Inclusive Leadership

The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Middle Village.

The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Middle Village.

This month I was given a course at my workplace called “Inclusive Leadership”. The general theme was to show how our biases towards people determine whether they are included or excluded. Among the “students” were several seasoned managers, myself included, who started the morning with a bit of a smug attitude. We thought we already had a pretty good handle on the diversity and inclusion issue.

We were wrong.

The instructor started by calling for people who were left-handed. There were two in the class. She asked them to name all of the ways that they felt “excluded” because of their left-handedness. Soon we had a long list: difficulty learning handwriting, getting ink or pencil smudged on the side of the hand, needing to sit at the end of the table in a restaurant so that they don’t bump elbows with right handed people, chairs with the flip-up desk on the right side, spiral notebooks that catch on sleeves, and other indignities. One person even remembered being forced to use the right hand for writing. Those of us who were right-handed were astounded. None of us ever deliberately discriminated against left-handed people. We did not think of left-handers as an excluded group, and yet they were.

The class continued with listing all kinds of ways we might include people, most of them things we do not think about consciously. This included how a person dresses, whether they have an accent, how tall or short they are, whether they smoke, the place they live and many, many more. In the end we realized we all had biases that can cause us to view people unfavorably. We all needed to be on our guard not to let those biases cause exclusive or unfair treatment of our colleagues.

I write this because Trinity is the most inclusive Lutheran congregation I have ever joined. I have been an active member in 12 Lutheran congregations in various parts of the country that have all been wonderful in their own way, but at Trinity I felt an acceptance and openness that is truly remarkable.

Trinity is fortunate to be located in the most diverse county in the United States. We have ample opportunity for practicing inclusivity. This can be as simple as a genuine welcome given to someone visiting our church for the first time.

Yet biases are sneaky. Human beings naturally like to be with others that are most like themselves and are threatened by people that are different. We may pre-judge people before we even have a chance to think about it. Christ set a very clear example regarding inclusivity. He associated with the outcast, the poor, the lame, women, and people of other religions. We are to treat all as children of God. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort. That’s okay – we know that Christians are a work in progress.

Inclusivity is the right thing to do. But it also has tremendous benefits. Getting close to people who are different lets you see things from another point of view. Differences in opinions generally lead to better decision-making. Diversity in talents and skills build a better organization. Best of all, when you come to accept a person that is different, you are stretching your spiritual love muscles. We gain a better appreciation of God’s love for us. For after all, are we not very different from God? And yet He loves us.

St. Paul describes a church as a body with many members. The parts of the body are very different and all have a special function. All of the parts are needed for the body to function at its best. And all of the parts of the body are connected.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Romans 12:3-5

Have you ever had an experience where you overcame a bias to start a friendship? Would you consider sharing your story? Email me using the form below:

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