Peter Toon asks if it is description of what is or a goal to be attained?

One taken-for-granted assumption in the recent Report to the General Synod under the title, Mission-Shaped Church (2004), is that diversity is a good thing because it is found in the very internal Being of the Triune God. Thus diversity is a goal for town and gown. Let us set this claim in context and examine it.

The presence of an obvious diversity of persons in terms of economic and ethnic background in the university, the Church and other organizations is proclaimed by many today as a beneficial, even praiseworthy, state of affairs. But instances of such diverse societies are not too common. Therefore, the aim of some pressure groups, politicians, administrators and church leaders is to work for the goal of diversity as a good thing in itself. And, as a corollary, they feel obliged to condemn the absence of diversity.

Just not fair

Since there seems to be within the general population a strong sense of fairness and justice in this proclamation and activity, many people simply accept what is occurring in the moves towards diversity as what should be or even what ought to be. Often the context of this general acceptance in society is the powerful background of contemporary emphasis upon human rights including the right to human dignity, opportunity, self-development and self-realization for all.

Thus a university, having decided that a diverse student population is a noble end itself, will take appropriate action to reach this good thing. In order to hasten this action there will probably be given special preferences to those administratively defined as minorities in order to allow more of them to enter the student body, and thereby begin to make diversity of persons real and seen to be so. In pursuing this goal, it will probably be the case that what were previously regarded as necessary academic standards for entry will be altered specifically with reference to those who are needed in order to increase the numbers of the previously defined minorities and thus contribute to the fact of diversity in academia. Apparently in the academic sphere, ‘diversity’ means, as often as not, a pre-determined ‘balance’ of participants, judged on the basis of current ideology or fashion.

Diversity in unity

Turning from the university to the Church, we find that church leaders, who desire both to maintain institutional unity and to celebrate the diversity in membership, which is the result not merely of basic realities such as ethnicity but also of the exercise of human choice in terms of churchmanship, doctrine, morality, style of worship, type of Bible translations and so on, make the strong claim that God as Trinity is both diversity and unity. So the variety, created either by factions, distinctive groups or by provision of a great variety of translations / paraphrases of the Bible (and a similar variety of liturgical rites and texts where such are used) is viewed positively as grounded in, and reflective of, God! And thus church people are called upon to imitate the divine and to celebrate the expression of unity in their diversity on earth, even as God expresses his diversity in unity in heaven.

There is also the phenomenon in recent times of international associations of churches being presented by their advocates as exhibiting the nature of God in their diversity in unity. For example, the Anglican family of churches, made up of some thirty-eight self-governing provinces from around the world, is often described by Anglican theologians as having a communion / fellowship / koinonia which is modelled on God as Trinity – unity in diversity and diversity in unity – and this is presented as a very good thing indeed! Often, it seems, the greater the diversity that is found in the church family, then the louder the claim of unity and of the mirroring of the Triune God!

Change of value

Perhaps we need at this stage to slow down for a moment and to recall that ‘diversity’ is really a descriptive, neutral term. It is not, or used not to be, a value-judgment, the statement of a good to seek for, or the expression of an ideal unto which to attain. If we speak of diversity in the population of a city; of diversity in the health of persons in a given country; of diversity of trees and shrubs in the forest; and of diversity in the fish in the ocean, we are speaking descriptively and without any implied value or moral judgment involved. The changing of a descriptive term to a term of value or of good by and in modern politically-correct speech is not without serious practical implications. One of these, as noted above, has respect to standards of excellence in education and whether these can be maintained if the primary need is deemed instead to be to admit, to teach and to graduate persons who (presumably for no fault of their own) are not sufficiently prepared to benefit from the pursuit of academic excellence.

Turning to the vocation of the church to model God in its common life, we need to recall that according to the biblical and patristic doctrine of the Triune God to speak of diversity in God is at best to speak carelessly. Certainly there are Three Persons and One Godhead; there is a Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity; there are the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost who are one God. The Triad or the Trinity is hardly a diversity for the Three Persons are in each other while being distinct from one another. Certainly the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost is not the Father or the Son. They are different Persons but they are so wonderfully and intimately related one to another in the Oneness of the Godhead/Divinity that their uniqueness in relation is compromised when they are said to be a diversity. In fact, to reduce the wonderful Mystery of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity to a unity in diversity is to begin to make God in an image and likeness of our creation in order to justify our own vision of human society!

The One and the Many

To use philosophical terminology, the notion of ‘unity and diversity’, especially as applied to the Godhead, is an inaccurate and distorted expression of the classic problem of ‘the one and the many’. The term ‘unity’ as it is used today often implies a belief that there is no ‘one’, but only atomistic individual entities that must be convinced to operate in concert, that is ‘in unity’. The same confusion occurs when dealing with the human race, which in biblical terms ought to be considered as one mankind with One Creator. The ‘unity and diversity’ model can presuppose that various groups of human beings are ontologically different from one another, as opposed to their being economically different in behavior, custom, circumstances, or received culture. This departure from ‘the one and the many’ has important implications for theology. If God is not One, the Trinity is either a tritheism, or more likely a set of modes of perception of ‘the holy,’ which set might easily be expanded on the basis of human experience on the part of ontologically different groups of human beings. Also, if Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, is only one type of human being, as opposed to the One who stands for all of one mankind, his work as Savior becomes more exemplary than substitutionary and sacrificial.


If we consult dictionaries we find that diversity is the condition of being different or having differences or an instance or a point of difference. If we consult the text of the English Bible (for example, KJV, RSV, NEB) and the content of English literature, we find that this word (along with such other words as divers, diverse and diversion), is used descriptively and neutrally most of the time. However, it is also true that the Bible’s view of diversity is sometimes monitory, rather than neutral. A ‘diverse’ field of wheat and tares, for example, is considered the work of an enemy, rather than of a friend. A religious diversity on the part of the Israelites or their kings is always treated as a calamity and defilement, rather than an outreach to diversity (think of Solomon’s ‘strange’ wives). Also St John’s vision of many kindreds and tongues in the Book of Revelation is not a celebration of diversity, but rather a discovery that those multitudes are One Body in Christ, despite their superficial differences, which are, after all, the confusion of Babel, rather than an originally righteous diversity.

The modern use in society and church of diversity as the specific word for a goal to be reached, or an ideal to which to attain, is only possible because the word has become a tool by which those with innovatory views of God and humanity seek to impose those views. In stating this, one is not being an elitist or a racist. One is rather asking that the vocation of the university as a centre of excellence in human endeavour under God and that of the Church as the centre of worship and service of the Triune God be rightly ordered; and further that the noble ends of having more people truly benefit from university education and more people enjoying the fellowship in Christ of the Church be pursued by true and lawful means.

Peter Toon is the author of many books, essays and articles and is the Editor of The Mandate, the bi-monthly organ of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. He is the priest-in-charge of two small parishes in the Church of England.