It's on my mind almost any time I walk into church, or a classroom or a conference like ETS. I hadn't put it into words, though, until just a few days ago. Ken Baker asked this question in his thought-provoking session on cultural diversity in missions at ETS. Who's not here?
I've already mentioned the fact that ETS is dominated by white men. Their presence is not a bad thing, but the list of who's not here is rather long. Are there vibes or assumptions or invisible walls keeping others away? There are, of course, many evangelicals who believe that Bible teaching is a role reserved for men. That accounts for the lack of women. But why not black men? asian men? latino men? Is the notion of an academic society too thoroughly western? Perhaps.
I was delighted to find in my intital seminary classes that there was no majority. Race, gender, age, denominational background, economic class ... our classrooms were a total mix. Learning is rich in such an environment. (It's hard for a Reformed student to build a straw Arminian and knock it down in class when he's sitting beside one!) I have found, however, that this does not hold true for upper level classes (Hebrew Exegesis, for example). Things are looking white, white, white (and in some classes male, male, male). It's not as though I wish there were fewer white men in my classes, it's just that my list of who's not here grows longer. And why does it matter? Because if we only listen to ourselves our theology will be lopsided, no matter how hard we try to keep our eyes fully open to Scripture. We need each other - brothers and sisters of other races and backgrounds - to help us understand the full message of Christ for the church.
According to Rev 7:9, we will finally be able to stop asking this question around the throne of God. Then, finally, all nations will be represented. But on this side of eternity, why do we keep to our own kind? Ken suspects that we carry around in our hearts the belief that people who are not like us don't have anything to offer that we need. Ouch. So look around and ask yourself, who's not here? Because what - or who - you don't know can hurt you.