Diversity reflects God’s beauty

Marginalized people are refusing to accept discrimination in the body of Christ

What’s our attitude toward people who don’t fit the majority? Tolerance is a notch above rejection. Acceptance is better; affirmation better still. The highest level of inclusion is when the group cherishes those who are different.

To cherish is to treasure, to hold dear, to love.

Anabaptist communities need to become better lovers of diversity. How shall we learn to cherish people who don’t conform?

1 Corinthians 13, which describes the virtues of cherishing and loving, is a good place to start.

“Charity,” closely related to “cherish,” is the word for “love” in the King James translation of 1 Corinthians 13.

Of the three virtues — faith, hope and love/charity — love is the greatest.

The Apostle Paul says an essential part of being loved/cherished is being known.

This is the kind of love God has for us: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

God is love. Love sees fully. God sees us fully.

We can recognize our own need for this kind of love. Each of us wants to be fully seen for who we truly are. We want to be comfortable in our own skin.

If I want to love/cherish my neighbor as myself, I will extend to others the freedom to be their true selves.

Are our Anabaptist churches and communities doing this? Those of us in the majority — White, abled, heterosexual — might think we are good at seeing everyone fully. But people of color, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people might tell different stories. 

In our April issue, we are sharing stories of people with disabilities.

“Diversity reflects God’s beauty,” says Sarah Werner, who writes of her disability, her ordination and her experience of being cherished at Columbus Mennonite Church in Ohio.

The “profound sense of belonging” she feels is “a rare and cherished experience.” She says her disability is a part of her identity that has “shaped my life in powerful ways that I wouldn’t trade for a ‘normal’ body.”

“When someone assumes I want to be ‘healed’ or that I lack faith, this reflects an ignorance that God created me this way — whole and holy,” Werner says.

On multiple fronts, Anabaptists and other Christians are being challenged to understand that diversity is God’s design.

It is a challenge because Mennonite churches traditionally are places of conformity. Differences get molded into sameness. We simplify the complexity of human experience and miss the gifts of diversity.

Marginalized people today are refusing to accept discrimination within the body of Christ. They will seek out churches that recognize the beauty of diversity, the ones that see and cherish them.

In My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church (Brazos, 2022), Amy Kenny writes of her insistence that churchgoers stop trying to erase diversity: “I am not waiting for a cure to live an abundant life, and if folks would take the time to get to know me as more than a diagnosis, they would know that.”

Across a range of differences, the best practices of inclusion are similar. Racist, ableist and heteronormative attitudes thrive on the assumption that certain people need to be “fixed” and conform to what is “normal” and accept being treated as “less than.”

Kenny says what actually needs fixing is the surrounding society. She calls for “tearing down spaces, practices and mindsets that are inaccessible to disabled people, even when those spaces are inside the church itself.”

The need to tear down harmful practices and mindsets applies to all barriers that exclude.

Mennonite Church USA’s 2022 assembly is remembered mostly for its LGBTQ-affirming Repentance and Transformation resolution. But delegates also passed a resolution on accessibility. It urges congregations to make their facilities more accessible and to call out the leadership gifts of people with disabilities.

It also calls for better knowing: to “deepen our understanding of barriers for people with disabilities.” This should include deepening our understanding of the people themselves.

Both Kenny and Werner have, as Werner says, experienced the indignity of “church people who don’t know anything about us wanting to pray for us to be healed.” A better prayer would be to know each other more fully and to see each one for who we truly are.

Paul Schrag

Paul Schrag is editor of Anabaptist World. He lives in Newton, Kan., attends First Mennonite Church of Newton and is Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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