Being a community that identifies itself as one that ‘celebrates diversity’ and ‘makes a meaningful difference’, it’s important to keep having the conversation about what it means to be a justice-seeking community, what it means to be an affirming congregation, and what it means to be allies. A recent question was asked of me: “If we are inclusive of everybody, why do we spend as much time talking about only some groups, like the 2SLGBTQ+ community or the Indigenous community?” This is an excellent question to ask that helps us raise an extremely important understanding of social justice and the work of transforming first our own lives, and then the world around us.
In a perfect world, everyone could be treated equally and when we say that we’re inclusive of all, it would mean that all have access, ability, support and rights to be able to freely express and live the lives that many of us already have the privilege to live. Alas, we are not in a perfect world. The call within each of our conscience is to make things a little more just than it is. How?
We start by learning where there is injustice, pain and suffering. You’d think that actually doing the work would be the hardest part, but in reality, my experience is that overcoming the barriers of our own prejudice, preconceived notions, and privilege takes the most inertia. We are stubborn at times! The way we learn is important. Rather than cocooning ourselves in our own bubbles and echo chambers of privilege and dominant culture, the only way we can really learn and experience this awareness is by hearing directly from those experiencing the injustice, pain and suffering. And those stories are so often difficult to hear…thus the challenge to face this first step.
Once we activate our compassion and empathy in hearing those stories, we are more able to move into the next stages of justice work. And no, it’s not rolling up our sleeves and getting to work to fix the problems. It’s doing the work of being an ally. Listening again to the needs of those who are experiencing the injustice, pain and suffering. What is needed? What would help? What role is most needed for me to play? How can I stand behind or beside? How can I use my privilege or placement to assist? How can I help others learn and listen? How can I amplify the voices that need to be heard?
It’s not an even playing field, is it? Treating everyone the same, creating a community that includes everyone by treating everyone the same doesn’t help that uneven playing field. This approach, as good intentioned as it may be, can lead, unfortunately, to hypocrisy and frustration because we end up speaking about inclusivity and equality, while pretending that exclusivity and inequality doesn’t exist.
Within the public life of our SSUC community, we aim to lift up those communities and those issues that need justice the most, who in the context of our life together find that the road has been long and challenging in simply being able to participate in the ways we might take for granted. The 2SLGBTQ+ community has faced church attitudes for generations that have told them that they are unworthy, unwelcome, wrong, sinful, incompatible with a spiritual life, you name it. Our indigenous kin have been told that they must become like the dominant culture in order to be part of the life of spiritual community/school community/public life. There is much for these (and other communities) to overcome just to feel like they are catching up from the pain and rejection of the past, never mind the work that still exists to find equity and justice. It’s for this reason that we lift up issues and stories impacting these communities higher than others and it’s for this reason that SSUC, faithful to its history and legacy, must continue to focus and prioritize the work of justice and awareness, education and allyship whenever it has the chance.
We will keep learning, keep moving forward in our journey as allies and in creating community that seeks to do more than talk about our values of inclusivity, compassion and justice-making. Let’s get to listening and setting the frameworks that will help us continue this work together!