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How Much Diversity Can You Handle?

Our culture puts a huge value on diversity. We have a whole laundry list of identity groups that we aim to see represented in our organizations, brands, churches, and movements. We track metrics like race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, national origin – and the list goes on.

This helps us feel good about ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as inclusive people. Open-minded. Compassionate. It makes us feel better to know that everyone has had a fair shot at participation, membership, success. Even if we don’t ultimately achieve diversity – whatever that means – at least we tried.

But could it be that this apparent concern with inclusion is actually a defense mechanism? What if all our high-minded, check-list diversity is just a veneer hiding a less savory reality? What if our professed commitment to diversity is just a front, obscuring a deep-seated tendency to judge, discriminate, and exclude those who are different from us?

There’s something not quite right with a society that is so obsessed with the fiction of color blindness and I Have A Dream romanticization of Martin Luther King, yet at the same time continues to turn a blind eye to the ongoing racial, ethnic, and class segregation of our neighborhoods, businesses, churches, and civic organizations.

In a culture that insists that any of us can rise to the top, it’s striking that income inequality and class stratification is the greatest we’ve seen in generations. Even more remarkable is the enduring strength of the myth of meritocracy – that those who are wealthy earned it, and that the swelling ranks of the poor are filled by those who just didn’t make the right choices to succeed.

There’s something off-kilter in a culture where the myths of diversity and meritocracy can stand side by side, unquestioned. We say we want diversity, but only a diversity of the very best.

But real diversity means embracing those who don’t meet your expectations. True inclusivity means giving to those who can’t repay you. It means choosing to share love, attention, jobs, and opportunity indiscriminately – without regard for merit.

Easier said than done, I know. Maybe it’s not even realistic. But if not, let’s at least be honest about it: We don’t want diversity; we want the homogeneity of those who know how to work the system. We want a diversity of insiders.

That may work in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. That may drive the elite economy and make the trains run on time. But it’s not the vision that Jesus calls us into.

The kingdom of God is open to all, and that’s scary. When we choose to follow Jesus, we’re called into relationship with all sorts of people that we’d rather avoid. People who slow us down and frustrate our ambitions.

There’s nobody more inclusive than God. In Jesus, he throws the door wide open to everybody. Everybody. You ain’t never seen diversity like this.

Maybe this kind of radical inclusion isn’t for you. That’s totally fair. It’s way outside my comfort zone, for sure.

Just don’t turn around and pretend that you like diversity.

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