Bishop Stresses Need to Find Common Ground in Diversity

Nov 19, 2002 03:00 AM EST

MUTARE, Zimbabwe - Speaking to an audience representing a variety of cultures, a United Methodist bishop emphasized the need for using diversity to unite people.

Indiana Area Bishop Woodie White, one of the church's best-known voices for civil rights, spoke on diversity in a sermon at Africa University's 10th anniversary worship service Nov. 17. People from around the globe filled the school's Kwang Lim Chapel for the service, which capped a weekend of celebration. United Methodist churches in America, Africa and elsewhere were expected to mark the school's first 10 years with special services that day.

White centered his remarks on the apostle Paul's words to the Corinthians, urging that they find common ground and join together to make something new.

The ancient city of Corinth was like any metropolitan city today, with different cultures, languages, races and ethnic groups, White said. As people from all over converged on the city, its newly established church was challenged to be true to itself and not be shaped by its cultural context, he said.

Divisions developed because the people adopted the "my is best" attitude, he said. They engaged in debate about which part of the city or population was most important. "They discovered that the diversity that God provided - and was intended to be a gift - became the cause of chaos."

Everyone has a place in the world, the bishop said. "When you recognize your giftedness, you will understand your importance," which comes from finding common ground. In order to find commonalities, people must back away from their "particularities," he said. "The purpose of diversity was not to isolate the human family ... but to bring together the human family, with each contributing to the body."

"God made the human family as God wanted to make the human family," he said. "God knew that no one part of it was sufficient in and of itself. God requires every part of God's creation to make a whole better."

He told the students and the congregation that their task is to find common ground with one another, regardless of race, class, status, economics and the numerous other "judgments" that keep people apart or separate.

"If there is not common ground, there can be no Africa University," he said. "It is when each person understands that they contribute to the whole that the university functions."

Africa University's diversity is evident in the more than 1,000 students enrolled from 27 different African countries. The school is also diverse in its staff, representing 24 countries.

For Christians, common ground is found through being in relationship with God, the bishop said. The two words that open the Lord's Prayer, "our father," make all Christians related, even though the people gathered at Kwang Lim Chapel were of different colors, cultures, countries, income levels, education and styles of dress, he said. "When we claim God as father or parent, you have a whole lot of kinfolk you had not counted on. Our common ground is our father."

White urged the congregation to not let any part of the family pull them out of their relationship with God, the father and parent. Although families are sometimes separated by ideologies and emphases, "we must find a way to live together," he said.

During the worship service, the participants also celebrated the announcement that Rukudzo Murapa's contract as vice chancellor had been renewed. The university needs continuous leadership, said Bishop Emilio J.M. de Carvalho, the school's chancellor, and the renewal recognized Murapa's efforts to develop an international presence for Africa University.

By Linda Green