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FIRST-PERSON: Celebrate diversity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — “The beauty (and effectiveness) of Southern Baptists is their diversity,” I wrote in a column after my first Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore in 2014.

I was amazed that so many different personalities comprised this group of evangelicals known as the SBC.

However, I have not always prized diversity. As one of the few half-black girls in the predominately white school, church and extended family I grew up in, I hated being different. Although my skin was light enough to be often mistaken for “white,” my dark, unruly, texturized curls were like a siren on my head, showing that I was different. I hated them. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve come to embrace them.

The same principle applied to the way I worshipped or the clothes I wore. In my thinking, everyone should play the same music in their church and wear the same type of clothes. The more uniform things were, the better the world ran.

Nevertheless, in the last few years, I’ve started to see a wonderful beauty in being different. I’ve begun to appreciate how dazzling differences are in other people, other worship styles and, often, other opinions. Others’ thoughts challenge me to evaluate my own.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some hills I will die on. Some things are black and white. Still, I now notice that just because someone’s views rub me the wrong way does not mean that they are inherently wrong.

During my last four years as a Southern Baptist, including serving as a Baptist Press intern prior to my senior year at the University of the Cumberlands, I’ve been in countless churches and conferences. Each one is unique. They believe slightly different things and worship in varied ways. Yet, in none of them have I felt compelled to stand up and cry, “Heresy!” How can this be?

I have sat under preachers who stand up and identify themselves as Reformed and under ones who carry the banner of “anti-Calvinism,” both at the same conference. Is that even possible?

I’ve also attended a conference where I heard Christian rap then the very same attendees joined in for traditional hymns. Can these even exist under the same roof?

I see some SBC entities led by men in suits and ties who spearheaded the Conservative Resurgence. Others are led by young men in T-shirts, born a mere decade or so before me. How do we reconcile this type of leadership?

I’ve written stories of a church plant headed by a 24-year-old pastor in middle-of-nowhere Kentucky, then there’s my 200-year-old church with a primary membership in its golden years doing ministry in the heart of downtown Louisville. Can these churches really be engaged in the same mission?

The answer is, yes! They can and they are! Yes, this is possible. We are all on the same team. And that team is the Gospel. The team’s captain is Christ. The team’s mission is to glorify God and spread the Good News to the ends of the earth.

As long as we are all following Scripture, standing by its inerrancy, the virgin birth, Christ’s atoning death and the other faith foundations, what’s the problem?

So, dear Southern Baptist brother or sister, remember this: If your fellow laborer is serving the same Savior as you and holds the same core truths of the faith, don’t simply withhold criticism, celebrate their differences. Many faces make up the Southern Baptist Convention, and each one is beautiful in God’s eyes.