Last week I returned to the office after a short vacation. In my absence my staff members had encountered an unpleasant conversation with one of my volunteers. This volunteer has a heart of gold and enjoys helping with building maintenance.
Somehow the discussion turned to where we live. He said, “I really like Yakima. I just don’t like all the illegals here.”
His statement wasn’t meant to hurt anyone. But my office coordinator who is intelligent, brave, and beautiful was wounded by it. She isn’t an “illegal,” but there are people in her life that she loves dearly who are “illegals.” His statement intended to express the frustration he feels about the problem of illegal immigration in our area. His statement also dehumanized an entire group of people he knows nothing about. As Christ followers and servant leaders we must constantly challenge ourselves to see all people as individuals our God loves and suffers with.
This is an area I am sensitive about. Born in the 1960s, half Chinese and half White, I felt there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” White people didn’t accept me either, because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and White. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly we moved a couple years later to a predominantly White city where a person of color would turn heads.
Because of my childhood experience, today I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual orientation, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.
I have three adorable granddaughters that have Mexican-American heritage. They have dark hair and eyes. I have two delightful grandsons with light hair and light eyes. Each one of them has stolen my heart! (I secretly desire to add some African-American into our mix, but that’s out of my hands.) There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.
However, ethnocentrism interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. Ethnocentrism is ever present and it affects the way we look at the world. It is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. One judges others based on one’s own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Left unchecked it leads to prejudice. Subtler forms of ethnocentrism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate ourselves. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” As servant leaders we must avoid ethnocentrism and love all the people following our lead.
In the Book of Revelation, John has a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,
‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Can we be people that love others and include them? Can we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we.” People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will embrace them as “we.”
All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name (Psalm 86:9).
Heavenly Father, please guard my heart from pride, from thinking that I am better than others. Remind me that I live and stand by grace. Teach me to love all people from every walk of life, as ones loved by You. Help me resist ethnocentrism and prejudice, and be the best servant leader I can be. I want to embrace the beauty of diversity You have created. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.