Why do diverse and inclusive communities matter?

by Hilary Willett

I grew up in a charismatic evangelical church, firmly rooted in scripture, very active in the community. It was a good church. When I began attending University, I began to learn about social justice issues that were far bigger than I was used to. The one that particularly hit me was people trafficking. I found myself bewildered by it, partly because I couldn’t believe it existed, partly because I found myself agreeing with secular writers about the causes of these issues (even feminists!) I started to feel isolated in Church, like maybe because I was reading feminist literature, I was naughty in some way.

Perhaps to try to reconcile this tension in myself, I studied theology. In this space, I started to firmly connect my faith with my passion for justice. I became really excited at the thought of the Church helping to change the circumstances of the vulnerable.

Then, I did a thesis on women, feminism, and the Church. This thesis exposed me to what Christians have said throughout history about women; many of these things were not good. One person wrote that women should feel ashamed of themselves for being “vessels of sin”. I felt deeply betrayed by this experience. I felt like I had been told that who I was just wasn’t enough.

I almost walked away from my faith at that point. I was so angry that God had let things get so bad for women. I often like to joke that after one particularly angry prayer with God, I became an atheist for ten minutes until I realised that I needed someone to yell at. So I became a Christian again.

As I slowly rebuilt my faith, I started to realise that knowing the Bible was not enough. Knowing what the Bible says does not necessarily change or form a person. I realised that the only way for the Church to start embracing women in all of their fullness was to have women “at the table”, sharing their experiences with the Church, telling their stories, pushing back when excluded. And then I realised that, actually, everyone else needs to be there too. People of different experiences, ethnicities, sexualities, people who wrestle with mental health difficulties, people with disabilities, people who are neurodivergent, all of them need to be at the table. We need to hear them all. We need to love each other well.

This, for me, is why we need diverse and inclusive communities. After a long time of learning about the Bible and seeing issues of social justice, I am convinced that in order for real change to happen, we need everyone at the table. Everyone needs a voice and everyone needs to be welcomed. How can we know where God is calling us to if we leave people out? We need to journey together.