Posts tagged diversity
The Tipping Point

In the book, American Apartheid, authors Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton explore the correlation between racially segregated neighborhoods and poor communities. The authors argue that segregation, including segregation by choice, has major economic implications. As they outline this argument using data and research, a very interesting question emerges as the focal point of a survey. Subjects are asked to quantify a diverse neighborhood. Average answers? Black folks responded that a 50/50 split would qualify a neighborhood to be considered diverse. White folks responded that 96/4 (whites/blacks) would constitute a diverse neighborhood. While most respondents- black or white- declared they would like to live in a diverse neighborhood, there was a vast difference in how each defined diversity. This book was written in 1990, but I believe the difference in response has incredible implications for us today. 

Because of this discrepancy in defining what it means to be multiracial, sociologist have  determined that there can only be an 80% racial majority. At least 20% of the church must be a different race or ethnicity from the majority. The theory goes that 20% becomes a tipping point for the congregation. According to Michael Emerson (co-author of Divided By Faith and this recent article in the Annual Review of Sociology) at this point, the 20% are less likely to be perceived as token minorities. They also are more likely to begin exerting their collective influence on the church culture and policies. Additionally, when at least 20% of the congregants are racially diverse, the probability of random cross-racial contact is 99%.

Now, I cannot speak for all people of color everywhere. I can only speak for me and my experience at white churches/schools. Since this is my blog, I'm just going to say it. Having 20% people of color surrounded by 80% of white people doesn't feel very diverse. There are some additional criteria that I would have to add:

1. 20% of the influential leadership of the church is of color 

2. 20% of the teaching staff is of color

3. 20% of the worship elements represented the culture of another race or ethnicity 

4. 20% of the attendance at small groups, classes and events were people of color 

5. 20% of the study resources/materials being used in the church are authored by people of color

And this is how focusing on the numbers of your church rather than the culture of your church can become tricky.  While 20% may be the point at which you can declare your church is multiracial, the health of that multiracial balance could still be in question.  Is the minority group satisfied with being 20% are would they like to see that percentage grow? Is the majority group feeling invigorated or suspicious of the changing demographics? Are the donors and long-time members feeling the need to "take the church back"? As the minority members push for similar goals like the ones I have stated above, is the church feeling excited or burdened?

We call this 80/20 split the tipping point, and I think it really does become one for both the majority and minority groups involved. Are they tipping the same direction- hoping for more change and growth? Or has the tipping point become a source of tension?  Its vital that our churches give language to what's happening when our church demographics change and form a clear vision for the future of the congregation. 

The other interesting notation about the tipping point is this probability of random cross-cultural contact. 99% is incredibly high! I understand why that detail would be an important reason for understanding 20% as a tipping point. However, as a black woman I must ask, what is the quality of that cross-racial interaction? 

Am I being called "colored" in the hallway? 

Are multiracial families being stared at? 

Are latino families being called "illegals"? 

Are Koreans being asked if they speak English? 

It is not enough for churches to wear a multiracial ribbon if the 20% minority is not being cared for, valued, or loved. Otherwise, we may not be individual tokens within the congregation, but we remain your collective token, your badge of relevancy, your trophy of accomplishment. Depending on the size of your church or school, 20% can still feel like an awfully small number of people with whom you share a common background. And the possibility to experience micro aggressions is still pretty high when surrounded by an 80% majority. When your church reaches the 80/20 split please don't assume that the racial minority feels welcome, seen, or valued. Numbers don't offer those feelings. People do. 

One final thought. Just as important as the question regarding cross-racial contact, I would add one more: Is this a church where people of color can bring their racial wounds (whether those wounds occurred inside or outside the church)? 

I wish I could underscore how incredibly important this question is to people of color. There are all kinds of micro-aggressions being faced by people of color every day. Recently my husband was looking at magazines in our local Walgreens as he waited for Pizza Hut to complete our takeout order. As he flipped through a magazine of the natural wonders of the world, a white man walked up to him and started badgering him with questions. "Do you prefer to be called black or African American?" Followed by, "Do you like rap music? Why do all these thugs kill each other and why doesn't your leader, Jesse Jackson, have anything to say about that?" My husband never even acknowledged the man's presence, but his pestering continued, "I have a black friend. He's a lot like Carlton from the Fresh Prince, and he says…" Thoroughly embarrassed by this mans verbal vomit, my husband turned to leave, preferring to sit in the car than entertain the madness. Where does my husband go to be reminded that he is fully human? What church flings open its doors and says, 'We appreciate all that your culture means to you'? Where can he go to share this experience and have a church family bear the pain with him? Where does he find safety, healing, affirmation? This describes a great many homogenous churches where the micro aggressions we face are similar. Is there space in our multiracial churches for this level of love? 

As our churches move closer to (or even surpass) the 80/20 tipping point, I hope that our churches will keep in mind all the people represented by those numbers. May our churches become places where people of all races feel safe, loved and affirmed. That may be the true tipping point of welcoming diversity within our doors.  

Dating Diversity

A romanticized picture of diversity makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a real commitment to progressing an organization toward diversity goals. A romanticized picture of diversity does not prepare one well for the "first fight" in the relationship. Your excitement, your passion, your confidence will get rocked, and you may not recover. Romanticizing diversity will not prepare you for the first time a Black aquaintance informs you of your privilege and calls you, yes you, racist. It will not comfort you when a Hispanic colleague puts you face to face with the history of the southwest and challenges you to explain your citizenship credentials. It will not help you when a First Nation's friend dares you to defend Manifest Destiny. It will not sustain you when your friends get tired of listening to you and the people you are trying to 'help' don't trust you.  This is when you will fully realize that reconciliation comes with a cost. The cost of commitment.

Holding the vision before us is critical. Imagining that our schools, churches, or workplaces could hold the same level of synergy and fellowship as the first church is important. Envisioning a space where multilingual, multiethnic people gather together to worship the Creator is life-giving. Being inspired by what is possible with the Spirit of God is sometimes all that keeps us going. The vision itself should be romantic, for sure... the work, however, is often not.

The work is dirty and messy. The sacrifice is real. Never have I seen the work of racial reconciliation achieved, true fellowship found, and all people celebrated with sincerity without those involved first being transformed. That is why commitment is so important. Too many people give up on this work because it requires personal transformation.

What is transformed? This work could involve the transformation of everything you have been taught to believe about America... about the world. It could transform your social network- loss of old friends, good friends. It could transform your relationships with your family members, could impact your relationships with your co-workers, and just might cause you to leave a church you love. This isn't dating diversity. This is being married to it-


all in

no matter what.

Is this is the journey God has called you too?  

Too many Christian ministries are just dating diversity. They make promises and pamphlets. They form relationships and build trust with people of color who believe the vision only to find that you were just dating. People of color and those who are committed to the work of racial reconciliation are brokenhearted, because you are not prepared to give the love you desire. You want people of color to sing your praises. You want validation. You want to be known for what you have done. You want to be perceived as a place that 'gets it'. You want the pretty pictures with a rainbow of colors, the powerpoints in multiple languages and the ability to counsel others on how you did it. But you don't want to transform yourself- to give up your process, to reframe your mentality, to challenge the status quo,  to lose your friends (or donors, or members), to undergo a cultural shift, to share power. You're not really interested in walking through the fire it takes to refine a commitment to diversity. You just want to date- hold hands, watch a movie, be seen in public, have a good time.

Its time to make a choice. Commit, one way or the other. But no more breaking the hearts of those who are committed and the POC relying on your promises. Too many families, students, coworkers and friends are counting on you to be a safe place. Commit and you could be. You could be the place where all people experience God.


4 Rules to Develop a Great (Diversity) Training

Occasionally, before leading a training about race, I welcome everyone by declaring, "This is not your father's diversity training." Most people are not sure what I mean by that so early in the training. I have received many comments after trainings that go something like this, "That was a really great experience; it didn't feel like a training at all." For some that is a compliment. For others there is a hint of disappointment.  

So, fellow reconcilers, here are my personal rules for developing a great diversity training: 

1. Teach how, not what. Often diversity trainings focus on being politically correct. Trainers want participants to know what to say and what not to say. The method is to give participants the right language to avoid starting inflaming arguments or offensive conversations. Rather than telling participants what to say, we teach them how. How to dialogue, how to listen, how to value story, how to handle disagreement, how to be vulnerable. When we teach how, we believe the "what" will follow as participants engage in effective race conversations long after our training is done. 

2. Guide to the next step, not the "aha moment". It can very tempting to solicit "aha moments" in a training. Once you have experienced a great awakening, it is natural to want others to experience the same. But you have to remember that just as your learning was slow, incremental, the result of a journey- this training is one step on someone else's journey, too. Rather than trying to force an "aha moment" by giving too much information, jumping ahead in the learning process, or trying to impress with the newest thing you've learned, guide people to the next step of their learning process. One day the aha moment will come because of the building blocks you created. 

3.  Illustrate through movement, not lecture.  I'm over exaggerating a little bit here. It is quite normal and necessary to include a lecture, powerpoint, dialogue, etc in a training. After all people do come to learn. But as often as we can, we make people get out of their seats. They stand to do activities, walk around the room, move their chairs- anything that gets them moving, which often leads to simple but genuine interaction as well. We are mindful of planning activities that introverts would be comfortable doing (not just extroverts). We have found that getting participants on their feet fosters the learning process and renews the energy in the room. (example: The Privilege Walk)

4. Reward vulnerability, not right answers. When leading a training, it is quite natural to reward people with whom you most agree- a shared insight, the mention of a liked author or movie, a correctly defined word or concept, etc. In an effort to move the room into shared knowledge, we revert to the models of our teachers and reward "right" answers. Our training team tries instead to reward vulnerability. Its great when someone shares the same viewpoint as we do, but we try to acknowledge that after the training is over. During the training we try instead to reward honest, vulnerable sharing: like when a black man admits that he struggles with racism because it makes him so angry and anger doesn't seem very Christian-like, or when a white woman shares that she tries hard to prove to black people that she isn't racist, and knows she therefore looks crazy, not welcoming. When people reach deep down to share something real, honest, and vulnerable, we do our best to praise those moments, to thank immediately, to acknowledge anyone else who shares the same experience. It is amazing what happens in a room when vulnerability is treasured over "right" answers. 

Clearly, I love these rules; after all, I follow them. But if you choose to employ them, know that some participants will be disappointed. Some people really want a list of right and wrong answers- What do black people want to be called? Why is it bad to call people illegal? What's the deal with referring to Asians as oriental?- and so on. People who come to trainings have real questions that they want answered, and some can be disappointed to discover there won't be 3-steps-for-not-sounding-racist in the training. To acknowledge this reality, we are considering adding a Q&A time to our trainings, but all in all- we would still rather teach "how" by giving participants the tools to find answers to their own questions (without deeply angering someone in the process!)


In Memory of Richard Twiss

Richard Twiss and I only met a couple of times. We never shared coffee or dinner. We never spoke on the phone or emailed each other about our travels. We never had long conversations or even a quick moment of prayer. And yet, none of this is necessary for me to write about the way his words have impacted my life. For two years, I have been listening to Richard Twiss challenge the Church, and I've enjoyed every second. 

Richard Twiss has left his mark on my mind and heart, challenging me to think more deeply about Christianity... about Christians. The following lessons he has taught me are in no particular order. They are scattered thoughts and scattered experiences- church services, CCDA, workshops and plenaries, but they are meaningful to me. They are the kind of thoughts I've had to chew slowly or risk choking- the kind that must be digested fully in order to bring their full value to the Body. Here are some of the Words I carry with me: 

"In order for there to be unity, there must first be diversity. God is One because He is Three." Even now I have trouble unpacking the beauty, the power of these statements.  In an age where there are so many who wish to avoid the muck and mud of race, ethnicity, and culture, who would rather be 'colorblind' and seek assimilation rather than dig for the treasures of our differences, this is so refreshing. He so clearly, so succinctly declares that if we are all the same, if we are not diverse, than we have achieved nothing. But if we are diverse, if there must be an act of coming together, if we are distinct and choose to be one- then we achieved unity. Could there be a more beautiful picture than that of the Trinity? Three in One.

"Behold, all things have passed away and all things are created... white," with this statement Richard Twiss challenged us all to take a closer look at the devastating history of Christianity that told the Tribes there is only one way to be Christian. He recounted his own childhood- a story that represents the lives of millions more- of stolen traditions, stolen language, stolen dress, stolen names, stolen culture. But of course, Richard Twiss wouldn't allow us to simply shake our heads and mourn the actions of history; he challenged us to look around, to ask ourselves how we are still perpetuating the idea that only one culture can define Christianity.

"Can we stop using binary language to talk about Christianity, and enter fully into the messy, ambiguous mystery of Christ among us?" Richard pondered allowed how long we would continue to fight over a singular culture that must represent Christ. He challenged us to expand the possibility of who Jesus among us might be- a black teenager with dreads, a latino girl eating hot-chips, a First Nations man singing his tribal song. He asked us to go beyond fitting people into boxes, judging their level of Christianity against each of our cultural norms. He asked us to imagine a Jesus bigger than us, a Jesus who sits and works and plays among us, who is not bound by our heritage but delights in us all, who doesn't lock His car doors in the hood or ignore the reservations until its time for a missions trip or require Spanish speakers to learn English before coming to Him. Instead He is Christ among us all. 

The Power of Narrative. I cannot recount all that Richard would say on this topic, but it is one he proclaimed without fail every time I heard him speak. The power of story. The power of narrative. And the awesome contribution that First Nations communities could contribute to Christianity and the narrative that is the Good News.


There will be many family and friends of Richard's who will speak about his humor, his heart, his life's work. There will be a number of people who can recount phone calls and emails and conversations over dinner. I look forward to these stories being shared, to delight in a man I knew only from afar. But today, I value that I was listener, a listener of Richard Twiss. 

Richard Twiss June 1954-Feb 2013 in this life... forever in eternity with Christ.