The anti-immigrant agenda runs amok in America and other parts of the world. Ideologues foment a xenophobic reimagination of the values of diversity and inclusion America has stood for, values based in our religious tradition (which itself has often been abused and misused to foster bigotry and violence against “the other.” In this sermon, I summon the biblical tradition and its influence on the American vision to challenge bigotry and urge us to reclaim the values that could make humanity great again.
“Diversity Will Save Us”
Psalm 104.24,23, 25-30, 24, Mark 3.31-35
October 6, 2019
On September 1, Gina Anderson and I collaborated on a sermon that celebrated the great diversity of the Earth’s flora—Earth’s plant life—as a sign of God’s blessing. We realized that there could be no fullness of life on this planet if all the plants were only poison oak or even your favorite rose.
On September 22, I preached a sermon that celebrated the diversity of the Earth’s fauna—Earth’s animal kin-dom—as a sign of God’s blessing. We acknowledged that there could be no fullness of life on our planet if all the animals were only black widow spiders or even your favorite pet.
Then, last week, Kwabena Asante and I, well mostly Kwabena, preached a sermon that celebrated the diversity of the Earth’s geography—continents and oceans, mountains and deserts, and so many other expressions of Earth’s hardware—as a sign of God’s blessing. We testified to the divine wisdom there there could be no fullness of life on our planet if everything was only desert or even your favorite mountain lake.
Today is World Communion Sunday. Today, we conclude this series, “Finding Our Place in the Great Web of Life” with a meditation on the gift of human diversity—the wonders of ethnicity, race, gender, age, and anything else that might distinguish us one from another. The opening ritual of the breads of the world and the cultures that invented and cherish them celebrates all this. So do our readings and prayers and reflections. So does the act of Holy Communion itself. There would be no fullness of life on our planet if everyone was me . . . or if everyone was you.
Diversity is not a political or social fad. It is a reality. It is a necessity.
There are threats to this truth. There have always been threats to this truth. And when the threat to diversity has become a dominant ideology, humanity has suffered.
Tucker Carlson is one who sees absolutely no benefit to diversity. He’s one of a number of new anti-diversity advocates who believe that the diversity mantra is a liberal trojan horse that’s wrecking America.
Recently, the network TV commentator questioned how diversity actually strengthens America; in fact, he argued it actually weakens the workplace, marriages, and the military. In an effort to promote the anti-immigrant agenda he argued that diversity is part of a liberal ruse that is ruining America.
However, studies actually show that diverse groups are more innovative and creative. Diverse groups encourage people to think outside the box. Diversity can make us more responsive, more competitive, and more resilient.
Regardless of the proven benefits, distain for diversity has a lurid history.
The summer of 1983 was half way through my college career. That summer, I was on a tour of Europe. Backpack, Eurail Pass, and travelers checks in my pocket. I was alone, navigating a foreign land. I was also on a kind of pilgrimage to connect to my European heritage. I’m German, Swiss, and French with just a trace of the ethnicities of southern Spain. But mostly German. I’d visit my cousins, aunts and uncles on this trip. They live in a little town named Minden in northern Germany. On the way north from Italy, I’d stopped in Bavaria, and while there took a train outside Munich to the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp. Built early in the Nazi era, the camp served as a model for all later concentration camps and as a "school of violence" for the Nazis. In the twelve years of its existence over 200,000 persons from all over Europe were imprisoned there and in the camps associated with it. 41,500 were murdered there before American troops liberated the survivors on April 29, 1945.
On a hot July day in 1983, I stood on Dachau’s great plaza, before the great memorial sculpture—broken bodies of steel, twisted among barbed wire. Somewhere beneath it I remember reading the words, “Never Again!” I wondered how my people could have allowed such a thing. I wonder if I would have stood against such a thing. I wondered if I would have the courage to stand against the tide should such insanity once again infect the human race.
My people were taken in by an ideology that taught that diversity is not a gift but a danger. Hitler believed that diversity made a nation weaker not stronger.
The hatred of diversity was at first, a blindness. Then a disease. Then the gravest of danger. And in the end, a desolating terror.
The Germans weren’t the only ones to fall prey to the evils of xenophobia—the fear of the other. They won’t be the last.
But in America (as in other places too) the love of diversity is the founding genius of our national experiment.
Inviting immigrants to make a home here and celebrating a rainbow of cultures and languages and expressions is a not, as some today would argue, a change to the American way of life; it’s not a weakness, not some liberal ruse for ruining America. The love of the other, the way of diversity, is part and parcel of the American soul.
I reached into my pocket last night for a little change and pulled out a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny.
I wonder if you know what all these coins have in common.
“e pluribus unum”
It is the motto on the Great Seal of the United States. It’s a thirteen-letter motto.
Why thirteen letters? One letter for each of thirteen original colonies.
“e pluribus unum” was suggested as America’s motto in 1776 by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere.
It means: “Out of many, one.”
It wasn’t a new phrase. It’s been celebrated in many cultures—for many cultures know its truth and wisdom.
The phrase is similar to the Latin translation of a variation of Heraclitus's tenth fragment, “The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one" (ἐκ πάντων ἓν καὶ ἐξ ἑνὸς πάντα). Fifth century BCE Greek culture.
In the first century BCE, the Roman states-person, Cicero, paraphrased Pythagoras in his De Officiis. He was exploring the basic family and social bonds which source and sustain societies and nation-states. He wrote: "When each person loves the other as much as themselves, it makes one out of many (unus fiat ex pluribus).”
I wonder if you hear echoes of Cicero and Pythagoras in the teaching of Jesus when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, of course, wasn’t quoting the Greeks and Romans when he said that; he was quoting the Jewish tradition, which has its roots in the ancient Near East.
Do you see how far this wisdom reaches?
The love of the other is a wisdom that weaves its way though many cultures.
We hear it again in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Who is my family? Not just those who share my flesh and blood, but whoever does the will of God is kin to me.”
e pluribus unum. “Out of many, one.”
America’s motto has a long and wise tradition. Love of diversity is not a political or social fad. It is a reality. It is a necessity.
We would do well to remember it. If we do we will thrive. If we don’t we will not.
Of course, there were people long ago, as there are today, who don’t like this teaching. They fear diversity, they don’t like pluralism, they don’t want globalism. Nationalism, racism, parochialism blind them.
They’ll say, “Cicero was telling us to love those around us. He wasn’t advocating diversity; he was arguing that we ought to love the people who share our ethnicity, language, values, beliefs, and racial background—the people of our tribe. That’s what makes a nation great.” And “Jesus was talking as a Jew to Jews. He wasn’t saying what the liberal, hug-every-immigrant-do-gooders argue today. Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor, not the foreigners.’”
Someone once said something a lot like this to Jesus just after he told those around him that the essence of a good life comes down to this: Love God and love your neighbor.
Wanting to keep that sphere of loving limited to the narrow confines of race, ethnicity, and maybe even gender the man said to Jesus, “Who, then, is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus told this story:
A Jewish man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a Jewish priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise another Jew, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw the man, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan (a hated foreigner) while traveling came near the wounded man; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. This immigrant went to the wounded Jewish man and bandaged his wounds, having disinfected and tended them. Then he put the Jewish man on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day the foreigner took out two coins, gave them to the innkeeper as payment, and said, “Take care of this man; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
“Which of these three,” Jesus asked, “was a neighbor to the Jew who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The man who’d wanted to keep Jesus’ teaching narrow and confined to his own race and ethnicity said, ‘I suppose the one who showed the Jewish man mercy.’”
(Notice this remarkable hint at the struggle in this man to face the truth of his xenophobia, his distain for the foreigner, and the way Jesus trapped him in his bigotry. The man who wanted to limit the scope of love for his neighbor to the narrow confines of his race and ethnicity can’t even put the name of the hated Samaritan on his lips: “I suppose,” he says with venom in his voice, “the one who showed the Jewish man mercy.”)
And Jesus said to him, “Go. Do that and live.”
e pluribus unum
Jesus said: “Love your neighbor—no matter who they are, where they are from, or what they belief—as yourself.”
e pluribus unum
Cicero and Pythagoras said, ”When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many”
e pluribus unum
Love of diversity isn’t weakness; it is our greatest strength.
This is what Holy Communion is all about. e pluribus unum will save us and our world.