'Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.'
--I Corinthians 12: 14-26
In the classic comedy Anchorman Will Ferrel’s character Ron Burgandy, the legendary San Diego news reporter, is confronted with the reality that the network sees a lack of diversity around his station and wants to correct that oversight. One problem: hardly anyone in this 1970s male-dominated organization even knows what diversity is. But Ron Burgandy knows:
He's kind of a big deal.
To which Ron's boss comments that he'd be surprised if the network were concerned with the lack of an old, old wooden ship. We laugh at stories like Anchorman because they show us the absurdity of misogynistic, patriarchal systems, but we still live in a world that has real trouble with fully embracing diversity. Whether it is women in positions of leadership or appropriate representation of LGBT folks in tv and film, we still have a ways to go before diversity is seen for what it really is: a gift from God (not an old, old wooden ship!).
The church in Corinth was a place that struggled with embracing diversity. People were divided along various lines such as religion, gender, nationality, and even which spiritual gifts they possessed. Corinth was a community that stressed uniformity and hierarchy. Certain individuals were simply seen as better because of the spiritual gifts they were given or because of where they came from, and everyone else was just supposed to fall in line. New ideas and customs were not welcomed, which may explain why both Paul and Clement felt the need to write to the Corinthians, not once but twice. To illustrate his undercutting of such customs, Paul compares the community of the faithful to a body, and just as a body does not consist of one member but many, neither does this community. An eye cannot hate an ear; after all, if the whole body were just the one member—just an eye—then where would the hearing come from? One member cannot say to another, ‘I have no need of you.’ God has so arranged the body, says verse 18 of this letter, which means that such diversity is, in fact, a gift from God and should be embraced by the community. Because God has arranged it so, when one member of the body suffers, all suffer, and if one member is honored, all rejoice. To put it quite simply, Paul is saying to the Corinthians: you’re all in this together.
It might seem rather basic and even a bit elementary, but remembering that we are all in this together, that we are all part of the same body and that we all need each other, is a lesson that we should hear over and over again. That gift of diversity that God gave us is one that we still have not fully embraced, sadly, and one place where this is best seen is in the Church.
Last week I attended several events in my part of North Carolina that honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The last of these event was a worship service at a local Pentecostal Church put on by the Randolph County Ministers of Reconciliation, a group that I had never heard of in my almost 4 years in this area. When I asked a clergy colleague about them I was informed that they were, as it was put, “the black ministerial association.” You see, for almost 4 years I had been under the impression that there was only one group—the Greater Asheboro Ministerial Association—which, encompassed all of the churches in my area. Unfortunately, that group has not had any kind of gathering or put on any event in over 2 years! In a place as small as Randolph County, North Carolina there is no reason for two groups of clergy—all of whom are Christians, by the way—to exist independent of each other, especially when the only thing separating them is their skin color. I wondered if perhaps someone along the way forgot Paul’s words about all of us being members of the one body. When I struck up a conversation with the vice president of the Ministers of Reconciliation at that service and told her I wished to join, she got choked up and said, “We’ve been praying for this!” The “this’ was that their white clergy brothers and sisters would take notice of what they were doing and join them. We still have a ways to go.
Everywhere we look we see division, discord, and members of the body cast one another off or say outright, “We do not want you to be part of us!” God’s gift of diversity is being squandered, replaced by fear and mistrust. Now the feet are ganging up on the hands. Now the right arm has said to the left there is no need of you here and has cast it off. Now the body is splintered and broken, and in some places even bloodied and left for dead.
What we fail to understand, whether we are talking about a church, a community, or a nation, is that we are all in this thing together. The suffering of one of us affects all of us. Think about a migraine headache. A migraine doesn’t just hurt your head, but it makes it painful to see, to walk, and even to listen to music. Pain in one part of our bodies disturbs and distorts the rest. A long time ago the Greek philosopher Plato put it this way: “We do not say, ‘My finger has a pain,’ instead we say, ‘I have a pain,’ thus, there is an ‘I,’ a personality that gives unity to the many and varying parts of the body.” Leave it to the ancient Greeks to make sense all of these years later!
Plato got it.
God has blessed our churches, our communities, and our nation with the holy gift of diversity, of a blending of many members to make up one great body. Today the apostle Paul speaks through the ages to people who, like those in Corinth, struggle with the idea of embracing that which is different. Fear sets in because it takes tremendous vulnerability to open oneself up to a person or an experience that is not like our own, but the more we reject those other members, the more the body will be broken. Whether the rejection is along the lines of religion, race, nationality, sexuality, gender, or economic status, the more we cast off the members, the more we all suffer. The good news that is there for us today is that we can—we must—embrace that sacred gift that God has given to us. For when we do, we can make this world look more like the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed was already here.