Commentary
By Christopher Thyberg 10-19-2018

For too many Christians, the argument that we should love others because Jesus told us to becomes a begrudging obligation rather than a willful choice. If the only thing that drives Christians to accept disenfranchised people is Jesus, there is a lack of authenticity in that connection. The implication is that without Jesus, there would be no intrinsic value to diversity.

If you have attended a progressive Church, you have likely heard a pastor talk about diversity and utter some variant of the phrase: “If Jesus can love them, then so can we.” This sentiment has been used to address multiple societal schisms ranging from LGBTQIA+ inclusion to racial integration and socioeconomic status.

This stance does little to counteract malicious beliefs. For example, take Tucker Carlson’s recent segment where he asked, “How exactly is diversity our strength?” In his diatribe, he questioned whether disparate people could truly benefit each other and if life would be simpler if we lived in homogenous pods.

If the answer to his degradation of diversity from the Christian community is, “We live in diversity because God tells us to,” do we not in some sense validate his opinion due to our lackluster rebuttal? Is that answer not a concession that diversity is a weakness but that we should do it because Jesus is telling people to seek out those who have been shunned by society?

The unspoken admission becomes that this relationship will be a burden and not a reciprocal form of empowerment. When we argue from that stance, we validate the belief that anyone who is not white, heteronormative, cisgender, and middle class, is a detriment to everyone who is.

What is so infuriating about the argument of an obligation to diversity is that it completely misses the value of different cultures. We’ve allowed white supremacy, patriarchy, and hegemonic power structures to mold the debate to center on if it is the duty of those in power to help those who are “beneath them.” This line of thinking has three major flaws.

First, we know that diversity benefits everyone and is therefore not a handout by those in power. Immigrants are not only contributing members of society who strengthen the economy, they are keeping the U.S. working-age population afloat. Diverse schools benefit all students academically and emotionally. Businesses that have LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies are shown to have impressive financial gains. Diverse groups of people are more creative, more diligent, and harder-working compared to homogenous groups. Time and again evidence has shown that humans are enriched by collaboration and that everyone has value to offer.

Second, advocating for diversity can reinforce implicit bias when it ignores how much strength and beauty there is within each community. Terminology such as “the least of these” implies a second-class citizenry that shapes how we view and treat others. However, racist policies, discrimination, economic exploitation, and centuries of oppression do not bestow an innate sense of worthlessness on others.

Third, the obligation of diversity often creates a sense of complacency for those in power. Many Christians do the bare minimum to engage with others, while viewing themselves as a heroic savior for engaging with “the least of these.” Diversity without intentional inclusion to shift power structures creates no lasting change and frequently reinforces oppressive policies and practices.

It is vital to note that we should not love others solely for the economic value they give us. Going down that path leads to exploitation, subservience, and oppression. As such, it is emphatically important we recognize that we should accept everyone, regardless of what they give. However, too many people assume that those who are different than them do not have value to offer. This is simply wrong.

Too many people have bought into the idea that minorities have less to offer, when all evidence points to the contrary. Practicing inclusion is not charity and we should not treat it as such. When the Tucker Carlsons of the world ask why we should seek diversity, Christians should no longer solely respond, “Because Jesus can do it.”

Jesus did love those whom society had cast out and deprived. What gets missed is that Jesus did not want us to love others out of pity or duty. Jesus’ moral imperative stemmed from each person being given immutable dignity and respect through their creation in God’s image. Moreover, he recognized that humans are stronger in communities united through love, justice, and equality.

It is not our duty to accept diversity, it should be our joy.

Christopher Thyberg, MSW is a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education studying the school-to-prison pipeline, discriminatory school practices, and student engagement.

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