In October, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond had the privilege of hosting all seven volumes of the Heritage Edition of the Saint John’s Bible on our campus. For those not familiar with the project, The Saint John’s Bible is the first hand-written, illuminated copy of Scripture produced in over 500 years. A Bible for today, the mission of the project is to ignite the spiritual imagination of people of faith all around the world. We were delighted that the exhibit drew over 1,500 people to our campus.
One afternoon as I was serving as a docent, I paused to look around the chapel, and suddenly I gasped in surprise. Two very diverse groups were mingling together, admiring the pages of scripture. One group was from a church that had recently been asked to withdraw from our local association for ordaining an openly gay man. The other group was very conservative theologically. Deeply committed Christians from both of these groups had engaged in spirited (and sometimes heated) discussions with one another at a number of associational meetings over the course of the last year. The issue drove a deep wedge in our association and it remained unresolved.
My first reaction was, “I’m glad these folks don’t know who they are standing next too, this could get interesting.” Then, part of me wanted to get everyone’s attention and announce to the whole group exactly who was in the room. In the end, I just stood back (with a tear in my eye) and marveled at what was unfolding around me.
Later, I took time to do some theological reflection on the afternoon’s events. First, I discovered that I couldn’t think of another thing, besides this amazing illuminated Bible, that would bring both of these groups to our campus together. I was reminded of Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Both groups had come that day, with hearts open to experience the Word in a new way, and everyone in the room was blessed by their interaction not only with the text, but with the God that it reveals to us all.
Then I meditated on the realization that on a good day, there is more that unites us than drives us apart. I wondered what would have happened if I had announced the diversity of folks that stood in our chapel that day. I’m an incurable optimist, so I would like to believe that they would have been as touched as I was, and that some steps would have been made toward healing. But, I’m also a realist enough that I decided not to risk spoiling the moment for anyone. To this day, I wonder whether or not I made the right decision.
Whether we work in theological schools, non-profits or local congregations, diversity of all types is a growing reality for us all. Where do folks in your setting diverge theologically? What drives a wedge between believers? Perhaps more importantly, what can transcend those issues and unite groups who are all well-intentioned but at odds? What can you do to help those folks come together to experience and worship the living God?
As congregational leaders, I encourage you to carve out some time for reflection and prayer. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the tug of war and urgency of the issues that we must navigate each day. So take some time to get on the balcony where you can see the larger picture. Ask God to give you the wisdom to know when to name the players and the issues with intentionality and integrity, and when to just let the beauty and wonder unfold. Like me, you might find yourself gasping in awe and amazement.