From the illusion of diversity to genuine inclusion

Photo: Fauxles, Pexels. Photo: Fauxles, Pexels.

Religious institutions like to throw around the term “diversity.” They say they are committed to creating a diverse environment and bringing together people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Typically, they do this by making ­diversity hires: employing Black and brown people.

The problem is the burden of assimilation that is placed upon Black and brown people. There is no real support for them. Most predominantly white organizations, religious and secular, only want Black and brown bodies to make their social media posts and websites look good. This has led to burnout and distrust.

In The Color of Compromise video series, Jemar Tisby offers a helpful metaphor for how we fail to create diversity.
Imagine you are trying to bake a cake. You have all the ingredients: eggs, flour, butter, icing. You mix up the ingredients and bake the cake. When you pull it out of the oven, you realize you have made a mistake. You forgot to add the sugar. You cannot have a cake without sugar, right? So, you grab a handful of sugar and sprinkle it on top of the cake.

We all know this is a terrible idea, but this is how we treat diversity. We create organizations without diversity in mind. Then we get called out for it. Then we try to fix the problem by sprinkling in some Black and brown people here and there to make the cake look OK. But once you take a bite, you realize it tastes terrible.

what are we to do? How do we genuinely include people who are different racially and ethnically? How do we avoid the illusion of diversity and move to a place of true inclusion?

Well, we start over. I do not mean we tweak something here and there. I mean we hit the reset button.

The only way to fix a cake with no sugar is to throw it away and bake another. If our churches, and institutions were created with only white culture in mind, then we need to start over and try again.

We have to be willing to admit that we, or those before us, made mistakes, and we need to tear things down and start again. Instead of sprinkling in some diversity, we have to be willing to include people in the process who do not necessarily look, speak or think like us.

We need more than diversity hires. We need genuine inclusion, where all people involved have the power to make decisions. Where all opinions are heard and valued.

We see this model of inclusion during the Pentecost experience in the Book of Acts. In Acts 2, the disciples, through the Holy Spirit, are given the gift of connection and inclusion. The crowd is made up of people who speak different languages. The Holy Spirit gives the disciples the ability to speak these languages and connect with these people. They share the good news of God’s freedom for all people.

Acts 2:44-47 describes the beginning of the church community: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

In Acts 2 we see true inclusion. There is no assimilation. No sprinkling in of diversity.

The church in Acts was created with the inclusion of all people in mind. The people together created a space for all of them. A space where all could contribute. A space where everyone’s gifts mattered.

To move from the illusion of diversity to genuine inclusion, we need many different voices at the table as we create and build together.

An institution that looks diverse does not necessarily listen to all voices or value everyone’s ideas. Decision- making power needs to be shared.

When baking a cake, all the ingredients need to be in the mix, not just sprinkled on top.

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

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