Same but different – the importance of diversity and inclusion to peacebuilding

Integral mission and theologyPeacebuilding

In the previous post on peacebuilding, we looked at the biblical understanding of peace and justice. This time, we are going to look at the ideas of diversity and inclusion. I want to explore what the Bible has to say about them and how they are important for Christians pursuing peace.

Passengers in a train carriage. Photo by Braden Barwich on Unsplash
Photo by Braden Barwich on Unsplash

However, before I get to that, I’m going to start with rights. In the previous blog, I commented that if we have rights, so do others – meaning that we all have responsibilities to each other. The core of human rights is the Christian belief that humans are all made in the image of God. 

Christians around the world are sometimes suspicious of ‘rights’ as western and individualistic ideas (and many rights claims do have this problem). At the same time, rights can be helpful in thinking about how we should treat other people. It can be useful to think about a person’s dignity as well as their rights – who they are as well as what they should have – as this will help us to remember that everyone bears the image of God. 

This matters when we are talking about diversity and inclusion because, even though all humans possess this essential sameness, we are also all different. It is easy to read the story of Babel in Genesis 11 as one in which God separates people from each other as a punishment for pride and sin, and to see conflict as a result of this diversity. However, the story also suggests that diversity is something God uses to remind humans that while they are made in the image of God, they are not God and should not try to be. Difference becomes something that humans must work to overcome, without that diversity itself being a bad thing.

‘Diversity is something God uses to remind humans that while they are made in the image of God, they are not God and should not try to be.’

When people are trying to create unity, they often end up hiding or excluding the people and things that do not ‘fit’. This kind of exclusion of people is often at the heart of sin and certainly at the heart of conflict. It is not what God wants. 

In the Bible we see God’s people commanded to welcome the alien and stranger in the land (Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:17–19), and Jesus reminding his listeners that everyone is their neighbour (Luke 10:25–37). Jesus himself was a man who was identifiably Jewish but had a mission of inclusion – both of those Jews who had been excluded under Jewish law, and of the Gentiles – into the kingdom of God.

Listen to René August talk about the way that God’s story always seems to point to inclusion.

It is important for peacebuilders to think about diversity and inclusion, because peacebuilding must deal with differences between people while treating all the people involved equitably and with the dignity they deserve. A part of the peacebuilding process is the recognition that we have not always treated each other as equal before God, and the willingness to make amends. 

It is also important that peacebuilders recognise people’s differences and diversity as well as their equality, and do not assume that equality necessarily means that we must ‘treat everyone alike’. 

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, reminds us that all humans come from different backgrounds and have different experiences during their lives. If peace is to be lasting, the process of building it must take this into account. Making space for others as different-and-equal within the kingdom demands some concession and change from all of those involved.

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.