redefining “diversity”

Got this article on diversity leadership in the church in my weekly “Leading Ideas” email from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. The author of the article has found a new definition of “diversity.” Here’s an excerpt:

The first step in the direction of this expertise is a new, more comprehensive definition of diversity. In Building a House for Diversity, Roosevelt Thomas points to the inadequacy of the conventional understanding of diversity which emphasizes incorporating a discrete set of “others” into a pre-existing “main” group. “In this traditional view,” writes Thomas, “it is the ‘others’ who constitute the diversity.” In contrast to the conventional view, Thomas defines diversity as “any significant collective mixture that contains similarities as well as differences.”

Thomas’s definition is clearly more “eloquent” than the traditional understanding of diversity in that it insists on speaking to “the whole of the subject”—the total collective mixture. His definition sheds sunlight on diversity rather than lamplight because it includes similarities as well as differences and because no particular differences are spotlighted while others remain in darkness.

Once the focus shifts from “us-versus-them dyads” such as race, gender, denomination, sexual orientation, and so on, to the total collective mixture in a congregation, leaders are able to proceed by asking questions instead of by making arguments. In speaking of the whole instead of the parts, the question is, “What is the complex and ever-changing blend of attributes, behaviors, and talents in this congregation?” Equipped with a new definition of diversity and beginning with questions of diversity instead with an argument for or against it, leaders in the church can begin to understand diversity differently and respond to it more wisely.

Perhaps this is a new paradigm that can give us the traction needed to move forward into and with diversity rather than making the case for or against. I’m particularly intrigued by the last paragraph.

Thoughts?

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