Community and Diversity:Social Ethical Reflections on a Challenge
for Church and Society1

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

1. Introduction

Any discussion of community and diversity is a risky endeavor. It is a risk because of three reasons: First it is talking about a topic that is highly connected with the concrete cultural experience each of us comes from. So there is a danger that what seems important to me from my German background seems to be of much less importance for you in the United States, and vice versa. Secondly, it is talking about this topic not only as a European but also as a white male, that is, from a very specific part of the whole picture of diversity in our communities. So again, the questions might not be the questions that many of you have. That leads to a third point: talking about community and diversity means, at its very center, talking about power, talking about a certain distribution of power and privilege. Being aware of the privileges that have led me to this point, I know how limited the contribution is which I can make to get us further with this issue. There is a fourth reason why the topic is a risky one, and it almost summarizes all the other points: There are only few other issues which bring up as much emotion as this one. There is such a long history of suffering hidden between those two terms, community and diversity, so much putting down or being put down, so much fear and so much hate, that it is a topic in which you can hurt and get hurt.

The topic of community and diversity is a risky topic. Nevertheless, it is a very urgent issue; in fact, it is one of the most burning social issues of this last decade of our century. It has to do with two questions: if there is increasing diversity in a community, what is it then that holds this community together? And what are the rules that guide the life in this community? In other words: is there a common conception of justice that everybody in this community shares?

In the last ten years there has been an increasing concern about the loss of community in modern liberal democracies. It is interesting to note that this concern has been raised both from liberal and from conservative backgrounds. In its conservative form it is usually an attack on pluralism and a plea for the revival of old values that have lost their influence, such as respect of authority, trust in God, patriotism, honesty, obedience to the law, and the upholding of nuclear family life. In its liberal form, it is a criticism of individualism and egoism and a plea for new forms of common life. It is astonishing what different political and philosophical voices find their place under the umbrella of "communitarianism," the very movement which is united by the concern about the loss of community in our liberal societies and which has turned out as one of the most interesting American inputs into the German public debate in the last decade.2

Ernst Wolfgang Boeckenfoerde, a German philosopher of law who is now a judge in the German Constitutional Court, has described the problem in a way that has been quoted many times: the liberal democratic state lives from a source that it cannot regenerate itself.3 In other words: democratic societies need the involvement of citizens. They need people with visions of community which make them get involved in more than their private concerns. At the same time, a pluralist democratic and religiously neutral state cannot promote any particular vision of community. But who else will do it? The troubling question is: are we witnessing a process of erosion of those kinds of traditions which have always generated communal visions and which are the very prerequisite of democratic societies? What does it mean that the German word "Politikverdrossen heit," which means a mixture of "dismay at the state of politics" and "political apathy," has become Germany's "word of the year" in 1992.4 What does it mean that the current President of the United States has been elected by less than 30% of its population eligible for voting?5 It seems that the old ways of generating a common ground for a democratic society don't work anymore.

The first major point is that it would be shortsighted simply to deplore this fact. Recent feminist ethical scholarship has opened our eyes to the fact that the old ways of creating communal ties could only work because even in the democratic societies we know, there was a certain dominating culture which was based on the power of only one certain segment of society and which did not leave any space for alternative visions of community.6 We are now witnessing a fundamental transformation of Western societies—and I will relate primarily to the United States and Germany—a transformation from a democracy that was based on a homogeneous vision of common life to a democracy that has to deal with very different religious and cultural backgrounds. We are witnessing—in very different historical forms—the effort to fulfill the promise of the two great revolutions of the eighteenth century, the French and the American Revolutions. Struggling with the lack of common ground for society is a necessary phase we have to go through if we want to move from a homogeneous vision of community to a vision of community that is truly characterized by diversity.

There are mainly two reasons why this transformation is not only desirable but also irrevocable, and they are true for the United States as well as for Germany and other European countries. One reason is that historically suppressed groups, that are often characterized with the misunderstandable term "minorities," refuse to let themselves be silenced anymore. The other reason is a process of migration that radically changes the face of society.

2. Two Reasons Why Diversity Is Irrevocable

2.1. Diversity as Liberation from Suppression

One of the very engines of the revolutions that have led to modern democracy has been the thrust for tolerance of differing religious or non-religious views. The French Revolution was directed against a monarchy that was allied with the Catholic Church and that demanded loyalty to its religious vision. Thus, the "liberté, égalité, fraternité" was a liberation for those who previously had to submit to this religious vision and could now express their own religious and political beliefs. Similarly, the American Revolution was meant as an effort to create a commonwealth that would guarantee freedom of religion and the pursuit of happiness for people who had been persecuted before. For both, the experience of the new tolerance was liberating.

Yet both of these revolutions did not live up to the very ideals that they themselves promoted. It was still a very homogeneous vision of common life that formed the basis of both the European and the American experiment. What came out of it was not diversity, but in fact the liberation of one specific class, of one specific race, and of one specific gender. In Germany, more specifically: in Prussia, the so called "Drei-Klassen-Wahlrecht" (three-classes-voting law) was developed which assigned voting power according to social class. Women were not allowed to vote at all. In the United States, not only women but also African Americans and Native Americans were denied civil rights, despite all the solemn affirmations of the basic rights of human beings. Even now, more than two hundred years later, we still struggle with the consequences of this shortcoming both in Europe and in the United States. By emphasizing equality and justice the French and American Revolutions carried the promise of true diversity in them. This promise has yet to be fulfilled.

To be sure, this century has generated big progress toward its fulfillment. The right to vote is no longer reserved to citizens of a certain gender or a certain race. Equal rights for women have gotten a prominent place in the German post-war constitution by being included in the catalogue of inviolable basic human rights. Similar progress could be shown in the American legal tradition.7 However, what is written down on paper has not fully reached daily life. An impressive example for Germany is the participation of women in the academic education system. Women in leading professional positions are almost non-existent. Among the professors at German universities far less than ten percent are women. In this respect the United States is a lot further on its way. This is only one example for the many ways in which the promise of justice and equality has yet to be fulfilled.

But there is no way back to a homogeneous vision of community that reserved these achievements only to one particular part of society. Diversity is becoming an irrevocable fact. The more those who had been excluded from power now publicly articulate their rights—the more they demand to express themselves culturally, the less can we gain common ground in our democratic societies from a uniform religious or cultural heritage. We must develop a vision of democracy which generates common ground for society without holding back pluralism.

2.2 Diversity as a Consequence of Migration

In addition to groups within society who had not been able to articulate themselves before, there is a challenge to traditional homogeneous cultural views by the transformation of the population as a consequence of migration. In the United States this challenge is not new since the very identity of this nation was shaped by the experience of immigration, off-times to the extent of forgetting the nation that had populated this continent for thousands of years before.8 Whereas the United States was of- ten used in discussions in Europe as an example for a successful integration of different cultures, quoting the famous notion of the "melting pot," it seems like this concept does not work since strong ethnic groups have emerged that want to keep and develop their own cultural heritage instead of melting it into one great "American experience."

In Germany this challenge is a very new one. Germany has always been a very homogeneous country, not only sharing the Christian heritage but also strong cultural traditions characterized by names like Immanuel Kant, Georg Friedrich Hegel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Friedrich Schiller as well as Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. The challenge of diversity is quite dramatic for my country, and it brings up fears in many people. Though many of our politicians want to deny it, Germany has become an immigrant country. The migrations taking place in Europe as a consequence of wars and economic disparity have actually been compared with the migrations from Europe to the United States in the nineteenth century.9 Some expectations already estimate migration numbers of twenty to thirty million people just from Eastern to Western Europe. That does not take into consideration the many people who try to come to Europe from the South. However realistic these numbers are, and however vivid the efforts by European governments are to close their borders, it is obvious that the kind of homogeneous culture that we were used to will be and is already a matter of the past. We can no longer assume that everyone shares the religious and cultural basis that was taken for granted throughout the centuries.

For an example of how passionately this is being discussed in Germany in these very weeks, let us examine the following situation: One of the federal states of Germany, the state of Bavaria, has been stirred up in the last two months by a political struggle that even made it to the news section of the New York Times, and that will enter the history books as the "Bavarian crucifix struggle." The German Constitutional Court had declared a preexisting Bavarian law to be unconstitutional because it included obligatory crucifixes in all Bavarian public high school classrooms. The Court decided in favor of a parent who felt that his religious freedom was violated by this law. The decision generated an outcry throughout Bavaria and beyond, especially from the Catholic Church and the conservative government. The decision was seen as an attack on the very heart of Bavarian traditional culture. What was meant to be a legal action to protect religious minorities was in fact perceived as an act of dictatorship of those minorities. The Bavarian government refused to accept the decision of the Constitutional Court and has since then tried to circumvent it. This example shows how difficult it is to move from a demo cratic culture based on homogeneity to a democratic culture based on diversity.

Diversity is a liberating concept because it affirms the equal worth of experiences which have been overlooked or even suppressed by the dominating culture. For those whose voices have been silenced it is usually also experienced as a liberating concept. By those whose views have been supported by the dominant culture, it is often perceived as a threat to community, as an act of cutting off their roots, and it is difficult for them to see, how diversity can be a source of enrichment of their own traditions and beliefs.

The journey from a vision of community that is based on homogeneity to one that is based on diversity is irrevocable, and yet it is a risky endeavor. It is an experiment that can work or that can fail. The second major point is that whether it succeeds or fails depends on the kind of notion of pluralism that it implies. There are concepts of pluralism that hinder a vision of community in diversity, and there is an understanding of pluralism that fosters such a vision.

There are three different possibilities of understanding pluralism and discuss them in the light of our search for a convincing concept of community in diversity.

3.Three concepts of pluralism

3.1 Market Pluralism

The first concept is "market pluralism." It doesn't appear to be theoretically worked out in the literature but it is a very powerful concept in popular culture. Market pluralism judges the value of the various ideas and traditions that can be found in an open society according to the law of demand and supply. Encountering criticism of capitalist consumer society and of the habits and values that are fostered by it, the answer, informed by market pluralism, would be: "But this is what people like. Who has a right to criticize it?" Valuable and true are what finds followers. Market pluralism encourages diversity but only as long as it finds a market. This is obvious in the diversity of products and lifestyles that are generated by modern economic mechanisms, above all, by an impressively powerful advertisement industry. It applies, however, in a more hidden form, also to the way ideas and traditions are judged. It dismisses certain ideas because they are outsider ideas instead of judging them for their truth. It supports majority views instead of being sensitive to critical views that have not yet found many followers but that might contribute a great deal to the common good.

It seems clear to me that such a concept of pluralism is no help in developing a vision of community that is based on true diversity. First of all, appointing economic forces to be the judge of the value of orientations and lifestyles in a community means the capitulation of democratic citizenship as the source of shaping life in a community. Secondly, making the design of diversity dependent on market forces would also mean cultural stagnation because the most valuable contributions to the community usually emerge from outsider positions. Thirdly, coming from a country whose majority views have led to the death of many millions of human beings, it is very clear to me that market pluralism is a concept that does not only lead to cultural empoverishment, but can actually turn out to be very dangerous to a community and its environment.

Market pluralism is not the concept we are looking for when we search for common ground in a diverse community.

3.2 Postmodern Pluralism

The second concept of pluralism is very different from market pluralism and it makes some strong points; it is postmodern pluralism" knowing how little agreement there is on the meaning of the notion of postmodernity. Postmodern pluralism is a concept underlying the work of some feminist scholars and is strongly influenced by French deconstructionism. Sharon Welch, for example, bases her feminist theology of liberation on the work of the Michel Foucault.11 I will argue that, besides the theoretically worked out concept of postmodern pluralism, there is another form of this concept in contemporary popular intellectual culture that carries it to a point beyond its theoretical origins.

What is the central idea of postmodern pluralism? It comes from a deconstruction of the philosophy of enlightenment that has shaped so much of modern thought. It criticizes this tradition for its claim of universal truth. This supposedly universal truth has, according to this position, been nothing more than the very relative ideals of some white men in a very limited context—ideals that have turned out to be oppressive rather than liberating. "The ideal of the rule of reason, of equality, and of justice," says Sharon Welch, "has served as a screen for the irrationality of a technological society, the inequalities of a capitalist world economy, and the injustice of a particular system of lawfulness threatening mass murder and global annihilation."12 From the point of view of postmodern pluralism, the idea of human rights is no common ground for a global ethic not only because it falsely suggests that there is anything like a universal truth, but also because it is intimately connected with the Euro centric worldview of modern enlightenment that has proven to generate oppression and violence rather than liberation. "To use the very categories that masked my oppression in order to denounce it seems absurd," Welch asserts. It is "better to refer to the particular events, the breakthroughs in practice that have challenged men's dominance."13 She sees an "intrinsic relativism" as one of the central features of a feminist theology of liberation.14

It has to be made very clear that feminist theorists like Sharon Welch are far from the kind of moral relativism that would result in a lack of solidarity with those whose very basic rights are denied. In the very opposite, it is exactly the solidarity with the oppressed which is the driving force of their work.15 Yet in popular intellectual culture the counter reaction against the universal moral claims of the enlightenment tradition often goes even further. While Welch expresses a clear agenda that she sees as relevant for the whole of society, popular postmodern pluralism often denies the very necessity of debating views beyond one's own reference group. "I respect your truth and I ask you to respect my truth." Being challenged by somebody else's views, then, is a sign of that person's illegitimate intrusiveness. Dialogue with others is only wanted when they basically share one's own view.

Feminist ethicists have made clear that, while they share the suspicion of universal truth claims, they do not share this kind of moral relativism. While Sharon Welch's earlier work, emphasizing the deconstructionist element, could generate a relativist misunderstanding, she has developed her work in a way that avoids such relativism. In A Feminist Ethic of Risk she acknowledges that "both a critical modernity and some variants of postmodernism offer valuable insights for theory and action."16 While she affirms the emphasis on social location and the productive value of difference that characterizes postmodern thought, she also affirms the necessity of universal moral claims, as presented by critical theory of modernity:17 "I concur with Habermas's conclusion that there is an imperative to enter into dialogue with others, but for Foucault's reasons."18 What Welch means is: I do not enter into dialogue because there is a universal truth that reasonable people can agree upon, but because I recognize the limitedness of my own particular social loca- tion. For Welch, thus, "the condition of overcoming ideology is difference, a mutually challenging and mutually transformative pluralism."19

It seems to me that this transformative pluralism is and has to be more modern than it wants to be. Mutual challenge and transformation presupposes fundamental truth claims that serve as a means to discern between those challenges by which to be transformed and those challenges (for example, racist claims) which to fight against. "Equality," "justice," and other moral claims of the enlightenment turn out to be crucial for any liberating dialogue and action. While deconstructing social realities, which stand opposed to the very core of agreed upon moral claims, is a very prerequisite for intellectual honesty, deconstructing those moral claims themselves leads to the moral relativism to be found in popular intellectual culture.

My assessment of the concept of postmodern pluralism is mixed: As opposed to market pluralism, it is often based on strong convictions that come from a very real historical experience—an experience of suffering under the domination of an idea system that is perceived as oppressive rather than liberating and that idea system therefore has to be deconstructed. This is a necessary endeavor. And there is another feature of postmodern pluralism, even in its popular form, that I see as helpful: The refusal of being challenged from the outside is often a necessary reaction to power differences in the discourse. The turn to one's own community then serves as a resource in order to develop strength from within before dealing with the external challenges by the dominant groups.

And yet, it is clear that the popular concept of postmodern pluralism can not be the basis of a diverse democratic society. If the general rejection of truth claims and the turn towards one's own community of resistance is seen not only as a necessary means for a limited time, but rather as a principal guideline, it fails to provide any basis for common ground in a society. Diversity in this sense would indeed threaten a democratic society because there would be no resources for developing the kind of public discourse that is necessary to shape political decisions in a way compatible with democracy. Public discourse needs the exchange of ideas as much as practical examples of new forms of life. In fact it was and is the continuous reminder of the gap between the ideas of justice and equality and their practical realization that was and is one of the most important sources for change. Was there any more powerful tool in the hands of the women's movement than the idea of equality, which grew out of the enlightenment tradition?

Despite its deconstructionist emphasis a large body of feminist ethical scholarship is united with critical theory of modernity in its insistence on moral claims that go beyond one's own reference group, even though there might be disagreement on whether they should be called "universal." Carter Heyward and Beverly Harrison have, again and again, emphasized the importance of justice as a central feature of feminist liberation ethics.20 Beverly Harrison has identified the relativistic attitude that I have seen as the danger of popular postmodern pluralism, as a characteristic of a certain form of liberalism. Her assessment of this form of liberalism deserves to be quoted in its whole length:

A . . . strategy of intellectuals fearful of conflict is to deflect the seriousness of disagreement by appealing to the desirability of pluralism. Celebrating pluralism to mitigate the importance of issues at stake in conflict is a common strategy among liberals who do not wish to change. Demands for justice are rejected not as reactionaries reject them—as dangerous schemes—but as purported threats to authentic human diversity. Pluralism is celebrated as the major intellectual virtue, but the tepid atmosphere among liberal, 'enlightened' intellectuals betrays their presumption that nothing important is reflected in intellectual disagreement. Thus, appeals to pluralism also often mask a deep anti-intellectualism within liberalism itself; tolerance of difference enables intellectuals to avoid defending their own positions, which are vulnerable to public scrutiny, or conceals their own investment in the status quo. A liberation theological process is, by comparison, tough-minded and direct.21

Harrison's critique of a pluralism, which dismisses any strong normative claims, leads toward an alternative understanding of pluralism which encourages tolerance of differences without doing so at the expense of strong moral claims. To present such an alternative understanding is a third concept of pluralism, which can be called "justice pluralism."

3.3 Justice Pluralism

The basis of this concept of pluralism is the idea of an overlapping consensus in a democratic society.22 There is a wide variety, in fact, a "diversity" of conceptions of the good life in such a society. All conceptions of the good are encouraged to express themselves in public life.23 Whereas none of those particular conceptions can claim to be mandatory for every- one and therefore enforced by law, they all share a minimum of fundamental values. These values are grounded in different ways in the religious, moral or philosophical traditions of every particular conception. But those conceptions all overlap in certain basic common assumptions of what it means to be human, even though the interpretations of those assumptions might differ. Rawls identifies four basic assumptions providing the basis of democratic societies. Human beings are considered free, equal, principally capable of reasonable thinking, and considered capable of cooperation with others.

It would have to be discussed whether these four elements can really represent the overlapping consensus in a democratic society. It has to be noted, though, that for Rawls, this widely shared consensus, taken seriously, must result in a basic commitment not only to the basic freedom rights but also to what he calls the "difference principle": differences in income, wealth, and power in a society can only be justified when they optimize the situation of the least privileged members of this society.24 In the search for an overlapping consensus in democratic societies one will have to look closely at the modern human rights movement, since it expresses a concern for the inviolable dignity of the human person, something most people can agree upon. And, in fact, the human rights are nothing else but a concretization of Rawls' four basic assumptions. Freedom of opinion would be as much part of this minimal consensus on human rights as the rights to the minimal funds for a decent life.

Even if there is no full agreement as to how the overlapping consensus can be characterized exactly, the concept of "justice pluralism" makes a first crucial point: no matter how you define the consensus exactly, there is some notion of basic justice which all particular conceptions of the good are at least struggling for. The wide agreement on the categorical prohibition of torture is only one example for elements of such a consensus that can already be identified.

A second crucial point that follows directly from the first one is the necessity of public discourse: the various particular conceptions of the good are nothing to be developed and fostered only in the private realm of each community, rather they are the source of passionate contributions to public discourse. To be sure, what counts as public discourse should not be limited to the exchange of logocentric arguments.25 Poetry, songs, silent vigils, and the expression of emotions in various forms can contribute as much to such public discourse as the spoken argument. However the discourse is shaped, it needs vital participation. Developing an overlapping consensus and keeping it alive depends on the public involvement of the different religious and cultural communities that shape a diverse society. In this process, disagreement is not the end but the beginning of dialogue. It is the basis for mutual challenge. Mutual challenge is the basis for a learning process. The various forms of liberation theology which have developed in the last two decades are the best example of how fruitful this process can be for the whole of society.

I believe that it is the notion of "justice pluralism" that is most promising for a community which tries to encourage diversity. It keeps the community from becoming a purely formal collection of separate subcommunities that live beside each other in a sort of peaceful but disinterested coexistence. At the same time it prevents any effort to reestablish the homogeneity of one dominant culture. Diversity is in fact its most productive force of unity.

4. Theological Reflection

4.1. Christocentric Universalism: Theology for a Homogeneous Community

The most influential theological ethical paradigm of this century in Germany and beyond, especially since the second world war, was what Konrad Raiser, now Secretary General of The World Council of Churches, has called "christocentric universalism." Much of Christian ethic in post-war Germany was characterized by this paradigm, but, as Raiser points out in his book on the future of the ecumenical movement, it was also the theological basis of the ethics of the ecumenical movement as a whole.26 This paradigm was by far the most reliable basis for the struggle of the Confessing Church in Germany against the National Socialist German Christians. Confessing Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, as the very cornerstone of the experience of God was unreconcilable with the social darwinist hero- and power ideology of the Nazis. Therefore it is no coincidence that christocentrism was the very core of the Barmen Theological Declaration, which was something like the Magna Charta of the Confessing Church.27 It is also no coincidence that the christocentric theology of Karl Barth was the basis of the vast majority of the most courageous theologians and lay people in this struggle. Neither is it a coincidence that christology lay at the very heart of the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who paid for his participation in the resistance with his life. There was good reason for post-war Christian theology to rely on Christocentrism as the basis for ethics.

However, there is another reason for this fact. I have already mentioned that Germany has traditionally been a very homogeneous society. Christocentrism was probably a theological paradigm which correlated with such a homogeneous understanding of community. Using the life and teachings of Jesus as a model, Christocentric universalism seemed to generate a clear picture of what Christian discipleship means. It left little room for those interpretations of the world which did not easily fit into this picture. It did not generate the kind of pluralistic sensitivity that is necessary for a community which is characterized by diversity.

It was not until the 1970s that the theological basis for ethics slowly began to change, both in the ecumenical movement and in Germany. With the emergence of new movements in society and in the church, above all, the feminist and the ecology movements, the widely male dominated emphasis on christocentric universalism shifted toward a theological emphasis that had previously often been looked at with mistrust and therefore had been neglected. The new paradigm that has developed and is still developing is based on pneumatology, emphasizing the diverse character of the experience of the Holy Spirit. This paradigm is "pneumatological pluralism."

4.2 Pneumatological Pluralism: Theology for a Community in Diversity

The emphasis on the Holy Spirit and the affirmation of religious experience which goes along with it had a hard time to generate any enthusiasm in the German context. Christian thought in Germany was in its very heart shaped by the memory of a spirituality experience that was as powerful as it was horrifying in its consequences. Even in my own theological socialization, the word "spirituality" was always associated with the huge and emotionally powerful mass experiences of the National Socialists and the German Christians as their ecclesiastical arm. It took me a long time to see the limitation of such theological self-strangulation which came from our historical context. It took me a long time to understand that the emphasis of the Holy Spirit as it was presented by feminist theology was not to be put on an equal level with the destruction of critical judgment by the use of emotion that had made Germans blind for what happened. It took me a long time to understand that the new pneumatological paradigm is an indispensable resource for theologically understanding a fundamental process that we are witnessing in our society—a process of development from a society based on homogeneity to a society based on diversity. To be sure, realizing the importance of pneumatology does not mean the subordination of christology. Pneumatology and christology are intertwined and live from each other. Pneumatological pluralism is ultimately nothing but an expression of "trinitarian pluralism."

I want to nevertheless call it "pneumatological pluralism," because it gets much of its inspiration from the work of the German theologian Michael Welker whose recent book on God the Spirit has already been translated into English. His new reading of biblical sources can help us develop a new sensitivity to the diverse ways in which we experience God's spirit without falling into moral relativism. Welker shows that "the Spirit aims not for a homogeneous or homogenizing unity, but for a differentiated unity of the creaturely, a differentiated unity of the people of God, as well as a differentiated knowledge of God. . . . In the so-called 'unity' of the Spirit there is a power at work that combats unjust differences but supports creative differences and creative complexity. In light of this characteristically differentiated and indeed differentiating unity, it is entirely possible to speak of the 'pluralism of the Spirit.'"28 The decisive point in this description of the Holy Spirit, I think, is the distinction between unjust differences and creative differences. It precludes any talk of a spirit-supported diversity that would legitimate unfair differences in income or power or similar life resources. It enables us to deeply affirm diversity without pulling an inch back from passionately promoting justice.

The biblical basis of such "pneumatological pluralism" can be illustrated by looking at two of the classic biblical texts on the outpouring of God's spirit. One is the promise of the outpouring of the Spirit in Joel 2:28–29, and the other one is the Pentecost story (Acts 2:1–16).29 In Joel's vision God says:

Then afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams, and your young people shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my Spirit.

The Joel promise is framed by words providing assurance of God's manifest and delivering presence in the midst of catastrophe. Two characteristics of this vision are especially remarkable: First, there is a clear account of diversity within the community. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh. And yet this is not one homogeneous mass, but a community of quite different groups with different experiences: old people and young people, men and women, free people and slaves. Secondly, Joel's vision manifests a very powerful counterimage to the hierarchy in society. It is a clear statement that not only the sons but also the daughters are expressively mentioned, that slaves are mentioned, and even, again, not only male slaves but female slaves. It contains a strong notion of equality, but not, as Welker points out, an abstract one in which one dominant group could define its concrete content. Rather than just expressing formal protestations of equality, the text from Joel presents a creative diversity of the community's praise of God in which none is devalued or put above the other.30

A very similar account of diversity can be found in the story of Pentecost. It is an amazing story about community in diversity. When the Holy Spirit comes powerfully onto the community of people that has gathered they all start speaking in different languages.

Now there were devout Jews from various nations living in Jerusalem who heard them speak. They were bewildered, as the text says, because each one heard them speaking in the language of each. Amazed and astonished they asked: "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia. . . ."

And the text mentions many other cultural backgrounds. "In our own language we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." The text later moves on by expressively quoting the vision of Joel. Mutual understanding in this powerful story of Pentecost is not achieved by leveling differences among people into some homogeneous mass identity. Each cultural community keeps having its own identity, its own tradition, its own language. The foreignness and unfamiliarity among those communities is not taken away, and yet they understand each other. The particularity of many different communities does not result in mutual isolation but in communication. The message of the Pentecost story is clear: community and diversity are not necessarily in contradiction to each other. There can be communication and community among groups who are different from each other and who want to maintain their differences. There can be diversity that not only allows but even enhances unity.

This description of "pneumatological pluralism" is only fragmentary. Even from these short illustrations it might have become clear that such pneumatological pluralism is by no means simply an alternative or even a contradiction to a strong concept of christology. However, understanding the pluralism of God's Spirit keeps christology from devel- oping a uniform view of the world that doesn't take into account its legitimate diversity.

The idea of "legitimate" diversity calls us to remember that diversity in theological perspective is always a "qualified diversity." Diversity turns into arbitrariness when it violates the requirements of justice. In fact true diversity can only exist when it is protected by justice.

The parallel between pneumatological pluralism and the social philosophical concept of justice pluralism is evident. "Justice pluralism" is based on an overlapping consensus of basic assumptions that has to be struggled for in the discourse between all the particular religious, philosophical or cultural traditions of a society. A basic notion of justice is the one common ground on which the diversity of traditions is based. We have now seen, and that is my third major point that Christian theological ethics is highly compatible with this understanding of the relationship between community and diversity. But what is it that the Christian tradition, what is it that the church as the community of Christians has to contribute to the public discourse affirming, interpreting, and further developing the societal consensus? There are five biblically informed characteristics of the church which might give us an idea of what its contribution to society could be. To be sure, these characteristics don't describe the empirical church as we know it. But they describe the church as we believe in it.31 They form a guideline for the church to help it become what it already is.

5. The Church in a Pluralistic Society

The first guideline is Jesus' image of the community of disciples as the salt of the earth and the light of the world from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:13–16). This image presupposes that the disciples are distinct from the world. This distinctiveness is not by any means a goal in itself: rather, it is the starting point. The goal is to overcome this distinctiveness, yet not in a sense that the disciples adapt to the way of the world. Jesus all the more calls the disciples and empowers them to start a dynamic that leads the world to live up to how God intended it to be when God created it. I am well aware how this image has been misused in certain missionary strategies. Yet, we have to be reminded of it. As Protestants we often excuse ourselves for what we have to say. The image of the salt of the earth and the light of the world reminds us that the church is in its very essence called to be a self-confident community.

The second guideline makes visible how the church is distinctive from the world. It is the preference of serving to domination. Jesus says to the sons of Zebedee, two of his disciples:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles are domineering, and their mighty ones are tyrants over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you, must be your slave; even as the human one came not to be served but to serve (Matt 20:25–28).

I am well aware of the misuse of this text, of how servanthood has supported a patriarchal ideology by onesidedly attributing it to women,32 and how it has served to justify slavery. But Jesus, in this text, demands servanthood from men, from free men. So even in the text, there is a clear rebuke of such abuse. The image of a serving community is an image by which the church has to let itself be judged as the sons of Zebedee had to let themselves be judged by it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has pointed toward such a community of service with his famous notion of a "church for others." The misuse of power is a characteristic of our society as much as of the society in the time of Jesus. Therefore the preference of serving to domination is not only of importance for the church's internal structure but as much for its relationship to society. It was for good reasons that this emphasis was the center of the third thesis of the Barmen Declaration and the German Church Struggle.33

The third guideline relates to the material dimension of life and points toward sharing our wealth. The fact of the sharing of resources in the early Christian communities, as Acts describes it, cannot simply be put down as irrelevant or pure idealism, neither in its relevance for the church nor in its relevance for society. Let me quote the famous words again:

Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that they possessed was their own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need (Acts 4:32–35).

There are many passages in the Old and New Testaments which underline how much the sharing of wealth is at the core of the biblical message. A community of Christians which takes this message seriously must therefore be a community in solidarity with visible consequences such as a more solidaric salary structures in parishes or theological seminaries. As such, it will have an impact on society as well.

The fourth guideline for the church is its understanding as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). And it simply demands that the church in its internal structure be an example of the kind of community in diversity that I have described above. Quite parallel to pneumatological pluralism, the image of the church as the body of Christ highlights both unity and diversity.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greek, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor 12:12f.).

There are different tasks and a variety of talents in the community of Christ, and none should be put above the other. In this variety, however, no one should lose sight of the unity: all the diversity remains related to Christ as the way the one God shows God's ways to us. With this clarifi- cation we can say: the community of Christians is a pluralistic community.

It becomes clear that such pluralism in the church means in no way a lack of profile, if we add one further feature of Paul's description of the Christian community as the body of Christ: those members of the body who seem to us to be the weakest ones are the most necessary ones. God has put together the body and has given higher honor to the minor member (VV 22.24). This clarification by Paul points toward a fifth guideline for the church: the preference for the poor. The preference for the poor is a basic characteristic of the Bible that can be found in almost all the different traditions of the Old and New Testaments. The promise of Isaiah that the gospel will be preached to the poor is fulfilled by Jesus (Luke 4:18–21). It goes back to the very original experience of Israel that God is a God who liberates from slavery. So it has a deep meaning that the laws in the Old Testament which protect the weak are again and again based on the remembrance of God's liberating action:

You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge; but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this (Deut 24:17f.).

If it is true that the church is the body of Christ, then it should embody the fact that Jesus is the hope for the poor. Wherever the powerful take advantage of those without power, the Christian church clearly has to take sides. It is only one voice among all the voices in a pluralist society. But it should be a passionate voice, a truly committed one.

There are five guidelines for the church that can help it find its role as a particular community in a pluralistic society. Let me summarize them:

• the church should be a self-confident community which really believes that it has something to say,

• it should not strive towards domination but towards serving the common good by giving an example and by getting engaged in the public discourse.

• it should be a community in solidarity both internally and externally, sharing material wealth.

• it should be a pluralistic community, always critically assessing its internal diversity as to whether it really is an expression of God's creative action in the world.

• it should search for ways of embodying God's preferential option for the poor, passionately lifting up its voice where the economically and politically powerful take advantage.

The church has a future where it gets actively involved in the pains and actually also in the joys of our time. Our society desperately needs the various communities which form the church. It desperately needs "communities of interpretation in which issues of justice and conceptions of goodness are publicly discussed."34 Society needs communities of Christians who respect and curiously explore other people's beliefs35 and are at the same time deeply committed to what they believe in themselves. Society needs communities of Christians who tolerate the whole diversity of religious and philosophical convictions but who do not tolerate injustice. It needs a church which puts people above religious or secular laws, a church which cares, a church which is passionate.

Let me conclude by quoting four Latin words from Thesis VII of the Confessio Augustana, the central document of the Lutheran reformation, written in 1530. They are the most powerful counterpart to the fear and the lack of profile and courage that so often keep the church from becoming the body of Christ that it really is:

Ecclesia perpetua mansura sit. . . . — the church will always be. . . .

To some this might be a threat. For me it is a promise.


1. This article is an expanded version of a lecture I gave at Union Theological Seminary, New York, on October 16, 1995, as the Visiting Teaching Scholar in the Bonhoeffer Exchange Program.

2. Among the many titles reflecting this, three collections of articles might be mentioned to document the German side of the debate: Christel Zahlmann (ed.), Kommunitarismus in der Diskussion. Eine streitbare Einführung (Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1994); Micha Brumlik/Hauke Brunkhorst (ed.), Gemeinschaft und Gerechtigkeit, (Frankfurt: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1993); Axel Honneth (ed.), Kommunitarismus. Eine Debatte über die moralischen Grundlagen moderner Gesellschaften (Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag, 1993).

3. Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, Recht, Staat, Freiheit. Studien zur Rechtsphilosophie, Staatstheorie und Verfassungsgeschichte, 2. Auflage, Frankfurt 1992), 112. For a collection of references to this thesis, cf. Wolfgang Vögele, Zivil religion in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlag, 1994), 183 and 309.

4. Cf. Wolfgang Huber, "Political Culture and the Future of Europe," The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (1993), 117–135(125).

5. At the 1992 presidential elections 68.2% of all eligible voters were registered. 61.3% of those actually voted. That is: Only 41.8% of the eligible population even took part in the elections. It is only this percentage of the eligible voting population out of which President Clinton got a majority. The numbers for certain minority groups are even worse: Only 35% of eligible Hispanic voters were registered. Just 28.9% of those actually voted. 63.9% of African American eligible voters were registered. 54% of them voted. In general there is a clear decline in voters since 1972 elections (Jerry T. Jennings, "Voting and registration in the Election of November 1992," in Current Population Reports ser. P-20, no. 466. Washington D.C.; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993, V and VIII. Cf. Richard T. Schaefer/Robert P. Lamm, Sociology, Fifth Edition (McGraw-Hill Inc. 1995) 432.

6. Cf. most recently Gloria Albrecht, The Character of our Communities. Toward an Ethic of Liberation for the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995). Albrecht makes a very helpful distinction between the demands rising from the self-interested individualism of the dominant ("the threat of fragmentation") and the demands rising from the marginalized ("the challenge of diversity"). "The healing of that fragmentation," she argues, ". . . must not be at the price of the silencing of that diversity" (19). For an overview on the multiplicity of feminist ethical positions trying to apply this point to various fields of theological ethics, cf. Lois Daly (ed.), Feminist Theological Ethics. A Reader (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994).

7. For a comparative study of post-war German and United States-American equal rights jurisdiction, cf. Ute Sacksofsky, Das Grundrecht auf Gleichberechtigung. Eine rechtsdogmatische Untersuchung zu Artikel 3 Absatz 2 des Grund gesetzes (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1991).

8. See, e.g., Arthur Schlesinger, The Disuniting of America (New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992). Schlesinger, in his argument against "ethnic separatism," discusses the contributions of European and Non-European immigrants to the "American identity" as if Native Americans had never existed (see esp. 120–121).

9. Huber, Political Culture and the Future of Europe, 125.

10. Ibid. 126.

11. Sharon Welch, Communities of Resistance! A Feminist Theology of Liberation (New York: Maryknoll, 1985).

12. Ibid. 88.

13. Ibid. 80.

14. Ibid. 84.

15. Cf. Welch's later work: A Feminist Ethic of Risk (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1990).

16. Ibid. 148.

17. Welch develops the notion of "universal accountability" (ibid. 139). This seems to be at least a difference in emphasis to other feminist liberation theologians. Mujerista theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz, e.g., explicitly names Hispanic women as her community of accountability, even though she also wishes to maintain a dialogue with all liberation theologies (Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 1980s, 77–78, in Lois Daly, Feminist Theological Ethics, 77–87.

18. Welch, A Feminist Ethic of Risk, 151.

19. Ibid.

20. Cf. esp. Carter Heyward, Our Passion for Justice: Images of Power, Sexuality, and Liberation (New York, 1984); Beverly W. Harrison, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics, ed. by C. Robb, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985).

21. Ibid. 244f.

22. This idea has been most forcefully worked out by John Rawls. Cf. esp. his article "The idea of an overlapping consensus" in Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 7 (1987), 1–25.

23. One of the most common criticisms of John Rawls' theory of justice is the assumption that his notion of a priority of the right over the good means a privatization of the good (cf. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, The Church as a Community of Interpretation: Political Theology between Discourse Ethics and Hermeneutical Reconstruction, 77–78, in Don Browning/Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, eds., Habermas, Modernity, and Public Theology (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 66–91). I believe this criticism is unjustified. The priority of the right over the good only means that particular conceptions of the good should not be enforced by the governmental authorities. Rawls nowhere discourages particular conceptions of the good to participate in public discourse.

24. I have tried to show elsewhere how Rawls' theory of justice can help applying liberation theology's "option for the poor" to the affluent democratic societies in the Western world (Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Vorrang für die Armen. Auf dem Weg zu einer theologischen Theorie der Gerechtigkeit [Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1993]).

25. In this respect I agree with the critique of Jürgen Habermas' theory of communicative action, voiced esp. by feminist authors. Cf. esp. Sheila Benhabib, Critique, Norm, and Utopia. A Study of the Foundations of Critical Theory (New York, 1986), and the contributions of Nancy Fraser, Iris Marion Young, and Sheila Benhabib in S. Benhabib/S. Cornell (eds.), Feminism as Critique. On the Politics of Gender (Minneapolis, 1987).

26. Konrad Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition. A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement? (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991), esp. 31–53.

27. For the text of the declaration, cf. Hubert G. Locke (ed.), The Church Confronts the Nazis: Barmen then and now (New York/Toronto 1984), 19–25.

28. Michael Welker, "'. . . And also upon the Maidservants in those Days will I Pour out my Spirit': On Pluralism and the Promise of the Spirit," in Soundings 78 (1995), 49–67.

29. For Welker's interpretation of these texts cf. ibid. 59f., and Welker, God the Spirit (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 147–151 and 230–239.

30. Cf. ibid. 150 and Welker, ". . . And also upon. . . ," 59.

31. For the importance of this distinction for ethics cf. Wolfgang Huber, Folgen christlicher Freiheit. Ethik im Horizont der Barmer Theologischen Erklärang, 2. Auflage (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984), 147–149; Wolfgang Huber, Kirche, 2. Auflage, (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1988).

32. Cf., among many others, Barbara Hilkert Anderson, "Agape in Feminist Ethics," in Lois Daly (ed.), Feminist Theological Ethics. A Reader, 146–159 (esp. 151f.). Anderson, in her assessment of self-sacrifice as a norm for women, concludes: "Men have espoused an ethic which they did not practice; women have practiced it to their detriment" (152).

33. For the text of the Barmen Declaration, cf. Locke (footnote 27).

34. Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, The Church as a Community of Interpretation: Political Theology between Discourse Ethics and Hermeneutical Reconstruction, 86.

35. I am indebted to Philip Paris for pointing toward a danger in using the category of respect: respect for other can be understood as a cold and distant quality if it is not paired with the more active and involved category of curiosity which stands for a genuine interest in the other. Ada María Isasi-Díaz confirms this concern: "What is missing in the respect I receive is engagement. That respect does not seem to include taking me seriously, allowing what I say to affect the other. . ." (Ada María Isasi-Díaz, "Viva la Diferencia!," in Lois Daly, Feminist Theological Ethics. A Reader, 94–97, 95).