My church wants to be more inclusive. We have been saying this for awhile now. We have been saying it more and more, as we look around the neighborhood where we are located, and notice that more and more people who live here don't look like "us". Some of our neighbors are immigrants, and speak other languages. Some of our neighbors have less money than "us" or are from different ethnic groups than those traditionally associated with our denomination.
So, my church wants to be more inclusive. We understand (or at least a substantial number of us do) that it is theologically right for us to want to be more inclusive. We understand that the realm of God is much more diverse than our congregation. We understand that when we gather at the river, by and by, when we look around at who is gathered with us, it will look a lot different than our congregation does now. Our hearts are in the right place, as far as it goes.
But I suspect, deep down in my heart, that we have no idea how hard it will be, how hard it really is. For one thing, we don't even know each other -- not really. We don't know many of the daily experiences and stories of the people in the pew next to us. We don't know that some of "us" have less than we think they do, struggle more than we think they do, feel differently than we think they do. Sometimes I worry that we do not always want to know. I also suspect that the very word, "inclusive" even has something to do with it.
In the aftermath of the deaths of two unarmed black men, and the grand juries' decisions not to indict the police officers responsible, the slogan #BlackLivesMatter has taken hold. Though the experiences of people of color often teaches them a different reality, they want to take back the value of their lives. #BlackLivesMatter, they tell us. Can we say "Amen"? Can we affirm that yes, black lives matter, even when so many of their daily experiences tell them otherwise?
But some people want to be more inclusive.
So there is an alternative meme going around: #AllLivesMatter. And, although I understand the sentiment, just like I understand the desire of my congregation to be more inclusive, I think it is fundamentally misguided.
We can talk about the value of human life, each life, all lives, in different ways. We can talk about the realities experienced by people of color, by immigrants, by at-risk children, by the poor, by Alzheimers patients. But as long as we continue to speak in generalities (We Welcome Everyone!), we are not really welcoming anyone. As long as we don't listen to the realities of particular people, and particular communities, we won't know how to welcome anyone. As long as we don't pay attention to the lives, the realities, the stories of those who feel left out, excluded, marginalized, un-welcome, we will not be able to include them.
It's a start. If we really want to be inclusive.