By Levi Secord
Recently, I saw a man with “In diversity we trust” emblazoned on his shirt. Replacing “In God we trust” with this mantra offers insight into how some people view diversity. With the rise of critical race theory and social justice, both inside and outside of the church, many prescribe an increase in diversity as a solution to what ails us. As such, diversity takes the place of God in more than just a pithy saying. For much of society, diversity is the standard of righteousness. A diverse group is considered more righteous than a non-diverse one, irrespective of any virtues or vices that may be present. To be diverse is to be righteous. To lack diversity is to be sinful. Diversity, not God, sanctifies and saves us. Lack of diversity, not our sin, condemns us. Diversity is our great hope, and thus it takes its place in our modern pantheon of false gods. As an idol, this diversity requires our worship, sacrifice, and allegiance.
Sadly, the church is not immune to this siren call. What will fix our churches? What will remove the sins of the past? Not the blood of the Lamb, but more diverse congregations and leadership. It is man-centered righteousness and salvation at its worst, as we look to incidental human characteristics to deal with sin issues. The demographics of a group, not their faith or virtues, become the standard by which we judge.
And so, the idol of diversity marches on under the banners of critical race theory, cultural Marxism, and social justice. But, like all false gods, diversity has no power to save us. It cannot heal our deep wounds, and it only brings further destruction. No matter how many fall prostrate, no matter how many cry out, and no matter how much we cut ourselves, this idol remains deaf, dumb, and impotent.
At this point, some readers are likely to explode and call me all kinds of nasty things. After all, people hate it when someone attacks their idol (Judg. 6:28-32). To be clear, I am not against groups of diverse people coming together, but I am against worshiping modern diversity. Diversity is a part of God’s good creation, but it has no power to justify, sanctify, or heal us. Racism is a sin because it violates God’s standards, not because it violates the standards of diversity. It is wrong to partially judge someone as righteous or sinful based on their ethnicity because God does not judge this way. Entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with our first birth and everything to do with our second birth. I reject white supremacy for the same reason I reject modern diversity, both wrongly elevate things like skin color and ethnicity to be primary. They are the same sins committed in different directions.
But how did evangelicalism end up parroting the modern worship of diversity? There are many factors, but one we cannot overlook is the distorted interpretation of Revelation 7:9-12. Well-meaning Christians point to the diversity in this passage and deduce that diversity is a moral imperative. After all, if the eternal church is diverse, then God loves diversity. Diversity must be inherently good and sanctifying for us. It is then reasoned that if a local church or denomination lacks diversity, then it has fallen short. Couple this with the modern understanding of diversity, and the church starts to sound just like the world. Like so many other wacky interpretations of Revelation, this one fails to understand the whole book.
Diversity in Revelation
Does Revelation 7:9-12 really show God’s love of diversity? If so, does it make diversity an imperative? Does diversity sanctify us to be more like the heavenly church? It is true that the eternal church includes all types of people, but does such reasoning hold? The underlying question that must be asked is this—how does the book of Revelation use the idea of diversity?
This passage must be understood in light of the whole book. Revelation 7:9-12 describes the heavenly church as consisting of people from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” A wondrous vision, to be sure, but where is the glory found in this vision? There are two problems with making this passage a command for or an endorsement of diversity. First, this passage is not primarily about diversity; it’s about God. Instead of beholding the glory of God in saving such a group, diversity advocates want to exalt the glories of human diversity. In this way, Christians mimic the pagan world. Such an interpretation exchanges the glory of the Creator for the glory of the creature. The brilliance of this passage is God on his throne with the Lamb by his side (7:10). Instead of blinding ourselves by looking at the crowd, we should listen to them as they declare the glory of God and the Lamb. They announce the core glory of this passage—God and the Lamb’s work in salvation.
Second, Revelation 7:9-12 does not contain the only diverse group in Revelation. If we want an honest evaluation of diversity in this book, we must read the whole book. For example, in Revelation 11:9-10, we find a diverse group consisting of “the peoples and tribes and languages and nations.” What is this group, and what are they doing? They rejoice in the murder of God’s witnesses. This group, equally diverse as the heavenly church, is evil and destined for judgment. Similarly, in Revelation 13:7-8, we find a group from “every tribe and people and language and nation” who worship the Beast. Same diversity as seen in Revelation 7:9-12, but a wholly wicked group.
Finally, in Revelation 17:15, we behold another very diverse group of “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages,” and they are in league with the great prostitute and the ten-horned Beast. Along with their kings, this group eventually makes war on the Lamb and is defeated (Rev. 17:12-14; 19:19-21). In other words, this diverse group eventually populates Hell. In the end, Revelation gives us two very different groups whose diversity is described in identical terms. Yet, these two groups have two very different destinies.
If we were to apply the same reasoning to these passages as is often used for Revelation 7, we would end up with untenable conclusions. If the diversity of Heaven proves God’s love of diversity, it follows that the diversity of Hell proves God’s hate of diversity. Such reasoning exposes the illogical silliness of such arguments. Both conclusions miss the point, and this demonstrates how people distort Scripture to advance their own agendas.
Some prominent evangelical leaders declare, “Those who hate diversity won’t like Heaven because it’s so diverse.” A silly argument perfect for the world of Twitter. My retort, “Those who worship at the feet of modern diversity still won’t like Hell despite its great diversity.” As such, diversity is not the standard of righteousness. A diversity score neither justifies nor condemns.
Some might object, “The Devil always has his counterfeits, but this doesn’t invalidate the good of diversity.” Satan indeed produces counterfeits, but this is not my point. Instead, what I am asking is if Revelation advances diversity as a moral imperative or as something that necessarily sanctifies? The answer is most certainly, “No.”
Diversity is a reality of life, but it is not a moral imperative. Diversity cannot save or sanctify us, but looking to diversity for salvation can condemn us. Diversity is not the standard of God’s judgment, and therefore it cannot be ours. A group is not more or less righteous based on its demographics. We must note, what truly distinguishing these two groups is not diversity, but that one group believes in Jesus Christ and the other doesn’t. The standard of righteousness is theological, not anthropological. In the end, God does not judge based on demographics, and neither should we.
What, then, should we make of the multi-ethnic reality of the church? The New Testament answers this question, when Peter marvels at the first Gentile converts, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). Paul echoes the same sentiment about God’s impartiality, as he works to unite Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church (Rom. 2:6-11). The diversity of Heaven and Hell does not point to anything about humanity or diversity, but it ultimately reveals the impartiality of God. He shows mercy to whomever he wants, irrespective of who we are.
There are sinful ways to be diverse, and there are wicked ways to reject diversity. The ethnic makeup of groups neither condemns nor sanctifies. This is obvious when we read Revelation as a whole. So what does diversity actually do in Revelation? It magnifies what is already present, like a good seasoning salt. The diversity of Heaven magnifies the glory of God as his salvation is impartial and includes all the nations. The diversity of Hell magnifies the universal wickedness of man and the glory of God in his impartial judgment. The wonder of Revelation 7:9-12 is not that the crowd is so beautifully diverse, but that God saves people from all over the world. It reveals his glory and his character, not ours.
The church must throw out this idolatrous vision of diversity. This idol is impotent. It has no power to save, sanctify, or heal. But Jesus does. This is precisely what the book of Revelation is all about—the power of God displayed through Christ to redeem creation.
Levi J. Secord serves as a pastor at Riverview Baptist Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota. He earned a Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree. Levi, his wife, and their three boys live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they spend their time slaying dragons.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
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