Unity in diversity: The challenge and mystique of the Lions

Date posted: 22/06/17

Lions 2017


As we build towards Saturday’s first Test, much has been made of the ‘mystique’ of the British and Irish Lions. Thankfully after impressive wins against the Maori All Blacks and the Waikato Chiefs in their last two matches, the mystique remains. Time will tell whether the Lions will go on to add to their legend further with a Test series win in New Zealand, but the odds have at least improved since their stuttering start to the tour.

But what is this ‘mystique’ that is made so much of and which holds both fans and players in thrall? Well first there must be something to just the sheer difficulty of even making a Lions Test side. Think about it. This is a bit like Top Trumps for rugby union within Britain and Ireland. Getting a national cap is hard enough. Only a few then get selected for the Lions touring party, fewer still for the Test team. This is the elite of elite rugby. Add to this the infrequency of the tours and the rarity value of a Lions Test cap (let alone a series winning Test cap) and you have a kind of blue diamond of rugby jewels.

Not only this, but in the professional era there is the sheer enormity of the task. Rugby tour series wins are hard enough for international teams used to playing together. Imagine now trying to bring an unfamiliar group of players together from diverse backgrounds and styles of play and knitting them together to produce a well-honed rugby unit that will hold together under the most intense of examinations in the Test arena. Can we realistically expect such robust unity in diversity to produce a winning Lions team in such a short space of time?

Lions 2017


There is also perhaps a cultural reason why there is such fascination with the Lions at the moment. This unity in diversity conundrum is a kind of parable for our times. #Brexit, #IndyRef, #LoveTrumpsHate are just some of the headlines that at root are all about how we navigate through the tensions of a globalised world where there is much diversity, but little unity. Politically, we are seeing a seesaw back and forth from controlled borders protectionism to free trade and movement, but as yet there is no settled equilibrium. Is unity in diversity in reality a globalised pipe-dream?

People have sought to locate different sources of unity to bind us together. Some (usually around the Olympics) even suggest that sport can do this - but a moment’s pause for thought on the history of sport soon brings us a dose of realism. For every example of sport’s unifying qualities (e.g. the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa) there is a counter example of division (e.g. the stubborn problem of football hooliganism). So is unity in diversity an impossible dream?

In the Bible the vision of God’s gathered people - His church - is uniquely diverse and united.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7 v 9-10 NIV)

Lions 2017


The vision is not of unity without diversity where national, ethnic and personal differences are removed. Nor is the vision merely diverse people gathered together, but without anything to bind them together. Instead God’s gathered people are richly diverse but united ‘before the Lamb’.

This means that such is the momentous nature of God’s salvation through Jesus (the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world) that it becomes the defining source of unity for God’s people. Wonderfully God’s salvation through Jesus transcends our diversity but does not get rid of our diversity!

In a similar way the challenge for Warren Gatland and the Lions squad over the coming weeks will be to find that one thing that brings them together, transcending the players’ diversity but not negating it. If they can find it and go on to win then their mystique will grow even more.


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Pete NicholasPete Nicholas, Inspire Church, London
Pete is one of the pastors at Inspire Church in London and works part-time for Christians in Sport. He is also the co-author of 'Virtually Human', a book about the impact of technology in our digital age.