This blog, We Talk, We Listen: Conversations about Diversity is launched with two intentions: first, to extend a hearty welcome to new students coming to LSTC this Fall, and second to begin a conversation about diversity that will continue on Wednesday, September 2 from 8:30 a.m. -12 noon, when we have a conversation about diversity as a community inclusive of new and returning students as well as staff, faculty, and administration.
The term “diversity” is often thought to be a code word for people in the US context who have been historically marginalized. Is that what we mean by this term? At LSTC, where we have a Diversity Committee, this term certainly includes people of color, LGBTQI, gender, economic status, religion, physical abilities, age, nationality, ethnicity, neurology (brain function) and learning styles. This mix is understood to be the richness of God’s creation both human and non-human. Scott E. Page, Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics, at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor claims that diversity is an asset. His book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies employs mathematical formulations and case studies to demonstrate the way variety in staffing generates organizational strength. For Page, it is not whether we can all get along but rather are we willing to participate in the messy, chaotic, and difficult, yet, creative, inspired, and innovative life ways that emerge when people from very different backgrounds and experience come together.
When we bring theology into this understanding of diversity then we must consider the complexity with which God fashioned all beings. In Genesis 1, God forms different creatures, inclusive of humans, thus, diversity is present from the very beginning. The imagery in Genesis 1 points to a creation swarming and teeming with diversity: day and night, birds of the sky and fish of the seas, wild animals and humans. Human diversity crafted by God and made in God’s image is wonderfully good. God’s complex design of variety among living and non-living things is often a challenge for humans. Yet, even with its challenge people who are followers of Jesus, Christians who are baptized by the body of Christ, the Church are called to participate in the messy, chaotic, and yes, difficult task of living together and of valuing human diversity with all of its complexities and cultures.
Over the last several months we have witnessed that the lives of some of God’s children are not highly regarded, and are in fact, disregarded, if not discarded. Just as Jesus’ body was broken on the Cross, so the body of Christ is broken in places such as Ferguson, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; Staten Island, NY; Cleveland, Ohio; Charleston, South Carolina; and Waller County, Texas. In March 2015, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton penned a letter stating “recent events . . . prove we are not living in a post- racial society.” She continues, “I know it’s difficult to talk about race because too many Americans do not want to believe racism still exists in our country. Yet, as always, Christ promises to be alongside us, even in the most difficult of times, working for our reconciliation. Because of God’s promise, we can and must have a deep, honest and even painful conversation about racism.”
Yet, again on June 18, 2015, Presiding Bishop Eaton wrote another letter following the murder of nine African American Christians who were shot in their church during Bible study. While all of the senseless deaths were difficult this incident hit close to home because the person committing the act of terror is a member of the ELCA – St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Bishop Eaton pens these words: It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated. Both the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Simmons, who were pastor and associate pastor, respectively, of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. The person killing both pastors (and seven others) is a member of an ELCA congregation. In the words of Eaton, “All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.” The elephant in the room is visible for all to see.
Although God created diversity among all living things, God’s diverse children have not been and are not equally valued resulting in hatred, discrimination, and oppression. Christians know this to be sin. This blog, We Talk-We Listen: Conversations about Diversity is the space to have a sacred conversation about race/racism. We will have conversation about other pressing issues, but we begin with race/racism. This blog is especially timely because Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and William B. Horne II, an ELCA member from Clearwater, Fla., held a live webcast on conversation on the complexity and implications of racism on Aug. 6. Presiding Bishop Eaton wants the ELCA to Confront Racism (Twitter hashtag #ELCAConfrontRacism). To view the webcast click here.
Are you willing to participate in this sacred conversation?
This blog, appearing at least once a week, if not twice, will host a variety of people who will engage the topic of diversity and race. Our first guest is the Rev. Dr. Joan R. Harrell, public theologian, womanist scholar and founder of the online forum “Racism Contradicts Christianity,” who will co-facilitate the Conversation about Diversity with me at LSTC on September 2. We invite you to join us to intentionally talk and listen to each other.
MSNBC Telejournalist Melissa Harris-Perry speaks about defining racism in America.
Video where Janet Mock at MSNBC talks about how Black Lives Matter is a movement, not a slogan.