Sunday, March 4, 2012

The True Meaning of Diversity

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Having just finished Black History Month, and a recent prayer breakfast on this subject, I thought these verses would be especially appropriate this week as we celebrate our diversity within the military community.

First, what is diversity? The dictionary definition is the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” In the military, it means having a diverse – or varied – group of people within our organization. This is seen not just in race, heritage or gender, but in rank, MOS, experience, etc. We all contribute to the diversity of our unit in some way. This benefits us by bringing in a variety of experiences, languages, cultures, etc. It adds breadth and depth.

But diversity can be a touchy subject sometimes. Although for some it means recognizing the many different cultures and ethnicities that make up our American society, and trying to ensure that each has the same opportunities to succeed and excel in their chosen profession, let’s be honest; for others it has negative connotations, and signifies quotas, affirmative action, and methods of "leveling the playing field" which are a sort of reverse discrimination. This word can have a polarizing effect – for while we all may agree that diversity is a good thing to have in any organization, we may have differences of opinions in how to best implement that goal. But the goal of diversity is not just to “have diversity.” There must be a purpose, and there must be a standard.

To me, these verses that Paul wrote to the church in Galatia around 50 A.D. are a prime example of true diversity. You see, prior to this – prior to Christ’s birth – the Jews were God’s chosen people. They had received God’s laws from Moses that instructed them on how they were to live, and what they needed to do to live rightly before God. And for hundreds of years, they were a pretty exclusive club – the keepers of God’s laws, and His representatives to all the rest of the nations around them. You were either born into it as a Jew, or you could marry into it, provided that you converted and agreed to follow all the laws and practices, up to and including circumcision.

But Christ’s death on the cross changed all of that. Now, by God’s grace, the doors have been flung wide open and everyone is invited. Jesus himself foretold all of this during his ministry. Look at one of his parables, from Matthew 22:

“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Now in this story, the invitees represent the Jews – they were the ones to whom the personal invitation had been sent by the king himself. The servants represent the prophets, who continually reminded the Jews of their need to repent and turn back to God, and who were often mistreated or killed. And the people on the street? Well, they represent the Gentiles – those like you and me. We may not be the original invitees, but the door has been opened and all are invited to the wedding banquet.

But, like I said before, diversity simply for diversity’s sake doesn’t do much. There has to be a purpose or intent behind it. In the military, we work to ensure that all citizens who meet the standards have an equal opportunity to serve, to be recognized, and to be promoted – not on the basis of their color, creed or gender – but in spite of it. To be judged, as Dr. King said, on the content of their character. As an organization, we want to have the benefit of many ethnicities, languages, cultures, and experiences, but in order to get in you have to be qualified and meet the military standards.

The same thing is true for the Christian life. The purpose of opening up the gates of heaven for all is not to meet some sort of divine quota, but because of God’s great love for all his people. Go look at John 3:16. It’s because God so loved the world that he gave his Son – that whosoever believes might have eternal life. That is the appeal of the Gospel: it’s not something that is only available to the rich, or to Americans, or to those who give a certain amount of money to the church. It’s for everyone.

But, just like the military, there are standards that must be met. What is that standard? Let's look at a few verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So the first standard is faith in God; we must believe in God and in who Christ is in order to be saved. Romans 10:9 tells us that “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

But then, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

So here we have two seemingly contradictory things – faith and deeds. Believing and doing. It may seem contradictory, but really the two go hand in hand – they are two sides of the same coin. The degree to which you believe something is the degree to which you act on that belief. Are you married? If so, did your job of being a husband or wife stop once you left the altar? Did you just put a ring on your finger and return to your single life? Of course not.

We also know this in the military, because we practice it every day. We don’t call someone a soldier/sailor/airman or Marine just because they took the oath of office – they have to complete basic training first. We don’t call someone a pilot, or an infantryman, or a mechanic, or even a chaplain – unless and until they complete their training. They demonstrate their commitment to the military – to the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines – by going out and doing what they committed to when they first raised their right hand and took that oath.

So the two go together, and should be inseparable. Faith is the necessary starting point, which then naturally leads to action. The depth of one's belief can and should be measured by the degree to which they are willing to live out those beliefs in their life. As James says, faith without works is dead.

So to sum up:

· The Kingdom of God is full of diversity; every tribe and nation, every person on earth now has access to God and has been invited to the banquet.

· This diversity has a purpose; that God be glorified by having as many as will receive Him come to a saving knowledge of Him and have eternal life.

· This diversity has standards; that we have faith in God and that such faith will necessarily lead to actions in our lives.

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