Engage Church
Engaging God, People, and Culture

For The Culture

Diversity isn’t Enough

If you want to do justice, if you want to love mercy, you’ve got to get proximate to the places and the people where injustice is made known. You cannot stay in safe places, you cannot stay in comfortable places. I believe we are called to get proximate to the places in our community where there’s poverty and suffering and abuse and neglect.
— Bryan Stevenson

Pastor Adrian preached a sermon series in 2016 called The Color Purple, which centered on the notion that in a culture of people who settle in camps that are either blue or red and pledge their allegiance to it, the church can no longer lean into these extremes, but come into the middle to find a new way that creates a new path. It is evident that there is a vast disconnect between the call we have on our lives to share the burdens of our neighbor and the culture of scarcity and fear that we have grown to know and accept.  As a society, the notions of “us versus them” and individualism have been thoroughly instilled in our ways of being. How then, can we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves in the midst of turmoil, violence, political divide and uncertainty? How can we change the culture of the church to an “us” mentality where we can bring as many people, as God wants into the Kingdom?  We are challenged to lean in to moments of both collective pain and joy as we commit ourselves to do life together.

Diversity is a word that has been overused to portray institutions and organizations as forward-thinking and inclusive without necessarily having to do the actual groundwork that creates authentic reconciliation. When we discuss diversity at Engage Church, we aren’t referring to hitting an ideal ratio of people of color compared to white people on a given Sunday morning and high-fiving each other for solving racism. Pastor Adrian has warned us more times than one that sitting next to a black person or a Trump supporter at church is not the victory lap of reconciliation, that merely sitting next to someone not like us is something we do at Starbucks. The heart of  diversity at Engage Church is the creation of a community of people who genuinely share the burdens of one another and love each other through life. We cannot understand the full complexity of the problems that plight our communities and our nation without proximity to those who are hurting and oppressed. Unless we decide to immerse ourselves fully, ask questions of the ones who have lived the experience, and decide to make a commitment to each other, we will always be covering social tribulations with band-aids and patting ourselves on the back for effort made. This is why overarching policies made by city, state and federal government have yet to solve poverty, incarceration, drug use or homelessness. Policy makers and politicians in power, while well intentioned, try to solve problems from a comfortable distance from the issues only to provide temporary or surface level relief, because subtle details and nuances of these multifaceted social ills are missed or overlooked.The gap we as the church are called to stand in is one where we can stand beside and advocate for the lives of people of color as well as the people in uniform who are ordained to protect  and serve our communities. And if we are going to do this together, we must make a conscious decision to show up consistently and wholeheartedly for all of God’s children.

If you are not taking up the sword and shield of love and reconciliation that we commit to on Sunday mornings with you to your place of work on Tuesday afternoon, do not be disillusioned into thinking you are doing your part.

To build diverse communities that thrive, that truly reflect the fullness of the Gospel, we must allow our differences to challenge one another. Through relationship, we create the necessary spaces for understanding to take place, take root and change us. But when these cases arise, and they will, relationship is the currency exchange that allows us to challenge one another. Relationship, not tolerance, is what infuses understanding. It’s what fosters growth. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s a pretty good place to start.
— Pastor Adrian Crawford

One of the many things I have been convicted of through Engage’s message of diversity is my perception of people in power who I have labeled as complicit in a large system that incarcerates people of color as opposed to providing substance abuse treatment and using restorative justice practices. I work for a program that serves youth 13-17 years of age who are mostly court mandated to be with us through diversion or as a sanction of their probation. Through this experience, I have come to love youth who were re-arrested and sent to juvenile detention centers for long periods of time. Boys only 14 and 15 years old when they were committed have weighed heavily on me as I’ve worried who they will become as they grow up cognitively, emotionally and physically away from their families and sleeping in cells. I’m constantly reminded that in my pursuit of justice, I cannot allow myself to hate the men and women ordained to protect and serve who arrested them. Though there has been undeniable abuse of power and blatant discrimination throughout history, I’m still called to honor those in authority even in my pursuit of justice. As I pray for God to break my heart for the things that break his, I also pray for genuine reconciliation. In this, I have intentionally built relationships with police officers, beginning with the ones who serve at Engage. I’ve asked questions about their families, their work, their hopes and their thoughts on issues such as disproportionate minority contact of police. This has forced me to walk with people who don’t always have my same point of view but are still image bearers of Christ.

Can we choose to hear, see and love each other fully enough to live differently?

My prayer is that we will all allow God to break our hearts for the things that breaks his, become proximite to both the problems that plight our community and make a commitment to use our  time, gifts and treasure to make a tangible difference. The problems we see when we look into our communities and turn on the news are intersectional and steeped deeply into the history of this nation, and the silence of the church equates to its complicity. We need to be on the front lines of social issues embodying the same courage and commitment that Jesus Christ showed us in the Bible when he was faithful to God’s call on his life to free his people.

As our declaration states, the vision for Engage Church is to be a place that will have the courage to lead our nation into the Promised Land, the same Promised Land of reconciliation that Dr. King saw from the mountaintop.

We are called to leverage both our power and our privilege to stand in the gap when it comes to inequality and injustice in order to build bridges and share the love that was so generously given to us by the Father. By the title, “Diversity Isn’t Enough” what I mean is, we are called to love, serve and share the burdens of our neighbors; not simply sit next to one another during church and comply with society’s definition and scope of diversity. God shows how much he has connected himself to all of us saying, “you can’t proclaim you love me unless you love other people”. Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep.

For he himself is our peace who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
— Ephesians 2:14

-Saskiya Fagan

Ashley Ervin