True diversity is more than labels
Late last year I received a rather unhappy e-mail from a couple that had visited our community one Sunday. “Dear Rev. Weldes,” it began, “We had heard that the Center for Spiritual Living was an open and affirming congregation, so we came to check it out.”
The e-mail went on to point out that this couple had seen no evidence, much to their disappointment, that we were an open and affirming community. So they informed me they were going to another church where they felt accepted.
I have to say I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. You see half our staff is gay, and at least 30 percent of our community is, as well. But they were obviously looking for outward signs that we were a “gay-friendly church.”
A couple of years ago, a lovely African-American couple came to a community retreat, one eagerly and one not so eagerly. “Why would I want to spend the weekend with so many white people?” she openly admitted to the group at the end of the weekend.
Needless to say, she had a transforming experience. Two years later, she came to me one Sunday morning, and said, “Now this is what an integrated church looks like,” as our growing African-American population was happily sitting in and amongst everybody else that day.
The goal, I believe, is to be a truly inclusive community. This goes way beyond tolerance or even acceptance, but is actually about acknowledging and celebrating each person’s individual uniqueness, and to treasure our diversity.
This means that every person is an integral part of the whole community, not just a sub-set. At the Center for Spiritual Living, we welcome and embrace and accept people, whatever their path or lifestyle.
Perhaps what our visitors didn’t recognize is that a truly inclusive and diverse community has no need to draw attention to the labels that are given to people: gay, African-American, or what have you. No one is simply the label someone has given them or the one they adopt for themselves. Rather, each one of us is uniquely and exactly and precisely who we are, in our totality.
How many gay people do you know that only hang around other gay people? How many blacks only have black friends? How many Christians only interact with other Christians?
Someone once told me that the Sunday morning hour is the still the most segregated hour in America. This narrowing of our perspective effectively shuts us off from our brothers and sisters. It keeps us from ever having to learn to get along with those different from us.
And it effectively allows each of us to keep holding on to our own prejudices.
Even if we believe that “birds of a feather flock together,” aren’t we all just a little bit different anyway? One hates spiders; one loves to rock climb; one seeks to be financially wealthy, and one seeks to save the whales — and none of these differences are mutually exclusive.
Each of us has our own past, our own traumas, our own story, and our own path to healing and wholeness.
In a community that truly celebrates individual diversity, you won’t see groups based around labels, but rather an overarching, profound respect for the inherent dignity, value and worth of each and every person, and isn’t that what we are all looking for?
The Rev. Petra Weldes is senior minister at the Center for Spiritual Living. Contact her through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 972-866-9988. For more information about the church, go online to CSLDallas.org.
Rev. Petra Weldes, senior minister
Center for Spiritual Living Dallas
Don’t condemn Mehlman
Since Ken Mehlman’s coming out, we have seen numerous opinions from those who are outraged at his silence and his active role in some of the anti-gay rhetoric from six years ago. They decry his hypocrisy, espouse his cowardice and are incredulous that he now wishes to speak up and become an ally.
To those who hold these opinions and to all the gay community, I challenge those who have never remained silent to speak the first criticism.
At one time or another; even currently in our day-to-day lives, we have all remained silent when confronted by or exposed to intolerance, anti-gay rhetoric or insensitivity. It may have been something said or done by a family member, a stranger or co-worker, and we did or said nothing to correct them or raise their consciousness.
At times, we even “straight-wash” or coach our own language so we do not create an uncomfortable conflict or conversation; telling ourselves, it’d be too much trouble. Make no mistake; this passive action and activity is just as damaging, dangerous and destructive as the active acceptance that Ken Mehlman engaged in. We all become guilty of promoting the “rhetoric” when we do nothing to contradict it. At times, when there is real physical danger involved, keeping silent is necessary. But all to often in situations where this danger does not exist, we pass on correcting and confronting intolerance.
And when we do, we give a pass to the offending persons. We give a pass to let them think that their words, opinions, jokes, etc. are OK. After all, no one is saying otherwise, so you must agree.
Remember, silence equals consent.
Should we not be upset over Ken Mehlman’s damaging involvement in being part of a policy that has set us back years in our quest for equality? No. We do have cause be upset, angry and hurt over it.
But we should also look at those three fingers that point back at ourselves when we point the fingers at others who don’t speak up. We should make an effort in our own lives to speak up more than we do; strive to speak up every time we encounter someone or something that impedes us from true equality.
We should also realize that we cannot change what has been. We have no time machine to go back and fix it and make it right. We can only change what lies ahead of us. No matter how upset we may be with Ken Mehlman, that will never get us closer to the equality we seek.
The only thing that can get us closer is accepting every ally we can, no matter how late or by what means they arrive at the game. You can’t deny that we need to make more allies than we do enemies.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010.