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Greater NW Pride: Inclusion, or Who is Including Whom into Which Community?


Inclusion, or Who is Including Whom into Which Community?

“Inclusion.” Noun. Mirriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines inclusion as the act or state of being included.  “Include” is a transitive verb. It means to enclose; to shut up; to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group; to contain between or within.
In the previous blog, I focused on the act and art of hospitality, of welcome. To act hospitable, or to welcome is the first move towards inclusion and, finally, integration. Also, in the previous blog was the acknowledgement that when people with disabilities and people in the LGBTQ community do not feel an extension of hospitality or welcome by a primary or larger group, we experience exclusion, which is the opposite of inclusion. We become the outsiders, the “other”, the alien, the “least of these, my brothers and sisters,” and the marginalized, to name a few of our names. These groups—a primary group and a smaller group of outsiders—have always existed in social groupings. What changes is the basis of why we are the outsiders.  It may be because of our race, nationality, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic class or religious creed by which we live our lives. All of these “identifiers” are socially constructed. And currently, for the United Methodist Church, the outsider is the community of LGBTQ people. 
In the context of the Church, people in this primary or large group—in which we in a smaller group may have much in common, even as outsiders—have talked about inclusion, and yet many of us in the community of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ group have not always felt included. Inclusion is the act of taking in another group that is outside a primary or large group, thus compromising the boundaries of the pre-existing group as it either assimilates these newcomers or keeps “others” who want into the larger group as outsiders. After all, the opposite of assimilation is dissimilation, which is the process of keeping “outsiders” and marginalized out, which, in the context of the Church are those of us who are disabled and/or LGBTQ . We are the “not like us.” The different. The misunderstood. The hope is that, in the future, there will be an awakening in the life of the Church, (universal) where there will be a will to include those of us who are disabled and/or LGBTQ , into the larger, existing group (in which we have much in common), thus making it a new group, and hopefully more interesting and diverse. Yet the power to make this decision regarding “inclusion,” as in who is to be included, lies not with the small group, e.g., the people who are disabled or the LGBTQ group, but resides primarily in and among those who are part of the larger, or “whole” group. This is the group that will define membership into the larger or primary group, or establish norms for membership and when one will be "included" or still be "excluded." No such power to establish norms or standards of membership resides in the minority group, e.g., the community of people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ group. We await the dictum of the larger group to let us know what are the standards for membership. 
Therein lies the dynamic at play: the powerful ones? The ones in the whole, larger, or primary group. The powerless ones? The ones who are outside this same group. In the liberation theology and readers of liberation educator Paulo Freire-terms, the ones in power, keeping others out, were simply known as “the oppressor” and the ones who wanted in? The “oppressed," e.g., those of us in the disability community and the community of LGBTQ+ people. 
When people from the community of people with disabilities and LGBTQ community call for inclusion within the larger group, we do so as outsiders, not insiders, to the larger group. We protest loudly and act subversively. We create a logic or rationale for our inclusion. We look for insiders, allies, who will protest on our behalf within the larger or primary group. We “guilt” the other group, trying to shame them into opening up and letting us in. And, in the case of the Christian community, we use Scripture—both Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament—to buttress our case, theologically. As Matthew’s Jesus utters in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Finally, those of us in such an underrepresented group like people with disabilities and LGBTQ group will, after much time and effort, look for a creative way to, in this case, grow in the faith. This could mean creating a more caring community, in which, for example, people in the LGBTQ community actually created our own Protestant denomination: The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC).  
And this is where the modern United Methodist Church and people in the LGBTQ+ community is today: making a choice of true and full inclusion or continue down the pathway of exclusion. Currently, LGBTQ+ people are excluded officially from the UMC, as we were in other denominations, including Presbyterian Church (USA), Disciples of Christ, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Unitarian Universalists, and Moravians, to name a few. Even if an individual congregation in the UMC says it is inclusive of LGBTQ today, it is not fully inclusive as long as it is inextricably tied to or associated with the UMC, in which the Book of Discipline still brands being LGBTQ as living a life that is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” And yet, there is no doubt, with the rumblings of change within the UMC, including the specially called General Conference that the Spirit of God is moving in the UMC. The question is: will there be an assimilation, and on what grounds/norms/standards, or will there be continued exclusion?

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!