In this series called Diversity Repellent I’m sharing brief observations on the subtle but powerful things that we do and say that make diverse people think twice about building community with us. These are just observations, so I encourage you to share your own thoughts, questions and suggestions. Also, if you have a “diversity repellent” story, feel free to share it with me in an e-mail. Maybe we can include it in the series and create space for conversation.
Last month I heard a prominent leader of a national movement of mostly white Christians give a talk in which he compared his group’s beliefs to various other Christian groups (including more ethnically-diverse groups). While extolling the virtues of his group’s beliefs he proudly proclaimed, “We have a better version of the Gospel.” Now I’m not interested in busting any one person’s (or group’s) chops, and in fact, I give him a lot of credit for saying publicly what many of us say behind closed doors and in our hearts. But as a minority group member sitting in the audience, I found his statement to be unfriendly to diverse voices.
Most blatantly, the statement violates the metaphor of the interdependent and multifaceted body of Christ. How can a gospel that is mostly (if not entirely) interpreted and articulated by a homogenous group of people (in this case, white, well-educated males) be the “better version”? But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices. We’ve already got the best version of the Gospel and we only needed white, well-educated men to figure it out. Diverse people need not apply.
Again, this guy simply said aloud what a lot of other people say privately or inwardly. But whether we make such audacious statements aloud or not, people of all cultures run the risk of alienating diverse people if they mistakenly believe that their homogenous group has basically figured out how to think, worship and live.
We might say we want diverse people to participate in our group but we are often too enamored with our own culture (e.g., our version of the Gospel) to invite diverse people to influence it. Rather, than actively seeking input from diverse people, we require them to assimilate to and bow down to the dominant culture. This approach might work to attract people who look diverse (in terms of race/ethnicity, etc.) but it will repel people who offer culturally-diverse perspectives.
Non-majority members who attempt to exert diverse cultural influence are often ignored — or worse, silenced and shunned. How dare they try to change our little utopian culture? we ask ourselves. How dare they challenge our perfect version of the Gospel? HOW DARE THEY?
I think we adopt a defensive and uninviting posture towards diverse others when we idolize our cultural group identity. When this happens, minority group members are not truly invited to participate in the community as valuable members of the all-inclusive we. Rather, they are invited to participate in the group as them—subordinate group members and second-class citizens.
Is cultural idolatry the source of this problem? If so, how do we avoid it? If not, what is the problem?
**An earlier version of this post inaccurately quoted the anonymous speaker as saying “We have the best version of the Gospel.” I apologize for this misquote and have rectified it.