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Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity

I believe in Christian DiversityThis Liturgy website announces the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity. It runs from Sunday 27 January 2013 up to and including Sunday 3 February. An Octave of prayer.

This week acknowledges and is honest about our diversity. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christians have just concluded a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity happens in the Easter Season. Christians cannot even agree when to pray for unity! Let us be honest about our extreme diversity of beliefs. Let us be honest about our enmity – Christian against Christian. Let us be honest about our disagreements. Let us be honest about the diversity of our actions – from some really good stuff, to quite a bit of downright evil. Let us be honest about getting some things right, and quite a bit wrong.

This week celebrates difference. In the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I saw quite a lot of ideas that the solution was to clone and cookie-cutter one way of being a Christian and impose that on all. Unity by uniformity. One size fits all. [And a hint: that one size didn’t look much like the younger woman of colour that I suspect is greater numerically!] The God, who is the Source of Reality, is diversity held in unity, and brings to birth a universe of uncountable variety. And we, the very ones who are called to point to and embody this Source, appear to be threatened by diversity, we cannot cope with the diversity of the flowers, or the colours of the rainbow, and we try and eradicate this – so that there is only one type of flower, and only one type of colour.

This week is about being more honest. In the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I saw again a lot of nonsense about church history, and theology, and spirituality, and ecclesiology. “Henry VIII founded a new church because he was a randy old *&^%$! and the pope wouldn’t let him have a divorce…” and nonsense like that. [Yes, only if we agree that John XXIII founded a new church, and annulment = divorce]. And let’s be honest about the mess we are in; the mess we’ve made.

This week is realistic that accepting diversity is the only way forward. Agreeing to disagree is, in our heart of hearts we know, the only solution. Marriage equality, for example. Christians have poured so much time, money, and energy into this issue; it has become the one touchstone of orthodoxy; even to being what many heard as central in Christmas messages! “The purpose of the incarnation was that Jesus came to save us from gays” is the message many inside and outside the church hear. The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity prays that we realise that agreeing to disagree will be the only way forward. Whatever your attitude to post-modernism, its insight that “where you stand affects what you see” is too important to brush off.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity is about a hard core and soft edges. It is founded on the great insight of St. Vincent of Lerins: orthodoxy is defined as quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, that which has been believed by Christians “everywhere, always, by everyone.” And actually, think about it, what has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone is a very, very, very small core. But it is enough.

Maybe during this week we can once again return to reflecting on “orthodoxy” meaning right prayer (much closer to orthopraxy – doing it right, than assenting to the totality of the “right list of beliefs”, mentally assenting to exactly the correct list of propositions in your head, that it has been hijacked as). Shared spiritual disciplines, common prayer, not making windows into people’s souls and minds to check, by the belief police, whether my list of dozens of literally-taken beliefs match up identically to your list. These are the disciplines we have abandoned so that our diversity has no undergirding unity. The diversity in God (and in the universe) is also held in a unity. It is in praying together for the diversity that our unity is already being found.

This week takes care about humour. I’ve got (at least) as much of a sense of humour as the next person. [From time to time some people mishear my points, including ones I make on this site, probably including this particular post, because they haven’t watched as much Monty Python as I have]. There was some humour during the Northern Hemisphere Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that I would have been a little more cautious about. So here’s the rules: (1) You can make jokes at the expense of yourselves and your own beliefs and practices but not by putting down, at the expense of, others. To belittle you have to be little. (eg.). (2) Even in humour, don’t put yourselves down too much. Get some therapy for a poor self-image, instead.

Finally, maybe the best bit about the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity: you don’t have to have all your ideas consistently worked out.
This week is about lovingly accepting disagreement with others. It is also about loving accepting disagreement within yourself. Thomas Aquinas was definitely a 17.04.159-therefore-17.04.159a kind of guy, but when the true reality of God came home to him he stopped writing his attempt to get Christianity all neatly, consistently worked out. His Summa Theologiae just stops. “Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”

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16 Responses to Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity

  1. Bosco ~
    This piece is the best and most relevant I have ever seen you write about. I have experienced many diverse issues in my own life and you are right about agreeing to disagree with yourself, as well as the rest of the world. Bravely, we have to move forward otherwise we are paralyzed in all our movements. No matter what sins we have commited unwittingly or on purpose we can only continue on by forgiving ourselves for our own assumptions or ignorances, then letting go and giving it over to God. Thank you for writing honestly on this issue. I hope this week of prayer helps to end the divisions between us all.

      • I’ve only just found your website, Bosco, and found it interesting. I don’t know anybody anywhere who thinks that Christian unity means uniformity. The phrase that is often used is ‘visible unity in reconciled diversity’. I’ve been saying for years that more unity means MORE diversity, not less! The only uniform I’m interested in is putting on Christ. It’s best shown in baptism but non-baptizing traditions can show it too. The diversity and entrenched division of ancient Corinth was as great as anything today but Paul insisted that there wasn’t one baptism for Jews and one for Gentiles, one for men and one for women, one for the free and one for slaves. They had all put on Christ in one baptism and when they broke bread together everybody ate it – scandalous to the divided society in which they lived.
        BTW, the reason for the alternative dates for WWDP, between Pentecost and Trinity, was because you upside-down folk are all on holiday in January! Meanwhile the service I had organised in England on Jan 22 was cancelled because of snow!
        And the Church of England didn’t exactly vote against women bishops; they just failed to get enough people to vote to change their rules. But I guess God loves them anyway, and you and me.

        • Welcome to the community, John, and thanks for your comment.

          We must move in quite different circles, John, because I know lots and lots of people who think that unity means uniformity, and the responses I’ve received here, on facebook, twitter, by email, and in the non-virtual world indicate other people know such people too.

          We know perfectly well the reasons given for the different Southern Hemisphere prayer week dating :-) [Lucky are the few who are still on holiday then] The Southern Hemisphere week actually ends on the Day of Pentecost rather than beginning then as you suggest. Would it be too difficult for your hemisphere to bring itself to pray from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost (such a marvellous image of diversity and unity, and the “birthday of the church”) as proposed by many, including Pope Leo XIII in 1894 and the Faith and Order movement in 1926? Or is the Northern Hemisphere on holiday at that time :-)

          Blessings.

  2. Emerson said ‘To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven’.

    And I’m as guilty as the next person, I don’t want to be in church or in communion with christians who seem to hate so many people now and call it ‘politics’, ‘preaching against the President’ I call it, I am perplexed and annoyed by stunts like the Pope driving around Africa telling people with HIV not to use condoms, or the vote against the women bishops in the British state church ( for examples )

    ‘Do unto others’ and empathy seem to get swept aside in the rudeness of the modern world somehow, as though every situation is meant to be a win-lose scenario.

    When someone says they don’t support gay marriage or abortion or contraception or whatever other raging topic of behaviour is doing the rounds the best most honest response is ‘well don’t engage in it then, then mind your own business’!

    ‘But these are my deeply-held values’ people say. Well we in the West have the luxury of airing opinions and ideas freely that lead to persecution and suffering and compromise other people’s freedoms if imposed.

    That’s what it means to live in a free country- to accept the diversity which gives one person freedom as the same concept which gives every person freedom.

    Erich Fromm described ‘the fear of freedom’ though- that sense of security which controlling people gives, even though we know it ultimately leads to Nazis and torture and cruelty and social exclusion…and nothing even vaguely Christ-like.

  3. Bosco, you’ve got a great idea here. I was disappointed that you offered no specific prayer, however. My own collect (see http://deimel.org/church_resources/collect.htm) written for local consumption, for two years showed up on the official Anglican Cycle of Prayer for the Christian Unity octave. It works here as well, I think:

    Creator of the universe, who made us different from one another in myriad ways we can see and in more ways we shall never know, yet made us all in your image; fill our hearts with your love and our minds with your wisdom, that we may truly become brothers and sisters of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    We can probably do better than that for the Week of Prayer for Christian Diversity, but that’s a start.

    I love the badge, though I wish it were sharper. Do you have it in a larger size? Can you supply a source for it. (What program did you use to create it?)

  4. Actually, I see that the badge at the top of your post is bigger and clearer. It would still be useful to have the original file or a very large version that could be reduced to whatever size was required.

    Thanks.

    • I just used Photoshop, Lionel, to create the image. I’m pretty sure I didn’t keep a better file than what is at the top of the post. I tend to do the stuff in Photoshop (and I’m a real novice there) and then just keep what I have produced – not the process of getting there. Blessings.

  5. I know I’m a bit late to comment on this, but your post echoed strongly of the sermon at our church the Sunday before last, preached partly on St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians (12:1-11) where he (the preacher) interpreted this scripture as meaning that diversity is a pre-condition for unity. As you say, “the ONLY way forward” (into unity). I had not heard, or even considered, this before. It Is so easy for us to conflate unity with uniformity. And presumably those of us who want everyone else to be/think/believe as we do are the enemies of unity and are most unbiblical as well.

    For the last few years I have worked in an international (Anglican) church context, and am often in positions of needing to grapple with a huge diversity of belief and practice, all calling itself (Anglican) Christian. One (so-called ‘Global South’) Archbishop recently suggested a brilliant compromise in working (in community development) with other churches of different theologies — “Let’s leave the theology to one side, and just focus on a united approach to alleviating poverty. If we try to agree on our beliefs we will never get anywhere or do anything together.”

    • You are not at all late to comment on this, Julianne. The week has just begun! I, too, noticed the connection with the second reading currently. “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? …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.”” Blessings.

  6. I think this is potentially dodgy. God is a unifying force and diversity needs to be watched for to prevent development of false teaching, dodgy theology, heresey, synchronism and cults. Therefore, why you would pray for diversity expecting unity is lost on me. My wife and some friends had to leave a church because, among other things:

    – we accept evolutionary theory as a reasonable scientific theory (but not proven in a macro sense) while rejecting the literal 6 day creation and young earth position as unscientific and very poor history and theology.

    – we reject the premillenialist position and the secret rapture pre Christ’s return with a new heaven and earth.

    – we reject the dispensationalist view that the Jews stand apart until God deals with them separately because they are his favorites.

    The elders would not open a bible with us to study these things so our view is increasingly that diversity in some core areas is unsound and should be prayed against. That is not to exclude differences but sound theology should be looked for and worked toward. I think God has raised up great teachers to explore and write about the mysteries.

    There is too much “flimsy feel good” stuff about and the modern church is often without real meat in it. God, His word and our salvation at such great cost is a serious business.

  7. Bosco,

    While doing some maintenance on my Web site, I ran into a poem I wrote on the subject of unity/diversity. You can find it here, but the poem is short, so I’ll reproduce it below.

    That They All May Be One

    “That they all may be one,” they say he said,
    But what of us when thus we pray?
    Are not our bonds of wine and bread
    Sufficient for the Church today?

    Must Christians understand as one
    The mysteries of God above?
    Or should we learn from God the Son
    That unity derives from love?

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.