When Inclusive is Still Exclusive

black and white hands holding together

I learned something as I taught my kids how to play together. I have three kids under the age of six. After a nice, albeit a little irreverent, session of at-home church, the kids built a blanket fort in the living room. My 2-year-old was distraught as her older siblings continued to swoosh her away and stop her from helping to build the fort.

I taught my older two children about how it doesn’t feel good when every time someone tries to play, they are denied. I told them to find a way to include their sister. “Find something she can do,” I told them.

A few minutes later, I heard the oldest exclaiming he had a great idea! He proceeded to build his sister her own fort. To his disappointment, his little sister was not satisfied. When I inquired what had happened, he told me about how he chose to include his sister by building her own house in the same “neighborhood.” That way, she has her own house nearby and she doesn’t need to come in theirs!

Related: White Privilege — A Latter-day Saint’s Perspective

Thought-Provoking Current Events

Suddenly, it hit me. First, a little background—In the United States, a person of color was wrongly killed by a police officer. The events that transpired are absolutely wrong. It’s sad, disheartening, and angering what happened to this individual. As a result of this man’s death and the racial injustice it represents to many Americans, there are riots and protests. We are having many conversations about race, privilege, injustice, discrimination, inclusion, what to teach our kids, how we should respond as individuals and as a nation.

As these events have transpired, I have spent quite a bit of time sorting through my own feelings and praying on these topics. What do I believe? How do I feel about others? How do I treat others? How inclusive am I really? And most importantly, what am I not seeing?

What is Inclusiveness?

colorful hands together

When my son told me about his plan to include his sister by trying to satisfy her need for inclusion in a way that allowed him to also keep her at a distance, it struck my heart and brought me to tears. You see, I consider myself a pretty inclusive person. I’m the first one to introduce myself to the new person at church (yes, the white people and the people of color). I’ve had best friends of all colors, I feel like I treat everyone equally, and just like everyone else, I don’t see my own prejudices.

When I heard my son tell me his plan to include his sister just enough that she won’t feel excluded, I saw myself and our country including people that are different than us just enough that they won’t feel excluded.  Because here’s the thing, you can tell another kid they can play in the same sandbox as you, but if you aren’t actively inviting and welcoming them to join your circle, I would challenge you to ask yourself… are you really including them?

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

When that person walks in the door who talks differently, who looks different, who smells different or acts different, are you including them with a pleasant smile and then excluding them as you turn away? Or are you welcoming them with a truly open heart to come to join you, to be a part of your circle, to break bread with you?

Are you inviting them to be a part of your life? Or are you letting them know that it’s okay to live in your neighborhood, as long as they don’t come inside your house? Ouch. For me, that question hurt a little bit.

I’ve endlessly welcomed newcomers and those who looked like they might need a friend. However, as I prayed to see what I wasn’t seeing, I saw, and it hurt. It turns out there is a big difference between welcoming someone into your neighborhood and welcoming someone into your life.

The Example of Christ

person of color holding a white persons hand

Alma 5:33 says, “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended toward them” [emphasis added].

You see, Christ doesn’t stop at welcoming us. He invites us. He invites us into His fold. He invites us and He wants us to join Him and partake of His goodness. Likewise, so must we. As followers of Christ, we must not stop at welcoming someone into our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, and our churches.  We must be willing to invite even and especially people who are different than us, into our lives.

To truly be of one fold and one heart and one mind, it requires more than simply saying hello and being nice to people who are different than you. True inclusion is deeper than that and I invite each of us to do better. And I mean each of us.

This is not about race or religion or orientation or the myriad of other distinguishing factors. This is about human beings caring about other human beings, not simply caring about the idea of caring about other human beings. We can and we must do better.

As it says in Alma 5:26, “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”

Related: Guest Opinion: My Black Husband Didn’t Defend Me in Front of the Police. Here’s Why

guest author charlynn smiles for cameraCharlynn enjoys cooking, being the mom of 3 kids, wife to a great husband and crazy dancing with her kids. She has a passion for helping others see their true value in the sight of God and making a positive impact on the world around her.