I once had a boss tell me “We love you and we’re so glad you’re on our team. But our ideal candidate was someone with your skills and abilities, who was also a black woman with XYZ in their background.” Instead they got me — a girl so white my friends in high school teased that I was Casper the Friendly Ghost on a trip to Florida. They chose me, and they were happy to have me, but the point is they were intentionally looking for diversity.
There are a lot of people that don’t like the idea of affirmative action. To them it feels like discrimination, an unfair advantage, or bias. In their eyes affirmative action is a rejection of the skills, gifts, and abilities of people in the majority group. I respect these people. I understand where they’re coming from. But I don’t agree.
Diversity doesn’t happen by chance.
Want proof? Go visit any large city and take a drive through the different neighborhoods and boroughs. Go visit some schools in the inner city and then drive out to the suburbs. Pay attention to who’s sitting at which lunch tables. Try out a few different hair salons. Or better yet . . . go visit any church on an average Sunday morning.
We live in a very segregated world. A world that seems to only be capable of defining ourselves by defining who is other. I know I am A: not B, C, D or E. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go have an honest conversation with someone who is trying to live as an “AND” in an “either/or” world. A biracial teen. An adult who grew up in one country and now lives in another. An LGBT Christian. A Liberal Christian. The list could go on and on. There is a tension that exists in their life. We are a world that likes to categorize and define and put things in boxes. And we like to keep those boxes separate. We do it without thinking. We divide people by race, gender, ethnicity, economic status, age, education level, religious background, political affiliation, and more. Some areas are more natural to us than others, but we still do it. This is what comes naturally to us. (This, in my opinion, is one of the consequences of the fall.)
So wherever we find diversity we should celebrate it. And we should realize it didn’t come about by chance, but by choice. Someone — some leader or group of people — decided that diversity was valuable enough to work for it. To take risks and make changes. To set goals and take steps to make them a reality. And some days they don’t make progress, but they don’t give up. (Some days you hire the pasty white girl, but you keep looking for that amazing black woman also.)
I have spent most of my adult life working in churches. One of the things we talk about is that when people come into a church for the first time they will look around and ask “Is there anyone here who is like me?” This doesn’t just apply to race and gender, but to whatever it is that we have defined ourselves as. And one of the first places we will look to answer that question is the platform–who’s on stage or listed on the website. We’re looking for an answer because we don’t want to be an other. We are all born with an innate desire to belong. If we want to be a church where everyone feels comfortable, then we must be a place where everyone can answer that question with a confident “Yes! I’m not alone!”
This week the denomination that I am ordained in is making some very important decisions regarding the future leadership of the church. These decisions are always tough because there are so many amazingly qualified potential leaders. It is my prayer that as decisions are made, those voting will remember the value and beauty of diversity. Diversity of thoughts and perspectives, ethnicities and genders, ages and backgrounds, talents and skills.
And as I pray this, I also pray . . . not my will but yours be done.