Belonging is the heartbeat of inclusion. Those words from today’s guest blogger Shelly Christensen resonate with me, and I believe they may resonate with you, too. In this post she provides a biblical framework for inclusion and reminds us that inclusion is the soul of a community.
“For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:7
Centuries ago, the Israelite people followed a shepherd from Egypt into the wilderness toward a new future. Little did they know that without God’s inclusion, Moses might never have been chosen because of his speech disability.
God made it possible for Moses to fulfill his destiny as the leader of the Israelites by providing Aaron to speak for him. This was the first recorded accommodation in history. Moses could do the work that God commanded him to do as he led the Israelites to freedom.
God chose Moses because of the leadership qualities and strengths he possessed. His speech disability was insignificant in God’s plan.
In Numbers 12:10-15, Miriam was stricken with leprosy when she spoke out against Moses’ wife Zipporah. Moses beseeched God, “O God, pray heal her!” God demanded Miriam’s banishment from the camp for seven days. Following her solitary week, she was readmitted. When Miriam returned, all the people moved on together.
That is inclusion. We move on together as one people. As we learn from our ancestors, our community is not whole unless everyone is present. Inclusion means everyone has the opportunity to share his or her gifts and strengths, like Moses did.
And when one person is left outside of our community, like Miriam, we are not complete.
The prophet Isaiah laid before us a mighty opportunity to include all people in our own faith communities. Many faith communities use Isaiah’s teaching (56:7), “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” to let people know that they are welcome.
This is a wonderful aspiration. It tells us what we can become. But it doesn’t describe why inclusion is a holy mandate in our congregations and faith-based organizations.
In the years I wrote From Longing to Belonging I continually searched the Hebrew bible to find a way to explain and understand the theology of belonging.
I returned to Isaiah 56:7. Whereas the last sentence of this verse is more well-known, it is the first part that tells us why belonging is the heartbeat of inclusion.
“I will bring them to My holy mount, and
I will cause them to rejoice in My house of prayer,
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar.”
In God’s eyes, each person contributes to this world. God doesn’t just bring us to God’s holy mount. God accepts the gifts we contribute, and we all rejoice in the holy connections we make with each other. In God’s eyes, everyone belongs. That is how our communities become houses of prayer for all people. This is God’s concept of inclusion. I knew it could become ours.
Shelly Christensen, MA, FAAIDD, is the co-founder of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month, now in its 11th year. She is an international speaker, trainer, author and consultant to faith communities. Her new book is From Longing to Belonging—A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community. Shelly sits on the board of the Faith Inclusion Network (FIN), which is sponsoring the Community for ALL weekend, February 29–March 1, 2020. For more information about the weekend and to find ideas about how to make your faith community more inclusive, visit the Community for All Facebook page.
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