A strong, natural, cultural tendency among humankind—even those committed to loving all people—is to be in community with those considered to be “our kind of people”. The tendency is to swarm with people with whom there is the least diversity and the most harmony.
This tendency happens at the same time the altruistic and strategic desire is present to embrace a greater diversity. It happens even in congregations who desire more multi-racial diversity. [See the recent Baylor University study.]
Is There a Case for Diversity Over Harmony?
It is easier and more comfortable to affirm the network of friends and other relationships built over a number of years. It is a high priority in many situations to have people working together who immediately trust one another. It is also a defense mechanism when people have disappointed us, uttered untrustworthy words, and engaged in untrustworthy actions.
Harmony is faster to achieve when we can begin with people with whom we already agree, know, and like. Diversity is slower as we have to get to know and trust one another, and see if there is a basis for liking one another that goes beyond a Christian command to love one another.
Harmony is easier because there is likely a common journey among people so that insights into opportunities and challenges are second nature and provide pathways for smooth collaboration.
Diversity is tougher as the difference in perspectives must be unpacked, common ground established, and finally the journey towards higher ground commenced.
Harmony is less stressful in a world overloaded with stress. Diversity increases stress, and often confronts participants with compromises to consider rather than the synergy of collaboration.
Implications of Diversity vs. Harmony Approach
For many years a congregational consulting network with which I was connected used a valuable personality assessment for individuals and teams. One benefit was that it clearly showed patterns of diversity and harmony. For many teams to whom we applied it the tendency towards harmony was greater than the tendency towards diversity.
The longer a team or community existed the more it moved in the direction of harmony and away from diversity. In organizations leaders over a number of years surrounded themselves with people with the same thinking and action patterns they possessed, and marginalized—often unintentionally—people who represented diversity.
In one denominational organization of more than 100 employees we assessed each staff person and the various teams. Later this organization reorganized its staff. What was striking was a significant perception that people with the same thinking and action patterns as the CEO were promoted, and those with a different pattern were demoted.
I would suggest out of my four decades of consulting and coaching that maintaining and increasing diversity is a tough challenge, but one that is essential to keep people, teams, congregations, and denominations from becoming myopic, closed systems, elitist, increasingly paternalistic, and somewhat xenophobic.
Insights Into Baptists Throughout North America
The “birds of a feather flock together” syndrome is not the possession of only one theological perspective, sociological pattern, or psychological personality. It is found everywhere throughout North America. It is stunting the spiritual formation of millions of Christians. It is killing thousands of congregations. It is hastening the ensmallment efforts of dozens of denominational organizations while simultaneously bringing into existence new denominational forms spinning off of existing denominations. It is segmenting one denominational tribe from another.
In my role as the General Secretary [read as executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship for the Baptist World Alliance, I am challenged by the diversity and harmony issues among Baptists throughout North America. In the three dozen organized denominations within the Baptist family is a great diversity of theology, geography, polity, race and ethnicity, missional efforts, and advocacy initiatives. This is good.
At the same time, when opportunities exist to do things across denominational tribes, the tendency is to do things only with our kind of Baptist. Many of the diversity factors seem to be overlooked or diminished in value.
Can this be changed? I hope so. I believe so. But, it is not me who must believe this. It is the leaders and followers within the various tribes within the larger North American Baptist family.
One effort is the creation of a collaborative missional movement of FutureBaptists. An initial gathering to stimulate the necessary dialogue to move in this direction is planned for Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA March 6-8, 2104. Check for regular updates at www.nabf2014.info.
Implications for Other Denominational Families
What are the implications for your denominational family and the various tribes within it? How is the issue of diversity vs. harmony playing out? What are the next steps your denominational family needs to take to soar with faith rather than becoming myopic, closed systems, and perhaps even elitist, increasingly paternalistic, and somewhat xenophobic?