Thoughts on Diversity and Scripture

A couple months ago, I presented some thoughts on developing a philosophy of Christian higher education. In light of the discussion of Joy McCarnan’s book review, as well as the fact that diversity and higher education are so closely associated, it seemed to be a good time to reflect on what Scripture says about diversity. The purpose now is to focus on Scripture instead of criticizing specific actions by certain individuals or organizations. If any passages appear to be taken out of context or are misinterpreted, please don’t hesitate to point them out. I welcome suggestions and criticisms. This article is a work in progress about my own views and does not represent the position of any particular college or seminary.

So then, what exactly does the Bible say about diversity and humanity?

God places the highest value on human life.

God created the human entity in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27; James 3:9). Every man and woman of all time is a valuable creation of God. Each person is made in God’s image. Even though this image is marred, the human being is most important to God. Christians should value everyone as precious.

God does not view individuals differently because of their external appearances (1 Sam. 16:7; Rom. 2:11). God knows each person’s heart. One’s outward appearance does not change his or her standing with God. Christians should never prejudge another person on the basis of external characteristics (James 2).

God is most concerned with the immaterial (soul/spirit) essence of each person, and He wants an intimate relationship with each person (John 3). He desires that everyone live with Him forever (2 Pet. 3:9).

God is glorified by the diversity of His creation in general (Gen. 1:31). We too, should appreciate the beauty of variations within creation.

God is an impartial Judge (Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17) and does not view individuals favorably simply because of their racial or ethnic background.

The Old Testament provides significant illustrations regarding racial or ethnic diversity in relationships.

Joseph, a Hebrew, married an Egyptian (Gen. 41:45). Egyptians were of a different culture. They may have looked very similar to those in Jacob’s family, but the ethnic backgrounds were quite different. There is no statement in Scripture that condemns Joseph for his marriage to a woman outside of his ethnic pedigree. At some point, Moses married an Ethiopian or Cushite woman, possibly after Zipporah’s death (Num. 12:1-9). Aaron and Miriam were upset for some reason, but God was not. Whether they were upset regarding the marriage itself or whether they were jealous of Moses’ leadership responsibilities, Scripture is unclear. The passage does show that God was very angry with Aaron and Miriam because they questioned His choice to speak through Moses. God never chastised Moses for his marriage to the Ethiopian/Cushite.

The general instruction for Israel was that single men and women should marry within their ethnicity (i.e., other Jews). The purpose was primarily to maintain spiritual purity. If they chose to marry individuals from the surrounding nations, then there would most likely be a religiously mixed marriage. God is opposed to any situation that causes a believer to compromise his or her faith. There were numerous occasions in which Jewish men married non-Jewish, believing women. However in some cases, the unions did not grieve the Lord because the Gentile spouse believed in Him. One example includes Boaz and Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 4). On the other hand, God was always displeased with any marriages between believing Jews and non-believing Gentiles.

Jesus Christ’s personal example illustrates the significance of a multi-ethnic, racially diverse perspective.

Jesus did not avoid sharing spiritual instruction or developing social relationships with anyone outside His racial or ethnic background (John 4:4-26). His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well demonstrates that racial or ethnic differences should not be a determining factor for a Christian’s social interaction.

Jesus reprimanded His disciples for their hostile reaction to a group of people who were not ethnic Jews. Even though the Samaritans did not warmly receive Jesus and His followers, Jesus did not respond negatively to them (Luke 9:51-56).

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan communicates the necessity of treating people kindly and meeting their physical needs whenever possible, regardless of their social status, ethnic background, religious beliefs, etc. (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus’ Great Commission compels all believers to enter every world culture, beginning with one’s own local community, to share the gospel (Matt. 28:16-20; Acts 1:6-11). There are no restrictions concerning those to whom we minister. Every person of every race, nation, language, religion, society, and ethnic heritage must be reached for Christ. We must lay aside every social and racial prejudice and view the spiritual needs of the world from a cross-cultural, global perspective.

The doctrine of ecclesiology and the practices of the early church shed light on diversity issues today.

The doctrine of the local church points to diversity. Jesus Christ established the church as an institution open to all. Any person of any racial/ethnic background may become a Christian (John 3:16; Rom.10:12-13). The body of Christ is comprised of diverse members with diverse gifts (1 Cor. 12).

Peter received a divine, supernatural message that Gentiles are now recipients of the gospel message (Acts 10:1-33). Ethnic pride must be set aside as believers share the good news of Christ with those whose backgrounds may be different from their own.

Paul demonstrated cultural understanding and awareness of others’ backgrounds when he communicated the gospel to his audiences (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Cor. 9:19-23).

Deacons were selected as a result of inadequate pastoral attention to certain matters (Acts 6: 1-7). Hellenistic Jewish widows were being overlooked while non-Hellenistic Jews received greater attention from the church leadership. This ethnic conflict prompted the selection of deacons to assist in the daily administration of the church. The composition of many early churches points to multicultural diversity. As mentioned earlier, there was a mixture of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the early churches. The mixture of Gentile Christians included believers from Roman, Greek, Syrian, and African backgrounds. One church leader, Simeon (Niger), was a very effective and spirit-sensitive teacher (Act 13:1-3). According to the etymology of his name, Simeon’s ethnic identity was a black African.

In light of the Old and New Testament examples and teachings, we must look past the outward appearances and focus on reaching hearts.

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Eric Lovik is director of institutional research at Clearwater Christian College (Clearwater, FL) and a doctoral candidate in higher education at Penn State University. He and his wife, Glory, enjoy traveling, landscaping, and playing with their two daughters at McDonald’s.

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