In the early 1980s, there was a TV commercial for Pepsi that I still think about often.
Dissolve to flashback
The scene opens on a high school classroom: empty, except for a black teenager and an older man — perhaps his teacher, guidance counsellor, maybe even the principal. The older man has just opened and read the contents of an envelope — apparently, the response to a scholarship application — and now looks at the kid solemnly.
“They were looking for a little better outside shooter, son,” he tells the boy.
Close-up of boy, as his face falls. There’s a beat.
“But, Hamilton,” the teacher goes on, “looks like your grades changed their minds!” (The actor landed heavily on the word “grades”, to make sure we got the point.)
Next scene: Hamilton, a bottle of Pepsi in hand, carried on the shoulders of his cheering schoolmates.
Fade out on graphic: “The Choice of a New Generation”.
The approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and a recent conversation with a young friend of mine, brought that commercial back to mind. My friend works for a public utility in a city that puts great emphasis on workplace diversity. She was about a former boss: how horrible he was and how afraid she was that some of her co-workers were considering leaving.
“And we can’t lose them,” she added. “They’re people of color!”
We’ll let that sink in, while I tell you about a fellow I used to work with. Unlike Hamilton, he’s real, so we’ll call him Winston, because that’s not his real name. Like Hamilton, he’s black. He moved to Victoria from Toronto to take a part-time job with the TV station where I was working — again, an operation that took great pride in diversity.
In many respects, Winston became one of the “faces” of the TV station. He drove a mobile broadcast truck and operated the camera and other equipment. He was featured on the print advertising, shown holding a camera — and sometimes with camera and microphone, as a videojournalist. One day, the station was preparing to take part in a parade, the boss came told Winston’s immediate superior, “I want Winston driving the truck — for the image.”
After a year or so, a full-time camera operator job came open. It seemed to others that he was a lock for the job: he’d paid his dues, had become a good shooter, knew the territory and the station’s style, and was a good co-worker.
And he was turned down.
I know he was gobsmacked by the decision, but I don’t know if he thought of it this way: it seemed to me that management regarded him as good enough “for the image” but not good enough for a promotion. That spells “cynical” in my book.
And then there’s my diversity-minded friend, who appeared concerned about losing some co-workers not because they were good workers or friends, but because that might damage her organization’s reputation for diversity.
Nearly 40 years ago, Pepsi was breaking a stereotype: showing a black kid advancing because he was a good student — not because he was a good athlete. But is that what we do today, when we “embrace diversity”? When companies, be they public or private, enact diversity policies, are they concerned about what a person brings to the table, overall quality of work, or making sure that the staff picture in the annual report shows a proper mix of different colors?
When we’re truly in Christ, “diversity” is a non-issue. So is the worldly concept of “merit”. Jesus Christ IS diversity. His apostles came from different walks of life. As God, He is no respecter of persons, be it gender or race.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” — John 6:37-40
ALL that the Father gives to Jesus, and He will cast NO ONE away.
Remember that Romans, Jews, Samaritans, lepers and a woman with an “issue of blood” were ALL healed when they turned to Him. Philip the Evangelist led a black Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. Peter gladly shared the Gospel with a Gentile, risking the disapproval of the other apostles until he testified how the Holy Spirit overcame Cornelius and his household. Paul didn’t care whom he was preaching to,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28
See, the thing to recognize about diversity in “God’s economy” is that regardless of the color of our skin or the way we “present”, each of us has a unique background and experience that we bring to the Kingdom — and to any endeavour we get involved with. The Kingdom is glorified by the variety of parts that make up the whole.
In the same way, I believe a worldly organization can be stronger and broader-minded if its approach to diversity puts God first — not some man-made policy. An organization that is diverse for the sake of “the image” is in danger of sacrificing quality of performance — a “mediocracy”, if you will — or, at the end of the day, being exposed for being cynical.
But think how much stronger an organization, a community, a country can be, when the focus is on unity in Christ, following His example of seeing past the outward. You’d be surprised how that organization will be diverse and unified at the same time.