Below is the recording, as well as the text as prepared, of President Matthew A. Scogin’s talk in Dimnent Chapel, part of his “Finding Hope” series, delivered to a Hope College student audience on January 20, 2020.
Good morning and happy Monday. Today is not just any Monday; today is Martin Luther King Day. And, so, our topic this morning is “finding hope in diversity”.
But before we can talk about finding hope, we must acknowledge the underlying assumption here, which is that we have a problem in the area of diversity. If we didn’t have a problem, we wouldn’t need hope. The very fact that hope is needed at all, presupposes that there is some sense of desperation, a sense of hopelessness.
And that is certainly the case when it comes to racial relations – in this country, in our communities, on this campus, and in our hearts. We have a problem.
That must be stated up front, because too many people – whether they say it out loud OR just think it – come into these conversations with an eye roll. “Why are we still talking about this?” “It’s the year 2020, isn’t it time to move on?”
For Christians, that attitude is completely out of bounds.
Christians have to talk about diversity. It’s something we can never move on from. Why?
Because God talks about diversity. All the time.
It’s all throughout the Bible. God never glosses over racial tensions. In fact, racial reconciliation is one of the main story arcs of Scripture. In Genesis 11 (tower of Babel) people are scattered by nation, language, and tribe because of sin. In Revelation, all tribes, nations and languages are gathered together around the throne of Christ.
Let me read you a short passage from Revelation 7:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:Revelation 7:9-10
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
I think it is interesting that at the end of history – when all things are redeemed, when God has made all things new – there will still be race. Race is not going away. There will still be different tribes, nations, languages. But we’ll be together in perfect unity around Jesus.
Some people say “why can’t we all be color blind?”
Well, God’s not color blind! He sees diversity. And He likes it.
All throughout the Bible we see that God has preferences. There are things He likes and things He doesn’t like.
Diversity is one of the things God likes.
That means God prefers diverse communities – mixed race communities. He likes mixed race churches, mixed race schools, I would even go so far as to say that He likes mixed race families.
In Numbers 12, Moses (a Jewish man) marries a black woman. God not only approves of it, but he punishes the people who don’t like it.
God likes diversity. And that means Christians must be especially enthusiastic supporters of diversity.
God also gives us the only real motivation for fighting racism.
In fact, without God, human rights can’t really exist at all.
Where did the idea that every human being has certain rights come from?
Some people claim this is a Western idea. But if you look at the roots of Western thought, which is the ancient Greeks, you have Aristotle saying that some races are born to be slaves.
Martin Luther King – who we celebrate today – knew that the basis for human rights could only come from one source: God himself.
The reason human beings are worthy of rights is because we were made in the image of God.
In one of his sermons called “The American Dream,” he says,
“The whole concept of the imago Dei … ‘the image of God,’ is the idea that all men have… a uniqueness, worth, and dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”
Every human is made in the image of God.
See, when God made you He chose to make you this way. He had options. He made you this way because he wanted to.
There’s a great line in scripture, it’s in Mark 3, when Jesus is choosing his disciples and it says “Jesus called to him those he WANTED…”
God has options. He chooses what to do, who to make, how to make them. And I want you to know that He chose you.
I heard a story from a pastor recently of a kid who was adopted. The kid was being made fun of by his friends for being adopted. And he finally came up with a good line to shut up those who were making fun of him. He said “you know what? My parents CHOSE me. Yours got stuck with you.”
And so it is with us. God chose you. He hand-crafted you to be this way. Because he wanted to. And that’s our basis – our only basis – for human rights.
Because if we’re all just “tormented atoms in a bed of mud,” to use Voltaire’s phrase, then who is to say that one race is or is not superior to another?
BUT if we were made in the image of God himself, each of us chosen by him and belonging to him, then any kind of racial discrimination is completely out of bounds.
So, civil rights can’t exist without the image of God.
The Christian gospel also gives us the only antidote for fixing racism.
The Bible says racism is a terrible thing, but the secular world tries to fix it by going after the mind. “We need more education. We have to enlighten people – and scold them – until the racism is gone.” It hasn’t worked, and it won’t work because the problem is in the heart.
The problem is deeply embedded in all of us – in our hearts.
Nothing can fix our hearts except God. That means nothing can truly fix racism except God.
So we look to Jesus for help.
There’s an amazing passage in Ephesians 2 that tells us that one of the main reasons Jesus came and died was to destroy “the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” between races.
He did it by destroying the barrier between us and God.
Because we’re all estranged from God. And when – through the gospel – we become reconnected to our Father, it changes us. It changes our hearts. It changes our identity.
Because of Jesus, we are connected to the God who created us and that becomes our main identity.
This redefined identity is what holds us together. We still have our differences – racial differences, cultural differences, professional differences, whatever.
You’re still Chinese, or French or Hispanic. And you’ll still feel connected to others who share those ethnicities.
BUT, you’ll have an even stronger connection to those who have had the same kind of transformation you’ve had. You’ll feel a deep and strong connection to those who have been convicted of sin and received the grace of God.
And that’s what will ultimately bring us together.
The question is: What are some practical things we can do right now at Hope? Again, we look to Jesus.
One thing Jesus does throughout his life is hang out with people who he culturally shouldn’t associate with. He hangs out with the “others” – sinners, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors. He also violates cultural taboos by hanging out with people from different ethnic backgrounds.
In John 4, he sits down with a Samaritan woman. Jews and Samaritans were enemies. They didn’t associate with each other. But Jesus sits down with her. He talks with her, he listens to her, he treats her with respect, he gets to know her.
Sometimes it’s that simple.
But most of us don’t do it. One study done a few years ago found that whatever race you are, approximately 90 percent of your friends will be that same race.
That’s NOT OK for Christians.
We have to do better. Achieving Biblical diversity starts with all of us. We ALL must be willing to make ourselves uncomfortable.
It’s more comfortable to hang out with people like you. But that’s not what God wants. And that’s not what Jesus did.
To achieve the kind of community that God wants – that God likes – we will all have to be uncomfortable sometimes – not just those who are in the minority. Get to know someone who is different from you. Befriend them. Ask questions. Listen to them. Show them respect.
Let’s make Hope a community – not one that is color blind – but one that is color brave.
Have a conversation with someone today who is different from you. Someone you’ve never talked to.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you are uncomfortable. And let’s be generous in granting grace with each other as we do this.
Let’s make Hope a place that models true Biblical community. Look at the world around us. Do you think people are getting nicer? The world is getting meaner, ruder, uglier. We have to be different.
The world is getting more diverse. Yes. But at the same time, it is getting more divided.
This year, 2020, marks the first time in U.S. history when whites are a minority among 18 year-olds and younger. By the middle of this century, that will be true for the entire population.
Tragically, as we get more diverse, we get more divided.
Hope must be different. Jesus said “blessed are the peacemakers.” At Hope, let’s be people who build bridges to those unlike us.
I believe God wants to do this at Hope. I believe he is calling us to be a place that models the kind of diversity gathered around the throne of Christ at the end of time.
When God needs something done on earth, what does he do? He uses people.
God needed a leader of the Civil Rights movement and he CHOSE Martin Luther King.
And I believe that God is choosing Hope College – choosing us – to be a place where he moves and shows his power and shows his glory. One way that will happen will be by us being a place that is perfectly unified in our diversity.
Ultimately, that’s how we can give the world evidence that God is real.
We have the opportunity for the world to see God’s power at work here at Hope.
It starts with us – being people who are willing to make ourselves uncomfortable to build bridges, to be peace makers.
Go in peace.