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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Practicing inclusion


Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as marks of the Church

October 9, 2022

The Rev. Samuel Son, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s manager of diversity and reconciliation, preaches during Synod School worship. (Screenshot)

What is inclusion? How does it differ from diversity?

Let me point to inclusion by showing you how exclusion looks and feels.

Jesus’ entourage had a diversity of gender from the start. “Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him” (Matthew 27:55). Matthew tells us this fact only near the end of his bio of Jesus. But his disciples were men only. This is diversity without inclusion. Jesus’ entourage looked like the most diverse gathering of any messiah movement, but when it came to the core, it was your typical “boys only” club.

We’d like to excuse Jesus and the 12. For one thing, he’s Jesus. And we shouldn’t be “anachronistic” with our morality, judging ancestors by our standards. Jesus lived in a culture that was patriarchal through and through. There was no crack in the collective consciousness for consideration of women’s leadership. I lift Jesus and the 12 as an example to say that what they took for granted — of course the 12 must be men just as the sun must rise from the east — is exactly how we fail at inclusion. We don’t explicitly exclude people. We just don’t see them belonging in certain places out of our “sensibility” of naturalness. We exclude by default.

But wasn’t Jesus’ 12 diverse in its own way, revolutionary in his times? Didn’t his 12 include those rejected by other circles? True. You had poor fishermen, like Peter and his buddies, whom no self-respecting rabbi would pick up as their disciples. You had zealots, like Judas, who had the privilege of education (and some luxury of time and money) to hold political commitments, but also carried too much heat for any rabbi. Judas’ inclusion would only court suspicion. Jesus not only took him in but let him handle the finances. Oh, and don’t forget that a tax collector was thrown into that lot. You’d think a fight broke out every night at their campouts. That type of diversity was never seen. But that is how we excuse our exclusion, by pointing out to the diversity already at our tables. We think we are already “inclusive,” so we rationalize that those “others” who are not in are not in for good reason. Our iterations of exclusion are many and subtle.

Photo by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Here’s a list to move toward greater inclusion:

  • Look at the qualifications of your leadership positions, from voluntary all the way up to senior pastorship. Do any requirements favor certain groups of people? Requirements exclude identities, as people groups might not have certain experiences for the position because of the social discrimination against those identities.
  • Diversity is having people of different culture sit in your pews. Inclusion means they can bring in their way of worship. They are contributing from their differences. In that way, their differences are not lifted as different but another way of doing things. Inclusive worship has diverse instruments, songs, words, worship order and preaching style.
  • Inclusion also recognizes what people have in common. Both truths — that people are different and that people are the same — are held together for diversity and inclusion to flourish. Differences does not negate the commonality. And commonality doesn’t reduce differences to mere stylistic difference. Inclusion is the belief that every person is both uniquely different and essentially the same.
  • When you have diversity alone, then there is one group of people who are not seen as different. They are the “unspoken” center. They are seen as the norm and such they have power. When I attend a Presbyterian congregation, I am seen as different. I bring diversity to the Presbyterian congregation. But I’m not the only one different. The white congregation differs from me in the same way I differ from them. And to me, the white congregation is the diversity. Difference is an attribute of all people. Inclusion recognizes that there is no center, and that it is about living into the acceptance of others and of myself by others.

Rev. Samuel Son, Manager of Diversity and Reconciliation, Presbyterian Mission Agency. 

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, October 9, 2022, the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Today’s Focus: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Suzi Gwinn, Manager, Investor Services,Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program
Gina Hagan, New Business Specialist, Engagement & Community Relations, Board of Pensions

Let us pray

Merciful God, you have made us that we may cherish one another. Fill our hearts with love so that all may live in peace. Amen.