Biblical Unity with Diversity at its Heart

India is home to twenty-two scheduled languages, hundreds of dialects and thousands of ethnic groups and tribes. Each of its twenty-eight states and eight union territories represents a unique blend of diverse culture, cuisine, and faith. As I look at this kaleidoscope that is India, in all of its breath-taking beauty, its diversity amazes me.

Though I grew up in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the Civil Services took me to Kerala and to many States across North India, where I tasted a slice of many diverse cultures, each as beautiful as the other. Travelling across the nation, one can notice that India is a diverse multi-ethnic country, home to thousands of small ethnic and tribal groups.
The more I interact with the people of different communities and cultures, different faiths and values system, the more I see and celebrate how the festivals and dances of India, the art forms and architecture of Bharat, the ethnic attires and cuisine from Kashmir to Kanyakumari all reflect the heart of God.

Ever since God touched my life during my college days, there was a drastic change in my understanding of the people and of humanity. I realised that the ethnic and other categories like economic, gender, religion, region, etc. can no longer define our identities as given in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
Church is a place/ community to celebrate the diversity of breaking social barriers of diverse ethnicities. Our Christian identity is not meant to snuff out our unique cultural or ethnic Indian identity. My posting in various parts of India and abroad enabled me to practise this and that’s why I feel enabled to share four foundational aspects on ‘unity in diversity’ to the esteemed readers of this publication.

1. Diversity is God’s creation

As I go through the first few chapters of Genesis, I find that God’s intent is for a world filled with diverse peoples. In the creation account, God created Adam and Eve in His image. As many different races and ethnicities emerged from Adam, the image of God was imprinted on each of them. People of North and South, East and North-East India are people from different ethnicities and each of them is God’s wonderful creation. We need to embrace one another with love and appreciation because diversity is God’s creation.

In the Book of Revelation, when God begins the eternal story of a new creation, people from every nation, tribe, culture, and ethnicity gather to worship Jesus Christ.

2. Differences are to be respected and not despised

Democracy is a system that encourages and allows diverse views of diverse people. People, by design have diverse views. Differences are to be respected but never despised.
History records that when the people of some castes were despised and not allowed to enter into the temples, B. K Gaikwad and Dr B R Ambedkar led a protest outside the Kalaram temple in Nashik, Maharashtra on the 2nd of March 1930, in order to allow Dalits into the temple. According to Ambedkar, in order to break the wall between the upper class and lower caste, it was important to get an entry into the temple because temples have been considered a place of origination of caste annihilation.

Differences which are communal, caste-based, linguistic, sexist and region-based in nature, which should have been the scaffolds of a healthy, pluralistic society, instead fuel a hate machine that threatens our society. We should be cautious of casteism, communalism and parochialism that will endanger our lives. I am glad that my faith in God enables me to respect and appreciate people irrespective of caste, colour, creed or gender.

Rosa Parks of USA changed the course of history on the1st of December 1955! In her quiet, determined and courageous manner – she sat so that others could stand. This ‘small action’ of Rosa Parks sparked unity among the entire community. The United States Congress honoured her as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”
How often is the caste ingrained in the minds of people, even among Christians! How long will the ‘caste’ be a consideration in marriages? How long will the ‘caste’ be a part of the admission process in our schools and colleges? Bring the change and be the change.

3. Break the barriers and be a game changer

In the story of the Samaritan woman, Jesus goes through the places that we think are off-limits, speaks with the people that we think are off-limits, talks about matters that we think are off-limits and meets with communities that we think are off-limits. As Jesus and his disciples strolled through Samaria, he was on a mission to break the barriers and bring transformative changes in the ‘racial divide’ and ‘gender divide’. In this story, Jesus brings change in the mindsets that are foundational. Don’t marginalise women, uplift them; don’t abuse women, respect them; don’t bring down women’s dignity, rather raise their esteem; don’t discriminate women, give them equal status.

Look at the Church boards, UESI boards and Mission boards. What percentage of the Boards constitute women? What stops us from involving the women in our decision-making processes? If we are to be role models, consciously we need to bring women in our boards and in our decision-making bodies.
The Gospel of Christ is the great emancipator! Jesus came to set the captives free, and this includes women! ‘Equality among men and women’ is a foundational value upon which humanity exists. Break the barrier and be a game changer.

4. For unity, leave your egos and logos behind

“Our lack of unity is not only contrary to God’s will, it’s also a scandal to the world. The Lord asks us for unity; our world, torn by all-too-many divisions that affect the most vulnerable, begs for unity.” declared Pope Francis during his address at the 70th Anniversary of World Council of Churches

We can do more if we ignore our logo and forget our ego. Arrogance and hubris is un-Christian and never an option to bring unity. I was amazed when I read the third Chapter of the book of Nehemiah, which records the names of each person who was involved in building the wall.

Unity does not come by accident. It’s achieved as a result of our conscious decisions to align ourselves horizontally as well as vertically. While the vertical dimensions of unity are foundational; the horizontal are consequential. Time to leave our egos and logos behind.

John Samuel served as Chief Post Master General, Govt of India and UN Consultant. He is married to Ramona, and they are blessed with two lovely girls. He is currently based in Delhi

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