”Diversity … is not polite accommodation. Instead, diversity is, in action, the sometimes painful awareness that other people, other races, other voices, other habits of mind, have as much integrity of being, as much claim on the world as you do. And I urge you, amid all the differences present to the eye and mind, to reach out to create the bond that will protect us all. We are meant to be here together.”
~ William Chase
I begin Part 2 (LINK to Part 1) this exploration of diversity and inclusion in spiritual community with the macro, or societal level – the grand scale of things, if you will. There are broad and deep patterns in our society and cultures which carry values and tradition like a kind of cultural DNA, resulting in patterns of behavior at a larger scale which affect the experiences of both local spiritual communities and individuals. Statements such as the opening quote from William Chase, which may seem to be valid on their face, may be easily dismissed or rejected due to these deep cultural values.
Spiral Dynamics (LINK) is a good model to use to look at these values, and we will do a bit of that in this post. Since most New Thought spiritual communities are in the United States, let us use that nation as an example of how these broad cultural DNA patterns show up. The dominant values systems (vMEMEs in Spiral Dynamics terms), are different today than they were 50 or more years ago, and new systems continue to emerge as older systems fade. In the developed world, where Modernist-Orange and Postmodernist-Green are on the rise, people are making choices about being in community (or not) differently than when Traditionalist-Blue was more present in the mix. At Blue, you seek conformity, membership, authority, and obedience. Your parents and/or grandparents probably went to church because they were supposed to, and that values system was strongly supported by the family and the larger culture. All that began to change with the rise of Modernist -Orange in the mid-20th Century and Postmodernist-Green in the late-20th and early 21st Centuries. Orange is individualistic, believes in scientific rationalism, and is entrepreneurial, seeking to escape the “herd mentality” of Blue. Those centered at Orange are more comfortable in a secular society, or one in which religion is on the sidelines.
The emergence of Green brings a return to a communal values system, but one very different from Blue. Green wants intimacy and is very relativistic (“Who is to say what is right?” – Blue’s response, “We are!”). Green values diversity, whereas Blue values conformity. Orange will do business with anyone but will tend to associate with those who have similar values. Those at Green view Blue as stodgy, rigid, and old-fashioned; those at Blue tend to view Green as ‘woo-woo” and untethered to proper authority and values.
”We should NEVER mistake conformity for harmony…uniformity for synthesis…(we should) know that for all men (and women) to be ALIKE is the death of LIFE in man, and yet perceive HARMONY that transcends ALL diversities and in which diversity finds it’s richness and significance.”
~ Dr. Howard Thurman
Each nation and the regions within nations have their own mixture of these vMEMEs or values systems. In the United States, as a general rule, the east and west coasts tend to have more Green and less Blue; the center of the country more Blue and less Green. Cities tend to be higher on the spiral than rural areas, which makes sense because, after all, spiral stages are based on complexity of Living Conditions. Big cities tend to be more complex than rural areas and small towns. Orange has a bit heavier presence in urban areas but is present everywhere that commerce and science are important. These are generalizations and there will be pockets where the relationships are a bit different.
There are other factors as well, including demographics – where people live and the racial, ethnic, chronological, and cultural makeup of different places. Some areas have a significant known LGBTQ population, some do not; some have higher percentages of certain racial and ethnic groups than others. All of these factors have an effect on a spiritual community which is trying to become more diverse. Again, urban spiritual communities will tend to be more diverse because cities tend to have more diverse populations than suburban and rural areas. More people in the Green vMEME in urban areas, fewer in suburban, where Orange dominates, and rural areas where there is more Blue.
“He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
When I was the spiritual leader at CSL Simi Valley, California (2008-2015), a suburban bedroom community for Los Angeles with a population at the time of about 130,000 people, the racial makeup of the city was 92% white, 7% Hispanic, and 1% other, according to census records. Our chances of growing beyond the 3 African-American members already there were rather slim. The Hispanic population was very Catholic. A small population of Indian-Americans (almost all recruited from India to work at large tech and financial companies in the area) mostly attended the two mosques in town or did not attend services. There was one New Thought community (us); two mosques, one synagogue, 13 Mormon stakes (500 to a stake), two Catholic churches, six mainline Protestant Churches, and 140 fundamentalist Christian congregations in the city at the time. There were 0 organized and visible LGBTQ groups.
We did make efforts to be more diverse, but with little success from a demographic standpoint. We were able to expand membership and add more young adults by live streaming and other activities. When I left, there were still 3 African-American members. I was replaced by an African-American minister, but the demographics of the city and the center have not changed dramatically. Demographics matter.
This does not mean that you give up, but it does mean that spiritual leadership needs to be aware of how to prioritize resources and energy regarding what is achievable. The US suburbs are, after all, the result of a system from the mid-20th Century based on racism. There was a huge migration of white populations out of cities, enabled by the automobile, the G.I. Bill, and practices of red-lining by realtors, banks, and insurance companies, to ensure that minority populations could not move to the suburbs in large numbers. While some things have changed over time, the overwhelming whiteness of most of America’s suburbs has not.
I am not saying that these items are excuses. But they are factors in the makeup of spiritual communities. And, as we will see in the next two posts, there are other factors, within our spiritual communities themselves, and within us as individuals, which make it even more difficult to effectively invite greater diversity. All of these factors must be acknowledged and included in the plans and strategies which emerge from our visioning and planning about greater diversity and inclusion in our spiritual communities.
“The range of our possibilities at the present time does not extend far beyond the range of our present concepts. As we bring ourselves to a greater vision, we induce a greater concept and thereby demonstrate more in our experience. In this way there is a continuous growth and unfoldment taking place.”
~ Ernest Holmes
Understanding the area demographics and the larger societal patterns are important. There is a wealth of easily accessible data on trends and patterns in worship attendance and religious affiliation. All of it shows that we are in a time of decreasing participation in organized religious activities. The Orange vMEME is often the place where people leave traditional religion and become secular or not affiliated. It is also the stage where they become open to New Thought. New Thought principles tend to appeal to those at Orange and Green on the spiral. There can be differences in how the spiral values systems exist within various populations within a community – and to me, having a broad representation of vMEMEs in a spiritual community is another form of diversity, one which is rarely examined. Also, different groups within a larger community can be at different stages on the spiral – this is especially true of recent immigrants from places where the dominant spiral values are different from those in the US. Many recent immigrants from places other than Canada, Europe, and Australia will be more comfortable in a traditional congregation of some sort. Research shows that the Catholic Church in the US is stagnant in overall growth – it is only not shrinking because of immigration from Latin American countries.
If Orange and Green are interested in New Thought spirituality and are growing in numbers, why isn’t New Thought growing in attendance and number of communities? I believe that there are two main reasons for this (and recognize that some local communities are growing and thriving, but the overall trends are stagnant or downward). One reason is the overall patterns toward secularization are very strong – there is little societal motivation to join another church after leaving one’s church of origin. There is not much which can be done about that pattern. The second reason has more to do with New Thought itself.
In the early 20th Century, when New Thought was growing and expanding, with new branches and churches opening in pretty significant numbers, the overall population was just beginning to move from a Traditionalist-Blue Values System into a Modernist-Orange Values System. There was still a significant societal value regarding attending worship services. Adopting Christian imagery and terms (church, ministry, sanctuary, hymn, prayer, etc.) helped to make the transition to New Thought less threatening for those leaving more traditional denominations. And remember, most of the New Thought founders, including Holmes and the Fillmores, considered themselves to be Christian. Additionally, those with a Jewish heritage flocked to New Thought communities in many places.
By the late 20th Century, the Blue vMEME had faded quite a bit. Orange was the dominant vMEME and Orange valued scientific rationalism over religious doctrine. Societal pressure to attend worship had faded significantly. Sundays rapidly became secular days, with the sacred time for worship no longer protected. Stores were open, youth league games were scheduled, and the standard Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 workday became the exception rather than the rule. The emergence of the Green vMEME made the Christian imagery and terms even less appealing to many. In much of the US, as in much of Europe, worship attendance is not only not supported by the larger culture, it is increasingly frowned upon.
Because of these factors, New Thought’s Christian trappings have gone from an overall asset to a liability over the last century. This was made clear in research done in 2007 & 2008 by the two Religious Science organizations during the re-branding process (LINK) that led to the name Centers for Spiritual Living. That research led to some changes, but has been largely ignored in recent times, the branding has not been updated and more research has not been conducted. But there is no question that the larger patterns and trends continue to change toward greater secularization in the general population, particularly those centered at Orange and Green on the spiral.
All of this shows, I hope, that there are many moving parts in today’s society which impact how diversity and inclusion programs can be developed and integrated into spiritual communities.
In Part 3, we will explore factors in the cultures of local spiritual communities which affect diversity and inclusion.
“In our time we have come to the stage where the real work of humanity begins. It is the time where we partner Creation in the creation of ourselves, in the restoration of the biosphere, the regenesis of society and in the assuming of a new type of culture; the Culture of Kindness. Herein, we live daily life reconnected and recharged by the Source, so as to become liberated and engaged in the world and in our tasks.”
~ Jean Houston
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Copyright 2019- Jim Lockard