About a year ago, I was interviewed on a podcast where the interviewer very graciously commended the church community I lead for its diversity. I wasn’t surprised by the observation. In fact, I typically anticipate people making this point. Being a “multicultural church” within a mainline denomination that largely lacks diversity in its local expressions is certainly worth mentioning.
I’d also add that I wholeheartedly believe diversity is a gift. In my sphere of influence, we’d say diversity reflects the expansiveness of God’s creation and the beauty of our humanity. And my guess is that most leaders could point to diversity’s goodness, whether or not their institutions are reflections of it. Racial diversity, in particular, wonderfully heightens an organization’s awareness and broadens its perspectives. Who wouldn’t want this?
But here’s the rub: While I’d argue that diversity is incredibly important, I also believe it’s not the end all, be all. After the interviewer of that podcast made her comments, I told her that I’d not be extracting the very best from my community if we stopped at just being diverse, but never sought to be anti-racist. There’s a difference. Especially now, as we navigate an inflection point in our country’s narrative, it feels doubly important to make this point. I’m hearing the word “diversity” being thrown about willy-nilly. However, racial diversity is only as powerful as its ability to inspire institutions to move toward cultivating an equitable culture. Let’s remember that some would say that plantations were diverse! Proximity doesn’t equal intimacy.
So as institutions across the county are asking themselves hard questions about who’s in leadership, who’s sitting at decision-making tables, who’s influencing vision, we need not ignore that if an organization hasn’t first interrogated its ways of being, its ways of relating, its overall structures, and how it may or may not be equitable and just, diversity could become a mirage of a grander reality. Being an anti-racist organization honors the diverse people who are or who will sit in leadership, who are or who will sit at decision-making tables, and who are or who will influence vision. Diversity is good. Being anti-racist and equitable is great.