There is a great deal being said about diversity in society today. Inexplicably, this has become a political issue, because some politicians and their allies believe that certain people deserve better treatment than others, which is strange given that in the Gospels Jesus reiterated the Jewish teaching to love our neighbors without condition and to treat people the way we want our loved ones and ourselves to be treated. As a theologian, what can I say about diversity and whether or not we should embrace it? I say that the evidence that God loves diversity is literally all around us, and that means people of faith should definitely embrace diversity with all our hearts. How can I say that with such confidence? Allow me to elucidate what I see regarding diversity and God.
I’ve been educated in a United Church of Christ seminary in theology and Biblical studies, among other subjects. I’ve also been trained in Permaculture Design, which is a system of sustainable and regenerative design that seeks to create “cultivated ecosystems” to borrow the late Toby Hemenway’s expression (for an introduction to permaculture see chapter seven of my book Go Golden, published by Wipf and Stock Publishers – Go Golden). As a permaculturist, I have studied ecology, and various ecosystems to learn how to design effective systems in different settings. Studying ecology has taught me that the most stable ecosystems are the ones that have many diverse forms of life mutually supporting one another. One such example is tidal estuaries, places where a freshwater river or stream meets a body of saltwater. In this special aquatic eosystem life proliferates to fill the unique niches created by the convergence of two different types of water. Myriad aquatic species abound, along with the birds and other predators that feed on all of those fish and crustaceans. Nature, at God’s direction, fills every single niche with life.
Soil is another place where life should thrive (unfortunately agricultural chemicals are terribly detrimental to soil ecology and often leave it as inert dirt). In healthy soil, a mere tablespoon full is teeming with literally billions of microorganisms, arthropods, insects, and other vital living things. Consider also the rainforests ecosystems, whether temperate or tropical, and the abundance of life found therein. In temperate rainforests, mycelium spreads beautifully under the soil, and in miraculous ways it communicates with trees and shrubs in the understory, moving nutrients along the mycelial “Internet.” Mycelium is the subsoil portion of various fungi. When you come across a mushroom fruiting in the forest, that is merely the fruiting body of the mycelium (see Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets for more on the wondrous world of fungi.) In the tropics, intact rainforests (the lungs of our planet) are replete with myriad mammals, reptiles, creepy crawly things, large predators, and spectacular birds with brightly colored plumage and stunning songs. In short, diversity abounds. Nature it seems loves diversity, just think of how many different species of snakes, fish, birds, primates, that currently exist for further evidence. Because I believe God is the creator of the natural world, this evidence provided by nature shows me that God loves diversity as well. This point will be important as you read through the rest of this piece, so I’ll reiterate that God loves diversity (see Genesis and the Book of Job for Biblical references.)
Now that God’s love of diversity has been established by looking at God’s created order (God is the Ultimate Permaculture Designer) let us look at the diversity of humanity. Just like there are many different species of various plants, animals, and other living things, God too made people differently. Think of all of the various cultures, languages, and ethnicities that human beings come in. Now, imagine a world where every person had the same type of personality. How mindnumbingly boring that would be, so thank goodness that is not the case. Psychologists have come up with various types of personality tests. One of the more popular is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which has sixteen different types of personalities that people have. I’m an ENFP myself, and the world wouldn’t be very orderly if all people were that type. We need people with different ways of seeing and being in the world, so people come into the world with or develop different traits based on their personality type. That’s diversity, and from that standpoint it is also clear to me that diversity is important to and loved by God.
For many people however, diversity is anathema to themselves and to God. Despite much literature, science, and anecdotal evidence, there are people who still cling to the belief that same-gendered romantic relationships are wrong or that there is a correct biological way of being male or female. This latter view is called gender complementarity and can be seen in the school age poems about what little girls and little boys are made of. It can also be seen in the work of conservative pastor John Piper and the influential psychologist, turned men’s self help guru, Jordan Peterson who refuses to use the pronouns transgender people choose for themselves. Piper is influenced by the view that the Bible (or at least his Protestant version of it) is inerrant, free from error, and that it’s commands and injunctions are for all people, for all of time. In this, he is incorrect, because the canon of writings called the Bible is full of contradictions, Iron Age world views long since disproven by science, faulty history, and is replete with multiple incongruous theological viewpoints (see Biblical Inerrancy is a Myth). Peterson is influenced by outdated psychological thought that has also been disproven by those in the field of gender science.
If we consider that human beings are born with a variety of skin, hair, and eye colors (how awful it would be if we humans all had the same skin, eye, and hair color) and with a variety of wildly disparate personality types, doesn’t it make logical sense that human beings would also be born with different sexual orientations? We are not all born in one gender either and therefore cannot self replicate to further the species. Why then is there an insistence that there are only two genders by so many people on the “conservative” end of the political spectrum? Scientists now recognize a minimum of FIVE human genders: cis male and female, intersex (What is intersex? ), transgender male and female, and those with Klinefelter’s Syndrome, which occurs when a person is born with an extra X chromosome. They look like men with feminine characteristics, but cannot produce viable sperm and therefore cannot reproduce. I wonder what John Piper would have to say about that? Clearly, those born with Klinefelter’s don’t choose that, but according to Piper an effeminate man is a sinful man.
It makes sense to me to listen to those who are LGBTQIA when they say, “I was born this way,” whether or not medical science ever catches up with their knowing. As seen above, men born with XXY chromosomes don’t choose that, so why should I believe the John Piper’s of the world who say that being gay or transgender is a choice or that there is “right way” to be male and a “right way” to be female. Piper can only hold onto to those beliefs by ignoring the preponderance of evidence to the contrary. As a rebuttal to gender complementarity, as if the existence of Klinfelter’s Syndrome weren’t enough, I will offer myself as an example. In my life, I’ve been a farmer and cowboy, a U.S. Marine, a heavy equipment operator, and construction laborer, all of which are generally classified as “manly” jobs. I also enjoy sports, have hunted and fished, killed my own dinner, and like to work out. So far so good for the complementarian viewpoint. I’m also someone who has always been “sensitive” and in touch with my emotions. I can and often do cry at the drop of a hat. Not only that, it’s not just that tears well up, I can ugly cry with the best of them, which is generally considered feminine. I didn’t choose to be so sensitive, feeling everything deeply, and to cry so easily over emotional things. That’s the way I was born. I’m an Enneagram 4 (Enneagram type Four) and if I were to guess, John Piper and Jordan Peterson are not.
It makes no sense to me to look only at a collection of spiritual and religious writings from the Ancient Near East to tell me EVERYTHING I need to know about the world and all of the people in it. To me it makes a great deal more sense to look at the evidence from the natural world, where diversity simply cannot help itself from showing up literally everywhere, and then realize that human beings are also part of the natural world, and therefore have been created with much more diversity than the Biblical writers could ever have imagined. It makes sense to listen to those whose lived experience includes being born gay or transgendered. It makes sense to me to listen to scientists who have discovered a connection to transgenderism with what happens in the womb, and therefore is not something that comes down to a choice. Who would just simply choose to be vilified, ridiculed, and potentially be filled with self-loathing as a result of all that vilification, just to be “different.” Absurd. No, it makes the most sense to me to see the evidence before me, that the God I believe created the world, absolutely and unequivocally loves diversity, otherwise there would be only one kind of tree, one kind of bird, one kind of person, one kind of everything, and that simply is not the case. Therefore, go embrace and revel in the splendid diversity that surrounds us. Go and love your neighbor as yourself without regard to their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nation of origin, knowing full well that they are children of God, created perfectly just as they are.
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