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Want to reach a diverse client base? You yourself must be diverse

The mission agency’s manager for Diversity & Inclusion explains an agency training initiative

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Samuel Son, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s manager of Diversity and Reconciliation, preaches during Synod School worship last summer. (Screenshot)

LOUISVILLE — Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) makes business sense for companies and organizations including the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which has been training employees on the three values monthly during 2021 as the response to a General Assembly mandate.

“If you want to reach diverse clients,” the Rev. Samuel Son said on Between Two Pulpits Monday, “you yourself have to be diverse to know your clients.”

They’re biblical and church values as well, Son, the agency’s manager for Diversity and Inclusion, told Special Offerings’ Bryce Wiebe and Lauren Rogers. Watch Between Two Pulpits, Special Offerings’ weekly broadcast, here.

From the very first sermon in Acts, people heard the spoken word in their heart language, Son said. The early church demonstrated equity by pooling resources so that everyone’s needs were met.

“These are mandatory meetings,” Son said of the DEI training, which is ongoing, “but I think people have enjoyed it.”

Most recently, an organization called Mattingly Edge led PMA employees through training on disability inclusion, which featured lessons through stories from people with disabilities. Many people living without a disability “see a disability as brokenness,” Son said. “But the brokenness is not in them but in us who live with privileged ableism.”

“DEI is expansive,” Wiebe said, “and that seems like God to me. As humans, when we make diversity into divisions, equities into sameness or hierarchy, or inclusion about a boundary and proximations rather than existing in places where God plants and sends, we invert what God might do with expansiveness. We extend and expand the harms we create. That’s why,” Wiebe told Son, “I find your work fundamental.”

Son said he works with some PC(USA) congregations “who are ready to tackle the issue,” while others “don’t even want to talk about it.” Still others “want to learn and feel good about the learning, and then feel like that’s enough.”

That brought the conversation to the gospel lectionary passage for Reformation Sunday, Mark 12:28-34, where Jesus tells a scribe who’s answered well that he’s “not far from the kingdom of God.”

The Reformation begun by a monk, Martin Luther, on Oct. 31, 1517 — Son called hammering his 95 Theses on the castle church at Wittenberg “the first blogpost” — was much more than a doctrinal reformation, according to Son.

“That’s inaccurate, and I think it’s dangerous,” Son said. “It wasn’t just doctrines. It was structural change. They were going at the core structure based on papal authority.” At that time, Son said, “ecclesial reality was social reality. Luther says, ‘We can’t do that anymore.’”

That talk about Reformation made Rogers think of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation — particularly the focus of dismantling structural racism, which “creates hierarchy,” Rogers said. For congregations who only “want to touch the surface, how do you get them to dive deeper and develop action steps for dismantling those structures?”

That’s a reformation “that needs to happen in our time,” Son replied, but “it’s not going to be easy and there will be resistance,” in the same way that Luther faced conflict and resistance. “But we’re called to do our best.”

Building congregational vitality, another focus of the Matthew 25 invitation, “is what it means to be the church — not just numbers, but spiritual strength,” Son said.

Son recalled that while growing up, his father, the pastor of a Korean congregation, would preach on “the curse of Ham,” which argued that enslaving people was the result of a divine curse. Preachers including Son’s father “got that from Presbyterian missionaries who taught in Korea,” Son said.

Total depravity as taught by John Calvin “is part of our traditional understanding,” Son said. “Every one of us is capable of the worst. It should be OK to say, ‘We have been and we are a racist church. How can we reform? How can we repent?’”

In fact, Son said his hope for the future of the church is reformation.

“This is something I have been praying for and thinking about,” Son said. “Only grace can free the church from the monopoly the church once had, like salvation. It is grace only, Christ only.” Son said instead of white supremacy, he prays for “a generation of Christ supremacy, that all others will be brought down on the notion of Christ.”

“That’s what I hope for,” Son said, “for our Church.”

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