Wycliffe Women of the Word Roundtable: Why Unity is Worth the Work | Wycliffe Bible Translators

Wycliffe Women of the Word Roundtable: Why Unity is Worth the Work

  • May 26, 2020

Welcome back to the Wycliffe Women of the Word roundtable! In these discussions, we’re bringing together women from different backgrounds and experiences to share their thoughts on important spiritual topics. Check out our first roundtable on why Scripture matters.

Wycliffe Women of the Word

Unity within the church is a subject close to God’s heart and close to the hearts of these four women. They bring different backgrounds and perspectives to the table, but all of them are passionate about inviting the diverse, multicultural body of Christ to stand together as one.

Latasha Morrison is a best‑selling and award‑winning author, bridge‑builder, reconciler and a compelling voice in the fight for racial justice. In 2016 she founded Be the Bridge to create brave spaces online and offline for diverse groups to discuss and learn about race. Today more than 1,000 Be the Bridge groups meet across the country to duplicate these conversations and join the hard work of racial justice and restoration. Numerous organizations have recognized her as a leading social justice advocate, including Facebook. Tasha earned degrees in human development and business leadership. In 2019 she authored the groundbreaking book “Be the Bridge”. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

When Meg Hunt joined Wycliffe in 2014, her eyes were opened to the reality that millions of people are without the Bible in a language and format they can clearly understand. Since then she has become passionate about seeing lives and communities transformed by God’s Word in their own language. She currently serves with the Philanthropy team at Wycliffe. Meg is married to Sam and together they love and lead their two daughters, Tahlia and Amina.

Daysi Alvarez Russell serves as Wycliffe USA’s senior director of staffing. She enjoys connecting people to their God‑given purpose by helping them develop their strengths for use in kingdom work. Daysi has been married to William for 17 years, and is the proud aunt of seven nieces and nephews, 11 great‑nephews and one great‑niece.

Growing up as a Wycliffe missionary kid in the Philippines opened Beth Matheson’s eyes to God’s heart for the global church. She and her husband, Mike, joined Wycliffe in 2004, and they and their two girls served in youth ministry at the JAARS center in North Carolina and in Papua New Guinea before Beth stepped into her current role as the writer for Wycliffe Women of the Word.

What does it mean for Christians to live in real unity?

Latasha: I look at John 17 and the reference to spiritual unity and oneness as believers. We have to understand that unity does not equate sameness. Our differences and diversity create beauty and strength, and our differences honor God. Walking in unity with one another requires us to listen, respect and acknowledge the other (someone different than ourselves).

Daysi: As Christians, we are to model the love of Christ. Like Latasha mentioned, in John 17:23, Christ talks about the unity of believers. He desires us to live in unity so that people may know Jesus was sent by God. Despite our differences, Christians should make every attempt to understand the perspectives of all of God’s people. We push through those differences because we are of one accord, having a commandment from Christ to love God and love people.

What does it mean to love the way God loved us? It means putting aside our differences because of our bond of unity through Christ and coming together for the purpose of loving and honoring God. Oftentimes that means laying aside our own agendas, wants and needs to love as Christ loved us. While we are not perfect, he who lives in us and has given us the Holy Spirit is perfect. Humility, faithfulness and truth are attributes that a Christian who’s seeking to live in unity with others displays.

Meg: I would say that living in real unity means doing the hard work of being in relationship with those who aren’t like you. It’s so easy to be comfortable with what we know to be “Christianity” and be resistant to others who don’t look like us, sound like us, worship like us or even believe the same ways we do in the nuanced and gray areas of following Jesus.

One of the best messages I ever heard on this was one of my pastors who talked about how difficult it can be when you are pursuing authentic community and unity with others. It’s inevitable that you won’t agree on everything. He gave the visual of three concentric circles. The middle and smallest circle represented “matters of eternity.” There are a handful of statements that Christians must believe. They’re non‑negotiables: Jesus is the Son of God, he’s the only way to heaven, he died and rose again, etc. The next circle is a little bigger and this represents “matters of conviction.” Issues in this circle are serious but not matters of salvation.

The biggest and last circle represented “matters of preference.” Things like worship style fall into this category. As Christians when we’re pursuing unity and we face issues where we don’t see eye‑to‑eye with our sisters or brothers, we need to ask the Holy Spirit where the issue lies. Is the issue a matter of eternity, conviction or preference? Often our interpretation and practice of Scripture is shaped by our limited worldview. I know I need to be constantly reminded that God’s family is BIG. My sliver of Christianity is just that: a sliver. I’m grateful for it! God is doing so much in the world. I can’t get so tripped up on issues of conviction and preference that I deny relationships and unity.

Beth: I like the image that Meg shared — what a good reminder that Scripture leaves a lot of room for disagreement on some issues. It’s so easy to look at those gray areas and feel like my experiences and perspectives are “normal”: an attitude that allows me to dismiss the voice of anyone who sees the world differently. Like Latasha and Daysi referenced, John 17 is clear on Jesus’ desire for our unity; he doesn’t leave us room to behave in a dismissive way toward other Christians.

How is living in unity different than everyone being the same?

Latasha: Our mission and principles may unify us but our practices and methods may be different. We can't equate one way with being the right way. We can be unified on mission and principle, but we must learn to respect how others pursue mission and principle even if it looks different because a lot of times we think unity means sameness. There is beauty in our unique differences and we must not lose sight of the mission and vision.

Just like with Be the Bridge, our way of pursuing racial reconciliation is not the only way. There are different organizations who will play different parts in pursuing social justice. We will have commonalities but we all have something different we bring to the table.

Beth: I agree with Latasha that we all bring something valuable to the table as we pursue the same goals with different methods. God is too big to be fully represented by one ethnicity, language group, denomination or personality type, just like an orchestral piece can’t be played by only one instrument.

Meg: Beth, what an awesome picture of the differences we bring to the table! But as we each listen and yield to one conductor, our Lord Jesus, we make beautiful music together.

Daysi: God created different parts of the body and each of us has different backgrounds, different cultures, personalities, likes and dislikes. Living in unity is taking into account that we have different perspectives but come together in unity as the body of Christ. We are better together, despite our differences.

Meg: For me, it goes back to the concentric circles I mentioned earlier. It’s probably what has anchored me when I dialogue with Christians who don’t believe the same as me. I’ve had different experiences where I can feel myself getting defensive and combative in a conversation and I’m brought back to the question: “Is this a matter of eternity, conviction or preference?”

In my church the issue has been related to women in leadership. At work the issue has been related to racial reconciliation. Those conversations are hard and honestly draining because I have to humble myself to hear opinions that are different than mine. At the end of those conversations I’ve been able to honestly say that the conversation was respectful and we lovingly spurred one another to continue following Jesus.

I’m not naive to say that everyone’s hard conversations will be that way or that all of my future conversations will have that result. But living in unity means pressing into relationships with people you aren’t like and allowing those people and interactions to draw you closer to Christ and trust in him even more.

Beth: Yes, humility is key! We have to let go of our own agendas to allow those hard conversations to draw us closer to Christ.

What obstacles to unity have you encountered?

Latasha: Ego, pride, fear and understanding orthodoxy but not applying orthopraxy. Many people fear saying something wrong, making people uncomfortable or getting it wrong. Those are things that can dismantle unity. When we are not having honest conversations about why the church is truly segregated and not addressing things head on, we create a false reality and that creates a mistrust. We must confront our obstacles with courage because ignoring them will not erase them.

Meg: Having honest conversations with God and with others is an area where I continue to pursue growth. There’s freedom in living in the light! First and foremost, God can handle the hard questions. Then as followers of Jesus we should desire truth. It’s exhausting living under the false reality as Latasha mentioned.

Daysi: There is a lot of fear that people encounter whenever something/someone views things differently than they do. The obstacles to unity are not flesh and blood, they are spiritual strongholds. Until someone is ready and willing to look past what divides us and look to what unites us — Christ — we’re unfortunately going to continue to go around the same mountain. I have hope and will continue to have hope. If I can continue to look to Christ to help me see people the way he sees them and loves them, then I can hope others will by setting an example.

Beth: Daysi makes a great point that the ultimate enemy of unity isn’t other people; it’s the spiritual powers of evil. We can’t forget that. Satan loves to see the body of Christ attacking itself, because we’re a dangerous force when we’re standing together.

Meg: Humanity! But really, I feel like that’s the most comprehensive answer I could give. Just people being people including myself! I don’t want to do hard stuff a lot of the time. I don’t want to engage in the conversation because I know our differences probably won’t be resolved and our relationship won’t be wrapped up in a pretty bow.

Unity is hard and it takes time, and I know so many times I’m just trying to figure out relationships with the people I usually do get along with. When God calls me to step out and pursue unity with someone I don’t agree with, I sometimes don’t even know how to find the time and energy to do that.

Beth: Initiating those conversations can be profoundly awkward, can’t it? Meg’s right — it’s draining. But like Latasha said, ignoring issues that cause division won’t make them disappear. We have to dive in and get messy to see any kind of healing.

How have you seen disunity impact the global church?

Latasha: There are a lot of things that contribute to disunity in the global church. I’ve seen disunity theologically and disunity denominationally. But specifically when it comes to racial disunity, we have to name it and acknowledge it. The silence of the global church has contributed to the disunity we see today. Historically, there are theological and pastoral voices who have been left out of conversations because of racial segregation. We’ve seen disunity in the church since the beginning of the church in Acts, and we must learn from the way disunity was resolved. For example, in Acts 6 one of the key components of resolving the disunity was that those with the greatest power listened to those who were marginalized. A key component to resolving disunity within the global church is to take on the posture of a graceful listener.

Beth: And being a graceful listener means we have to stop talking — even if we feel like we have an important point to make. The first thing we need to do is listen. The quickest way to marginalize people is to deny them the chance to be heard.

Meg: Oh man, yes, stop talking! I’m preaching to myself here. So many times we’re ready with our rebuttal and we don’t take the time to actually listen to what the other person is saying.

Daysi: In the public eye, disunity has made a mockery of Christianity. Non‑believers that I know view Christians as hypocrites. They are always looking for cracks in the foundation that can justify the lack of need or desire to surrender to Christ. If Christians are not “doing it right” — not perfect but honoring God through the unity of the saints — then why would non‑believers want what we have?

Meg: I think on a macro scale, the church has become fragmented because there hasn’t been unity. The formation of denominations is there in part to help manage believers’ differing beliefs and preferences. (Side note: I don’t think denominations are bad; this is just an observation.)

There are so many things that can and do cause discord in the church. I think especially in the American context, because our nation values individualism, we can forget what’s truly important in following Jesus. Many times non‑believers observe discord rather than unity. On an individual level, I think when you don’t pursue unity, you’re really missing out on seeing other aspects of God. Every person is made in the image of God. That truth paired with the diversity I see and experience on a daily basis causes me to be in awe of God all over again. I cannot follow God alone. Even though it’s a personal decision to follow Jesus, I need the church on my journey with him.

Why is pursuing unity as believers worth the hard work?

Latasha: Unity is worth pursuing because our disunity, discord, hatefulness and putting down of one another does not reflect the characteristics of Christ; therefore, it becomes a barrier for people who are far from Christ. We can find a way to disagree as long as love, grace and compassion are at the center of that disagreement, but many times it’s not.

Our unity with one another reflects the glory of God. Ultimately if we want people to see God in our lives, in our churches and in our families then we need to be a reflection of God’s glory.

Daysi: Unity displays the love of Christ is in us. When we begin to see our differences as opportunities to love the way Jesus loved, we are free to respectfully accept one another despite our differences. Those differences pale in comparison to the glory that awaits us.

Meg: I believe pursuing unity is part of the call as a believer. In John 13 Jesus says, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (v. 35, NLT). Unity as the body of Christ will show unbelievers that Jesus is the real deal. Even though we have differences, as followers of Jesus, he unites us. And as I mentioned before, pursuing relationships with other believers, especially with those you don’t agree with 100%, enriches our own walks as well.

Beth: I love this picture of heaven: “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9‑10, NLT) Working toward unity among Christians on earth foreshadows eternity, where the whole glorious spectrum of the body of Christ will be unified in worship.

Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?

Beth: Latasha mentioned earlier that Be the Bridge is one of several quality organizations currently working in different, complementary ways toward the goal of racial reconciliation. In the same way, Wycliffe partners with many other organizations in the work of Bible translation and Scripture engagement. God asks his people to do big things — goals too large for us to accomplish without each other — and we need what everyone brings to the table.

Meg: We’ve been going through the book of Ephesians at church and in chapter 2 Paul speaks about unity. I’d like to share a part of that passage here, highlighting verse 16. What an awesome reminder that God not only reconciled Jews and Gentiles to himself, but he has reconciled us with one another! When we pursue unity, we are walking out the work Christ has already done:

“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (v. 14‑16, NLT; emphasis mine).
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Thank you to all of the women who participated in this roundtable discussion! Explore more articles like this one at wycliffe.org/women.