Privilege

I recently attended a one day seminar by Christena Cleveland, the newly appointed inaugural Associate Professor of the Practice of Reconciliation at Duke University’s Divinity School where she is also the faculty director of Duke’s Center for Reconciliation.  She is also the author of Disunity In Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.

One of the statements she made that stuck with me ran something like this…

Many people are willing to acknowledge that minority populations are discriminated against. However most of these same people fail to recognise that when a person is discriminated against someone else gains an “unfair” advantage, or privilege.

For example, numerous studies (HERE’s one) have been conducted which demonstrate that resumes with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to receive callbacks than applicants with black sounding names. When Kate or James get a job that launches them on to a successful career, they naturally think it’s due to their grades and previous life/work experience. They don’t realise (and probably their employer doesn’t either) that their odds of obtaining that job increased because black candidates with identical, or even better, qualifications were subconsciously discriminated against in the hiring process.

A 2008 research project in New York City summarised,

“We find that whites and Latinos are systemically favored over black job seekers. Indeed, the effect of discrimination is so large that white job seekers just released from prison do no worse than blacks without criminal records.”
Cheesy workplace diversity pic

Cheesy workplace diversity stock  pic

Yes, white job applicants do need to study hard, work hard and perform well to get their jobs. They do compete against everyone else: black, white and Latino. Because of their hard work they feel that they’ve earned their accomplishments, and they have. But because they have the “right” name they compete against less candidates than do the minority applicants. That’s privilege.

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How does this impact churches?

Church leaders have an opportunity to share studies like this with their communities. I know that many members of white churches bristle at the phrase, “white privilege”. So if black Christians (correctly) believe they’re often on the receiving end of discrimination, but white Christians won’t accept the inverse of that equation, there’s going to be conflict.
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White Christians have the opportunity to assist their minority brethren by using their social and professional networks to bring qualified candidates of color to the attention of those responsible for hiring. While it’s admirable to assist those we know, there’s an even greater opportunity to be advocates in the workplace for racial minorities during the hiring process. This awareness is not only necessary in multinational corporations with detailed diversity hiring guidelines, but in small businesses in small towns. This is not about being “anti-white”. This is about working to create true equality for all applicants regardless of whether their name is Sarah or Jamal.
Additionally, this understanding should impact our attitude toward minorities who find themselves unemployed. For some, in their reality it’s twice as difficult to find employment than it is for white Americans. Our attitude towards these people should focus upon compassion. All to often they receive criticism to accompany the despair of unemployment.
Understanding privilege should help us to love our neighbor as we better understand our neighbors world.

The Conference Conundrum

Late last year I came across an article describing the lack of racial diversity among speakers at major evangelical conferences around the US.

Since I can be a pretty skeptical guy, let me get the limitations of this article out of the way:

  • The numbers are not serious research as they were determined simply by the author scanning names and photo’s of speakers at the various conferences. (I expect they should still be pretty close to accurate.)
  • The article’s bottom line that only 13% of conference speakers represent minorities is skewed by some conferences with many speakers but low minority involvement. In fact about one-quarter of the conferences listed have 20% or higher minority speakers.
  • The numbers do not reflect the percentage of “unique” speakers, either white or minority. It could be the same 5 black and Hispanic speakers at each conference!
  • Some of the organizations that host these conferences serve mostly white churches. The speakers reflect the target audience.
  • The evangelical movement is largely a white movement. As the article itself points out 81% of evangelicals are non-hispanic whites. Wouldn’t we expect their conferences to be largely white?
  • This is not just a white issue. The religious landscape is scattered with black denominations, hispanic workshops, etc.

Despite the limitations listed above I thought the article raised a valid point on whether these significant and influential events among evangelical church leadership should better reflect the goal of racial diversity.

In a similar analysis Mark DeYmaz concluded that based upon US population distribution at least 25% of conference speakers would be non-White. He’s not arguing for quotas or compromising the quality of speakers, just more awareness of this issue and the racial landscape of the United States.

I’ve never organized or hosted a major conference. All my reflection should be understood through that lens.

These major events that attract thousands of church leaders have an easily generalised goal of influencing the church to be more passionate and effective in carrying out the mission of God. In many ways these conferences seek to model what local churches can look like, and inspire them to move in certain directions.

If a conference rolls out white male after white male speaker, it implies that these white men are the keepers of God’s word for the church today. It discourages minorities from attending the conference as their social context and cultural perspective will not be represented. It further insulates the “white church” from the influence of other people groups and thus perpetuates the issue of segregation within the church.

I’m not at all blaming conferences for the segregation of the church. I am criticising these conferences for not leading the movement toward racially integrated churches. I see this as an opportunity missed.

Because I know some people will quickly point a finger at the various workshops and conferences catering to minority groups let me address that topic for a moment.

Some of those conferences need to exist to serve a particular language group. Some of those conferences exist because they function as identity preservation for a particular cultural group. (If there was a conference for “Australian church leaders working in the US”, I’d try to get there!) Some of these workshops allow issues specific to Asian-American immigrants to be addressed by those familiar with the issues.

I’m not trying to argue that all conferences should offer a melting pot of speakers and attendees.

However, even within the workshops that cater specifically to non-White populations it seems that many of the arguments for greater diversification still have some validity. I would hope that all church leaders across the racial spectrum agree that we can learn from each other.

If there isn’t room for racial diversity in our iconic events, then there’s unlikely to be room for this enrichment in our local congregations.

Thankfully, DeYmaz could also reflect, “With this in mind, we should be encouraged as trends are moving in a positive direction.

If you’re interested in multi-ethnic conferences here are a couple to consider:

Am I too White?

I don’t know a lot about River Pointe Church in Houston. This video was embedded in this interesting article on River Pointe and its efforts to embrace racial diversity.

I’m going to make a few comments on the video, so WATCH IT NOW!!!

The question “Am I too white to be your pastor?” seems like a fair one to ask. That one question addresses several underlying issues. “Do you think a white guy like me can speak into your cultural world?”, “Do you think God can speak to you through me in a relevant way or am I too different?”, “How important is it for your worship to reflect your culture?”, “Can the Spirit of God operate cross-culturally?”

In sharing this question I don’t want to disparage any minority that might answer “Yes”. There are times when I convince myself that I’m too white to pastor in a multiracial church.

I found it interesting that many of the people surveyed in the video who answered “No”, still attended mono-racial churches. I suspect that for many people the thought of church as anything but mono-racial has never crossed their mind.

From watching the video and reading the original article I get the sense that this church actively pursues cultural competence.  They’re asking awkward questions and hosting difficult conversations. Theydon’t pretend racial diversity is an insignificant accident. This quote from lead pastor, Patrick Kelley, demonstrates the attitude necessary to make a church like this survive.

“The key has been humbly becoming a learner,” says Patrick, who adds that he had to overcome racist attitudes he picked up from his parents. “I went in as ignorant as could be. And more than once, I’ve gone to our church and said, ‘I want to ask your forgiveness. But if you’ll give me a lot of grace, we’ll go together trying to reach our community for Christ.’ ”

I liked how in the video Reggie Slater made the point that worshiping with people unfamiliar with us requires us making an effort. It’s easier to stick with what’s familiar, and many people choose easy. But easy is seldom best. If it was easy we’d have solved this problem a long time ago and moved on to the next topic.

I also liked how Reggie turned the initial question around, “Am I too black for your church?”. As a minister I can ask all day whether or not I’m too white to be your pastor, but if my church believes the individual is too black, too Latino, or too Asian to fit in, then I’ve asking the wrong people the wrong questions.

Lastly, let me point out from the article that River Pointe didn’t set out to be a multiracial church. It simply set out to serve it’s community with a willingness to become multiracial as a reflection of that community. Kelley comments, “It’s not a goal of River Pointe to be diverse, but to help all people groups find a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. We have to figure out how to be all things to all men in order to win some.”

May I Vent?

I am enough of a sports fan that I also publish a christian sports blog. As an Australian football fan I’ve been poking around their league website as the season is just starting. As I poked around I immediately noticed two articles (here and here) related to promoting multiculturalism in the sport and tolerance in our society.

Look at the vision and resources dedicated to this program described in this quote,

The AFL is pleased to announce 183 multicultural community leaders from around Australia will join the AFL Multicultural Community Ambassador program in 2014.

The aim of the AFL Multicultural Community Ambassador Program is to further engage multicultural communities in Australian football through a network of dedicated volunteers… representing 44 countries of birth, 65 nationalities and around 100 languages.

So here’s my vent…

How can a football league recognise the value of racial and ethnic diversity to its future growth while many Christians complain that the complexion of their neighbourhood has changed?

How can a football league proactively recruit and train “lay people” to spread the good news about football within their communities, while the answer most churches have is to start a new church for the new people?

How can it seem so normal for a football league to celebrate cultural diversity and such a political statement for a church to do the same?

How can a football league possess greater passion in spreading its game to new people than the church has for spreading the message of new life in Christ?

Can you imagine the church recruiting and training 200 “ambassadors” representing 44 countries of birth, 65 nationalities and around 100 languages? Wouldn’t that be a dynamic workshop?!

A separate article describes how Essendon captain, Jobe Watson, joined the AFL’s multicultural ambassador program as “the token white guy”. The rest of the players in this program represent immigrant or aboriginal communities. So why would a white guy from the suburbs join? I love his answer,

How can you expect society to be inclusive if a proportion of society only think multiculturalism is the responsibility of people with multicultural backgrounds?

To build on being an inclusive game and being accessible to people from all different backgrounds, it’s important that someone who doesn’t have as diverse a multicultural background as others is interested and is part of the program.

Those two sentences carry a lot of weight when applied to the church. Unless people of all ethnic backgrounds willingly work together our churches and society will never change. It shouldn’t be about a minority or collection of minorities conducting a campaign. It shouldn’t be about the majority legislating a path forward. It should be about everyone being willing to talk and work together.

What’s in a Picture?

This week a friend shared an article with me about university marketing. It told the story from 2000 when the University of Wisconsin wanted to portray itself as racially diverse in its recruiting material. Somebody had the bright idea that Photoshop would help them out. So the front cover of the 2001-02 application booklet features a scene from a football game with the photoshopped head of a African-American student who never attended a football game!

This illustrates the difficulty institutions such as colleges and churches have when portraying themselves. Unless a church is targeting a particular demographic sector such as young professionals, or a specific immigrant community, churches want to portray themselves as welcoming to everyone. As a consequence our websites and promotional material often emphasises diversity. However, these pictures don’t always tell the truth.

The difficult question to answer is “Should we portray the church accurately, or aspirationally?” How does a 98% white church communicate that black and Hispanic members are welcome? Does a picture of a room full of white faces communicate that message? But if a church posts a stock photo of great racial and generational diversity that’s not a current reality will guests feel deceived when they walk in the door?

Did we miss anyone?

Look at this picture I found in some search results for “church diversity”. It’s obviously staged, but they’ve managed to include quite a few demographic groups: Children, Men, (mostly) Women, African-Americans, 50+, and they’re all so happy!!

One suggestion I like is that if congregational is more aspirational than real, “Start making it real!” Obviously churches can’t drag ethnic diversity in off the street, but they can develop an attitude of diversity by deliberately including diversity in everything we do. If we begin with intentionally including generational and gender diversity on committees and ministry teams, we’ll develop an attitude toward inclusiveness that will prove invaluable when connecting with those of other ethnic backgrounds. Don’t let pictures be the only expression of the church’s aspirations for diversity.

This is a topic I’m sure we’ll explore further in later posts. Churches that are racially integrated really should get that message out. Remember, 93% of churches are not! But what’s the best way of letting our communities know who we are?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences. Do you think the picture above is positive or negative? You might also like to read these related articles:

Is It My Turn To Speak?

Jason Whitlock writes headlines before he writes articles. He likes to get people’s attention. As an African-American sports journalist he often leverages his heritage to write from a “black perspective”. He commonly uses sports events as a basis for social commentary.

With that said, I found one of his recent articles very interesting. You can read it HERE.

In this article he uses a tantrum thrown by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Dez Bryant, as a springboard to make the point that his behaviour was not a product of his race. “Dez Bryant’s inability to control his emotions is not a racial issue. It’s a family dysfunction issue.” He goes on to write,

If this country wants to really invest in young people, we must first invest in restoring the traditional family unit. As long as 68 percent of black women who have children are unwed, there are no cures for the social maladies preventing black progress.

Much of the high-profile lawlessness and dysfunction we see in professional sports are a direct result of the impact of Hurricane Illegitimacy. It is not a coincidence that Bryant consistently struggles with his emotions and decision-making and [Calvin] Johnson does not. Johnson did not grow up amid chaos. He and his sister were raised by their married parents, who worked as a railroad conductor and an educator.

Anyone familiar with my work realizes I do not shy away from discussing race. It’s an important, vital discussion. But so is the discussion of family. In many respects, the conversations go hand in hand. The man-made factors energizing Hurricane Illegitimacy unfairly and, in my opinion, intentionally impact the black and brown family structures. The drug war and mass incarceration are targeted at poor, dark-skin communities.

I find his article compelling reading.

As a minister in a multi-ethnic church I have members that fit this demographic. Young black women in the pews each week who experience the social pressure to start a family without a husband. To what extent is the pressure greater on these black women than the white women sitting next to them? Because they all face some pressure.

As a white minister in a multi-ethnic church it is difficult to know how to address the issue. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I do not believe a white journalist (or preacher) could safely write the article that Whitlock did. God absolutely requires all preachers to promote purity and holiness. God wants all preachers to uphold his design for stable, loving marriages and families. Yet the question remains, “In a multi-ethnic church how do teachers address issues that have greater prevalence within a particular cultural community?”

Do we avoid the issues? Should we never mention that 68% of black women who have children are unwed? Or just teach other topics? Or just address it in private, maybe even segregated, forums?

Do we treat everyone the same? Should we pretend that every member, urban and suburban, faces the same pressures?

Do we just lay it out there and let the chips fall where they may? Of course no one would set out to be offensive, but should a white leader discuss this issue as sensitively as he can even though in all likelihood it will upset some?

Do we find a black leader to address the topic? Does the race of the speaker make a difference? Should this make a big difference?

Whitlock himself recognises that this is a difficult issue to discuss, “The normalization of illegitimacy is so pervasive in black America that people are afraid to publicly address its dangers and consequences out of fear of being labeled a sellout or a racist. It’s been so normalized that some people honestly don’t believe it’s a problem.

On the one hand it’s a family dysfunction problem. On the other hand, it’s a family dysfunction problem that’s more prevalent (not uniquely prevalent) within the black community. Can multi-ethnic churches address one issue without addressing the other?

Without being specific Whitlock demonstrates the difference between racial and cultural issues. He compares Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson. They are both super-talented, young, black, wide receivers playing in the NFL. However, their family upbringing is so disparate that it’s not fair to compare their personalities just because they play the same position or share the same race. The culture (or sub-culture if you prefer) that influenced them is completely opposite.

Johnson was raised in an environment that valued citizenship and education. In contrast, it’s a miracle that Bryant avoided the life of crime and drug addiction to which his mother succumbed. All at once the issue is racial, but also cultural. Church leaders need to be vigilant not to assume that because people have one trait in common they have all traits in common. For the 68% of unwed mothers there’s also 32% who are married. Who are you speaking to?

Leading a multi-ethnic church requires knowing your members more than your statistics.