So last week I had some training arranged at work in Equality & Diversity. I wasn’t really expecting it to be a good day. I’m lucky, these are ideas that come naturally to me and so it felt a bit like a colossal waste of time. This wasn’t true of everyone.
The course was led by a British Muslim called Pasha who came from Salford and whose family was Pakistani. And he had a tough crowd. There was one individual in particular who behaved in an absolutely repugnant fashion towards Pasha by spouting the worst kind of ill-informed, ignorant, caricatured and evil opinions. If it had been as part of the wider group discussions that might have been better but as it was it was on one side during a break in a very personal manner.
The tragedy is that there was no way that the rest of the day made any impression whatsoever on him. They were his views and he wasn’t going to change them. Equality & Diversity covers Age, Gender, Sexuality, Disability, Faith and Race and tragically you’d probably find plenty of people who would suggest that we as the church don’t really employ Equality & Diversity in our theology let alone our practice.
Of course there’s the obvious claims that the church suppresses women, that Paul was a misogynist and we are entirely a patriarchal entity. Add to that our hatred of gays. And, don’t forget the wars for which we’re responsible because of other people’s faiths or skin colour.
It’s not a very nice picture. And it’s so far removed from the person of God as revealed through scripture and Jesus. As Christians we should lead the way when it comes to Equality & Diversity. We should be stood at the forefront of this.
We’re created for relationships, the Trinity is all about the three persons of God entwined together in relationship and you could succinctly summarise the Bible as being about God hunting out relationship with us in spite of our rejection of Him. If we believe that God has made the earth and everything in it (whatever mechanism he used to do that) then it is all to be cherished, people and planet.
When Jesus gets asked about what is the most important commandment in the law he references the Old Testament law; don’t bear grudges, love your neighbour as yourself. At the same time, he reaffirms the first three commandments.
Basically, if we’re loving God but treating even our enemies like crap we’re at odds with God.
And, more to the point, we love in spite of behaviour because we love with a deep understanding and desire for redemption and reconciliation. We love on the basis of our redemption, of the fact that God loved the world so much that rather than make us do something to fix it, he came and restored it. We should know that you don’t have to qualify for a Christian’s love.
1 John 4 17-21 underscores that, and I make no apology for publishing this beautiful translation from The Message,
‘God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us. So that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,’ and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both’
God knows us and loves us and made us all as individuals. Christine and I were puzzling over fingerprints the other day and we wondered what the rational position might be. A little googling and the evolutionary case is that fingerprints are all about grip. As for their uniqueness it seemed that the consensus lay in needing to check out chaos theory. All well and good, but grip seems to me to be a perfect example of God’s creation ((as seen in this Audi advert) and I’m not satisfied by saying fingerprints are unique because chaos theory shows us that all things are possible.
I’m quite content to see them underlining the uniqueness of a creation which is reiterated time and time again…
Jeremiah 1:5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’
Luke 12:7‘Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered’
Genesis 1:27‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’
Fundamentally, as Christians we believe and recognise that every other person in the world is crafted by God, and not only crafted by Him but absolutely, 100%, head over heels, loved by Him.
So, we’re uniquely made by God, and we’re all about love but people are different, and that means that necessarily there are divisions. Fortunately not, Paul’s pretty clear that our first identity is in Christ. It’s not whether we’re male or female, it doesn’t rest in our ethnicity or our sexuality. First and foremost, before anything else, we are Christians.
Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’
And not only do we identify ourselves as such but because of Easter, God looks at us and doesn’t see our messed up selves but he sees Christ. Pure, unblemished and equal with Him.
So in Christ we are equal but in Christ we are also diverse. We’re called to be different, called to a freedom of expression, called to be individuals of God glorifying Him in weird and wonderful ways. I’m a little bit passionate about how exciting it is to be a part of the church and how, as a body, we each get to do different things, have different passions, think differently, experience differently but to be unified in our equality in Christ.
The boxes of society shouldn’t matter inside the church because we identify in Christ and as Christians we identify each other as bits of the body.
4. THE WORLD.
This is all very well and good when we’re in church and in our nice little Christian bubbles but what about the world. What about a world that doesn’t recognise God’s creation in all things and doesn’t value all individuals beyond their past behaviours? What about a place where war is fought on the basis of theological dispute? Where people are spat at in the street by dint of their physical disability? A place where we’re ready to talk about evil but ignore redemption?
If we are God’s hands and feet (which we are) then Equality & Diversity is our starting point. We’re not interested in what people believe, or don’t; in how they act, or don’t; we’re interested in them as people that God wants to have relationship with. And if God wants to have relationship with them then there’s a value in their lives far beyond our understanding.
It’s not just Equality & Diversity that this informs, it’s how we think about Pluralism. We crave pluralism, but one which recognises the freedom of everyone to be themselves, that doesn’t restrict in any way what people believe, and how they express that. If our starting point is to love people as they are then that’s far more than tolerance, it’s even more than respect. As Micah tells us, God has shown us what good looks like, all he requires in return is that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.
If we recognise all people as incredible works of God’s hands, love them beyond ourselves and remember that we are all equally sinful and blameless. If at the same time we appreciate being individuals of diversity whilst striving for justice, mercy and humility then the legislative and societal demands of Equity and Diversity begin to be irrelevant.
Maybe, just maybe, if the 3 billion Christians in the world exhibited all that we know to be true then Equality & Diversity training would be a thing of the past.
And whilst that would make Pasha redundant, I hope he’d agree that some things in life are better obsolete.