Does Celebrating Diversity Lead to Unity?

Diversity Management grew out of the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960’s. It opened doors for minorities in the workplace and has helped employers adapt to the changing demographics of society in the decades since. Minority cultures previously ignored by mainstream society slowly began to be noticed and appreciated, which began the process of bridging the significant gaps between cultures. Today most, if not all of the fortune 500 companies, offer some form of on-going diversity training designed to foster team building and encourage appreciation amongst their employees. We can only speculate what motivates corporations and their executives to invest so heartily in diversity training when the results are so tenuous, but quite possibly some executives are driven by a profound sense of altruism and decency. Others quite possibly are prompted by sheer pragmatism and a sense of protection for their own bottom line. Either way, I applaud corporate America for urging their employees to treat others with, simple respect. No harm can come from emphasizing respect, yet for all the energy expended to bring people together, there seems to be little return on their investment.

I talked with a young African American woman recently who told me “we are often still not welcome.” It troubles me to think that in spite of the progress over the last fifty years, society is still not there yet. Even more distressing though, is the reality that my young friend still feels unwelcome and thinks in terms of “we and they.” This is a sad commentary on the status of race relations in America today.

About ten years ago, I worked as a Diversity Manager during my companies roll out of its diversity initiative, to over 100,000 employees. I traveled along the east coast conducting training sessions in distribution centers and stores, on valuing diversity. I truly believed in the idea of celebrating our differences. I felt the roll out was significant and if embraced by our employees, would make us a better company to work for and more responsive to our customers needs. However, there was a disconnect somewhere for me. For all the effort there seemed to be little change.

Diversity programs typically identify racism as a root cause of many social problems and they attempt to address adverse behaviors through dialogue and education. The thinking seems to be that if people are educated about the differences between people and encouraged to celebrate those differences rather than look down upon them, we will all get along better. This might be true if when celebrating our differences we didn’t add value to people based on their differences, subtly encouraging them to be different. The implication is, my differences must be valued or there is something wrong with the other person. If someone fails to value my difference according to my expectation, they are insensitive, bigoted or even worse, they are racists. Neither the one holding an expectation to a particular type of treatment, nor the one accused of racism is likely to feel the love.

The Unity Model takes a different approach and begins with the belief that racism is rooted in sin. Built upon this understanding is the belief that Jesus Christ offers the only solution for the problem of sin. So, any attempt to effectively address racism must focus on Christ, or the effort will come up short. Unity is not, in and of itself the answer, since even unity can be twisted into evil. God intervened at the Tower of Babel when men began to unite for the purpose of making a name for themselves.1 He testified to the power of unity and cautioned us to its danger when directed away from His purposes, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”2 Jesus reminded us that He and the Father are one and desires for us to “be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”3

Christ draws diverse people together and their Unity is evidence to the world of two things. First, God sent Jesus for our benefit and second, God loves us individually in the same way He loves Jesus. We must remember Unity is not natural because we are so diverse. Naturally we are more comfortable with people who are like ourselves. Therefore our Unity provides supernatural evidence of God’s presence in our midst. Our Unity will cause a watching world to wonder, what is different about us.

Unity celebrates our similarities where as Diversity celebrates our differences. Unity acknowledges that our value does not come from being different, but from being similar. We are fearfully and wonderfully made,4 unique in our personhood, yet all formed in the image of God.5 Our matchless fingerprints and exclusive DNA, testify to the fact that we are unique individuals before God and yet utterly common before mankind.

It is not our differences that make us strong, but our similarities. Celebrating Diversity overlooks the problem of sin and focuses on the individual. It trains us to expect certain treatment or demand censure; neither of which lead to unity. Only when we surrender our personal identities (skin color, culture, economics, education, etc.) and identify with Christ, can we be united with diverse peoples. Celebrating Diversity may be politically correct today, but it fails to deliver a lasting and genuine unity between people from a wide array of cultures.

Stephen C. Weaver Esq. is an attorney and President of the No Walls Ministry, Inc. located in Lynchburg Virginia, whose mission is to help churches work cross culturally and cross denominationally to address the needs of the local community.  He has been teaching, speaking, writing and engaging in inner city ministries for over twenty years with his particular interest and passion being in the area of race relations.

1 Genesis 11:4.
2 Genesis 11:6-7. 
3 John 17:23.
4 Psalm 139:14.
5 Genesis 1:27.