Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Morning Thanks--Yesterday's vote

There are manifold problems with establishing racial quotas to insure healthy diversity. Everyone knows that much. Choosing an individual because of his or her racial or ethnic background is a kind of discrimination, no matter what the majority hue. Furthermore, those so chosen may well get "stamped" as a minority hire, someone in a position, not because of ability but because of politics. Quotas can be destructive to the institutions who use or inflict them, as well as those individuals who are chosen for position because they fit a profile. People have a solid right to oppose quotas. Quotas can be terrible.

But to rely simply on what has always been the criteria for inclusion or hiring can mean--and has meant--keeping the door closed when it comes to those who have not been part of a team. If someone, somewhere does not determine that justice requires and decision-making is blessed by diversity, if someone doesn't determine that it's not only time, but it's right for a team or an institution to include more than its traditional family, then changing the face of that team either will not happen, or else will happen so slowly that it would appear to perpetuate the discrimination that has been there.

There are remarkably good reasons for and against establishing racial and ethnic quotas. It's not hard for me, as a white male, to argue both sides or to cast my vote either way. Ironically, if it's not hard to vote either way, the choice is difficult when a vote has to be cast.

Yesterday, the Synod of the denomination to which I belong voted to try to hold the denomination itself to a number of minority hires in a certain period of time. Some call that a quota, some don't--the word has immense poliltical baggage. No matter. This morning, I'm thankful for what I think was the right decision, a decision, I'd say, that recognizes what God almighty wants his church to be, a congregation of every tribe and nation.

I grew up singing "red and yellow, black and white,/they are precious in his sight" in a circle of folks who had far less trouble singing that song than they did truly believing the lyrics--or at least believed what it sang as long as those other folks kept safe distance. The denomination I belong to has a marvelous history with Native American people in New Mexico, but that doesn't mean that marvelous history isn't soiled by sadness and even horrors. Sin exists--our best deeds are filthy rags.

But it's difficult to deny a heavenly directive here: God's family is, by His choice, "red and yellow, black and white." It's the task of the church not only to think that way, but to act that way.

Just after the end of apartheid, we were in South Africa. One night after church, we sat in the living room of a spacious home surrounded by a fortress-like wall and a battery of alarm systems, and we drank coffee with a half-dozen warm and friendly Afrikaaners. I'll never forget the question one of them asked. "Now tell me, Jim, this matter of racial quotas--in America that only took a few years, right?"

Somehow the man was of the opinion that justice was rather politely and quickly attainable through maybe a decade or so of purposeful changing of the guard.

I remember the question because it was so sadly misguided, so clearly racist, and so completely understandable, from his and their point of view.

Love takes work. Mixing it up isn't easy. Achieving racial diversity--God's own vision of his people--requires patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and, the greatest of these, love.

None of that is a piece of cake. A day after Synod established clear guidelines for diversity hiring in the upper levels of the denomination, this morning's thanks--my morning thanks--are for a vote that I know wasn't easy, requiring, as it does, a boatload of trust and faith and every other fruit of the spirit.

There are, I'm sure, many who disagree with me--the vote was very close. But yesterday my church did the right thing, and for that I'm wonderfully thankful.

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