TEAMM Diversity Workshop 2014

On Saturday, October 18, TEAMM hosted a Diversity Workshop entitled Building God’s Inclusive Community. Pastor James Foster facilitated the workshop and led us through a number of exercises designed to help us explore some of the issues related to racial reconciliation among pastors and ministries in the area.

We had a great set of conversations, and I thought I would share a few of my personal takeaways from the morning.

We are far more diverse than merely “black” and “white.”

Pastor Foster led us through a series of conversations and exercises to realize that “black” and “white” are visible characteristics, but they tell a very small part of our personal stories. Some of us have Native American blood, some of us have Scottish ancestry, some German, some Russian, some African. He reminded us that Africa is a continent, not a country, and that even “African American” only tells a small part of the story of a person’s heritage.

Additionally, he helped us to identify the other groups to which we are affiliated, and in the room we had self-avowed fathers, pastors, nerds, Christians, Californians, Methodists, Baptists, and more. We had different educational backgrounds, different work backgrounds.

There was almost nothing that was uniquely “black” or “white” in all of our affiliations.

We should understand the unique benefits our social group brings to the table.

Pastor Foster had us split into three groups. One group answered these questions from the perspective of the black culture. One group answered the questions from the perspective of white culture. The third group answered the questions from the perspective of pastors.

  1. What benefits has your group brought to the broader society?
  2. What do you never want to hear said again about your group?
  3. What do you like about being a member of your group?

Interestingly, it was very difficult for the group of white guys to come up with good answers to these questions. Pastor Foster commented that perhaps it’s because being white is like being fish in the water. Since the predominant culture around us is white, not only do we not see our unique benefits, we are also not encouraged to understand them, think about them, or talk about them while other groups do have such opportunities frequently.

We need to understand our own motivations.

Pastor Foster showed us a chart of the most powerful influences on our personal identity: Race, Class, Sex, Sexual Orientation, Religion, Age, Nationality, Able-ness. We were asked to share at our small tables which of those identities affected us the most or of which identity were we most aware. We also discussed how that identity had been formed in us through our personal experience. To facilitate that, we completed these sentences:

  1. What this means for me here is…
  2. A time that I felt excluded because of this identity was…
  3. A time I treated others as inferior because of this identity was…
  4. Where I get stuck, struggle with, or have questions about diversity is…

Conclusions

Pastor Foster concluded our time by sharing some thoughts of his own regarding God’s call and our need to move beyond tolerance toward eventually acceptance and inclusion, but the intent of the morning was not to give us a set of steps to take or a recipe to follow in building diversity. It was more a morning to really be honest with ourselves and others about what stands in our way of building diversity.

The unique benefit of the morning was of course the fact that we had white guys and black guys in the same room talking openly about racial issues and their own personal experiences of prejudice. This set a good foundation for future conversations about racial diversity and church cooperation, and I truly hope to see those conversations take shape more frequently.

What if you missed it?

I took video of the morning, but I won’t be posting it online just yet because the workshop nature of the course and the sensitivity of some of the topics shared are such that an online video wouldn’t really accomplish much. This is one of those situations where the phrase is really true: “You had to be there!”