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How can we better celebrate Diversity in the Church?

This question will have a different answer for each individual in each different local church community. Not all communities have the same potential for diversity. In Portland, Oregon, I will encounter quite a few more demographics than I would in say…Nebraska. Even in my colorful city, though, my local groupings can tend to be more…homogenous. I know this is the case for many people as well. We value diversity, but maybe just don’t have access to it.

My challenge then is for you to expand your community. Go out and make some new friends that are different than you. Connect to communities outside your comfort zone.

Whatever the demographics of your communitiy, here are a few important things to keep in mind when tackling the Diversity word.

  1. Never make assumptions about another person’s experience. Instead, ask questions. Polite questions, curious questions, open ended questions.

2. Never interpret silence, or lack of complaint, as consent. Some people haven’t found their voice yet. Others are scared. Same may not want the attention and may not want to cause trouble for anyone else. Sometimes(sometimes), the silent ones are suffering the most. Sometimes.

3. Validate the other person’s experience. You experience of life is something no one can take away from you, and something you cannot take away from someone else. Now, everyone can examine their experiences, fine-tune how they understand them, and challenge their own perspective of their own experiences. No one is stuck in their experiences. But your experience is your experience. Another person’s experience is their experience. Do not compare experiences. Do not trivialize experiences. Probably, don’t even try to explain away people’s experiences, at least not at first. This is especially true when there is suffering involved. In these cases, the most powerful thing you can do is to join with someone in their suffering, let them have their own experience, and be okay with them.

4. Resist the urge to see who suffers more. Instead, look for what you share with the other person. When we get into an “I suffer more than you,” match, we lose sight of the other person and get fixated on our own self. We miss out on learning about the other person and on ways of helping them.

5. Start conversations. Men, talk to women. Ask how you can support each other’s growth. Skin colors, talk to each other. Find out what challenges each other face and how to support them. Different sexual orientations and gender identities, learn each other’s stories. Find out who the other person is deep down and see what they need to feel safe.

6. Don’t create problems where there are none. Also don’t project your problems onto others. What’s a problem for you may be wonderful for someone else.

7. Allow people to grow at their own pace. This goes back to letting people have their own experiences. You may be great at being comfortable with diversity while you perceive your neighbor is very uncomfortable. That’s ok. Be kind and encouraging and let them grow when they’re ready.

8. Be aware of your own privileges. Don’t take them for granted.

9. Remember people are more than just their label. They may be this color or that gender and the other sexual orientation or quite out of your age bracket…but every person is so much more! They are history and future, dreams and sorrow, strength and brokenness, fear, pain, hope and longing. Flesh and blood and spirit just like you, only different.

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