At Biola University, we are committed to living out the word of God. Striving for unity amidst diversity takes intentional effort on behalf of all community members. A team was assembled to write a concise Theological Statement on Diversity with the expressed purpose of clearly articulating the university’s theological understanding and institutional value of diversity. The Division of Diversity and Inclusion led the effort in collaboration with leadership from Talbot School of Theology. In January 2019, Biola’s board of trustees unanimously approved the Unity Amidst Diversity: Theological Statement on Diversity.
Board member Bryan Loritts shared, “I was so excited to read the document. It covers a lot of ground biblically, making it clear that our commitment to unity within diversity is grounded in Scripture. Our commitment [is] to a robust gospel that on the one hand states our priority in emphasizing the vertical dimensions of the gospel – reconciled to God through Christ by grace and faith alone – along with the horizontal implications of the gospel seen in how we relate well with others who are different to us.”
Unity Amidst Diversity: Theological Statement on Diversity
As an institution that is rooted in the Christian Scriptures with the mission of equipping men and women in mind and character to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ, we at Biola University recognize the biblical mandate given to all Christians to pursue unity amidst diversity. From the time of original creation to the redemption of the new creation, God’s heart for both diversity and unity is evident. Unlike many efforts which seek to highlight one aspect to the detriment of the other, Scripture emphasizes the importance of both diversity and unity (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Unity without diversity ceases to be unity and becomes uniformity, and diversity without unity ultimately becomes either radical tribalism or individualism. Christians are called to pursue diversity and unity differently: not as an either/or, but a both/and. Both are needed for Christians, who collectively are the body of Christ, to image the model of unity amidst diversity that exists within the Triune God.
While some approaches to diversity focus on the attitude of tolerance, as Christians we affirm our calling to go beyond this to practice sacrificial Christ-like love. This love is the foundation for unity within Kingdom community. Martin Luther King Jr. describes Kingdom community when he states that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be” (Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter From A Birmingham Jail). As the body of Christ we do not flourish until all flourish. Embodying sacrificial love is not a zero-sum game where some gain and some lose. When all practice mutual edification it allows the entire body of Christ to flourish together.
Similarly, while some approaches to diversity focus on gaining power — position, influence, expertise, and resources — over others, as Christians, we utilize our power in the service of others. We confess that sin has influenced how we have exercised power resulting in marred interpersonal relationships as well as institutional functions. At Biola University we seek to create a culture of Christ-like love which is seen through mutually edifying interpersonal relationships and equitable institutional policies that allow for a thriving intercultural community. Therefore, we value and affirm unity amidst diversity in accord with the Christian Scriptures, inviting each person to live in healthy relationships within a vibrant community that is ultimately a counter-cultural witness to the world.
A Theology of Unity Amidst Diversity
We acknowledge our mandate for unity amidst diversity through the following three biblical themes:
A Diversity Within Unity:
Diversity within unity begins with our understanding of the Triune God. One God exists as Three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as the Triune God reveals diversity in eternal unity, so also humanity images diversity in unity. God launched human history with Adam and Eve as the first human couple, created as male and female in the image of God, imparting dignity, value and worth to all people. Through their posterity, God brought about diverse ethnicities, and people groups with their diverse cultures and languages (Rev. 5:9- 10). God’s providence sustains diversity of place, language, gender, ethnicity, and culture. God’s design and vision for the church from the beginning was diversity within unity. This is reflected in the gospel mandate in Acts to be Spirit-led witnesses to peoples of all nations and cultures (Acts 1:8). Though the first believers maintained their Jewish identity and their eschatological hope as national Israel, the early church lived out their new identity in Christ as a redeemed, unified, diverse people as they crossed ethnic and gender divides in order to spread the gospel (Acts 8:4–8, 26–40, Acts 10:1-48, Acts 16:6-15). As a result, Jews and Gentiles comprised the multi-ethnic church of Antioch, where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3). In the church, we celebrate community in one Lord, one faith, one baptism through the Holy Spirit’s empowering of mutual love (Eph. 4:4-6) and diverse gifts for service to one another and the world. We are united by all, equally sharing in the one life of Christ (Gal. 2:20) and called to maintain this unity through the one Spirit of God who dwells in each of us (Eph. 4:3). The biblical unity to which we are called is not sameness or uniformity, nor does it minimize our natural differences. However, all of our natural differences that are in the will of God do not affect our equality before God (Gal. 3:28). Biblical diversity within unity describes a diverse group of believers working together in harmony, with oneness of purpose, towards the common goal with which they have been called in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:1-16). We value the diversity that is grounded in God’s truth and moral will (see Biola’s Doctrinal Statement; Statement on Human Sexuality). Within the one body of Christ, his church, God distinctly assigned each family member with differing spiritual gifts expressly for the common good. Likewise, God uses our distinct differences within the body of Christ for promoting the common good (Acts 11:19-30; 17:24-28).
A Unity With Mutual Interdependence:
Though richly diverse, all people are designed by the Creator to live in a beautiful harmonious unity mutually dependent on one another. Mutual interdependence characterizes diversity in Christian community according to Scripture. As a living organism we are one body in which each member flourishes only in interdependence with one another as in our physical body (Rom. 12:4-5; Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12:12–27). As people reconciled in Christ (Eph. 2:13-16) and empowered by the grace of God, we are called to live as transformed Kingdom citizens (Eph. 2:19) who strive to live in harmony with others (Rom. 12:16), who are humble (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:2-8), patient (1 Cor. 13:4), can bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), who can forgive (Matt. 18:35) as God has forgiven us (Col. 3:13; Matt. 6:12) and not keep record of wrongs done to us (1 Cor 13:5). Through a oneness of community, both distinct in natural differences and intimately bonded in love for one another in imitation of Christ, we manifest the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10; cf. 2:14-16; 3:6; 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Phil. 2:1-11).
A Reconciliation for Unity:
We recognize that biblical shalom is God’s intended model for relationships in communities. However, we recognize that sinful self-centered attitudes and actions that disrupt unity still exist in us — individual and corporate patterns that differ markedly from the life of Jesus Christ who lived in a loving relationship with God and others. We recognize that the pervasiveness of sin impacts both individuals and institutions. We confess to being a broken community in constant need of healing in relation to our past and present. But out of love, God sent his only Son Jesus Christ to reconcile us with Him, and to one another (2 Cor. 5:18-19). We recognize that the early church struggled to achieve this reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles. However, our reconciliation to God in Christ provided the basis for Jews and Gentiles to be reconciled in the church (Eph. 2:14-22; 4:1-5). As reconciled sisters and brothers in Christ and empowered by the grace of God through his Spirit who lives in us, we are called to become transformed Kingdom persons who can live in harmony with others (Rom. 12:16) and who desire to understand one another (1 Pet. 3:7).
Implications of a Theology of Unity Amidst Diversity
- That the Triune God is unity amidst diversity
- That all human beings have been created by God to reflect the unity amidst diversity within the Godhead
- That all human beings possess intrinsic dignity by virtue of being made in the image of God
- That the cross reconciles us to God and to one another
- That from the beginning the church has been designed for unity amidst diversity, interdependent with one another
- That biblical shalom calls us to right relationships with God and one another
We at Biola University commit ourselves to:
Allowing the Holy Spirit to mature us as Kingdom people, empowering us to follow and imitate Jesus Christ and offer Christ-like love and service to one another. (John 13:34-35; 1 John 4:18-21; Gal. 5:22-23). Sanctification involves an active pursuit and ministry of loving one another in the body of Christ, loving our neighbor as ourselves, in obedience to Jesus’s command (Matt. 22:37-40), submitting ourselves to one another “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). Love is displayed as we seek to understand the other’s point of view and experience. When and where interpersonal conflict exists, we believe that God calls the one who has wounded the other to acknowledge and repent of the hurtful action (Matt. 5:23-24; 7:1-5), and for the wounded person to forgive, not keeping a record of wrongs done to us (1 Cor. 13:5). As an institution of Christian higher education, when and where disunity arises and lingers, we commit to grace-filled mediation, in order to facilitate practical steps toward mutual understanding, healing, and reconciliation. While we acknowledge that it is sometimes hard and even painful to humbly recognize and relinquish divisive cultural practices and embrace new ones for the sake of unity, we seek to follow the example of the early church in reconciling communities in conflict (Acts 6:1-7; 15:1-35).
Embracing diversity within unity as a critical component of both individual thriving and growth of the body of Christ. We seek to cultivate a community where individuals are encouraged to contribute, out of their God-given gifts and design, to the growth and development of the entire campus community (Eph. 4:11-16). This includes utilizing the forms of power we have — position, influence, expertise, and resources — not for self-gain, but in service to one another (Mark 10:42-45; Phil. 2:1–13). Where these opportunities are hindered, we commit to recognize and remove barriers in order to enhance learning and thriving in our community. To do this we commit to pursuing diversity as a part of the fabric of our university aspirations and institutional practices (for further information on our strategies to do so, see the Institutional Diversity Strategic Plan). This includes but is not limited to areas such as administrative leadership, recruitment and retention, hiring and promotion, research and funding, teaching and curriculum, co-curriculum, training for missions and service, and spiritual development. We commit to enhancing learning environments in which we can listen to the diversity of thought that exists within the Biola community, learning alongside and from one another.
Actively pursuing unity amidst diversity within our community as a testimony to Christ’s reconciling love. As believers, Christ has commanded us to love one another with a Christ-like, self-sacrificing love. This selfless love flows from cultural humility, willingness to listen to differing perspectives, and ensuring equity within our institution. It is a love that will make us run towards one another — instead of away from one another — when conflict arises between us. The love that we have for one another will be a counter-cultural witness to the world of the power of Christ-like community (John 13:34-35). This witness embodies the mission of the church to reconcile the world to God through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20). Ultimately, we strive to reflect the eschatological community which will live in perfect shalom — right relationship with God (Rev. 5:9-10), one another (Rev. 21:22-27) and the rest of creation (Isa. 11:6-9). To the extent that we are able to reflect this ultimate community, we serve as salt and light to a world that is in need of Christ (Matt. 5:13-16).