Friday, July 11, 2008


The following paragraphs are taken from S. Loren Bowman's 1987 book: Power & Polity Among the Brethren, published by Brethren Press. It is the introduction to a chapter titled "Living With Diversity."

Brethren are as ambivalent about diversity as about leadership. Initially there was a commitment to intimate, family-like relationships as the Schwarzenau group sought to live by consensus. This approach did not prevail long in Germany, and early in their American experience, the Brethren moved to a stance of conformity within the fellowship as on matters as dress, personal habits, and church practices. Underneath these outward expressions there was an uneasy commitment to freedom of conscience and an expectation that faith would produce new light as persons applied the Gospel to human experience.

Gradually Brethren understood that diversity offered opportunities for group enrichment as well as possibilities for disharmony. The experiences with tensions related to the Ephrata Movement, the debate on Universal Salvation, the Far Western Brethren, and the divisions of 1881 and 1882 raised questions among the Brethren about the limits of diversity. But the potential for enrichment, and the twentieth century emphasis upon individuality made diversity too appealing for the Brethren to turn their backs on its promise.

Diversity includes a broad range of differences: personal differences of stature, sex, age, temperament, viewpoint, and life style; group differences of family traditions, ethnic backgrounds, professional vocations, economic levels, and cultural affinities; and societal differences in an evolving, rapidly changing national and global community.

The church, as an intimate community with a central loyalty, found it difficult to deal with such changes - especially when complicated by different theological views within the church. Often Brethren referred to differences in talents and ideas - a model for gathering the gifts of all for the enrichment of each and for the building of community spirit. Overall, Brethren have alternately questioned, rejected, accepted, tolerated, and creatively claimed the promise of diversity.