The Claims of Diversity: The Uniting Reformed Church, Diversity and Qualitative Unity
Keywords:Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, Dutch Reformed Church, Diversity, Unity, Politics of difference, Iris Marion Young, Belhar Confession
The first 25 years of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa was dedicated to stabilise and deepen the unity achieved between the former Dutch Reformed Church in Africa and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, while simultaneously fighting off challenges posed by the break-away DRCA. A vital characteristic of these two churches was that they brought multiple diversities to the unification process—diversities of language, gender, laity, age, spirituality, and different abilities. URCSA did not often address these challenges openly, but they functioned as underground currents that reached visible manifestations when leaders had to be elected. At the last regional synod of URCSA in the Cape (2018), a debate ensued and a contesting of leadership positions occurred, that affirmed a mechanistic model of cultural representation and side-lined greater gender recognition. These attempts bear witness to the reality of diversity and compel URCSA to address this vital issue in a way that remains true to the Gospel, affirming our fundamental unity while drawing on our diversity as sources of enrichment. URCSA has the inestimable resource of the Belhar Confession 1986 that drew on the biblical tradition to approach the issue of diversity and unity. This essay will clarify the issue of diversity in relation to unity in the church and investigate how diversities are addressed as they impact on culture and gender. The author will draw on the work of the late political philosopher, Iris Marion Young, to investigate various approaches to diversity. The essay proposes that if we do not address the reality of diversity in a significant way, the unity of the church will not reach meaningful depth and a new dominating hegemony will replace the aspiration to qualitative unity, thereby limiting the contribution and access of different constituencies in URCSA.
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