I have recently realized that God has been teaching me about his perspective on diversity and inclusion. If you take a good look at God’s creation you can’t help but notice the immense diversity of it. Stars, planets, galaxies and right here on Earth, grasses, trees, flowers, insects, birds, animals and human beings of all shapes, sizes and colors make it obvious that God loves diversity. And God calls us to love and care for all of his creation, not excluding anything or anyone, but including everything and everyone in our circle of love and care.
God began teaching me about this early in my life, giving me a love for his creation and over time a love for the people in it. My life began in an era of rabid segregation, separating people of color from polite white society. Fron an early age, I remember signs in public places designating white and colored restrooms and drinking fountains and requiring blacks to ride in the back of buses and streetcars. There were white churches, black churches and Hispanic churches (mostly Roman Catholic) and people in those had little if anything to do with those of different ethnicities.
All of my friends were white, and I never associated with anyone of color until I got to junior high and high school. That was when I began to experience diversity and inclusion. The schools I went to bordered on a part of Dallas called Little Mexico, an Hispanic enclave that no longer exists, having been now displaced by the Uptown Dallas area as part of the drive for urbanization. However, in the mid to late 1950’s Little Mexico was a thriving community that preserved Hispanic culture and mores. And, as a result of its proximity to Little Mexico, about one-third of the students at North Dallas High School were Hispanic. Most of them were second and third generation American citizens, born in the United States, who spoke English as fluently as us white folks. I developed friendships with many of them, taking classes together and participating with them on sports teams and in social clubs. I still keep in touch with some of them today, more than 60 years later. I accepted them as equals, having no qualms about their ancestries or the fact I was a Protestant, while they were Roman Catholics. I discovered that we had much in common, including our core religious beliefs.
However, because of the segregation laws in force at the time, it was much later that I began to have any interaction with blacks. As a matter of fact the first black man I ever met and made friends with was while I was in the M.B.A. program at what is now the University of North Texas. We were in a management class together and were assigned a joint work project requiring a lot of research and report writing. We met outside of class, sometimes at his apartment, and got to know each other well. We became a good team and got a good grade on our work product. His name was Ernest P. Boger. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, who had been the valedictorian of Blake High School in Tampa, Florida and became the first African American student at the University of South Florida. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in psychology, with minors in Russian and music. He later earned an MBA from the University of North Texas and a Doctor of Management degree from the International Management Centres Association (IMCA), of Buckingham, England.
In 1984 he became the first Black professor in what is now known as the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management at the University of South Carolina. Boger went on to become head of the Department of Hospitality Management at Bethune-Cookman College. He then moved to a role as tenured professor and hospitality and tourism management department chair at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, retiring from that position in 2020. A very talented individual with a distinguished career. Meeting and working with Ernest when I did dispelled any notions I might have ever had about racial inferiority. And in the years since I have had the privilege of becoming good friends with many men and women of color.
As a young man my friends and I knew very little about the workings of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes joked about so called “holy rollers”. But in January 1970, near the peak of the Jesus Revolution, my wife and I came into contact with young people our age who were filled with the Holy Spirit and were passionate about sharing their love of Jesus Christ. We were awed by their joy and enthusiasm and decided we wanted that for ourselves. So we did as they suggested and jointly committed to following Jesus wherever he led us. God then baptized us both with his Holy Spirit and we began to manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. That led us eventually to membership in charismatic Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as an Assemblies of God church, where we witnessed and participated in many moves of the Spirit and learned more about what God was calling us to do with his guidance and empowerment.
As a youth my friends and I also joked about homosexuals, jokingly calling each other “queers”. It wasn’t until more recently that I came into contact with actual members of the LGBTQ community and was surprised to learn that included some of my friends and family members of other friends. Then I met a dynamic young woman about my daughter’s age who had experienced a rather traumatic childhood, having been abandoned (given up for adoption) by her birth father and mother and abused by her alcoholic foster father and mother. She developed a very strong relationship with God to overcome her circumstances and has become a passionate advocate for changing the business world by calling for individual entrepreneurs and businesses to focus on the ways in which they can make a positive contribution to society, rather than on just maximizing their profits without considering who might be negatively impacted by their actions.
She and I shared some of the same passions and we became good friends to the point that I became one of her (unofficially) adoptive fathers. It wasn’t until sometime later that I discovered she was gay when she wedded a same sex partner. I have since met her wife and have come to love them both. My own daughter and her husband have also met them and formed a bond with them.
My appreciation of the LGBTQ community reached another milestone when I helped chaperone a New Years Eve celebration for LGBTQ youth at our church, including some of our own youth members and 40 or 50 others. They were mostly very quiet and seemingly shy at first, but as midnight approached began to show more excitement and enthusiasm. We all ended up having a great time together. And a number of their parents who were there commented on how much they appreciated having a safe place for their children to enjoy themselves without fear. This party has held in the youth room of our church, which has a large sign over one of the doors declaring; “All of God’s children are welcome here’. So much for ending any homophobia.
Then a few years ago a group of men from our church were invited to a Ramadan prayer service and evening meal at an Islamic Center in Carrollton, Texas. We were welcomed ss honored guests and placed at the head table on a raised platform and our names displayed on a video screen. We attended the evening prayer service, standing quietly at the rear of the men’s section and silently praying. After that we joined with all of the congregants in a sumptuous meal. Some of us spoke briefly to express our gratitude at having been invited and our hopes for improving relationships between our communities. So much for Islamophobia. They were people with hopes and concerns for their families and community just like ours.
Most recently I have had the opportunity to meet and share with homeless people for the first time. I have participated with friends from my church and also First Presbyterian Church of Plano, along with the Streetside Showers ministry, at the Assistance Center of Collin County in Plano. Some 80 to 100 homeless persons showed up to take showers in a mobile trailer with three shower stalls, and to receive a change of clothes (shirts, pants and shoes), as well as sharing a meal provided by a rotation of local churches. Grace Presbyterian Church members provided coffee and chairs to sit in for those who wanted it. I spoke with several of those who came to receive help and learned that they were no different than anyone else I knew, except that for one reason or another they had fallen on hard times and could use a helping hand. So much for disparaging the homeless.
To summarize, God has gradually, but persistently, exposed me over the years to many people and situations I had never experienced before and knew little to nothing about. He has shown me a lot about the diversity of his creation and his desire for me to include all into my circle of love and care. And because God’s creativity is so boundless and his love so all inclusive, I am certain that he has much more to show me. I eagerly look forward to it.