Amos 5:21–24 • I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
Bhagavad Gita 18:20-22 • When one sees Eternity in things that pass away and Infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge. But if one merely sees the diversity of things, with their divisions and limitations, then one has impure knowledge. And if one selfishly sees a thing as if it were everything, independent of the one and the many, then one is in the darkness of ignorance.
Revelation 7:9–12 • After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
For fourteen years I served as the United Methodist campus minister on this campus, working to provide community and leadership opportunities for the students of that community. Because of my connection with a thriving young adult community, I would get invited to come speak to local churches and conferences in the region about ministry with young adults. I would always tell the churches the same message: if you want young adults in your congregation you have to do more than simply welcome them in, you have to let them serve in leadership. I would brag that the students of our community were capable of planning worship services, leading bible studies or discussion groups, organizing mission trips and justice campaigns, and putting together meals and social events. They were used to leading and wanted the opportunity to continue to do so. The churches would have to offer them much more than a seat in the choir or a job keeping an eye on the pre-schoolers.
See, young adults, I’d warn them, know the difference between being offered a meangiful role and being asked to make the church look like a church with young people in it. Between being a part of the community and being “window dressing.” Between diversity and inclusion.
Of course young adults are not the only ones who can perceive that difference. Racial and ethnic minorities know the difference between diversity and inclusion. Religious and cultural minorities know when they’re asked to be a part of the mosaic and when they’re given a chance to participate in the mechanisms of decision making. Now, diversity is a good thing. If a community is diverse, it should reflect that diversity outwardly. But diversity is only half the struggle.
I once had a conversation with someone who grew up as a minority in another country. He talked about the difference between the country’s rhetoric and its action. “With everything they do,” he said, speaking of the majority group, “they make it clear: this is their country; they just let us live here.” His country was diverse; it was not inclusive.
We on this campus, in this nation, have been forced to ask to what degree do we have diversity, but not inclusion? We have heard the cries of our classmates, our colleauges, our friends, that they have understood that they are wanted here, but have not always felt included.
Inclusion is the harder thing. It requires an examination of structures and systems to see whether they have the appearance of equal access but which privilege one group over another. This happens in all kinds of ways from the mundane—the fact that most desk-chair combinations in our classrooms are for right-handed people—to the profound—the much higher likelihood of people of color being stopped by police in traffic stops. The call to inclusion requires more than making sure that there is a diverse array of faces present, it requires us to ensure that the structures allow all those present to participate equally.
This call, I submit, is a moral imperative—and one on which our religious traditions are clear.
II. WHAT OUR TRADITIONS TEACH US
Our religious traditions have long emphasized our common humanity and equality. From the accounts of all human beings descending from common ancestors, to declarations that there are no meaningful divisions in the religious community, to the statement found in the Islamic Hadith that reads:
“For the white to lord it over the black, the Arab over the non-Arab, the rich over the poor, the strong over the weak, or men over women is out of place and wrong”
To the passage from the Bhagavad Gita we heard read earlier:
When one sees Eternity in things that pass away and Infinity in finite things, then one has pure knowledge.
But if one merely sees the diversity of things, with their divisions and limitations, then one has impure knowledge.
And if one selfishly sees a thing as if it were everything, independent of the one and the many, then one is in the darkness of ignorance.
—We see continual affirmation of our inherent equality, especially in the face of the divine.
But our religious traditions do more than highlight our inherent equality; they push us beyond diversity toward justice.
In the passage we heard read a few moments ago, the prophet Amos rebukes the Israelite people with the charge that they have been unfaithful to the covenant with God. When the people object that they are being as observant, as religious as they can be, the prophet reminds the people that their fidelity to God is not lived out in acts of piety or worship, not in praise and singing, but justice and righteousness. Amos ends his oracle by declaring the famous words that Martin Luther King, Jr. would echo centuries later: “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
But what is justice?
Justice is one of those concepts that people are rarely asked to explain. Perhaps everyone assumes that we know what it means. It’s interesting to hear how people use the word. We talk about bringing someone to justice or justice being done or the justice system. All of these usually involve some sense of karmic retribution for a wrong done or payment in kind for deeds of virtue or shame.
But in the faith traditions, justice is about so much more than that. Justice is about ensuring that everyone has equal access to the structures of power. That there is “one law for the native born and the immigrant,” that the rich and the poor have equal access to judgments. That everyone has a seat at the table. That everyone, in the words of the musical Hamilton, is in “the room where it happens.”
In short, in the traditions of faith, justice is inclusion.
When people are involved in the decisions that affect their well-being and their communities, justice rolls down.
When there is one law, one set of expectations, one set of consequences for breaking the law, justice rolls down.
When access to resources is not limited by the ability to climb stairs, justice rolls down.
When systems designed to privilege some at the expense of many are transformed into systems that privilege none, justice rolls down.
When people are more than welcomed, more than simply numbered among the faces in the crowd, but included, justice rolls down.
In the Book of Revelation in the Christian New Testament is a stunning vision of the redeemed. At first there is a recounting of the 144,000 marked for salvation, 12,000 from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But then:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
There was a “great multitude that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…”
The vision of the world to come found here is a vision in which all are included. It is not a narrow vision. It is not a privileged one. It is expansive, broad, inclusive.
Now, we here on this campus are not about to create heaven on earth on our own. But we can claim the vision and seek to live as closely as we can to that vision. We can lovingly hold our own community accountable in its quest for greater inclusion. We can model what justice and inclusion looks like to the world. We can live in such a way that others will be inspired by our example and the world might understand what diversity and inclusion truly look like.
And so we here can claim a vision of a world in which there is equal access for all to the structures of power. A vision of a world in which no one is left out on account of race, ethnicity, ability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or sex. A vision in which all are welcomed, all are included, and all have a seat at the table.
Image courtesy wordle.net
This meditation was delivered by our University Chaplain at the Interfaith Chapel Service, October 5, 2016.