What are We Missing with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
Updated: Aug 11
Most of us have heard the phrase, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." That phrase is just a word of caution that dismissing everything in a fell swoop can cause more harm than intended. I just attended a convention where the church was trying to address some complex cultural shifts through the lens of law and the Gospel. One of the resolutions attempted to address social movements like BLM(the organization, not the statement), CRT(Critical Race Theory), and DEI(Diversity, equity, and Inclusion).
The challenge is that many of the movements and shifts grew out of frustration or tragedy. Black Lives Matter started with Travon Martin's death and grew in scope and passion with the deaths of other young black people. The issue that resonates with many in the black community is not whether police shoot mostly young black men, but that many young black youths are shot and killed every day. In the United States, generations of young Black males, ages 15 to 24, die prematurely from homicide and suicide. Between 1950 and 2010, the average death rate for young Black males due to homicide was 81.7 per 100,000, and suicide was 11.8 per 100,000 (Jones, S., Rice, J., & Townes, J., 2020). Those are complex numbers to process.
The Critical Race Theory grew out of frustration with the slow pace of the civil rights movement and the lack of access to the American Dream for people of color. While there has been fantastic progress, some argue that people still struggle to keep up. How can we look at some laws and specific systems like education that must be addressed?
This article will focus on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). I could write a book on each, but I will focus on DEI for brevity. This is especially true when the church makes a theological decision on complex social issues. As Christians, we tend to reject BLM, CRT, and DEI, which have elements that contradict Scripture and a Christian worldview. However, when the rejectors do not fully comprehend the pain associated with the social issues they condemn, or replace them with practical solutions, the message becomes muddy. People of color interpret that as a rejection of their leadership voice. This raises the question: Should we not have a seat at the table? Doesn't our voice matter? Is our culture irrelevant? That is not what the church means, but how do you include marginalized people? Let me suggest a way to frame DEI.
This week, I heard this example from Cynt Marshall. Cynt is the CEO of the Dallas Mavericks and has been a dynamic force for inclusion and diversity within the organization for over a 36-year career at AT&T. As the first African American woman to lead an NBA team, Marshall guided the Mavs to become the standard for inclusion and diversity in the NBA. Before joining the Mavs, Marshall served as Senior Vice President – Human Resources & Chief Diversity Officer at AT&T. Her work landed AT&T in the Top 3 on Diversity Inc's Top 50 list of companies and, for the first time, placed AT&T on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, one of only two Fortune 50 companies.
She is a Christian and describes diversity as simply being invited to the party. Ask yourself, your leadership team, and your evangelism committee this question. How are we inviting people different from ourselves to the party? This is a question Jesus invites us to do as a part of our mission.
In Matthew 28, Jesus leaves this message to the church before ascending to heaven. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." I love Campbell's description of Jesus' invitation to the outsiders.
The whole world is to become the theatre of the church's work and mission. At the beginning of the Gospel, the nations came to Jesus in the persons of the wise men from the east; now, he sends his church into the nations. He has already predicted that many will come from all directions to recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is another way of saying that the covenant blessing will be universalized. Through Jesus' interaction with a soldier of the Empire and a woman of Canaan, we have been prepared for this indication of a mission extending beyond the borders of ancient Israel.
In a Pentecost church of all nations, diversity is a call to build community. This is not about corporate training processes but about the concept. I would also recommend the church not use the language of diversity but replace that with community.
Similarly, Cynt described inclusion: once invited to a party, you are really included only if someone invites you to dance. In a meeting with that same group of leaders, ask yourself how you ensure the people you bring to attend the party are not just sitting on the sidelines watching you have all the fun. I remember attending a high school dance and holding the wall for others to enjoy the event. Think about your organization's leadership team; how easy is it for newcomers to join? And do not deceive yourself into thinking all they have to do is ask. Like at that High School dance, I could have asked, but fear of rejection and embarrassment is a powerful deterrent. Countless times have I offered to help lead or to be a voice for the underrepresented or forgotten, only to be told no, thank you, we got this.
At its core, inclusion comes down to the fundamental question: Are you doing ministry with people vs. to them? When we do ministry together, there is no hierarchy. Your mutual respect for one another is evident. Seeing them as people in need of rescue means doing ministry to them.
In an inclusive ministry, everyone within the community is enabled, empowered, and engaged, regardless of their abilities. The reason for this is that we believe that God created everyone in His image equally valuable. "Let us create man in OUR image" (Gen 1:26). It is in community that God's image is best reflected.
Every one of us is searching for a sense of belonging, for a sense of value, for a sense of being known. Ideally, we all want to be part of a community that is meaningful, and purposeful, and provides opportunities for participation and giving back to the community. We are looking for a place where we can express our faith in Christ in a way that communicates, "I am not alone in my journey."
Finally, this one needs to be noticed. Even if I invite you to the party and ask you to dance, I must teach you the moves. Attending a black wedding at some point will require you to learn the Cuban Shuffle. If you attend a Texas event, you might see some slick line dancing. An elegant black-tie event may include a Waltz. Being invited to the dance is not enough if no one teaches you the moves. What steps are you taking to ensure the party guests are familiar with that dance? Jesus called this discipleship.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
The church is to make disciples. Evangelizing and connecting with the unchurched are not her only responsibilities; she must also teach and make disciples. I pray this gives you some food for thought.