Fourteen years ago, I was asked by our head of school at Prestonwood Christian Academy (PCA), Dr. Larry Taylor, to research diversity programs at other Christian schools. However, when we began researching like-minded schools with diversity programs, we found none. We did find independent schools with robust diversity programs, but they were using the world’s definition of diversity. One wouldn’t think diversity would be a hard concept to understand in the Christian school setting, knowing that God created people to be diverse—but it proved difficult.
The benefits of diversity are endless. Secular studies show diversity helps learning and problem-solving in the classroom and workplace. Colleges are more and more vocal about their desire to enroll students who are culturally intelligent. Our country is becoming more diverse—to the point that schools need to better understand diversity as part of their overall marketing, admissions, and business plans. But most importantly, diversity helps schools learn more about our amazing God, as we teach our students to affect the world for Him. God made diversity, and He made it for our good.
Where Does Diversity Come From?
Growing up in Central America, I learned that God created diversity for good—in order for us to learn more about Him. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God, He created him; male and female, He created them.” Diversity appears in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible, where it says that God created diversity, and He created it in His image. But we can also look at the last book of the Bible and find diversity. Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” God created diversity from the beginning, and there will continue to be diversity throughout eternity.
A Framework of G.R.A.C.E.
In response to our research 14 years ago, Dr. Taylor formed a committee tasked with understanding how God created diversity. This committee created a mission statement, an action plan, and a job description. The most contentious part of the process, however, dealt with how we were going to define diversity. We spent a lot of time in prayer, discussion, and reading of Scripture.
It was during this time that one of our board members, Dr. Chris Chow, coined the acronym “G.R.A.C.E.” when discussing diversity: gender, race, age, ability, culture, and economic status. Dr. Chow further defined these areas by including verses to help give a Biblical concept to each area of focus (for example, Genesis 1:27 defines gender, while Revelation 7:9 gives understanding to culture).
Our Mission Statement
From this framework flows Prestonwood’s mission statement for its diversity program:
In pursuit of excellence in education, the mission of Prestonwood Christian Academy’s Diversity Program is to develop a Kingdom-focused environment throughout the PCA Family that embraces the individual differences God has created in each person. God is the creator of diversity and He desires that it be used for good. He made each individual in His image with a unique set of gifts and talents as a testimony to His creativity, and has allowed each one to go through a set of experiences that uniquely shape them like no one else.
When diversity is properly harnessed through unity, it benefits an individual believer and a body of believers (through shared experiences and teaching) in several ways: stability in truth, maturity in knowing God more fully and Jesus Christ whom He sent, (for this is eternal life – c.f. John 17:3) and edification of the body.
God gives us guidance in how we can achieve His purposes for diversity, by walking with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Diversity can be used for bad when believers (consciously or unconsciously) base the value of an individual on the differences, rather than as God designed them. The differences may be obvious traits such as race or gender, or less obvious ones such as ethnicity or ability. Such a value system results in barriers that inhibit unity and thwart God’s purpose.
As students, staff and parents in the PCA family of believers (both present believers and potential future believers) we must recognize our need for diversity and the importance of receiving God’s gift of diversity as a tool that He can use to draw us closer to Him and to each other. As such, we seek to proactively pursue God’s plan by focusing on the diversity parameters of: Gender, Race, Age, Ability, Culture, and Economic Status.
Program Outcomes and Impact
For the past 14 years, this mission and belief have driven our program. From events such as our Taste of Heaven (where we share a meal with small groups in our PCA family, and listen to each other talk about personal experiences with diversity) —to our All School Worship, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of unity in our country—diversity has brought us together as a community.
And, God has been so faithful, patient and generous! When we began, we were 7% racially diverse and we are now 28% diverse. We have over 30 countries represented in our parent, student, and staff body (the majority of these aren’t international students). One-third of our student body receives financial assistance, without which they would not be able to attend our school. We have a beautiful diversity of abilities in our fine arts, athletics, and academics programs. I could go on and on, diving into each area of diversity—but as you can see, God has been extremely generous as He has taught us to see His children as He sees them: uniquely created and gifted to glorify Him.
We have learned a lot over the years. We have learned that diversity isn’t always easy. We have had angry family members who were not understanding of the biblical purpose of diversity, and therefore were at odds with our adoption of a program. We have done things wrong, such as pulling together certain groups of people without including others. But, we have also done many things right.
A few years ago, some students established an Upper School G.R.A.C.E. Council to help create a comfortable environment for students to discuss the various topics surrounding diversity. These students have led discussions on everything from immigration, to the gender pay gap, to learning differences. With this, PCA was given a new platform to share Christ. During his senior year, Jacob Buttry, one of the co-founders of this council, won the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, a prestigious prize from Princeton University. Jacob was flown to Princeton, and the following is an excerpt of what he shared with the participants and leaders there:
“In fact, my Christian faith and desire to show the love and truth of Christ with others has played a fundamental and influential role in sparking my passion and work for diversity. Our mission is to use the unity—in our common Christian beliefs within the Council and in our community as humans within the broader community—as a backdrop for discussing issues of diversity.”
—Jacob Buttry, Class of 2016
Diversity has taught us more about our Father, and therefore more about each other. And, diversity has become part of who we are as a school. We are becoming more unified with our diversity and we hope that the world sees something different in us.
1. With a desire to help Christian schools understand the value in diversity from a biblical standpoint, Jenny Brady (Prestonwood Christian Academy, TX), Joel Hazard (Mt. Paran Christian School, GA) and David Robinson (Grace Community School, TX) created The Christian School Diversity Symposium. This April, they met at Prestonwood Christian Academy, and next spring they are excited to meet at Cincinnati Hills Christian School. If you are interested in attending, please contact Jenny Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org to get updates.
2. In addition, the 2019 Global Christian School Leadership Summit (GCSLS) will feature a strand on Diversity and Inclusion in Christian schools. The event will be held in late January 2019 in San Antonio. For more information and to register, visit the GCSLS website.
About the Author
Jenny Brady serves as the Director of Diversity at Prestonwood Christian Academy, a position created for the passion and personal experiences she brings to the diversity discussion. Jenny grew up on the mission field in Honduras and returned to the United States for college, graduating with a B.A. in Spanish from Stephen F. Austin State University. She will complete her Masters in Sociology in December 2018, while working at PCA as a teacher and administrator. Jenny has a passion for missions and mentoring—taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, while training up the next generation of godly young men and women. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.