What do you think of when you hear the word language? I know what I think of: the funny story my friend Sharon shared with me about her introduction to the French language as a college freshman. As a native English speaker majoring in Spanish because she hoped to enter the world of elementary education in California in the late ’70s, for some reason, the university required her to enroll in classes of yet another language.
Each day, Sharon moved from her 10 a.m. Conversational Spanish 300 class to her 11 a.m. Introduction to French 102. To make matters worse, the professor did not allow anyone to speak anything but French in class. Sharon thought oui would be pronounced “oo-we” instead of simply “we,” and she was completely thrown off by the silent letters. For example, Bordeaux is pronounced bore-doh instead of “bore-dee-aux.” And she had thought English was weird.
Nevertheless, she managed to get an A in that class because the teacher was just that good at using hand signals, a pointer, and repetition. Sharon eventually changed her major to liberal studies, and taught successfully for thirty-five years in California—as an English teacher. The moral of the story for her: Language and mastery take time, and we are all in different places in our journey. We should be patient with each other and with ourselves.
I tend to agree. Language is more than the different tongues spoken by varying cultures around the world. Language is a tool for effective communication. And with so many languages, one would think we’d be able to get our ideas across to each other. But unfortunately, in our current social environment, and especially amongst the body of Christ, when it comes to effectively communicating the unity we should be displaying to the world, we are running around like the folks at the Tower of Babel who had just had their language changed. As long as their language was the same, they were of one purpose—building a tower to reach to heaven to make a name for themselves. The problem was, in their case, they weren’t supposed to be making a name for themselves. They were supposed to be living in a way to honor God’s name, so God put a stop to their efforts by confusing their language. When they discovered they could no longer connect verbally, they found others who talked like they did—who spoke the same language—and headed off to establish their own communities, leaving the tower as an unfinished reminder of their folly.
The society of Babel was fractured because of the people’s inability to communicate.
The church is fractured today because of people’s inability to communicate. But thanks to the unifying blood of Jesus, this fact does not have to remain true. God has given us a tower to build—His kingdom. The completion of the building on earth is our responsibility and can only be done as we learn to communicate effectively as one body, the church. The family.
But we have problems. Strained racial and ethnic relations, deceptions of various sorts of “privilege,” low esteem, and the like have driven a wedge between segments of the church—between the “black church” and the “white church” specifically—that has effectively separated us for so long that decidedly different languages have developed. And unfortunately, we seem to be just fine with this reality. However, I don’t think God is.
Romans 12:4–5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (NIV1984).
Diversity, you see, is God’s idea. He obviously enjoys it, or He wouldn’t have created it in the first place. But when our differences (e.g., ethnic, denominational, political) take precedence over God’s Word, and we bow at the altar of those man-made distinctions instead of at the foot of the Cross, we have a big problem. This is where we are today. We cannot work together as a body until we are able to communicate effectively. Until the fracture is fixed.
For the last two decades I’ve helped implement diversity and inclusion measures for companies and organizations in the secular world; I know the deep impact and real change that comes from people speaking the same language in the workplace or boardroom.
I challenge my faith family, the church, to rethink the way they talk about race and ethnicity; we need a new language for a new church era. With effective communication, we can reverse the trend of separation so the body of Christ can function as an unfractured whole, bringing glory to our God, who can then operate on our planet through the unity of His family.
Let’s enroll in class and learn a new language, shall we?
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Adapted from Unfractured: A Christ-Centered Action Plan for Cultural Change by Skot Welch. Copyright 2023, provided by Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used with permission. Welch is the founder of Global Bridgebuilders, an internationally respected diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm; he is also an ordained pastor and teaching Elder for Christian Life Center/Stones Church.