Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Gracism and a Theology of Inclusion

I’ve been part of a small working group for the past 10 years that’s been looking at the issue of racism within our denomination. It’s been an incredible experience - I’ve learned a lot of uncomfortable truths about myself, our denomination and our society. I've learned that racism really does affect us ALL and that we’re participants in racist attitudes and systems, even when we’re not aware of it - even when we don’t have much day to day contact with people of other races or cultures.

I began to notice a lot of points of intersection between the conversations of our working group and observations from other aspects of my work: cross-cultural mission, reducing the stigma of mental illness, helping to protect the vulnerable from abuse... I came across a little book by David Anderson that has helped me to think more clearly about how we might overcome racism, but I think the principles of this book have a much broader application. The title of the book is Gracism - a clever combination of grace - a positive and welcome term - and racism - with all of its negative connotation. Gracism is “the positive extension of favor on other humans based on color, class or culture”. That’s favor, not favoritism. It’s about giving to people what they NEED, not a command to treat everyone the same.

Gracism is not about rights but about authentic love for our neighbor – it requires honesty, vulnerability, sensitivity…

Here are a couple of quotes that will help you see how Anderson defines a gracist:

“This is the heart of the gracist. The one who hears, sees and pays attention to those on the margins – those in the desert – is a gracist.” (pg. 23)
“Are you a gracist? The heart of a gracist extends a helping hand to those who are outside the positive norms of a particular society… gracists build bridges of inclusion for those on the margins.” (pg. 29)

How can you tell if you - or someone else - is a gracist? How can you tell if your faith group or denomination operates out of a gracism mindset? Anderson identifies 7 habits of a gracist:

I will lift you up. I will cover you. I will share with you. I will honor you. I will stand with you. I will consider you. I will celebrate with you.

A pretty impressive list, eh? Isn't that the kind of person we'd like to be? By all accounts, the kind of person that Jesus was when he lived on this earth in human form? The kind of person we are drawn to as we journey through life, with all of its frailties and inconsistencies, its passion and pain?

And just imagine a whole community which embraces and lives out these 7 principles!!! It would be a place of great comfort and healing and a place from which people might be launched into the surrounding territory as ambassadors of hope.

For me, it's a description of what the church - that is, the universal body of believers - ought to be, by its very nature. Gracism creates space for everyone to belong, no matter who they are or what they've done or what they think. It's a place where stones and stone throwers are conspicuously absent. It's a place of great humility. A place where EVERYONE is given the benefit of the doubt - again and again and again. A place of rich diversity and a place where peace passes understanding. A place of great faith. A place of irrepressible hope. A place of unconditional acceptance and love.

Who wouldn't want to be part of a community like that?

If you're interested in finding out more about Gracism, the book, check out this short youtube video with author, David Anderson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEG-TUy0Fqo.

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