Jay Blogs – Difference and Sameness

As we know, God expects us to look at the world around us in a different way, to be a completely different people. In Romans 12:2 and Colossians 3:8, the apostle Paul encourages us not to let the philosophies of the day distract or deceive us, but to think God’s thoughts and see life through His eyes. God has called us to love and care for each other through our God-glorifying differences, and we want to do what He calls us to do and be people of His Truth.  With all this in mind, it’s really important for us to continue clarifying what we’re doing at Grace and why. In looking at this year’s theme of being Transformed by Truth, one of the areas where we may be in greatest need of transformation as Christians is in the many ways God created us differently in His image, and then called us to unity.

For years, Grace has been an excellent school that loved kids from a biblical perspective, yet our leadership became convicted that we needed to examine whether we were truly loving and teaching Jesus to all the children Christ loves. Historically, we were loving and serving kids of Christian families for whom access was easy at Grace, generally families with kids of predominantly one ethnicity who learned a certain way and who could afford the full cost of tuition and who wanted a traditional school model. But, most of the body of Christ in Tyler who also desired Christian education for their children didn’t fall into those categories. In one way or another, they didn’t fit the mold. So, God began laying on the hearts of the leaders in our school that, in addition to continuing to love the kids and families we loved and served, we needed to make our family larger, to open our house to love more of Christ’s people.

God is a God of richness and complexity; He’s not a God of homogeneity. God makes people in His image, and no one person or group of people can fully manifest all of who God is. As a result, God makes things and people different, in beautiful variety, in order to reflect His beauty and variety and complexity. Just as men and women together reflect God’s nature and character, so all different types of people, ethnicities, and learning styles, and abilities, and gifting more wholly show us the fullness of who God is, more fully bear His image.

In our brokenness because of the fallenness of humanity, difference is normally seen as a bad, divisive thing. We are naturally attracted to sameness, to homogeneity. By our human nature, we see difference as a threat, as an outsider, as someone to be feared and misunderstood, rather than loved. Satan plays off this broken tendency to turn us against each other, to widen the gaps and divisiveness. Yet, through the cross, Jesus unites His people again. He calls them to be His adopted sons and daughters, a new family, a new nation, a new community. They are, first and foremost, now made for each other. They are called to unite as one, and to reflect God’s image by being both the same and different, a beautiful, perfect paradox.

We know this isn’t easy, and it never has been. Throughout the history of the Church, God’s people have struggled through their sin, natural suspicion, and simple discomfort of dealing with difference.  Paul encouraged the Jews to welcome those Gentiles who had become Christians into their community, and believers have struggled with welcoming those who aren’t like us within our fellowship ever since.

This is particularly hard in our culture, when so many worldviews and perspectives that aren’t biblical, like CRT and woke-ism, compete for space in the public marketplace of ideas. And,  yet, even despite these conflicting voices, the voice of our Savior rings true like a clarion call, praying to His Father the night before His death, chronicled in John 17: praying that we would be unified under His banner, sons and daughter of our Father, despite our differences, loving and celebrating each other, and that this radically different way of loving the Other, of being family with them (whoever “them” is), would testify that Christ is who He says He is, maybe more so than any other single act we can do, for our generation and for the next.  It’s a beautiful vision, this Revelation 7 church, all the nations standing together as family, praising the Lamb. God was calling us to create a vision of that future as much as possible through the Body of Christ in Tyler.

And, this meant making our school more accessible, and more loving of all God’s kids.  It meant taking a hard look at how to serve more of the 30-40 percent of students whose families are Christian who have some form of learning difference. These students weren’t broken or defective or handicapped; they were intelligent and could learn, but didn’t learn according to the ways we had traditionally taught. So, we had to explore modifying our curriculum and instruction, continuing to serve our kids who learned in traditional ways, yet serving a new group of kids, as well. Over the years, we developed our Academic Success Center, with trained staff, facilities, and strategies designed to give now 20 percent of our students the help they need to learn. Grace has grown tremendously in this area, and is recognized by many to be the best private school in East Texas at serving students with learning differences. And, we do it in the name of Jesus.

Loving all God’s kids meant making our school more accessible meant by creating our variable tuition program, and raising funds and building in financial aid to create opportunities for our diverse Christian families to be here, at the same time building quality into our school year after year. And, it means working with pastors, churches, and other Christian community partners to share what we’re doing at Grace, and to encourage their congregations and members to consider Christian education for their families.

I understand that this can be confusing sometimes, because the world makes it confusing. After all, the world uses “God words,” but attaches different meanings. I know it would be easier to use different words, rather than the “God words” that have been taken out of context by the world. But, God uses the words He uses for a reason, and rather than giving those words away to the world around us, we believe it’s better to redeem them for the purposes we believe God intended for them, and to teach those meanings to our children. Clear thinking almost always begins with the question “what do you mean by that term?” and we want to train kids to think clearly and critically. At Grace, “diversity” means recognizing and celebrating the ways God created us differently to reflect His image, all the while celebrating the unity we have in Jesus. It does not mean celebrating ways we are different that are human-generated, or worse, contrary to God’s image due to the fallenness of humans (please see my blog from last week on this topic).

“Equity” at Grace has the same meaning God uses when He uses the word 11 times in the Old Testament, and describes Himself as a God of equity- it means working for justice and mercy to level the playing field, so that people can have a fair shot. Based on the fallenness of humans over generations, lots of people don’t have a level field, or a fair shot, and God calls us to be people of equity to help to make that possible. Finally, “inclusion” at Grace doesn’t mean “all viewpoints or beliefs are equally valid.” Rather, it means that if you are part of our family, we want to do what we can to make you feel like you are a part of the family, like this is your house, too, rather than merely feeling like you’re a guest here.

Rather than using the acronym “DEI,” at Grace we use this term as an actual word. It is a powerful word, because it is the Latin word for God, most commonly used in English in the term “Imago DEI,” which means “in the image of God.” When we love people who aren’t like us well, we image God and live out the best of the gospel. That’s why we collectively call all our initiatives-toward celebrating our sameness and unity, working to create a level playing field, and making family feel like they belong–the Grace Imago DEI programs and initiatives. Because, like always, we want everything we do at Grace to live out the gospel, and to teach Jesus.

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.