The Journey Beyond Diversity

Dan Berry  •  April 16, 2024

In athletics there is a phrase that has always floated around…

“Where there is no pain, there is no gain.”

I quickly learned that with any victory stand celebration there was always a journey behind the scenes.  A journey that could be painful and overwhelming at times.  A journey that could be exhausting, and I have to mention, very lonely. After college, the athletic connection faded, but it was then that I learned the phrase was also relevant to how we lived our daily lives.

Building a racially diverse church is harder than I thought

In 1991, my wife Anne and I came to Des Moines to pioneer a new church.  In our hearts was a desire to bridge the racial divides that were so prevalent in the church. It’s funny how when you desire something, the opportunity to experience your desire always seems to come.

In 5 short years we went from a lily white church to a growing and thriving multi-racial experience. Diversity was manifesting before our eyes. And boy did we like to celebrate it.  We thought we were doing something no one else had done.  I know, pretty naive.

Other than a few issues over style of worship and the occasional stumble over leadership issues, we had a pretty harmonious experience. But when horrific racialized events began to crop up and exposed the many social injustices that still existed, we began to realize that we were not as far along as we thought we were. I personally began to realize that there were huge gaps in our understanding of race.  It was paralyzing my ability to lead the beautifully diverse family that God had given us.

You see, I had bought into the colorblind approach – into the idea that if we just didn’t talk about the issues everything would be fine.  Because of that, my ability to lead us into the much needed healing steps was lame at best.

My prayers became, “Lord, what am I missing?”  “Lord, show me what to do.”  “Lord, I need your help, please.” I had learned that whenever you truly seek God, the answer will come.  I had also learned that when it comes, we may not always want to embrace it.

The answer came from an unexpected place

One of my struggles was that my answer came from the LGTBQ community.  As someone who identified as a white evangelical, this was not acceptable, at least in my mind.

If you would like to hear the whole story I encourage you to get my book, Navigating Diversity in Our Most Segregated Hour.

Dr. Jennifer Harvey wrote a book called Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation. When I received this book, even though at first I wasn’t going to read it, it became the answer to my prayers. It taught me how I needed to move beyond the experience of diversity and educate myself on how to actually be a part of the much needed repair.

When I began to understand how to take baby steps into repair, I couldn’t wait to tell the church family.  I remember I told them that we have been talking about building bridges for 25 years, now we are going to start building them.  I was so excited and I thought they would be too.

A surprising and painful exodus

As I began to unfold the need to roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of love, beyond mere evangelism, by genuinely loving people enough to get in the ditch with them and address injustices, the response was not what I expected.

Because of Dr. Harvey’s book, now it wasn’t just about the racial divide – people began to wonder where I stood on the LGTBQ community. People who had trusted my heart and leadership for years walked away.  I can’t tell you how many times I was told that I would lose everything if I didn’t abandon my new found love for the LGBTQ community and let go of the work to educate people how to take their first steps towards racial healing.

It wasn’t just church members that left, it started being family members and life long friends who, rather than wrestling with these issues, just chose to walk away.  It would be disingenuous to say that these things did not have a profound effect on me.  It was disheartening, discouraging and all of the above. 

But like many of you, I had to make a quality decision to press forward.  Like many of you, in the midst of the pain that comes with abandonment, I began to find a family that was truly committed to this important work.  Many of my family, some of my friends and a whole lot of the church family decided to stay true to this important work. Not to mention a whole new vein of support began to arise from people like you who were in the same boat as us.

You are not alone

My closing thought to you would be for you to know that you are not alone.  If you’re discouraged, I pray that you would lift up your eyes and see the support that is all around you; that you would experience the touch of our love and support that we all at Brownicity desire to give you.

To come full circle, where there is no pain, there is no gain!

More from Dan Berry

Dan Berry is the author of Navigating Diversity In Our Most Segregated Hour, a Certified Instructor for the What LIES Between Us and Confronting Whiteness courses, and advises individuals and organizations on how to take first steps toward racial healing through Bridge Building Solutions.
He has pastored for forty years in Iowa.  After pastoring in predominantly white spaces for several years, he began to realize the need to bring about racial healing in the body of Christ. For the last 30 years he has worked to bridge ethnic and cultural divides, a work that has led him into confronting the churches complicity in upholding systems of racism.