Diversity Around the Throne

By Rev. Alice Fowler

The following story is part two in the What I’ve Learned series, in which Missouri Conference leaders share what they’ve learned in the past year around issues involving race and culture. 

I’ve always loved John’s awe-inspiring vision of heavenly worship in Revelation 7, especially this part: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, ten and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Can you picture it? As far as the eye can see, every nationality, skin color, and language group standing together, dressed in the same clothing, doing the same thing — shouting their praise to God. But, of course, this isn’t just John’s vision for the future. It’s God’s. It has its origin in God’s heart.

And the reason there is all this diversity around the throne? Because followers of Jesus took seriously Jesus’ instruction to: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Scripture seems clear that race and culture work flow naturally from our alignment with God’s heart. And obviously, God’s vision for the church is much more diverse than most of our churches. So if I’m aligned with God, then I will want our churches to become places where anyone, any nationality, any skin color, any language group, any age, will feel welcome, find a home, enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus, and practice for the future when we are joined in worship around the throne.

Even though I knew the biblical imperatives for diversity in the body of Christ, I hadn’t been intentional about studying the issues involved until the Missouri Conference embarked on cross-racial and cross-cultural learning. I read “White Fragility” but wanted to read something that was more centered on God’s intention and the scripture, so I ordered “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love” by (then 87-year-old) John M. Perkins. 

I was inspired by Rev. Perkins, gospel-centered defense of biblical reconciliation. He says, “The problem is a gaping hole in our gospel. We have preached a gospel that leaves us believing that we can be reconciled to God but not reconciled to our Christian brothers and sisters who don’t look like us — brothers and sisters with whom we are, in fact, one blood.” 

He says the problem of reconciliation “is a God-sized problem. It is one that only the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal.” And he quotes Pastor Mark DeYmaz as saying, “Let us not promote such a dream [of multiethnic and economically diverse churches of Christ-centered faith] because it is politically correct, but because it is biblically correct; not so much because it’s nice, but because it’s necessary.” I could go on because there are so many quotable quotes, but you should read the book. Suffice it to say, truth after truth resonated in my soul.

My learning has continued as the Cabinet has met with Nikki Lerner for about a year. You may remember Nikki as our worship leader at Annual Conference 2021. Nikki has gently asked hard questions about the Conference’s past, present and future. She’s forced us to grapple with scripture and given us practical methods of encouraging and facilitating difficult and necessary conversations in our churches. She’s helped us get a picture of how to move forward in this work around race and culture.

Though I had an idea of the biblical assumption of diversity before the Missouri Conference started with this emphasis, I have learned so much in the last year as I’ve taken a deeper dive into God’s vision around these issues. Therefore, I encourage you to join in this effort because, as Rev. Perkins says, “This struggle for reconciliation will not be won in the streets. It will be won by believers in Jesus Christ who choose to live out the truth of the gospel.”