That’s what the church staff and key leaders from our Racial Equity Action Leadership team went to Saint Paul last weekend to learn. We were joined by about 90 other leaders from a dozen congregations spread throughout the region, from Louisville to Minneapolis. We all wanted to know the same thing. What is a Mosaic Maker congregation?
A Mosaic Maker congregation is one that puts everything it does through a multicultural, anti-oppressive lens. It asks a lot of questions: What are the cultural backgrounds of our members and what assumptions do we make about how the world works? What is our relationship to people from other cultural backgrounds in our larger community? Are there universal “norms” underlying all cultures, or does each culture’s histories, traditions, language(s), and people(s) by its very nature have a distinct set of understandings and communication styles? If there aren’t universal cultural norms (and I would say there are not), what does that mean when we encounter others?
One prerequisite of the workshop was that each participant take something called the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The inventory was based on fifty questions that revealed how we understand culture. We learned that there are stages to intercultural competency, from denial of culture to having an ability to adapt fluidly to others.
The six stages along the continuum are:
- Denial that difference exists at all
- Polarization of “us” versus “them”
- Minimization of difference with the general understanding that all cultures are essentially the same
- Acceptance that genuine patterns of difference and similarity exist to challenge us as we reach out across cultural groups
- Adaptation where we can shift our own cultural perspective and behaviors in authentic and culturally appropriate ways
Most Unitarian Universalists might think they (we) are in at least the “acceptance” stage, but that’s not the case. The IDI does have the ability to reveal where an examinee or group thinks they are and wants to be. The inventory reveals that Unitarian Universalists mostly believe they are in the acceptance phase, but also reveals that we are mostly in minimization.
One reason for this is that our values, as reflected in our Seven Principles, suggest that minimizing cultural difference is something to lift up. After all, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity, and even universal salvation, of all people. These seven aspirational statements are cast as affirmations, so we might think we’ve arrived and the work is done. We are geared in many ways to minimize difference with the intention of universal acceptance. But minimization takes two forms. In one case, dominant group members favor commonalities over differences because of a limited cultural self-understanding. In the other case, non-dominant group members highlight commonalities as a strategy for navigating the values and practices largely determined by the dominant cultural group. We UUs can also have a limited understanding of culture, often focusing entirely on race, and other times minimizing racial different to focus entirely on class or even politics.
That UUs land in “minimization” but aspire to “acceptance” is a great place to be. It means that if we are curious and self-reflective, we have an opportunity to expand our understanding of how culture works, and that will lead to progress in the areas that matter most to us — appreciating others for who they are; loving ourselves despite our failings and though what we offer the world; embracing the interconnections of culture; honoring the fabric of our human family as a mosaic of color and creativity.