Moving Toward Radical Inclusion- Part 1

Column by Rev. Irene Monroe on 12 July 2018 2 Comments

Radical inclusion must not be intellectualized but instead connected deeply with our need for personal healing which requires us to heal our “isms.”

Since September 11 America has changed radically. We have become a country where partisan politics rule the day, that we can no longer agree to disagree and shouting matches laced with expletives has taken the place of civil discourse. And this ugliness has imploded on us.

To build a huge tent of radical inclusion, we must challenge ourselves to hear each other and to understand not just our oppressions but those of others. Understanding the intersections of oppression allows us to develop relationships and allies.

“We don’t socialize together. There are very few places where black and white socialize together, which is the basis of relationships and friendships, the basis of understanding,” Earl Fowlkes told the Washington Blade last year, explaining why Pride events are segregated. Fowlkes is executive director of the Center for Black Equity, a national D.C.-based group that advocates for African-American LGBT people and helps organize Black Pride events in the U.S. and abroad.

“And until we start doing that and creating those spaces to do that we’re going to have misunderstandings and a lack of sensitivity toward issues of race.”

We must address deep-seated biases that impede authentic, respectful and enriching relationships as a Christian body. I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 3 verse 28 where he wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

But the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us that “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” We see that still in 2018.

Segregated churches began in the 1800’s. Richard Allen, born in 1760 in Philadelphia, was the slave of a Quaker master. As a free black in the 1780’s, he converted to Methodism and became an itinerant Methodist preacher. Allen could not sit in the all-white historic St. George’s Methodist Church. In 1797 Richard Allen founded Mother Bethel African Methodist Church, the first black Methodist Church in Philadelphia, and in 1816 Richard Allen led African Methodists into a separate denomination after many years of struggle against white control. The African Methodist Episcopal Church is now the oldest black denomination in this country.

Radical inclusion is an ongoing process that allows us to see, along this troubling human timeline, those faces and to hear those voices in society of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected, and the dispossessed. And radical inclusion can only begin to work when those relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right. And sometimes for that to happen, it must start with Christians who understand the biblical mandate in Matthew 25:35 where Jesus said: “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in.”

With today’s nativist spirit of patriotism and isolationist rhetoric to “Make America Great Again,” we close our doors and heart to refugees. Evangelical Christians, in particular, fail to see Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph, were Middle Eastern refugees. Soon after Jesus’s birth Mary and Joseph fled with their newborn to Egypt as refugees fleeing from violence, as undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the U. S. are today. And oddly, this isolationist rhetoric fails to recognize that the first group of settlers in America were refugees- the Pilgrims

In “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” African American cultural critic bell hooks states that she begins her analysis at the margin because it is a space of radical openness, and it gives you an oppositional gaze from which to see the world, unknown to the oppressor. It is at the margin where you can see injustice being done. It is not only a site where you can honestly critique the oppressive structures in society that keeps us wounded as a people, but it is also a site that can heal us as a people — both the oppressed and the oppressor.

In other words, it is not enough only to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions, churches, and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, to name a few.

We must also look at the ways we as an individual and a community are both the oppressed and the oppressor. We must look at ways that we manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces. Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. And the structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we sadly really are.

We cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the most significant task, and the most challenging work we must do first, is to improve ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.

In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. Jesus invites us to become strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice and diversity in our churches.

I know that the struggle against racism is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, and classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted.

When suffering is understood as an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for, we can then begin to see its manifestation in systems of racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism in our everyday lives. With a new understanding about suffering and how it victimizes the innocent and its aborts the Christian mission of inclusiveness, Jesus’ death at Calvary invites a different hermeneutic than its classically held one.

As an instrument for execution by Roman officials during Jesus’ time, the cross’s symbolic nature and its symbolic value can both be seen as the valorization of suffering and abuse, especially in the lives of the oppressed.

For those of us on the margins, a Christology mounted on the belief that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” instead of “Jesus died on the cross because of our sins” not only exalts Jesus as the suffering servant, but it also ritualizes suffering as redemptive. While suffering points to the need for redemption, suffering in and of itself is not redemptive, and it does not always correlate to one’s sinfulness. For example, the belief that undeserved suffering is endured by faith, and that it has a morally educative component to it makes the powerful insensitive to the plight of others, and it forces the less powerful to be complacent to their suffering – therefore, maintaining the status quo.

Trans issues in our churches are not addressed enough. However, trans activism is taking afoot in DignityUSA, an organization that focuses on LGBTQ rights and the Catholic Church. And their voices want to be heard in Catholic dioceses across the country that will eventually inform and impact the Vatican. They must be heard in our Protestant churches, too. Of the many breakout sessions at the DignityUSA conference in 2017, I wished Pope Francis could have sat in on “Trans Catholic Voices,” because his transphobic pronouncements have been hurtful. Francis compared transgender people to nuclear weapons. His reason is that transgender people destroy and desecrate God’s holy and ordained order of creation.

“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” Francis stated in 2015 in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.”

During the “Trans Catholic Voices” breakout season an African American transwoman pointed out that Francis statements about transpeople deny them of basic human dignity and perpetuates violence against them. The life expectancy for black trans is 32 years old.

In her closing remarks, the African American transwoman in “Trans Catholic Voices” asked for help from advocates and allies in the room that nearly brought me to tears.

“Trans lives are real lives. Trans deaths are real deaths. God works through other people. Maybe you can be those other people.”

As Christians, we fail to realize that our gift and our struggle are that we are a diverse community within ourselves, and our diversity should not dilute our commitment and love toward one another, but rather our diversity should teach us more about its gift of complexity, and by extension teach the larger society.

The Kwanzaa principle of Umoja- unity-must take root in our self-understanding of who we are and what we decide to be as both a people and a Christian community. In understanding the interconnectedness between himself as the individual and himself as the community, African historian John Mbuti said, “I am because we are; and since we are, therefore, I am.”

We must cure ourselves of our indifference to each others’ oppressions. As a community, we must all pitch in. The belief among us that one oppression – ours – is more significant than another persecution sets up a hierarchy of oppression and keeps us fighting. The moral and spiritual challenge before us is that united we can stand as a Christian community or divided we can fall as a petty people.

Our job, therefore, is to remember that our longing for social justice and radical inclusion is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

~ Rev. Irene Monroe



Has humankind invented God to look after life after death? One can say this in connection with many of the Gods in the Bible and elsewhere in man’s evolution, but is there a Creator of the Universe? If so, after studying the cosmos, one must conclude that it must be entirely different from what we have assumed, so far. If so, this might explain why we have produced such a cruel world with most of us thinking only of our own survival. But, again, there are so many examples of selflessness and good!


Dear Kevin,

I think there is something of a God vs. Science question beneath the ones you’ve posed.

I do think that humans created stories, and rituals to articulate their experiences of/with God. All in attempt to better understand their relationship to their experiences. I am not convinced that humans invented God, most definitely not just so that God could oversee the afterlife. Through those rituals and applications of the stories, I think the civilizations before ours were deciding about the intricate ways in which God works here and out there in the cosmos you speak of. In these ways we got many of the stories found in the Bible as recorded observations from generations as they studied their relationship to God and the people around them. Today, we are more comfortable using the framework of science to explain and relate to phenomena. Experientially, I think the authors of religious stories had a similar project to yours and simply used a different toolbox to work out potential answers.

I don’t quite know what to conclude about the Creator after a study of the cosmos. It seems to me that even among the specialists there is quite a range of conclusions to be drawn about such divine architecture…I would love to know more about what you conclude yourself, as well as how that conclusion informs the way you see the world at work on any given day.

The unknown details of the Creator don’t shift my thoughts when it comes to your final piece about the production of cruelty in our world. When bad things happen it can be easy to say, “what a cruel world we live in” without interrogating the ways we are organized and, therefore, enabling or altogether creating the catastrophes we recognize as “cruel”. Though God has made this world, and us in it, I do not think God should get credit for making or even allowing the evils we experience and perpetuate. We are creators here too. We are not separate from God; blame can’t go on one side and us, blameless on the other. Our decisions have consequences and we can no longer shove the responsibility into the hands of God and fain ignorance. God cannot force us to act in accordance with the rest of nature--partnering with other organisms to live symbiotically. As humans we get to choose to do that, it is no fault of the Creator when we don’t. We can make a better world than this.

If there is a creator God, and I truly think there is, I imagine that creator God is wondering how we could stray so far off the pattern of creation, blame God for the woes, and seriously expect tomorrow to be better without changing our bad habits.

You are right, there are so many examples of selflessness and goodness. I hope we can grow those examples so that they become general traits of society, instead of just fringe examples.

With you in making more examples of goodness,

~ Toni Reynolds




2 thoughts on “Moving Toward Radical Inclusion- Part 1

  1. Thoughtful article by Rev. Irene, but she got the Hemingway quotation wrong. She is alluding to a passage in A Farewell to Arms: “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” Cheers, wf

  2. Dear Irene: I am glad that Rev. Fred Plummer selected the old essay by Bishop John Spong from November 9, 2005 along with your essay today. It was about the two stories which had happened almost side-by-side. First we have the story of Rev. Troy D. Perry who was born to preach the story of Jesus in the Bible Belt as a teenaged evangelist. He was married for five years, and had two sons before his wife divorced him because he was gay. Then after the experience in the Vietnam War, Troy tried to preach again and was discovered by his church as a homosexual man. When his license to preach was revoked, he almost succeeded committing suicide. Then at the age of 28 (1968), he decided to start the first Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles with only twelve people. Twenty years later the MCC became an international Church organization for openly gay and homosexual community.
    In the second story we have Bishop Jack Spong in his book, “Living in Sin?”which had come out in 1988 and had placed him in the national eye since in that book he called for the State to make homosexual unions legal and for the Church to give these unions the blessing we bestow in marriage. Then in his effort to ordain to the priesthood in December of 1989, which was for America’s first openly homosexual person living in a publicly acknowledged, committed relationship. The hostility he’d absorbed was overwhelming. Hate mail poured in; abusive telephone calls, even death threats, were plentiful. The House of Bishops in September of 2000 had voted to disassociate the Church from Spong for this action by a slender 78-74 margin.
    Jack first met Troy Perry in 1991 when the Episcopal National Convention and the MCC National Conference were both meeting in Phoenix. When Troy heard that Jack was in town, he invited Jack to speak to his MCC National Conference. When they arrived, Troy led Christine and Jack Spong onto the stage, but before any word of introduction had been spoken, the entire assembly rose as one and gave them a sustained, indeed a thunderous, ovation that lasted for ten literal minutes. It was like having all of there wounds bathed with healing love. They stood there teary eyed, taking it all in. “If what we had done meant that much to this many, it was worth all the hostility we had absorbed,” said Jack.
    Irene: You have told the story of Richard Allen, born in 1760 in Philadelphia, and he was the slave of a Quaker.
    Richard Allen could not stand being in an all white church, so that he founded a black church in Philadelphia. What he had done was very similar to the story of Rev. Troy Perry. Then Bishop John Spong’s effort to ordain a homosexual man into the priesthood in 1989 was also an attempt of radical inclusion. It is still true today in America as the whiles don’t socialize with the blacks, the non-gays don’t socialize with the homosexuals, and the Chinese-American Christians in the Chinese churches (There are at least one Chinese church in every state of the union.) don’t socialize with the Christians in other churches either. And almost 100% of the Chinese Christians are if the traditional Fundamentalist type.
    They are similar to the Korean-American Christians.
    Therefore, it is still a huge stumbling block even for the Progressive Christianity to get these different groups to melt together. The language difference among these people is another big problem.
    Eugene, from Suzhou, China

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