By Jason Coker
In July 2015 I was one of many people at the Baptist World Alliance held in beautiful Durban, South Africa. There were many reasons the trip was meaningful, but personally, being there with other Baptists from over 80 different countries was what deeply moved me. Every inhabitable continent was represented. Baptists are all over the world! And we need each other — desperately need each other. We don’t need each other in order to overcome an enemy. We don’t need each other to save our world — not even to reach our world for Jesus (it’s pretty much Jesus’s world already). We need each other to actually see the world — to see each other.
After the Congress was over, I joined several friends for a safari at Hluhluwee Game Preserve. The animals were amazing and we got to see Prince Harry of England (that’s no joke), but even more than that, for me, was the night sky. I’ve always been somewhat of a stargazer, and the sky of the Southern Hemisphere offers quite a bit. I had never seen the Southern Cross or Scorpio or the Seven Sisters. Check, check and check! But it wasn’t even the check list of constellations. It was the immensity of the sky. We had open space and were miles away from any light that would prohibit us from truly experiencing the universe.
I gawked at the stars for a long time. Each night it became a ritual. Each night did not disappoint. Millions of stars that I had never seen before were staring at me. The light I witnessed in the sky started its journey millions of years ago and that light is just now coming into view. It’s a little crazy to wrap our minds around it because we are so bound to time on earth — a time that is relative!
That night sky in the Global South was a perfect intersection with the World Congress of the Baptist World Alliance. Until the world shifts its axis and North becomes South and South North, we will never be able to see the Southern Cross in the United States of America. And until the Earth’s axis shifts, we will never be able to see the Big Dipper in South Africa. To see what South African’s witness in the night sky, I have to actually go there to see it for myself. I have to go and inhabit their space and look at the sky from their place. It’s the only way for me to see what they see. It’s the only way to form me to see how they see. If I never went to South Africa to see it for myself, I would just have to trust that all the people in the Southern Hemisphere were telling me the truth about the Southern Cross — or, I could refuse to believe them and think of them as liars.
Now that last part seems ridiculous, I know! Why would I think so many people were liars when the stars that hang in the sky are as clear as light? All I have to do is go to the Southern Hemisphere and see it for myself. I find this to be true as a metaphor, too. In order to see what others see, I just have to go and inhabit their space and look at it from their place. It seems so clear, doesn’t it?
This is why we need each other. We need each other so that each one of us can be whole. There are vast parts of humanity that are not visible from my limited space and place. I need the eyes of my sisters and brothers from all over the world so that I can see a bigger picture of God’s expansive universe. Without the cacophony of visions in our home that we call Baptist, my “universe” isn’t really a universe — it’s not even a galaxy — it’s not even a true worldview. Without this great host of witnesses, my vision is so limited I can’t see past my own little ideologies, biases and prejudices. When we stretch ourselves and take time to inhabit another’s space and place to see what they see and how they see, our proximity becomes so close that we actually get to see them — our sister(s) and brother(s).
This is why I believe that diversity is a virtue in and of itself. It expands us; it grows us. True diversity is in every constellation in the universe. True diversity is in every nation in the world. True diversity is all around us. True diversity reflects the triune nature of the God we worship — the God whose good news we proclaim. In many ways, to not be intentionally diverse is more than simply missing out on all that God wants for us. To not be intentionally diverse is to deny the very nature of the God we serve. Diversity is more than God’s gift to us. Diversity is in the very fabric of God’s substance. This is why I think the World Congress of the Baptist World Alliance was so pleasing to God. It is our little Baptist way of living into God’s diversity. It even helps us see our own place in the panoply of all God’s children.
As I dart across the sky at over 500 miles per hour at an altitude of 38,000 feet on my way back home, I wonder about how we can inhabit this broad world together in ways that honor all our differences and be faithful to our diversity. The answer may be in the stars. They are profound twinkles that let us know our impressively limited view. We need all our collective eyes in order to see as much of God as we can, and stand together when we do it. I am a small part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is a small part of global Baptists, which is a small part of Christianity, which is a part of the religious fabric of our world. In this constellation, let’s let our light shine — for God and for each other.
Jason Coker is pastor of Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, Conn. He also is founder and chair of Delta Hands for Hope, a rural development partner organization with CBF Together for Hope: Rural Poverty Initiative.