Saturday, January 28, 2017

An interfaith response to the first question diversity and inclusion advocates asked themselves after January 20: "Now what?"

As a society, “we have allowed ourselves to be formed by the people we disagree with, and stoop to their level,” Interfaith Leadership Council Chairman Bob Bruttell said at an interfaith communicators meeting yesterday. He then pointed out that our new president is not our enemy, meaning that scapegoating him misses the point that the recent changes to our government are a reflection of disunity, mistrust, and animosity that have been brewing in this country for a long time.

Bruttell reminded us that we need to live with and form “ethical responses” to the people in our midst whose dark sides were triggered and exploited by our current national leaders during the 2016 presidential campaign, rather than just react with retaliatory scapegoating and criticism against them.

Reacting with the same mistrust, criticism, and animosity that have been leveled at anyone the new regime considers “un-American” would only create more negativity, instead of sparking positive changes that will eventually put an end to this kind of thinking and acting as society continues to evolve.

The first 2017 meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) focused primarily on answering the biggest question that advocates of diversity and inclusion, who now fear the threat of seeing their many years of hard work being undone one executive order at a time, are asking: “Now what?”

My biggest take-away from this meeting was the way the conversation was carried out, and how that led to a much more realistic, productive, and at the same time hopeful dialogue than if we’d sat around and “talked politics,” critiqued what we’re seeing, and reinforced each other’s indignation about why it’s wrong.

While it was acknowledged that much of what is going on at the government level right now is very, very wrong, facilitator David Crumm made the point that we didn’t meet to criticize the new establishment—We met to discuss what we can do to help prioritize the needs of our nation’s most “vulnerable minorities,” which at this point is anyone and everyone targeted during the 2016 presidential campaign through now, particularly Muslims, immigrants (especially from Muslim-majority countries), Mexicans, gay and transgender people, and the poor and undereducated in underserved urban communities.

Another interesting thing that stood out for me from this meeting was the presence of a few representatives of religious denominations that have historically been slow to accept, and in some cases have not yet accepted, every moral paradigm-shift and type of person that the remainder of us didn’t face doctrinal barriers to our acceptance of.

I did not get any impression from them that they were sitting in the meeting placing conditions on who they would help, or that we lost them at any point in the discussion. The impression I got from everyone present was that they prioritized seeing people as human beings all with the same basic inalienable rights, instead of focusing on historical value-judgments against certain types of people for their religious, sexual, political, or cultural orientation.

Such value-judgments or moral stances have become irrelevant compared with the larger priority of the current threats to human rights--not just gay rights, reproductive rights, religious rights, and so on--which are disproportionately targeting the most disenfranchised segments of our population.

The journalists, authors, social workers, outreach program coordinators, educators, and other social-justice advocates at the meeting shared a common desire to step up their efforts to work together across religious, racial, economic, and political lines to help protect, inform, and empower people, and I look forward to sharing with you the highlights from our dialogue, and about some of the actions already being taken, in my next posts, which you can read by clicking here, here, and here.

Image: Detail from "Inner World of the Heart" by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, gold gel pen

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