With college back in full swing and many schools wrestling with how to provide a “world home” environment on campus to students of all ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds, Ozark Christian College’s new associate director of diversity offered some suggestions to the incoming students. Dream of Destiny thought these were worth passing along to our readers.
Everybody in higher education knows what the end of August means – the beginning of the Fall semester of classes. This Fall semester, I had the privilege of being able to meet with the new freshmen class at Ozark Christian College for a Welcome Week session dealing with Ozark’s initiative to become more ethnically and culturally diverse. During this session I spoke to the predominately white Freshmen class about God’s heart for unity. I referenced Biblical texts that showed Christ intentionally breaking down ethnic walls that separated people groups. I referenced texts that showed how the Church was led by the Holy Spirit to break down walls that divided Jews and Gentiles; and by the end of the first part of the session I had painted a picture of what true unity is supposed to look like. True unity is seen when healthy diversity is represented.
During the session I walked the Freshmen through an exercise that helped them experience how it feels to be on the other end of someone else’s prejudice because of the color of their skin. Once this was over, I did not want to leave them hanging with the question of, “what now?” Many times we help people come to a state of realization that there is a new reality but we do not assist them in continuing to learn how to achieve Biblical unity. So, to answer this question I gave them four actions that they needed to do in order to hear God’s heart for unity. I believe that these actions are not only beneficial to Freshmen Bible college students but to anyone who is a part of the ministry of reconciliation.
The four actions one must do to hear God’s heart for unity:
Humble yourself by listening to others who look, act, talk and think differently than yourself. However, the goal is not to have a debate. When you hear that person say something that you do not agree with, do not think of a rebuttal. In fact, do not even check-out of the conversation. Just continue to listen to them and hear them out. Whenever you disagree with something that is said when dealing with the topic of ethnic reconciliation, just say, “tell me more.” In doing this, you are not saying that you agree with the person; but instead, you are showing that person that their feelings, experiences and thoughts are important and deserve to be heard.
Evaluate where you are when it comes to striving for unity. Questions you should ask yourself include: “Do I have prejudice against other cultures and people of color? Have I/do I offend people because of saying something culturally wrong or rude? Do I ignore ethnic issues going on around me because they do not affect me or my inner circle?” These questions will begin to help you figure out what biases and prejudices you have against other cultures and ethnicities that can lead to discrimination and ethnocentrism. Many times we believe that we are part of the ministry of reconciliation by claiming to be color-blind. By claiming this, we end up avoiding recognition of the systemic problem of racism in our country. Instead of working towards reconciliation, we actually enforce the very walls that keep people divided.
Appreciate other cultures. We all get in the habit of believing that our own culture is better than everyone else’s culture. When we do this, we unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) say, “my culture is the true way of living and worshiping God and yours is not.” God wants us to appreciate all cultures by seeing the image of God in all people. When we appreciate other cultures, our language can change from “them” to “we.” The body of Christ is more like a puzzle than anything. Each individual piece reveals Christ clearer to the world. However, if one puzzle piece believes that their image is all that matters, only a part of Christ is seen. A puzzle is only completed when all the pieces are connected and unified. When this is seen, the entire world can see the love and grace of Christ through the many different cultures.
Lastly, read and seek why ethnic and cultural inclusion is important to Jesus and the New Testament church. Read the Gospel of Matthew, Gospel of John, Acts, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Revelation. Read articles and books from people who have spent their lives studying the topic of ethnic reconciliation. We can easily get stuck in our ways because we read books that we agree with. We read things that support our argument and do not read others that go against our ways of thinking. I encourage you to read books that make you uncomfortable and think differently. Reconciliation begins with a choice. Either you choose to actively pursue it or you don’t.
When you do these four actions, you will begin to H.E.A.R. God’s heart for unity in His Church. Many times, people will claim to be about unity but think that it will happen naturally. This mindset is one of the many reasons why so many of our churches in the United States are culturally homogeneous and why segregation still exists. In the book of Acts, God worked through His people. He had Philip go to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. He had Peter go to Cornelius’ house in Acts 10. He revealed himself to Paul to carry the good news to the Gentiles. God is still calling us to be intentional and act towards unity today. We need to hear His heart for unity and obey.
About Matthew McBirth
Matthew McBirth grew up in the city of Jeffersonville, Indiana. Being from a bi-ethnic home and multiethnic community, Matthew experienced both the beauty of diversity but also the struggles that can be raised when people from different cultures clash. Called to ministry, Matthew is a graduate of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, MO. While gaining experience in local church ministry during his time at Ozark, Matthew felt a growing passion for the ministry of racial reconciliation. Matthew now works for Ozark to help establish the Dream of Destiny Diversity Department in order to raise up servant leaders who love, honor, embrace and encourage ethnic and cultural diversity for the sake of the Gospel.
Matthew is married to his beautiful bride, Allison whom he met during his student years at Ozark. Apart from talking about unity within the Church, on campus and in society, Matthew enjoys playing and watching basketball. He is a huge University of Louisville Cardinals fan. When you see him, he is usually listening to rap or hip-hop music or creating spoken word poetry.