I’ve spent the last two and half years worship planning almost every week. As part of that planning process, I asked people to participate in our worship service. It would easy to ask the people who are always willing to participate to lead, but it’s much more difficult to take the time to examine the implications and impressions of asking one person to lead over another person.
When you are a welcoming and affirming church, worship planning is one of the most important ways you can demonstrate that you are welcoming and affirming. My congregation had the benefit of having a woman pastor, so ensuring that men and women were a part of the service was not an issue. Instead we thought about including all kinds of people: some who were old, some who were young, some who were divorced, some who had been married for over thirty years, some who were single, some who were gay, some who were lesbian, some who were black, and some who were white. Although every week we couldn’t include all people, we could think intentionally about who we were asking to lead the worship service because the people who lead in worship are who visitors and congregants see as able to lead and serve God.
By including all types of people in our worship planning, we were challenging many churches’ views that some people were designed by God to lead while others weren’t. I wish I could say historically churches have discriminated people based on the marital status, their gender, and their sexual orientation, but the truth is churches are still discriminating against people because of their martial status, gender, and sexual orientation.
This discrimination can take place in two ways: systematic discrimination or unintentional discrimination. Systematic discrimination occurs when a group of religious leaders get behind an interpretation of the biblical texts that excludes, oppresses, and silences a certain people group. Unintentional discrimination occurs when religious leaders ask people to lead who look like themselves or come from a similar background. Unintentional discrimination comes from unexamined privilege.
Let’s be clear, discrimination is discrimination no matter whether it is systemic or unintentional. We have to work harder as people of faith who are welcoming and affirming to examine our own privilege as well as working to ensure that systemic privilege doesn’t begin to form.
Our calling as religious leaders is to lead and guide by challenging our own privilege and inviting all kinds of voices into our congregation so we continue to learn and grow as God’s people. This calling is more needed in our current context than ever before.
Thanks be to God for second chances when we’ve discriminated against God’s children.