This is a repost of something I wrote last year at Annual Conference in response to the “Inclusiveness Report” given during the conference. (Last year, because I didn’t want to stir anything up, I didn’t post it publicly.) This Year’s report made me ask the same question that I thought I’d go ahead and pose: can we achieve inclusiveness by reaching for inclusiveness alone, or do we need to look past inclusiveness in order to reach it? So, here’s what I wrote last summer, and what I still wonder today…
Before I write this, I need to offer a disclaimer: As a white male, I am part of at least two majority groups. Because of this and because of the unfortunate way our world works, I have advantages in life and society that aren’t afforded to people in other categories of race and gender. For the most part, I don’t understand and have never experienced what it feels like to be excluded based on something like race or gender that are simply part of who I am and over which I have no control. Therefore, my thoughts on the subject of inclusiveness are limited to my narrow perspective, and I realize that I am blind to many factors as I write and think about this subject.
Having said that, here we go: I think the church needs to go beyond conversations of inclusiveness. Yesterday, as part of the Inclusiveness Report given at the Tennessee Annual Conference, we heard a tally of how our conference was doing so far this year in representing diversity in our elections for General Conference, our worship leadership, our commissioning, ordination, and licensing of clergy, and a variety of other things (including the spelling/misspelling of names in the pre-conference booklet.) Please understand, I think it is ESSENTIAL for us to be aware of these things and for our conference to reflect the great diversity that exists within it in all of those areas. However, I think the real issue isn’t inclusiveness, it’s faithfulness. The question shouldn’t be, “Are we representing inclusiveness in our Annual Conference?” It should be “Are we being faithful and obedient to the call of Jesus Christ in our Annual Conference?”
If my understanding of the story of God is correct, true faithfulness leads to radical inclusiveness. Galatians 3:28 sums this up well, saying, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In addition to an Inclusiveness Report, I’d like to see a “Faithfulness Report” at Annual Conference. Let’s report a tally of how many of our clergy and laity are connecting regularly to Christ through the means of grace. Let’s report how many of our clergy and laity are serving Christ outside the walls of the church on a weekly basis. Let’s report how many of our clergy and laity are following Christ in their language, their actions, their interactions, their expressions of grace and love and forgiveness. I, too, long for radical inclusiveness in our congregations, our delegations, our worship expressions, but I think the only way to achieve true inclusiveness is for it to be the fruit of deep faithfulness to the uniting Spirit of God.
There’s a beautiful image in the book of Revelation of a worship gathering like no other, with a great multitude gathered in front of the throne of God. “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'” (Revelation 7:9-12) Can you imagine that scene? Every nation, language, tribe, people, and language gathered together, not divided into their specific groups, but all included and all united in their worship of God? Call me a naive, but I CAN see that, and I think the ONLY way for us to truly experience it will be when we, like the multitude gathered in Revelation, have our whole focus on God and on the Lamb.