Last week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that, “for the first time in more than a century, the front of our currency will feature the portrait of a woman, Harriet Tubman, on the $20 note.” He later told reporters, “Her incredible story of courage and commitment to equality embody the ideals of democracy that our nation celebrates, and we’ll continue to value her legacy by honoring her on our currency.”
Of course, like everything in our time, this decision has stirred up controversy. So how should those of us who love God’s kingdom and who are working to see the church live out the diversity of the kingdom today, feel about this?
Well, I am pretty happy and this is why.
One. While people are divided, they are not divided in the usual ways. I read stories on both Politico and National Review, two sites representing opposite ends of the political establishment, both praising the move to have Harriet Tubman on the $20. This means, Harriet has accomplished something almost impossible these days, she’s brought Republicans and Democrats together. Perhaps because she is from a time when a small minority of people chose to do what was right, not what was expedient?
What a challenge she is to all of us and what an encouragement for believers today to choose not the “lesser of evils” but the good.
That leads me to reason number two. Harriet Tubman was a real person, who made real choices (tough ones) in terribly challenging times. She could have escaped slavery and then hidden herself away living in whatever comfort and security she could find. But instead she chose to put her personal safety and comfort aside for the freedom of others. She did this her whole life. She lived a life of dedication to those in any form of bondage. Wow, this is something to emulate!
As a Christian, I am ecstatic to have a true follower of Christ on our currency. The history of our country is tainted by many who professed faith, but did not live it. How great for those of us attempting to represent our Lord accurately in our time to have someone like Tubman to look back on. “Tubman said she would listen carefully to the voice of God as she led slaves north, and she would only go where she felt God was leading her” (Christianity Today). We are in no less need for God’s divine direction today.
As an advocate for diversity in the church, I am thrilled to have an African American on our currency. African Americans helped build this country, though their contributions are rarely recognized. For any believer that would allow their political persuasion to criticize this decision, let these words be a challenge to you:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
This past week one part of our national body has been honored and we should all rejoice!
As a woman, I am overjoyed to have Harriet Tubman representing me, not for her looks, that have been disparaged, (see “To the People Saying Harriet Tubman is ‘Too Ugly’ to Appear on the $20 Bill: Have Several Seats”) but for her actions. Yes! I am pretty sure that when I stand before the Lord to give an account and the books of “what I have done” are opened before him and all of my works are tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12) he will or will not declare “well done thy good and faithful servant" based upon my outward appearance in this life, but on how faithful I was to him.
Many have disapproved this decision calling it pure political correctness. Perhaps it is. Perhaps those who made the decision do not share my reasons. That’s ok. Like Paul before me, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.” I know we are not talking about the preaching of the gospel here, but you get my meaning.
Attend and congregate—here are two simple verbs that are often used to describe what the church is or what one does in relation to church. Is the church a place we go to or something we are a part of?
Do you go to (attend) church or does your church gather (congregate) regularly at a particular place and time?
Now before you dismiss this post as splitting of hairs, stick with me a minute or two. I think the difference is more than semantics. The difference between the church as people or place is crucial.
If the church is a place that one attends, then how we get people to come to it becomes a real question. It deals with marketing and consumption. We want to give our attendees a great experience, a good product, so that they will become faithful customers/attenders. Is this not what we are all about in the church these days--attracting customers? Loyal customers who stay with us year after year. Even more so, we want customers who will become salespeople, like your classic pyramid scheme. This is just one of the many pitfalls of redefining church as a place we attend.
Now, if the church is a congregation that we are a part of, then it would make sense that we should gather periodically. We need to gather to refresh our relationships with one another. Just like families gather; we gather not to become family, but to stay current, to stay in touch and enjoy each other’s company. But the church is more than a family. We are the body of Christ. This means we share in his vision and mission. So we also need to gather to discuss how to work together in that mission and to celebrate the reason we are one in the first place. This is often called worship. We gather to sing, shout, rejoice, and learn so that we can represent him better and better within our spheres of influence.
So what does this have to do with diversity? Well, if church is something we attend, then it really doesn’t matter where we attend. We can pick the consumer experience that best caters to our own personal likes and needs. This view of the church results in a segregated church.
If on the other hand, the church is something supernatural that we belong to by the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, then I don’t get to choose who I congregate with. The reasons "I am in Chris"t should dominate the choices I make in who I congregate with- namely, to represent him well in the world as his body extended to each other and our community. This view of the church drives us towards diversity.
Growing up in South Dakota I was mostly surrounded by people who looked like me. We may think it’s okay to live and worship only with people who look like us, but really, we need diversity—I believe it is something God requires of us.
Here are a few things I’ve learned that have challenged me:
1. Ethnic diversity is sacred to God. He cares about ALL people and so should we.
2. God doesn’t want us to live or worship segregated.
3. “White privilege” is something Christians need to be aware of and fight against.
4. God is a God of justice and we should be moved to action by all the injustices ethnic minorities have experienced and continue to experience all around us.
Over the last year, I have been working with a campus ministry in Dayton, Ohio. It is so much fun to work in this diverse city. We as a staff team strive to be a ministry that is culturally diverse. We seem to have a long way to go—I am the most diverse person on our team, so far, being a white girl from South Dakota. (Everyone on staff is not only white, but from Ohio!) However, I did meet an African American gal on campus who said our group was “dramatically more diverse” than when she visited a few years ago.
I’ve also started attended the NAACP meetings. I really enjoy going to these and attending different multi-cultural campus events. I don’t talk much at the NAACP meetings, but I am learning a lot and I hope my presence let’s the students there know I care about them. I think it is so important for us as Christians to intentionally go to events where we are the minority. It is important that we know what it feels like to be in a place where our culture is not in the majority.
A few of us from Dayton Chi Alpha have been praying faithfully, almost every week this school year, for diversity in our ministry. I believe we have seen answers to these prayers, but we have a long way to go. It really is a challenge to overcome segregation and unconscious biases, but I am encouraged by God (and I hope you are too) to keep going, to keep putting myself out there, and to believe that God can do great things as we build bridges and come together.
What truths have you discovered on the road of diversity?