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Friday, November 30, 2012

Diversity and Inclusion

Exploring Creation Science

I've always been intrigued by the difference in the two Creation Stories. In the first (Genesis 1:25-27) we read that humankind was created after the other animals had been created. In the second (Genesis 2:18-19), we read that humankind was created before the other animals had been created.

Details, details, details.

In the second story, however, we read, "So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was his name." (Genesis 2:18-19)

The story goes on to say that the man gave names to all cattle and birds and animal of the field. When God created woman and brought her to the man, he (ish) even named her (isha): "....this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken."(Genesis 2:23b).

Yes, I know. One of the traditional - progressive - ways to explain this story is that to be fully human, one needs to be in relationship with others. It's about interdependence. It's about mutuality. It's about an affinity between humans that is not possible between humans and animals - although there are some who would claim that their relationships with four-leggeds and winged creatures and those who swim in the sea are more fulfilling than with other human beings.

Some who subscribe to a theology of "Natural Law" point out that (1) because man was created first, he has 'dominion' over creation and (2) God created Adam and Eve not "Adam and Steve".

Never mind that in the first Creation Story there is no hierarchy or seniority between man and woman. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27).

Details, details, details. 

I have always been struck by the fact that, in the second Creation Story, the power of naming reality was a gift given to man. This even extends to naming the reality of God. Who, apparently, is male - even though the first Creation Story clearly says that male and female were created in the image of God.

Who was it who said, "The pen is mightier than the sword"? Since men wrote the Creation Story, the power of naming was theirs. 

As Mary Daly once said, "If God is male, then the male is God".  We've been struggling with that reality ever since.

This power of naming its attendant struggles are not limited to the "Battle of the Sexes".

I've long struggled with the church - and, in some places, cultural - fixation on words like "diversity" and "inclusion" to either describe the reality of community, or the goal of reality.

I have no problem with describing the goal of the reality of community as "diverse" and "inclusive". Indeed, I applaud it. I believe it to be an important goal, one that is central to any community that embraces either the reality of "the global village" at our doorstep or the realities of the imperatives of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What drives me right round the bend is when the words "diversity" and "inclusion" are used in ways that clearly illustrate that the one who names reality, controls reality. The one who controls the language, controls reality.

Let me give you a few examples.

I sometimes consult with congregations that are either experiencing conflict - most often, during a period of transition in ordained leadership. A few months back, I was working with one congregation and began by working with some of the principles of "appreciative inquiry". I asked them to name their strengths.

The Senior Warden, who could have been sent from Central Casting as "the elder statesman of The Episcopal Church" began by saying, in a deep sonorous voice, about their congregational diversity. I was a bit startled by this proclamation and quickly surveyed the room again to see if I had missed something. It seemed to me that, beyond male and female, everyone there was Caucasian.

"We have such great diversity in this church," he proclaimed. "We not only have male and female," he said, illustrating his firm grasp on reality, "we have college educated and high school drop outs. We have factory workers and college professors. We have white collar and blue collar people. That's certainly not The Episcopal Church I grew up in. We, at St. Swithins," he proclaimed proudly, "are a warm and welcoming congregation and we are diverse and inclusive of everyone."

Mind you, this was a congregation that had experienced a sharp decline in membership. It was also smack dab in the middle of a urban, downtown area, surrounded by people of color - not one of whom had apparently been "warmly welcomed" to their church.

I was stunned and for a few moments I wasn't really certain how to respond. One woman, sensing my discomfort, quickly added, "And, if any of our .....neighbors.... came into this church, we'd warmly welcome and include them, too. In fact," she said, "I think that would be very.... nice ... of us."

Judging by the disapproving look on the face of the Senior Warden, this was clearly not about being "nice". Not for him. He had had all the "diversity" and "inclusion" he could "tolerate", thank you very much. Which is why, I suspect, he was so keen to lift up "diversity" and "inclusion" as what he saw as clear strengths of this congregation.

And, because he had "named" his reality, it became the reality of the parish - which, it was obvious to me, was just an illusion.

I couldn't wait for a break to go outside and find a cup of coffee and blow off some steam. 

When I was in traffic court a few days ago, I was keenly aware of the paucity of Caucasian people in the building. There were African Americans, a few Asian Americans and several Haitian and Hispanic folk, many of whom were day laborers and/or migrant workers. I was, without a doubt, one of the more swarthy-skinned people in the room, but those who were Caucasian were Very White - and, very few in number.

I wondered as I sat there, is there diversity in the room because Caucasian people are here? Were we, in that situation, the "diversity' or were they? 

Who gets to name that reality?

It seems to me that the words "diversity" and "inclusion" can become the invisible tools of invisible white privilege.  I can not - nor ever will - understand what it feels like to be a person of color or of different ethnicity in a dominant Caucasian, Western European American culture, but I do know what it's like to be Queer in a predominantly heterosexual and heterosexist culture and church.

Let me tell you what it feels like, as a Queer person, to hear the word "inclusion".  It means that, even though I have had the Rite of Baptism and the Rite of Confirmation and the Rite of Marriage and the Rite of Ordination, I don't have any "rights" - or, the ones I have are of "second class status".

It's as if heterosexual people hold the first mortgage on the House of God and I am...."included". You can't be "included" if you weren't considered part of the whole in the first place.

See what I mean?

Sometimes, when I hear it proclaimed that this is a "Welcoming Church" or an "Inclusive Church" of LGBT people or people of color, I want to scream, "Really? Seriously? Whose 'church' do you think this is, anyway? Am I not baptized? It's MY church, too, damn it! Who are you to 'include' me? Thank you very much, but Christ already 'included' me at baptism!"

See what I mean?

Well, if you are white and heterosexual and have not examined your privileged status, maybe you can't. Not unless you have an inkling of an experience of it yourself because, perhaps, of your financial status or educational background or maybe even your zip code.

Try reading Peggy McIntosh's book, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," who argues that white privilege is akin to an invisible package of unearned assets that whites can count on cashing in each day. 

This invisibility of unearned privileges makes them powerful and persistent precisely because white people (and, many heterosexual people) are, for the most part socialized not to see them. Failing to acknowledge unearned privilege is to allow it to continue, and what is not acknowledged stands little chance of being fixed.

Or, try listening to this little three minute clip , in which author and educator Joy DeGruy recounts a story about a time she went shopping with her sister-in-law, who happens to be light-skinned and often "passes" as a white woman. Perhaps it will begin to sensitize you to the power of unnamed, unearned, assumed privilege.

If neither of these help raise your awareness, then you may simply dismiss me as sounding like a stereotypical angry lesbian feminist - a 'feminazi' as Rush Limbaugh has named it.

And, therefore, it must be so.

See what I mean?

As a child of God who was created in the image of God, I want to take back the power of naming reality that was given to humankind - male and female - at the beginning of creation.

The reality of those who are members of the dominant social paradigm of white, straight, affluent, able-bodied, well educated and male (or, male-identified) but who are not representative of any of those qualities or characteristics needs to be acknowledged and incorporated as part of the reality and fullness of life.

Until then - and, I'm not holding my breath waiting for it to happen - please do be careful when you use words like "diversity" and "inclusion".  They are goals - important goals - but, with very, very rare exception - they are not reality in most of our churches.

When you proudly proclaim, "We are an inclusive church," or "We are a church that embraces diversity," please understand that you may be making a statement about yourself that you may not necessarily intend to make - one that reveals more about the privileges in your 'invisible knapsack' than even you knew were there.

What, then, should you say? How, then, should you name yourself?

Jazz great Louis Armstrong was once asked, "What is jazz?" He reportedly answered, "If you gotta ask, you'll never know."

After playing a set of amazing music, he was asked again, "What is jazz?" He reportedly responded, "If you still gotta ask, shame on you."

Do the work of mission and ministry, understanding that to be fully human, one needs to be in relationship with others. It's about interdependence. It's about mutuality. 

The rest, like the Creation Story, is just details.


IT said...

How about this one, as an example of that clueless privilege: "Can we celebrate straight marriage for a change?"

Where does one begin?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Or, like the woman at GC who came up to me, in tears, and said, "I can't believe we're now calling heterosexuality a sin." Confused, I asked her whatever she meant. She understood "heterosexism" to mean that heterosexuality was a sin.

I didn't know where to begin.

Or, this comment left on my FB page from a "clueless Texan" concerning my post on the 19 straight white GOP men in leadership positions in the House who said "it was just seniority":

"I'm not suggesting anything other than people are chosen for seniority not as tokens of a gender or race. Democrats are the ones who constantly play the race and gender card. Not all women or all Hispanics or all mixed race folks think or vote alike. To require or expect diversity only by gender or race is as racist as limited slots to people of a specific gender or race."

A commitment to diversity and parity in membership and leadership is now an example of "Play the race card"?

Where does one begin?

SCG said...

Thanks for this! I sometimes think that "diversity" and "inclusive" are understood in the same annoying way "interfaith" seems to mean, "We have Baptists, Episcopalians and Catholics participating in this service." Bonus points are expected if you invite Jews. But every ounce of my patience was tested when I had Episcopal priests balking at participating in a Pride "interfaith" service because there would be pagans present.

Where do you begin? I guess, where you are.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, SCG. It can get so annoying when someone isn't in the place where you are - especially when there's unexamined privilege.

JCF said...

I've been amazed, as a result of the failure by the CofE General Synod to approve a (VERY generous to opponents) measure to ordain women as bishops, the number of WB opponents declaring, "See! You WB supporters aren't tolerant! You don't want diversity!"


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - you can't make up half the stuff that happens in the institutional church.

Matthew said...

I think it was 20/20 or primetime live a number of years ago that used hidden cameras and actors, one white, one black to walk into various retail establishments - a pharmacy' a clothing store, a diner, a jewelry counter, a bank and have them ask the same questions. The disparate responses was shocking and startling to some. They then did the same experiment using a man and a woman to similar results. Many white men do not understand how much privilege is bestowed upon them because they've never lived another reality, or bothered to listen to the experiences of others. I've often wanted to conduct the same experiment with hidden cameras on various visitors to churches and track the reaction.

Matthew said...

Addendum: bishop Wolfe of RI actually decided to live as a homeless person for a month and changed her appearance. She visited some of her own churches and the reaction was not always positive. I loved this quote of hers about her incognito visits to episcopal churches: "moments filled with grace and moments of deep disappointment.".

Genette said...

There are many, many pockets of insularity in the world - places where one can go a whole life and never meet anyone significantly different than one's own self. It is for this reason that I have always thought that everyone, without exception, ought to be required to spend the years 18-20 doing "citizenship service", at a living wage, in a place far from their own homes - cleaning up wrecked neighborhoods, running soup kitchens, building Habitat houses, with Vista or the Peace Corp or in the national parks - each assignment appropriate to individual skills and/or physical limitations, but serving among people one might otherwise never meet (and NO cushy desk jobs or PR gigs that don't require actual labor) ... this would be good for the country in many ways, but particularly for educating everyone in the real meaning of "different is different - not better or worse, just different ... vive la difference!" Experience is the thing that really breaks through assumptions and myth and privilege.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I once gave into a Macy's saleswoman to fill out a Macy's card. I dutifully filled out the application, which was immediately declined. She just looked at the application and told me it wouldn't be approved. All she had was my address and info on the credit card I was going to use. I lived in E. Orange, NJ (population >2% White). Gee, do you think that might have had anything to do with it? PS - She did accept my credit card. Go figure.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think the best thing I can say about that little "mission" of the Bishop of RI is to say nothing at all.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Genette - I couldn't agree with you more. I am constantly amazed by the number of people who live here in LSD who have, perhaps, ventured to Philly and considered that a major adventure.

Anonymous said...

You don't believe your own words. Your church is barely 4% non-White, even after forty years of "Diversity Outreach" and "Multicultural Resource Centers".
Either your programs are unbelievably bad or you're not really serious.
And don't even get started on your private schools.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Turnip Ghost - I don't know the accuracy of your figure but, actually, it does prove my point. We have been making progress over the years but I think the "attitude" of "diversity" and "inclusion" is, in many places, inauthentic. And, people know it. Which is why we haven't made the progress some of us would like to see. Hence, the reason for this post.