By Dr Arno van Niekerk

We are challenged in South African society by the unique scope of our diversity, but it can also be a benefit. The challenge sprouts from the fact that although we would like to accommodate each other, the sacrifice is very often too great.  Dealing / coping with diversity, asks that you give up the space you take to make space for others.  Now this is daunting, especially given a quick-fix society where progress is basically defined by inventing / designing things that make life easier and more comfortable for people.  The age-old value of waiting (‘good things come to those who wait’) is chucked out of the window to speed everything up. Needs become wants in an increasingly self-centered economy and society. Hence, how we see progress in the 21st century is counter-productive to dealing with diversity, where sacrifice is the norm.  Super capitalism does not like waiting and making sacrifices. We had a global economic crisis because of greed, resulting from too many people living in debt who did not like waiting for things.

Given South Africa’s politically heated indulgence, making sacrifices to accommodate diversity is becoming a serious problem. The fact is: We need to deal with diversity. It is our reality and it is part of our future. If we don’t find solutions in the current generation, we won’t have a future. But diversity is also beneficial. South Africa has an edge over many other countries, especially those with mono-cultures, since our diversity offers a richness to our capacity as a people. Different people bring different skills, perspectives and potential to the table. Similarity limits. However, diversity’s latent capacity can only be unlocked once the formula for embracing diversity has been created. So the question is: Where is creative capacity to be found? The straight-forward answer is: It’s Source, which is Creator God Himself. Since He is also the Creator of diversity, it makes sense.

We need to ask: “How do we let His creative skills have an impact in helping us deal with diversity?” For that, He has given us a blueprint. His Kingdom. It is expressed by the Body of Christ, which consists of a diversity of members where Jesus is the Head. I believe that only the Kingdom of God can offer the right formula for truly embracing diversity. Importantly, the Kingdom means the “King’s domain”. So when Jesus is really Lord and King in a society, the right formula is released to embrace diversity. This is what is needed in South Africa or we will forever grapple with all the cultural, racial, gender, economic, etc. issues and not find a solution. But when Christ is truly Lord in our lives, in society and in areas of influence, including government, then diversity becomes a benefit. If this is not our aim as Christians, we are missing the boat. It is only the Father’s heart that can truly embrace differences and make the most of it. His heart must be expressed through us. When Jesus is Lord – personally and publicly – we will naturally express the Father’s heart. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20) This is so true, especially in dealing with diversity.

Importantly, though, to embrace diversity cannot mean we sacrifice truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). So to truly embrace diversity means to abide by a higher standard: Jesus’ standard of love and truth. While you must love and embrace your brother – especially if he is different than you – we cannot sacrifice the truth of Jesus Christ. By that, I mean that you cannot submit to an unbiblical value system – or a system of values that contracts the truth of Scripture. We have to be anchored in the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Love is very important, but not at the expense of the truth. Then it becomes a worldly type of love. Now this brings another dimension to embracing diversity – a very important dimension. Christians who stand by biblical standards are very often branded as “hateful” towards those we don’t agree with. This is a tactic used by the world to force us into accepting unbiblical lifestyles. Now this kind of ‘embracing’ should be distinguished from ‘embracing’ another person that is simply different than me. The former is not good and places you under pressure to compromise your beliefs (compromising truth) as a prerequisite for loving the person. The latter is good since you embrace the person because of your beliefs and the love of God that’s in your heart for every person.

This is where the church has made a mistake in the past – just as much as churches who are now compromising biblical truth – by having become an exclusive club not willing to ‘touch’ the world. The Body of Christ needs to be positioned in a balanced way where we are unthreatened by the world – willing to engage with them (like Jesus) – but also not be contaminated by worldly influence. Properly dealing with diversity means applying spiritual principles in a practical, relational context. No better spiritual principles exist than those contained in God’s Word. We just need to apply it! The Word also guides us to make sacrifices to the benefit of others – especially those who belong to a completely different cultural/racial/economic group than us. This is what the story of the good Samaritan is all about! Jesus illustrated how our love, anchored in the truth, can unlock amazing potential.

So while we are pressured by the world to conform, let us employ the love and truth of God to embrace diversity in a way that places pressure on the world to transform (Rom 12:2). That is the will of God. Let us in South Africa use the pressure of this postmodern era’s liberal humanism to – like thermal riders – ignite a heart for differences, diversity and division. Only God’s people can truly bring healing through love and truth. If the world want to restrict our religious freedom through all kinds of legislation, etc., we need to become even more unashamed of the Gospel and make sure we live it out so that lives can be changed.

The attack on religious freedom must become our motivation to advance the Kingdom and to use the freedom we do have to turn the world up-side down (or right side up), like the disciples did (Acts 17:6). The best way to unlock the potential of diversity in South Africa is to become a truly functioning Body of Christ in all our diversity. You can only reproduce who you are. So as much as we want to see change, we ourselves have to change. Then we become change – to the glory of our Father. The beautiful colours of our rainbow nation’s diversity can only become radiant when Jesus is at the centre of our hearts and our society. The more diverse a society is, the more susceptible it is for influence, especially the Kingdom’s influence, which can infiltrate it and to turn it right side up (Matt 13:33). This is our wonderful opportunity in South Africa.

Dr Arno van Niekerk is a senior lecturer and economist living in Bloemfontein with his wife and two sons.  He leads several prayer and worship initiatives and is strongly involved in city transformation.  He has a passion to see God’s will become a reality in South African and for the nation to fulfil its calling. In 2016, Dr van Niekerk published “Enough! What is the Plan?” – a book about South African and the state of the nation.

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