I just finished reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, which I highly recommend. Nadia is a Lutheran pastor, former stand-up comic, Cross Fit nut and writer, whose work resonated with me in many dimensions. I kept finding connections between Nadia’s reflections about her work and my own, as a diversity consultant.
Here’s one of many passages I highlighted, perhaps the most important to me professionally. In an interview included at the end of Accidental Saints, Nadia explains the distinction between worship and belief:
The liturgy has its own integrity to it–it doesn’t demand my integrity in order to be efficacious. We get to enter this thing that stands on its own and doesn’t demand a particular type of piety or emotional feeling or even belief from us.
Q: It doesn’t require belief to work?
No, it doesn’t. I’m surprisingly unconcerned with what people in my church believe. Belief is going to be influenced by all sorts of things that I have nothing to do with, so I don’t feel responsible for that. I’m responsible for what they hear… I don’t find belief (intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions) to be the core of Christianity in the way a lot of people do.
However different being a pastor and a diversity consultant may seem, Nadia named something in her work that resonates powerfully for me in mine:
I don’t actually care what people believe. I don’t need them to believe what I do about inclusion, equity and justice. I do care deeply about what they hear, read and think they know based on the texts of their own experiences and cultural reference points–in other words, I care about the “diet” of information about identity and diversity that they consume, actively or passively (just by breathing in the smog of ideas, facts and misinformation that surrounds all of us). Because our diets are what drive our discernment and action. And our diets aren’t just what we consume: they’re also a part of who we are. And ultimately, that’s at the core of identity, diversity, inclusion and equity: that this is about each of us, not just some of us.
So I don’t need everyone to believe [insert some assertion of social truth], and I’m certainly not going to wait for everyone to give their assent for the work of inclusion and equity to move forward. It’s just my job to make sure people have a more well-rounded exposure to information about identity and diversity: facts, yes (in the form of research, current events, history, and information beyond our daily easy reach), as well as the emotional, moral and social truths that matter, even if there’s no empirical evidence to prove them: the truth that inaction isn’t so much “neutral” as it is defaulting to the status quo; the fact that I’m biased, you’re biased, we’re all biased–and that bias is the human canvas on which we’re trying to paint landscapes of justice.