Convert Buddhism’s Ineffective “Open Door Syndrome”

Last week this blog offered an excerpt from a sermon on race and diversity in Unitarian-Universalist churches.  The sermon explored what the minister terms “open door syndrome,” the misunderstanding by white congregations that it is simply enough to open up the doors and announce that everyone is welcome, without doing any hard work to actually integrate the congregation and make it truly welcoming to people who don’t look like those who are already there.

Although that sermon originates in a specific denomination and place, it is worth pointing out that the same dynamic exists within white convert Buddhism, and is even more egregious considering that a) 99% of Buddhists in the world are non-white, b) between 75-80% of North American Buddhists are non-white, c) Buddhism in North America tends to be an urban phenomenon located in places that are both highly multiracial, and d) convert white Buddhism is strongly associated with progressive politics and the desire to remold Buddhism into a liberal social force.  Therefore it might be helpful if Buddhists too read and thought about the implications of the open door syndrome sermon.  Buddhism in North America often operates as a liberal religion; that means, among other things, that it is prone to all the defects that we see in other liberal religious groups.

One of the suggestions that Rev. Rodela makes in her sermon is that white churches partner with black churches.  This might be a good starting place for white Buddhists, who could partner with Asian-American temples.  The surprising level of ignorance about what actually goes on and why in Asian-American temples, and the very high levels of arrogance about how white convert Buddhism is allegedly better, would probably be reduced by such a partnership.  And naturally there are a great many other possible benefits of such cooperation.

Rev. James Ford, a UU minister and Zen teacher, offers some thoughts of his own on race and Buddhism on his blog, Monkey Mind.


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Filed under Buddhism, Liberal Religious History

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