Life at a Liberal Seminary: The Beauty of Diversity

Multiculturalism is the appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures.  Today in America there is pushback against the growing influence of multiculturalism and diversity; there is this (illogical, ridiculous) fear that the emphasis on diversity is destroying the fabric of America.  Well, first of all, America is and has always been vastly diverse; it’s just that the dominant ethnic group (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or WASPS) have either suppressed divergent groups or forced them to meld into the culture of the WASPS.  Whether it be the subjugation of the Native Americans, the forced slavery of Africans, the oppression of Irish immigrants, the racism towards African-Americans, and now the denigration of Latino immigrants, America has a long history of being afraid of the “other.”   This fear of other cultures and perspective is really quite a shame because the people of America have lost out on so much, for there is much to be gained from the point of view of others.  Let me give an example. I’m currently in my 5th semester at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK.  I’m actually enrolled in the online program so most of my classes are on the internet.   Once a semester however I come down to Tulsa to take a week long module class; it’s a wonderful time to get to know new people while strengthening friendships already in place.  The first time I came on campus was during my second semester, I hadn’t established any relationships yet nor did I even really know anyone.  That week of class validated in my mind my status as a seminary student.  Not only that, I was able to develop friendships, talk theology, and drink some beer!

As I write this I’m down in Tulsa for another module class, Theology and Practice of Public Worship.    Sitting in the chapel one day, singing all kinds of songs from different faith traditions I was suddenly astounded by the wealth of diversity embodied on the stage and within the room.  We sang from the United Methodist hymnal, the Disciples of Christ hymnal, the Presbyterian hymnal, and the United Church of Christ hymnal.  We sang “The Days of Elijah,” with a mix of young and old, gay and straight, black and white leading us in singing.  In this space were Disciples of Christ, Methodists, Unitarian/Universalist, Baptists, and even an atheist and together we sang an African American spiritual, with an African American woman singing a descant to the song “Thank You Lord,” while accompanied by an older female pianist and a young male guitarist. It was awesome! I was so amazed at the diversity of PTS, such a rich, vibrant, and diverse community which brings such a spiritual richness.

I know there are some out there who do not value or appreciate diversity, I know there are some who don’t welcome thoughts or opinions that conflict with their own, and I know to some the thought of an atheist being enrolled in seminar y is simply heretical.  Well, I’m sorry for you, because you’re totally missing out.   Every time I am on campus (physically or electronically) I am stretched, challenged, pushed, prodded, amazed, and impressed by the different perspectives available to me.  This incredible, rich, beautiful diversity only enhances my educational experience.

If you want to maintain your culture, your perspective that’s great, but participating or even allowing the perspectives of others will not hinder yours.  To maintain your own culture, simply keep practicing it.  Celebrate family traditions, cultural holidays, and long held practices; allowing someone to practice their own culture shouldn’t affect the practice of your own.  Perhaps even observing or participating in another cultural practice might even make you more aware and interested in the cultural practices of your own group.   The slow, gradual loss of American culture is not the fault of multiculturalism; it is the result of our own disregard for our history and traditions.  When we reclaim those practices, while celebrating the culture of others, America will be a picture of distinct yet adjacent cultures living in peace and harmony with one another; and it will be a very beautiful thing.