Before embarking on my own assignment to become a writer and educator, I spent two years working as an account consultant for a Fortune 500 company in New Jersey. During my time there, I established a wonderful working relationship with one of my colleagues and we often took business trips together to visit our shared clients. Wendy was a beautiful, white woman with long brown hair, a distinctively North Jersey style and attitude, and an outstanding outlook on life. I truly enjoyed knowing her. Yet out of all of the conversations we had about men and food and clothes and even faith, there is one that stood out among the rest. One day on the way to meet a client our conversation turned to race. Wendy explained to me that the reason she felt she could get along with almost anyone, including me, was that she didn’t allow herself to see race. She didn’t see me as a woman of color. She only saw me as a woman. A good woman with whom she’d developed a great working relationship.
At first, I was flattered. Theoretically, it sounded great and I believe she thought that what she was saying was true and good. However, after some thought, I realized that there is a real danger in “not seeing color” or being figuratively color-blind. If a person doesn’t see my color, if he or she doesn’t see my culture, then in essence, that person doesn’t see me. He or she has negated, or at least made inconsequential, a large part of what makes me who I am. While I currently reside in Philadelphia, I’m a native of Kentucky. A large portion of my personality and experiences are directly rooted in being raised as an African-American woman, coming of age in the eighties and early nineties and living in a suburban area of Louisville.
What’s my point? Many churches and ministries, in an attempt to have a more multicultural focus, make the mistake of trying to cancel out, ignore, or deny the background of their congregations as if by homogenizing their audiences they can increase tolerance. Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of Christian theology and theology of culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregon, observes, “It is so easy for us in the church to prejudge and objectify people who seem all so different from us, when we don’t have exposure to them. Homogeneous churches do not help us move beyond objectification of people who are different from us ethnically. Once I enter into a relationship with a Hispanic or African-American person, a [white], First Nations or Asian American person, I can’t label him or her as a statistic or as a demographic datum.”
The fact remains that people, no matter the race or creed, desire to be celebrated, not tolerated. It’s important for churches to embrace the differences of their changing congregations in their journey down the road toward diversity.
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