This might be one of those things that I feel the need to repeat on an annoyingly regular basis, but, let’s be clear: unity and uniformity are not the same thing. And when Jesus prays that we “might all be one” (John 17:21), he means unity, not uniformity.
Imagine what the world would be like if people were all “the same.” Imagine what the world would be like if all the trees and flowers, animals and birds were “the same.” You can’t, really, can you? Such perfect uniformity is beyond our ability to comprehend. Thank God for that.
Say God, if that’s how you know God, or call it love, the energy of creation, the power of the Universe, a Higher Power, the fabric of creation or however you know that oneness that connects all things, but it’s that very Oneness that is our unity that allows for the diversity that’s built upon it. We’re all unique, not only in appearance but in age, gender, personality, skills, philosophy, culture and religion. There is only one of you. In fact, all of creation is unique and different. And that’s awesome.
We are all still part of the one world in which we live.
Equity and equality are also not the same. Equality is about everyone getting the same thing (there’s that uniformity again), but it presumes that everyone starts from the same place and shares the same circumstances. And we don’t. We just don’t. And that’s not just about stuff, it’s about opportunity. We have systematically ensured that some get greater opportunity than others. That needs to stop.
But equity means everyone gets what they need. It’s about fairness and justice. It’s about acknowledging difference, uniqueness and individuality with respect and ensuring that everyone has what they need to be healthy and whole. It means the freedom to be who and how we are without fear.
The apostle Paul, writing to people in Corinth, where he’d previously helped to establish a church, reminds them of that in a particular, down to earth way. They’re having some difficulty building community amongst the very different people, socially and culturally, that live there. “We are all part of one body,” Paul says, but uniquely who we are. Just as there are different parts of the body, we are all different, but connected. Furthermore, everyone is needed and important, just for who they are, with their own uniqueness. In fact, the very limbs and organs that society and culture has told us to think are of lesser value should be thought of as greater. Think for a moment how we use certain body parts to describe people and how some of them are positive and others are so very negative. But, says Paul, we need all the parts to be whole. And when any one part is hurting, we all hurt and we all need to be part of the healing.
But that isn’t what we do, is it? Sometimes not even with our own bodies. We struggle with body image. And Paul’s metaphor, while philosophically right and true for wholeness, wasn’t the practice even in his day. The metaphor of the body isn’t original to Paul, it was already in use as a way to describe a city or town. And it was used as a means to assign not only gifts and abilities but status as well. Those that did the work that made them feet and hands did not have the same status as those who did the thinking, for example. While everyone was necessary to the whole, your status was determined by the value of your ability to the whole.
But Paul’s use of the body metaphor isn’t about the practical application of a person’s gifts, it’s about the person themselves. The body that Paul describes reflects the love of Jesus for everyone, no matter who they are, what they do, what they think or know or feel or even what they believe. In this body, every member is a part of the whole simply by “being” in the first place. In this body, the strong care for the weak, the wise care for the foolish, the big care for the small, we care for each other with equity. And everyone respects everyone for who they are.
Isn’t that at the heart of any community? A sense of ”common-unity,” the embrace of diversity and an equitable place for all. The people of Corinth struggled with it. We must struggle with it, too, and be better.