Confusing Unity with Uniformity: Spring 2021

Confusing Unity with Uniformity: Spring 2021

The mistake is to confuse unity with uniformity. And while the mistake is an easy one to make, even a moment’s reflection reminds us of how deeply wrong it is.

A sports team wears the same uniform—a word that shares a linguistic root with the word “unity.” So yes, the players look the same, and they are, indeed, united by a shared goal. But while they are united, the individual players on the team are not identical in their roles. The quarterback is not the same as the nose tackle. The pitcher is asked to do something very different than the designated hitter.

A business enterprise, similarly, is united in purpose. But it would be a mistake to assume that everyone who participates in furthering that mission has the same function. The finance manager serves a very different purpose than the marketing specialist. The salesperson isn’t asked to manufacture or assemble the product she is asked to sell.

In our country’s history, the original 13 states—who came together under the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One)—were not identical. They each had different—and proud—histories and cultures. In uniting together to become the United States, they were not for a moment asking that those histories should be forgotten or dissolved or erased, but instead had an instinct that they could come together—with all of their differences—to form something stronger than any of them individually: “a more perfect union.”

These may be obvious examples of the difference between unity and uniformity, but the same holds true in the body that we call the Church—made up of different parts or members. The Apostle Paul writes about this in a number of places in the New Testament, including the 12th chapter of Romans, where he writes: “For as in one body, we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ.”

In an essay based on this image of the church as the body of Christ—an essay entitled “Membership”—C.S. Lewis develops and reinforces this idea: that we are called not to uniformity or sameness, but instead to unity in difference. He writes that “those who are members of one another become as diverse as the hand and ear . . . things essentially different from, and complementary to, one another.”

To be clear—as with a sports team, a business enterprise, or a country—all of this “complementary difference” exists not for its own sake, but to fulfill a mission. The body of Christ exists for the sake of the world. To bring healing and wholeness and peace to a world that is filled with pain and brokenness and unrest. As we look to the future, I pray that we—celebrating and embracing all of our beautiful differences—may be united as one to accomplish God’s loving purposes.

Grace and Peace,

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