The first time e pluribus unum appeared on American coins was in New Jersey in 1786. It has been on some official U.S. coins since 1795, all coinage (by law) since 1873 and on the back of $1 bills since 1935. E pluribus unum is Latin for “out of many, one” and is reference to the fact that a single nation was formed when thirteen diverse small colonies joined their fate and fortunes together.
America has never fully achieved the ideal of “out of many, one.” From the beginning there have been those deliberately left out, those shoved aside along the way and too many denied opportunity. Along the way, we’ve managed to create a class system of our own, despite the fact that our forefathers sought to leave such distinctions behind. Along the way the struggle has been made more difficult for some than for others. Along the way our laws have tended to favor those with means and weigh heavily on the poor, if not in their intent then certainly in their implementation.
Our politics, too, often seek to drive us to uniformity — not to benefit the country but to benefit the politicians. It would be foolish, however, to believe that uniformity is necessary for unity. We are, in fact, greater precisely because of our diversity. God delights in diversity. Why else would there be more than 12,000 species of ants, 33,600 species of fish, 38 species of cat. Why else are there uncounted varieties of flowers and trees? Why else do human beings have varieties of skin color and eye color and hair color and gifts and talents and abilities?
The followers Jesus gathered around him were diverse; men and women, slave and free, educated elites and working class men and women, prostitutes and churchmen, tax collectors and zealots. The gifts and life experience that each of these individuals brought to the gathering were critical for the mission God and Jesus through the Holy Spirit had prepared for them. All were welcomed, all made in the image of God but distinct individuals — a reminder of the complexity of God’s own person and character and nature.
Unity in diversity is one of the most difficult things to achieve. It was true among Jesus’ followers. It was true in the early church (just read Paul’s letters), it is true in today’s church, but Jesus commands us “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As the subject of his final conversation with the disciples before his crucifixion Jesus commanded: “that you love one another just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know you are mine, if you have love for one another …”
The Christian community has a special obligation to demonstrate God’s love of unity in diversity – by demonstrating love for one another, both inside and outside (“love your neighbor as yourself”) the Christian community. Loving others as Jesus loved us is the most culture-transforming act we can do. If we practice this, one day we might see a genuine e Pluribus Unum.