The Fostering of "Unity-in-Diversity"
Comenius as Mestizo, cont.

At the same time, we need to recognize that the growing number of poor people in the United States is disproportionately characterized by people of color. Unless this trend is reversed, we run the risk of becoming a country in which white minorities permanently dominate political, socio-economic decision-making structures. In my book, I discuss the implications of the Latino heritage for controversial contemporary issues such as bilingual education, racial/ethnic gerrymandering of political districts, affirmative action, housing, immigration, and globalization.

Especially for the increasing number of us who “cross borders” daily in our neighborhood associations, nonprofit organizations, businesses, governments, and church communities, it is imperative to draw upon heritages that offer a democratic engagement of multiculturalism. I have found that if one can communicate the notion of “unity-in-diversity” in terms that are authoritative for a particular ethnic or religious community, then one is more likely to catalyze the attention and commitment of the members of that group. Put otherwise, one must expand the comfort zone of people’s orientations in order to get them to change their practices in a constructive way.

In the case of the Moravian heritage, an excellent resource is the life and work of John Amos Comenius. At first glance, Comenius’ pursuit of a unifying order (pansophy) seems completely inappropriate to a postmodern age that stresses relativism and diversity. But I believe that his ecumenical spirit toward languages, cultures, and other Christian denominations demonstrates a Moravian articulation of mestizaje.

Comenius sought a universal order, grounded in Christ, that still respected distinct tongues, cultures, and convictions. He stressed the importance of teaching children their native language and culture, the customs of different nations, and a universal language—be it Latin or one artificially created. As a pastor, he preached in both German and Czech, for his congregations were composed of both peoples. I think he’d take a dim view of those who oppose bilingual education and espouse “English only” legislation. Indeed, today in Central America, Alaska, and Labrador, Moravians struggle to preserve their Miskitu, Yupik, and Inuktitut heritages.

Comenius insisted upon toleration rather than separatist or sectarian strife. An exile for 42 of his 78 years because of the Thirty Years War and its aftermath, he was relentless in his commitment to seeking “unity-in-diversity.” He maintained that overcoming prejudice had to begin with the self. Reform then could spread in a concentric fashion to family, congregation, and ultimately to other Christian groups. This panharmonic principle could ultimately tear down the walls between cultures and countries.

Overall, Comenius envisioned a world community in which local differences would be respected and encouraged. Even in his guidelines for missionary work, Comenius insisted that evangelization ensue from an emphasis on the educational and cultural attributes of the people being evangelized, as exemplified by the Jesuit missions in Paraguay and Chile. His praise for their work, by the way, is yet another illustration of his ecumenical generosity.

What greater testament to this apostle of ecumenism and universal education could there be than to recast his pluralistic vision for “the global village” of the next century? Essentially, if we are to realize an egalitarian mestizo democracy, we need to bring into dialogue those normative heritages—Comenius’ legacy, in the case of the Moravians—that accent the cultivation of human dignity and the common good through cultural “border crossings.” This moral outlook is imperative in an age in which our politics are paralyzed by preemptive strikes and terrorist counterattacks. Indeed, outlooks that accent combining multiple cultures in a way that leaves none dominant over the others offer a constructive counterpoint to the ideas and practices of racists and xenophobes.

To amend a very Moravian saying: “If we are to have a democratic future it will, in essentials, be one of unity-in-diversity.”

John Francis Burke is associate professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. He visited the Lehigh Valley in March to lead workshops in diversity for several community and religious groups. He spoke at Moravian on March 3. The illustration above is a portrait of Comenius by the Bohemian historical painter Vaclav Brocik (painted 1892).

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