I’ve spent a good deal of my life celebrating the successes of some Christians, and cringing over the foibles of others. I would cheer when people made the team look good, and try not to think about it when people made the team look bad.

Recently, I have begun to celebrate even the odd-balls:

  • The coastal elites
  • The country bumpkins
  • The limousine liberals
  • The rednecks
  • Those over-given to nationalism
  • Those over-given to populism
  • Those who virtue signal
  • Those who enjoy mocking the virtue signalers
  • The pretentious bloggers positioning themselves as voices of moderation

This blog post is about why.

Almost twenty years ago now, I was at a family funeral, and met most of my cousins for the first time, as adults. Afterward my mom asked me how things had gone, and I replied that it was a lot of people I would not otherwise have met. She laughed, because she thought I was making a joke about them being an odd lot. That hadn’t actually been my intention—I was just thinking about how we were all from different parts of the country, and how most of my contacts were either personal friends or linguists—but I could see how it could be taken that way. An extended family, at least a more mobile extended family, ends up being something of a grab bag. (To be clear, I almost certainly make less money than any of my cousins.)

If the claims of Christianity are true, then we would expect the people of God to be from incredibly diverse backgrounds—“from every tongue, tribe, and nation.” The word “tribe” there, of course, does not refer to our modern sociological idea of “tribes” of people within a single culture, but I think it’s a fair extension of the term. Even within the same country, we should find believers taken from every walk of life—red states, blue states, purple states; college educated and otherwise; financially stable and otherwise; mentally stable and otherwise; able-bodied and otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong: if all of the Christians in the world were center-right, academically-inclined, literarily-minded people of grand ambitions and modest means, then there would be a lot fewer points of friction between me and the Body of Christ.

But that would leave me with a more troubling question: whether Christianity was really just a matter of being in a particular sociological category, rather than being what it claims to be: the result of God reaching into human history and forming a new people for Himself, (again) “from every tongue, tribe, and nation.”

So the fact of the tremendous diversity of the Body of Christ—and I’ve here just hinted at the diversity within America, which is of course a small part of the diversity of the whole—ends up being a sort of comfort, a reminder that this thing I’m a part of is not just a function of lonely people looking for likeminded companions. Someone outside of history, and far outside of the sociological constructs that are meaningful to us today, is organizing this thing.

I can embrace that kind of awkwardness.

I think it’s reasonably clear from the examples that I’ve chosen, but I’ll just emphasize here that I’m speaking here about social and cultural differences between Christians. I remain horrified by the numerous ways that Christian leaders and laypeople fall into sin—publicly and privately—and I’m not making light of that here. And I certainly also believe that there is a moral dimension to wisdom and foolishness. But on the whole I am far more inclined to wrongly elevate what is basically a cultural difference to the level of morality, than I am to do the converse; and I don’t believe that I’m alone in that.