For those of us who believe we are saved by faith and who care for others as an extension of our faith, we know that the former must precede the latter—and yet it’s easy to let tasks and to-dos be our guiding stars.
As a three on the Enneagram, I intimately understand what it looks like to let the pursuit of progress and accomplishment overshadow why we’re on the journey to begin with. The challenge is that when we allow our what and how to supersede our why, we can quickly become burdened by completing our “checklist.”
In doing so, we neglect the deeper heart change that’s needed to address the brokenness and suffering in our neighborhoods, communities, and society.
This is the problem facing those who work in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) today. For instance, a Forbes leadership article presented four reasons DEI programs fail—all of which are task-centered. But as Christians, we know there is far more to this issue.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion should matter to us because they are the outworking of a critical truth embedded deeply within the Christian faith. The truth is that despite our differences, we were all made equally in God’s image and ultimately belong to God and to each other. This is the “why” behind everything we do—the fuel that keeps our outreach ministries in motion.
However, the focus shouldn’t just be on DEI, but on diversity, equity, and belonging (DEB) efforts, wherein the word “inclusion” is replaced by a more holistic sense of belonging—which I believe is the crucial lynchpin around which diversity and equity revolve.
I believe Christians are in the best position to advance DEB initiatives and movements that will stand the test of time and serve as a testament to the world. But we cannot do this until we have fully grasped the two central realities of why we must see and elevate the voices and lives of those who are unlike us.
First, we belong to God.
For several years, my community has taken a hard look in the mirror to understand how we are ensuring those called to serve under our banner a sense that they belong. Our goal is to introduce people from all walks of life and help them grow in their faith—so that they will feel and know that they can thrive in their individual callings.
To that end, we have sought to lay the foundation for what we hope will be sustaining work in elevating and including those from diverse backgrounds and experiences. I have been deeply convicted to do this because I believe DEB is a gospel matter.
The reasoning is simple: We do this work because Christ died, so that each of us—regardless of our differences—could once again belong in God’s Kingdom. Scripture doesn’t say that Christ died for some according to a certain hierarchy (e.g., whites more than nonwhites, rich more than poor, males more than females, etc.).
In his kindness, God offers us all true belonging—a familial sense of community and a knowledge that we belong to him and never have to be alone. At the heart of our desire to make sure people are seen and heard is not the urge to join the cultural moment but to reflect the true nature of a God who loves everyone, and who therefore loves diversity.
God wants us to trust in him, to draw near to him, and to be part of his family. We are his children. When he put his imprint on us, he said that we belonged to him.
How many of us need to hear that message today? How many of our Black and brown, female, disabled, poor, and neglected neighbors need to know that they belong to Someone who, rather than judging and mocking them for who they are, how they look, or what society thinks about them, instead seeks to embrace them in Christ?
God knows something we don’t know (shocker): The differences that we look down upon in others are a reminder of how outrageously intentional, creative, beautiful, openhanded, and openhearted our God is. Sameness is not a virtue in God’s economy. On the contrary, sameness actually limits our ability to see and appreciate the full beauty of the diverse mosaic that is God’s creation.
In The Next Evangelicalism, Soong-Chan Rah writes, “While our Western individualism will focus our attention on the personal reflection of the imago Dei in the individual, we need to see the image of God expressed as a corporate reflection.” It is only in our diversity that we manifest the full beauty of the image of God.
Bottom line? God’s welcoming arms have no limits. As Christians, we ourselves have experienced God’s belonging, and it ought to be our desire that all people experience it—from God and from people.
Second, we belong to each other.
Catchwords exist for a reason. When the pandemic hit in 2020, how many of us heard the word “pivot” until we thought we would scream? And yet that word was what that moment called for. Today, a rising term I have heard a lot lately is “proximity”—the importance of nearness in space, time, or relationship.
I believe we will simply never get DEI right until we cultivate a sense of proximity between ourselves and those around us—by closing the gaps of understanding between our experiences and people from different backgrounds (i.e., ethnically, racially, economically, generationally, etc.).
At the risk of sounding controversial, I sometimes wonder if believers turn certain terms or ideas into boogeymen just because we are looking for an easy way out of hard discussions and tensions. How many of us have seen a conversation shut down as soon as terms like “CRT” or “woke” come up?
The truth is that some aspects of Western American theology have failed to equip us to hold together tension and discomfort. This can leave us woefully unable to lean into the hard realities that the pursuit of belonging requires us to see and sit in. It’s much more difficult for us to press into our points of conflict and to explore our differences together.
In his book Think Again, psychologist Adam Grant explains that we often listen to views “that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard” and “favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” Ouch.
The reality of the Kingdom of God is that we all belong to each other and therefore we cannot ignore hard conversations that seek to honor the imago Dei in all of us. Too often, we look only at ourselves and others as individuals. But God’s work in us is also corporate and communal—he has placed us in the context of a family in the body of Christ.
This is why DEB matters—because all of us working and living together matters to God. He has created us to live in community with each other and reflect his image in this world.
I would invite us to reflect on not only the what and how of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, but also to examine why are we elevating these values. As Christians, we must begin our pursuit of DEB initiatives by standing firmly on the foundation that God has already laid out for us.
We are a people who belong to him and to each other—and God desires that to be true for all people, everywhere. The Good News is that God invites us to participate in helping those around us experience this truth and discover that they belong in his kingdom, too.
Arthur L. Satterwhite III is the vice president of diversity, belonging, and strategy at Young Life.
Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.