Why I Need to Zip It for Jesus
by Robert Peace Jordan
I love to preach. I'm a seminary dropout, but still, if you are addressing a group that includes me, I am mentally stealing your best material. At my last church, I prayed over the offering, read scripture, presented communion. I loved it all.
But gradually, it dawned on me: everyone speaking there looked just like me. Straight white men. I had a platform— not because of insights, or gifts, or passion— but because I fit the profile. And what about those who didn't? Every time I spoke, I realized, others were paying a cost in the sacrifice of their own powerful insights, gifts, and passions. We were all being impoverished by the loss.
From “God saw that it was good” in Genesis to “a mighty host from every nation” in Revelation, scripture overflows with rejoicing in the explosive diversity of God's creation. When we embrace that diversity also, we gain in wisdom and understanding. We affirm God's love for all kinds of people. And we learn the humility that is at the very core of Christlikeness.
There's a verse of scripture that I've always found empowering: “If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get?” It's permission to take risks that may have no earthly payoff. It's a way of escape from resentment when my good deeds are betrayed.
Last year on Facebook, a friend was struggling with a feeling of betrayal, and I offered her that verse since it had been so helpful to me. “That verse,” she replied, “was used for many years to browbeat me into staying in an abusive relationship.” I was thunderstruck. In 20 years of weekly church attendance, never once had I been exposed to the concept of spiritual abuse. (I've learned quite a bit about it since then.)
So to those who deny the importance of diversity in the pulpit, I ask: what are sermons for, if not to understand how to live out our faith in society? And just try to imagine a more diverse society than 21st century San Diego. How can we possibly hope to be equipped for Christ-honoring responses to all those different perspectives, if the backgrounds of our scriptural teachers are basically all the same?
Yet, just for the sake of argument, suppose someone like me could understand all mysteries and fairly represent all perspectives... there would still be value in my having a seat and letting others speak. It affirms that they can be just as good at it as I am, maybe even better. And that is important for all of us to witness.
Take the 20th century. It used to be common knowledge: women weren't strong enough for heavy factory work... until the likes of Rosie the Riveter proved they were. Black Americans couldn't coexist side-by-side with whites... until peaceful multiracial marches on Selma and Detroit and Washington proved otherwise. Seeing is believing.
Parts of that narrative still holds today. Some people shouldn't preach, goes the argument, because they just can't. If you believe that, it becomes easier to re-imagine a scripture like “I do not permit a woman to teach” into something like “No one anywhere should ever permit any woman to teach under any circumstances”. So to that kind of scriptural misappropriation, a woman standing up to offer a piercing scriptural insight in her own words is a powerful antidote.
All of us need this kind of spiritual exercise. It's hard to learn anything when you're the one doing all the talking. All of us— consciously or unconsciously— look down on someone. Those are the people we need to seek out and learn from, and the more impressed we are with ourselves, the more urgent this need becomes. The beautiful Max Ehrmann poem Desiderata says, “Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”
Christ was the very embodiment of this truth. Scripture says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” He was born in a stable in an out-of-the-way backwater, his followers were uneducated, and every bit of this was on purpose. God, scripture says, chose the “foolish” things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
In fact, the less we are impressed with ourselves, the more we need to understand how vital our voices are to the conversation. It may be easier to leave the spotlight to people (like me) who seek it, but if so, who will teach the Christlike humility that comes from encountering God at work in (what we imagine as) the least likely of places?
Find more from Robert at oneforjesus.net