, and no one is pure. If our agenda is truly to welcome, include and celebrate one another and not to use the issue to brag about our purity then surely being humble in this cause is a first step.
But let’s be clear, diversity and inclusion does make us better, it does offer us the challenge to examine the quality of our welcome and hospitality. All it takes is to have the shoe on the other foot, to be a stranger in a foreign land, to see and feel what a difference a full throated welcome can make. And frankly as a Christian I see and hear many fellow Christians who have only every experienced their faith as a small part of the existing culture. They go to church on Easter and Christmas but otherwise church is a mere spiritual ornament on an otherwise conventional life. To say to someone that church offers a critique of culture is to suggest something most Christians have never considered.
But watching new Canadians with a different religion attempting to hold on to their faith, live out their beliefs in a place where they are the minority, is inspiring and edifying for us in the majority. Many, just maybe, we will see that faith is not an ornament we take out for special occasions and then put away in the attic. By watching Muslims prayer in public spaces, wear their religious symbols, and consider how to live out their faith in a 21st century context can give we Christians a roadmap to our discipleship. We have traditions too, we have doctrine and practices, and those can help us as believers to see our world in a new way. Diversity is a great teacher.