From Pastor Dan's Blog

Diversity as Air Force multiplier?

Last September, Lieutenant General Jay Silveria (pictured), superintendent of the Air Force Academy, gave a timely and crystal-clear speech in response to a racist incident at the school: “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect – get out.”  You may have the seen viral video, but you might have missed his follow-up editorial on February 14:


In that editorial, he asks, “Why is diversity so important?” and offers two major answers.  First, he notes briefly that embracing diversity reflects the moral ideal of respect for all human beings and also reflects a national (American) ideal.[1]  Second, in his professional role and perspective, he emphasizes that diversity “is crucial, not because it is in vogue, but because it makes us better, stronger and more effective as a fighting force.”  He goes on to detail how diversity has helped the armed forces achieve their goals in war.

As I read the editorial, that second reason sounded familiar.  I have heard how business leaders who are “committed to diversity” recognize that a diverse workforce will help the business reach all its available markets.  Institutional coaches also know that bringing diverse perspectives to a decision-making group can yield better decisions.  Or a church may be driven to reach out to a diverse community, and conclude that it can only do so by employing diversity in key places in the congregation.  In all these examples, diversity is treated as one ingredient in success, and diverse people become resources to be used and a means to an end.

While this approach may be effective, it lacks integrity.  Means-to-an-end diversity subverts diversity itself by turning people into photo-opportunities and tokens of commitments that might not be the genuine aims.  “Look, our local politician cares about diversity, because there’s a black guy working in their office.”  “Our institution is finally changed now that we have three women on the governing board.”  But how much are diverse people valued and included and given power?  This issue is why Lt. General Silveria’s first reason, the moral motive, has to be first.

In addition, philosophically speaking, people are not to be treated as a means to an end, but rather as “ends in themselves.”[2]  People are not objects to be used.  People are subjects, made in the image of God to act as caretakers of His world (Genesis 1:27).  This means that people different from a majority group, and diversity itself, should not be treated as instruments to achieve the goals of the whole.

Certain quarters of American society have realized this danger, and responded in part by elevating diversity as something to strive for, in itself.  But this, too, runs significant risks.  Are we counting numbers more than being sure to love neighbors?  What if, in the pursuit of diversity for diversity’s sake, we trample other moral standards?  And without underlying moral clarity, the pursuit of diversity for diversity’s sake may gain the taste of hypocrisy.  For example, suppose a state university is busily celebrating its diversity and openness, but Christian perspectives are rejected out of hand?

So can an organization use diverse peoples at all, then?  Is the kind of moral perfection I seem to want impossible?  Yes to the second,[3] and, for different reasons, yes to the first.  First, do relationships.  These must be independent of the organization or institutional goals.  You know, love your neighbor.  Then, if your company wants a diverse workforce, co-workers have a better chance at not being regarded as “the Mexican guy in cubicle H-4.”  Or at church, you will not know those white people just as those funny students who must be here to learn the language.[4]  Second, ask.  If you are living a diverse relational life, you can approach people you already know with love, which means not imposing your agenda for diversity on them, but asking them if they would like to offer what they have in context of the organization.

Since I serve a church congregation, I have to figure this out in my context, too.  In the Bible, certain forms of diversity are actually commanded by God.  “Be fruitful and multiply” repeats during the early chapters of Genesis, and Genesis 1 celebrates the creatures and all their kinds.  Genesis 11 details humans’ disobedience to that command, among other sins, and God scatters the people so that they will not become uniform, nor have just one shared language.  There are other clues to how God celebrates diversity, such as the prophecy of Isaiah 60, in which the particular resources of various nations are brought to worship God, and certainly Acts 2, in which linguistic diversity is the Spirit’s superfluity since everyone speaks Aramaic or Greek anyway.  In Revelation 7, John, while having an ecstatic vision of the triumphant presence of God, bothers to notice diversity there in heaven.

Taken together, these passages sound to me like diversity has value in itself, and in the church, is not simply a means of preparing us for heaven.  And obeying God’s commands is not a matter of instrumentality (“I’ll obey since I understand that it will get me what I want.”).  We take it on faith that obedience is good by itself.  For Christians, that God has commanded it can stand on its own.  Thus, our work for a diverse church begins with us loving God and responding to Him with our obedience.  That is the moral foundation that calls Christians to Biblical diversity and continues in loving our neighbor as ourselves.  It’s not a program, it’s not numbers, it’s not an impersonal organizational vision, it’s not a means to an end, it’s love for God, who has loved us first.

[1] It is debatable how much diversity really is an American ideal.  There’s often been a chasm between what some Americans say are established ideals (they may cite Emma Lazarus’ poem on the statue of liberty, for example) and how large or even majority segments of our nation actually behave (“Give us your tired and your poor if they can become like us and don’t make any claims on us.”).  American ideals regarding diversity have been at best mixed.

[2] This is philosophically Immanuel Kant, but the Bible predates him by a bit, for example, when Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39, citing Leviticus 19:18).

[3] Good luck with that.  “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you’re pretty much hosed.” – not Jesus in Matthew 5:20, not exactly.

[4] Real Personal Experience.