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The gospel and inclusivity

‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ are not trends. They’re fundamental Christian values

by the Rev. Samuel Son, manager for Diversity & Reconciliation | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Photo by airfocus via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — These days, every organization is coming up with a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — commonly referred to as DEI — strategic plan. The hiring of diversity and inclusion executives has grown 113% in the last five years. As of February 2021, half of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies have a chief diversity officer. The national agencies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are also putting together DEI plans as a response to the General Assembly mandate for a Race Audit in 2018. However, this is not the church jumping on the latest business trend. DEI has been a core value from the birth of the church. In fact, the church practiced them first. Consider the basic definitions of DEI and how they were present in the early church, from its Pentecost birth.

  • Diversity is the presence of difference in a setting. In Pentecost, the message was preached in multiple languages! No one’s difference was erased. Everyone heard the story of Jesus in the language they dreamed in. The interpretation service of Pentecost makes today’s United Nations system of interpretation look antiquated.
  • Inclusion is the practice of ensuring people feel a sense of belonging. Luke tells us that the believers “spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). When they went to Herod’s Temple, they still had to abide by the division of people forced by the structure of the temple, its stoned walls creating Court of Gentiles, Court of Women, Court of Israel, and Court of Priests. But in the homes, everyone sat around the same table and broke bread together. No one was left out. There is no more a powerful and visceral way of experience belonging than breaking bread together.
  • Equity is the process of ensuring that processes and programs provide equal possible outcomes for every individual recognizing that no one starts from the same place. The Pentecost church knew that inequity ravages most fundamentally in economic structure. So, they had the courage and the logistic intelligence to create their own economic system where they “distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).

Don’t dismiss or treat DEI terms as trendy corporate terms. They are fundamental Christian values. I even offer them as Marks of the Church. The Reformation lifted gospel preaching and administration of sacraments (Calvin added discipline of the church) as marks of the true church in order to recognize church work independent of a 1,000-year-long hierarchy of papal authority. It was a bold move. We need an equally bold move today. Because American Christianity, its theology and practice, has been deeply compromised by the ideology and practice of white supremacy. Robert P. Jones, the author of “The End of White Christian America,” writes, “American Christianity’s theological core has been thoroughly structured by an interest in protecting white supremacy.” The three values of DEI as marks of the Church create a critical perspective to discern where our churches have strayed from their mission to be a community where all belong and used to justify and protect white privileges.

The Rev. Samuel Son preaches the sermon “Breakfast at Galilee” at the opening of a meeting of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

In the next few posts (found here in the months to come), I will share what DEI assessment and work could look like in our churches and mid councils. We will, of course, learn from and lean into current studies and theories on race and organizational transformation. Theology has always been a conversation between God’s work now and God’s work in history, between news and Scripture. All truths are God’s truths. This also means we have much to learn from our faith parents. And in the book of Acts, we witness what compelled and propelled the church to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive (though those are not the exact words they would use) was the reality of the resurrection. In our next post, we will see how the experience of resurrection serves as the rationale and the energy for this fresh understanding of God’s people that includes all.

The Rev. Samuel Son is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s manager for Diversity & Reconciliation. Reach him at samuel.son@pcusa.org.


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