What the church can learn from The Giver

the-giver-novelJonas wasn’t interested, just then, in wisdom. It was the colors that fascinated him. “Why can’t everyone see them? Why did colors disappear?”

The Giver shrugged. “Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences.” He thought for a moment. “We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.” [1]

A long time ago as a kid, I read The Giver. I read it for school and as an adult most of what I could remember was that there was a community that lived life in black and white, then there was a kid who could see red, he met with an old man and then he escaped from the community. Recently, we watched the movie and so I was intrigued enough to go back and read the book. When I read it, I realized how much of the book I had forgotten or probably never even really understood when I read it the first time. While I was reading it, I was reading Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents at the same time. I don’t know if was the combination of those two books or just a sudden realization that The Giver has a lot to teach the church.

If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a story about a community in the future that has been about to create a life without war, pain, poverty, and hunger. It seems like a pretty nice place to live, but peace and prosperity came at the cost of removing all differences, creating “sameness” in the community, and suppressing emotion. Because of these choices, the community which looks nice and peacefully from the outside is really full of people who go about life with no real true understanding of the world and do so to keep up this false sense of peace in their life. 

I see this creeping into the church in America. In many places we have built churches that embody sameness. Many churches around the country are full of people who look the same. While, we have not gone to the lengths that the community in The Giver did to create absolute sameness, we have either inadvertently or intentionally created communities where most people basically look and act like ourselves. Specifically, many churches are not ethnically or economically diverse. We say we welcome all people but we create a culture where we cater to people like us. I know that this is not always intentional, most churches don’t set out cater to one or just a few types of people, but we build what we know and that’s based off of our experience and culture.

What ends up happening is that in our sameness we create an outwardly peaceful church because we are not willing to navigate the rough waters that diversity brings. After reading A Fellowship of Differents, I was reminded that the church from it’s early stages what radical in its inclusion of all people of all races, gender, and economic status. It was a community where the Roman elite would site next to slaves, men would associate with women, and Jews hung out with Gentiles. It was a beautifully diverse picture that showed the kingdom of heaven was for all kinds of people. Unfortunately now, we have forgotten what the church looked like and do not intentionally set out to be like that.

I know that it won’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen. Our churches need to again show that the church is a place for all people. In The Giver, Jonas comes to realize that even though sameness brings peace, it has stripped beauty and love from the world. It has created a community where they are not able to experience the richness of the world so that they can live without pain. It’s hard to live in a colorful world. Recent events have shown how hard it can be, but when we pursue sameness we remove the rich diversity of the world that God created. I pray that we can all begin to take to heart that the church is for all people and our churches should represent that to the best of our abilities.

[1] Lowry, The Giver (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 1993), 95.

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