Everyone Deserves a Seat at the Table, But We’re Not All Present
The Church Has Failed at Proper Representation and We Desperately Need to Work on It.
I went to church for the first time yesterday—the first time in a few years, anyway.
Yes, in the midst of everything going on, I snuck in the back row of a church (with my mask on the whole time because reasons [there’s a parallel there]). It’s been probably close to two years or so since I’ve been to a church for a non-Christmas/Easter/whatever service, and it’s my first time going to church since moving back to my home city.
I went to a church that some friends of mine go to, a church I had never been to before and a church that I knew up front is non-affirming. I sat in the back by myself, doing my best to avoid the need to code-switch for any reason. And while I was standing in the back and taking a look at the stage during the opening worship set, I noticed a black woman on stage wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt co-leading worship. It was a pleasant surprise to see, even if she was the only black person on stage and one of only two women on stage. Seeing her, though, made me think about how important that representation is to anyone watching that service. To see a black woman on stage in a predominantly white, decent-sized church co-leading worship intentionally and boldly wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt—that’s wicked important. Straight up, the majority of the room was white. Which is fine, but that makes that message even more important, in my opinion. It all got me to thinking about how important it is for our churches to have that kind of representation from their stages, their pulpits, etc., and most importantly how little representation most of our churches have. And then, out of the blue in the midst of all of these thoughts, I caught myself saying this:
“Must be nice to be able to see yourself on stage. I’ve never seen anyone like me on a stage like that before.”
For the first time, I finally said what I’ve been feeling for years but could never find the words to say. I have never been in a church before where I’ve looked to the stage—during worship, preaching, whatever—and saw someone like me on that stage. I’ve been to the largest megachurch in the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana region, I’ve been to smaller churches and medium-sized churches and churches of varying denominations; still, I have never seen anyone like me—a gay millennial—on a stage. And, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, that’s played a major part in my absence from attending a local church over the last few years.
We talk a lot about how representation matters in pop culture and society as a whole—and rightly so. Seeing minorities of any and every kind taking center stage is vitally important no matter what how you look at it. We’ve seen it with movies like Black Panther, Moana, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, we’ve seen it in this most recent general election in the U.S. electing the first woman—a woman of color!—Vice President and confirming the first openly gay cabinet member and first trans cabinet member, and on and on. But in spite of this, the church at large—especially in America—has failed at actually representing the broad, beautiful diversity that is humanity.
Of course, I say all of this knowing that forced diversity is worse than no diversity; a token person of color or a token woman, etc., is often worse than not having actual diversity and inclusion and equity. But if we as the church at large are going to preach that part of our cornerstone is this idea that the cross is an equalizer and source of empowerment, that the church has many parts who are all equal, then we must do better at actually representing that on a large-scale and in our local church communities. We must create and allow space for organic inclusion and equity and integration; for people of color to boldly integrate in their suburban churches when they choose to do so, for women across the board to boldly take charge and lead in any and every avenue, and yes—for LGBT+ folxs the ability to boldly do the same. The church, the body of Christ, is comprised of each and every one of us; the point of Paul telling the Galatian church that there is ‘neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ is not to negate nor erase our identities—the point is that the faith brings us all to the same table and grants us an equal playing field with empowered voices.
True equity. Yet the church has failed this simple reminder time and time again; hence Paul needing to remind the Galatian church and, thus, us as well that we are all truly equal. Why, then, have we as an overarching church failed this? Why have we stuck to our status quo? Are we afraid of being bold? Women were the last at the cross and the first at the empty tomb, who then went on to be the first to preach the news of the resurrected Christ; why, then, are women continually silenced and denied positions of authority in the church? The early church in its many factions were comprised of Jews-turned-Christian and Greek-Gentiles alike, among many other races and cultures (the Ethiopian eunuch comes to mind here); why, then, are so many of our American churches white-washed and lacking authentic diversity and inclusion and equity? The LGBT+ community has been continually shat on by the church with our existences denied and damned because of mistranslations and confirmation biases; why, then, have our allies not fought harder on our behalf if love does no harm to a neighbor and love is the fulfillment of the law? Lest we forget that each and every one of us—every gender, every race, every sexuality, every culture, and on—are true reflections of the image of God.
I wish I had answers. I wish I had better representation. But perhaps it is those very moments that are the wake-up-call for us to enact change. Perhaps it’s the woman on stage wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt to church that is the wake-up-call and catalyst for the rest of us to reclaim our seat at the table.
The church at large has failed at properly representing the true, beautiful diversity that is creation, and we desperately need to work on it.