Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “Pied Beauty,” wrote, “Glory be to God for dappled things.” To be dappled is to be variegated, exhibiting different colors. Hopkins glorifies God for the skies, fish, finches, and landscapes. All of the created variety in this world points to the glory of God. He loves difference. He is the Author of dappled things, who spoke the delightful benediction “very good” over the beautiful diverse creation at the end of the sixth day. It is no minor point that humanity crowns the creation account in Genesis 1.
Because all creation’s beauty has God as its source, humanity was destined for what I call beautiful community. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He is the Beautiful One who has brought copies of Himself into being. And yet, because of sin, we cannot pursue beautiful community without combating injustice and oppression.
We are stamped from the beginning for unity and union, for wholeness and shalom.
The work we do at the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission puts us in constant conversation with pastors who are trying to navigate the intense debate around these issues. They’re intent on leading their churches into a more robust pursuit of unity in diversity. Yet without fail, they will describe what I call “the vise effect.” Some congregants say, “It’s about time! How can we love and welcome our diverse neighbors if we do not engage the issues that are affecting their lives?” Others push from the other end. “Wait a minute! This feels like we’re buying into the culture’s narrative. Slow down. Let’s make sure our church is not forsaking the gospel for social relevance.”
We have no idea how much our understanding of what it means to be human, to be a Christian, to live a good life, to experience love, to be friend, husband, wife, and worker is shaped by the groups to which we belong. We’re blind to its many facets because it is the water that we swim in. We want intimate communion under the lordship of Jesus Christ across lines of difference, but we want that communion on our terms. What happens, then, is that we end up talking past each other and assigning evil motives to those who hold different positions than we do. We violate the Ninth Commandment, refusing to uphold and promote the good name of our neighbors.
With all this difficulty, pastors wonder: Is it worth it? Is it even possible to press through the polarization? Some think back to the “good old days” when we mostly ignored racial injustice, racial reconciliation, and the pursuit of unity in diversity under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Well, here is another truth, and this one is glorious. Beautiful community is already a reality. The redemption of the world has been accomplished by the victory of God when Christ rose from the dead. Hence, the church is called to be a sign of the unity of the human race that will one day be perfectly achieved. The Fall destroyed union and unity with God and each other; reunion, therefore, is the story of Scripture.
These words that we find in Scripture — renewed, reconciled, united — reveal the reversal of the fractures, divides, breaks, partitions of life in this world and before God that were/are so desperately needed. We are stamped from the beginning for beautiful community — for unity and union, for wholeness and shalom.
Praise be to God.
Irwyn Ince serves as the executive director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission and as a pastor in the Grace DC Network. He has been selected as the coordinator pro tempore of Mission to North America and is the author of “The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best.”