Unified in our Differences

January 15, 2007


From today’s Daily Office:

Ephesians 4:11-16

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

The “unity of the faith” and the diversity of the body of Christ, with all the different parts and callings reminds me of what a wonderful day this is, this day of rememberence of Martin Luther King, Jr.  So much of what he did was committed to unity, putting the parts of the body together where they had been disjointed, knitting together the ligaments torn apart by inequality and injustice so that the body could continue to grow in love.

I am so privileged to be in a January term class at seminary focused on the study of differences within our society and also how differences contribute to inequality and injustice.

One of the first things we talked about was what makes up a difference.  We used this diagram as a platform for discussion:

Looks different & thinks different
“Hidden Immigrant”
Looks the same & thinks different
Looks different & thinks alike
Looks and thinks alike

In most situations, anglo gays and lesbians would be in the “Hidden Immigrant” category.  We look the same, but we have a different experience of life which leads us to think differently (much has been written on whether or not we are a “culture” or “sub-culture”, but certainly the points discussed here are applicable to us as different regardless).  As I wrote in this post, many times we get caught in the trap of trying to assimilate into the “mirror” category.  Of course, there are many non-white gays and lesbians who have a double-minority status, and fall into the “foreigner” category.

In studying differences, one of the most useful tools we have been given in my class is the following developmental assessment tool.  (It was prepared by Rev. Canon Jaime Case, the Canon of Multicultural Ministry for the Diocese of Texas, and is based on Multicultural Ministry by David A. Anderson, and also the work of Episcopalian Eric H.F. Law, who cites Milton J. Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.)

Note this is a developmental framework, so the “least developed” is the “Racist”, and the “most developed” is the “Reconciler”.  One must move through each level- whether briefly or for a long period- before attaining the next level.

Racist – Unaware of the formation of one’s own ideas.
– Difference does not exist.
– You are different, so you are bad.
Agnostic – Difference may exist, but it’s not relevant.
– I am better (or worse) than those different from me.
– I am color blind.
Cynic – Difference does exist.
– It is too hard to address.
– Difference translates into a taxonomy of good-better-best.
– Separation is still best for all.
Seeker – Difference is more difficult and complex than believed.
– Difference may have to be addressed. Difference may be ok.
– Tolerance.
Conversion – Difference is wonderful.
– Life is difference manifest.
– Everything will be gloriously beautiful from now on.
– I need to take on the burden of the Enlightened person.
Babe – Difference is full of hurt and pain.
– Fear.
– My difference is the only one that matters.
– Learning is painful.
Child – Difference stimulates.
– Difference is hard, but I’m learning.
– Difference still hurts a lot.
– Other people hurt too from difference.
Teen – Difference is Me.
– Difference means you accept me (or what I have learned).
– Reconciling, can it be done?
– Difference requires aggressive acting out.
Adults – Difference is difficult but I can’t live without it.
– Difference and Identity are intertwined.
– I value persons who are different.
Reconciler – I will work to bring others to love our difference.
– I will try to master some aspect of difference to teach others.
– I will nurture others in Difference.

I really like this developmental approach to understanding difference and human behavior for several reasons.

First, I think that those of us who are different do not always attain the “Reconciler” status of appreciation of difference.  I think it is very easy to find a place where “my difference is the only difference that matters” or where “difference means that you accept me” and stop moving forward in our journeys towards reconciliation.

Second, I find that it has been difficult for me to work with those who cannot appreciate difference because I expect them to move all the way from “Racist” (or, in my case, “Homophobe”) to “Reconciler” or at least “Seeker” within a relatively short amount of time.

I am learning that perhaps the best that can be expected in the short-term is to move a Racist/Homophobe from a Racist position to an Agnostic position, or Agnostic to Cynic, and so on.  That does not mean that I have to yield any of my difference, nor does it mean that I have to stop for one minute being authentic in who I am as a gay man.  It does mean that as a reconciler I need to see the progress that forward movement is– even if a person is still seeing difference in terms of “better” or “worse” because of difference.  Movement from a racist position to an agnostic position is a step forward, even though the other still has more work to do.  This is a developmental process, and our humanity requires that we learn slowly and gradually; our human nature just doesn’t allow for leaps and bounds of instantaneous growth in this kind of development.

I do not have to give up any of my forward progress in my equality, nor do I have to stop my pursuit of full equality, but I can appreciate the efforts of those who are trying– even if they do not realize they are trying.

I have been surprised to find the predominant attitude in my classmates that the Episcopal Church needs to have a core set of beliefs that holds us together (at least they do predominantly agree that this set of beliefs should be inclusive of gays and lesbians!).  I am so strongly opposed to this idea.  It seems to me that such a framework is antithetical to the way that we were formed as a church, and leads to only two possible outcomes:  1) there is an absolute truth which we can know regardless of the differences among us; or 2) there are multiple roads leading to the center (pluralism), but which we will define for the church in a structured way based on our own truth.

The former to me is problematic because it falls into the “Racist” category on the developmental scale above– namely that “difference does not exist” and that God must be working in the same way among all six billion people on the planet.  I find that extremely arrogant.  The second is problematic for me because it seems to be somewhat like the “my difference is the only one that matters” stage– it assumes that we shall only invite those into our church community if they share our difference; our truth; our road.  I prefer a more open framework which values the way God is working in all people, cherishing and working for peace, justice, compassion, and love in all, and allows us to be curious about how God might be doing that in each person, community, and culture.  I believe that is what our Anglican heritage offers us.  To try and define the heritage as anything less is to be disrepectful of the difference that God instilled in us from the beginning.  It is to work not for reconciliation, but against it.

Eric Law, of the Diocese of Los Angeles, on his website defines competent leadership in a diverse world as:

  1. Self-awareness—deep understanding of one’s cultural values, strengths and weakness, and the privilege and power that come with one’s roles and cultural background
  2. Appreciation of differences as opportunities, rather than as problems
  3. Commitment to pluralistic understanding of issues while being able to make faithful decisions
  4. Active theological reflection on diversity issues as they relate to oneself, others, and one’s community and creation
  5. Discipline in applying appropriately skills, models and theories that will increase the inclusiveness of various situations
  6. Ability to guide and support a community to move toward change faithfully in response to its changing environment.

I think Martin Luther King Jr. understood this leadership skill, maybe more than anybody, and he was greatly successful at it.

I hope and pray that we will be too.



One Response to “Unified in our Differences”

  1. […] compassionate to those who are our “enemies,” those who don’t get it yet.  In my post yesterday, I talked about the developmental scale of accepting differences.  Since we are called in the […]

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