• Sarah M. Neal

Inclusivity in Spiritual Communities

Spiritual communities shouldn’t be reserved for just a certain group of people who look, love, and live a certain way.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Tis the Season for numerous spiritual/religious holidays celebrating light, love, faith, unity, and hope. Participants are expected to be on their best behavior and spread joy to their fellow humans. People tend to be more generous and charitable to others whether through random acts of “paying it forward” for someone in the drive thru line behind them, picking up layaway tabs, giving to their preferred charities and even donating gifts for families less fortunate.


What frustrates me about this season is the rampant hypocrisy that tends to take place among many spiritual communities and the lack of genuine inclusivity within a great number of these communities.


Tis the season to celebrate Divine Love and Peace and Joy and Kindness.

Many spiritual communities have a “but” clause. “We give to those less fortunate to us during the Holiday Season, but the rest of the year we look at them with disdain and call them lazy and a drain on society.” “We feed those who are hungry, but only if they will listen to us preach first.” “We love everyone as Christ tells us to, but we will only accept you into our fold if you agree with and follow our dogmatic practices.” “God loves you, but if we don’t like how you look, behave, live then you’re damned to Hell for Eternity.” “God made us all in His Divine Image, but the Devil got a hold of anyone who doesn’t live a ‘wholesome and pure’ life.” “God first, family second, but if anyone in your family is not like us, you must turn them out.” “The Goddess loves all of Her children, but the LGBTQ+ people are an abomination against nature.” “The Divine Feminine resides in all women, but not if you are a transwoman.”


For many who have spiritual practices and beliefs, spiritual communities play an important role. Spiritual communities are supposed to be where one can find acceptance and belonging with those who share similar spiritual beliefs (Christianity, Pagan, Judaism, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism, etc). Yes, some differences in interpretation or practices may occur within the community, but everyone within that community is loved and valued. You see that a lot in Pagan communities where participants all worship different gods from different pantheons or they may worship the same gods, but they have different ways of doing so. But, they’re all Pagan so there’s some sense of community.


What I have never been able to understand is if your spiritual beliefs preach tolerance, love, and respect for all of Divine’s children, then why are so many people pushed out of spiritual communities because of their orientations, identifications, and relationship practices/lifestyles/orientations? If spiritual communities are supposed to provide a haven of acceptance and love for their members then why are there countless members of spiritual communities who are terrified of coming out of the closet. Yes, I understand that there are certain interpretations that say you must be cis-hetero, monogamous, vanilla, and even only have sex for procreation reasons in order to be a true follower of whatever religion. To try to change the minds of these individuals would be like me trying to walk my way through a 6-foot, concrete wall with just my body and sheer will, so I am not going to waste my energy to try to change those minds.


However, there are the less conservative spiritual communities who aren’t as embracing or as inclusive of people who don’t fit into certain boxes when it comes to how they show up in the world as they think they are. There are spiritual communities who know in theory that orientation and identification is not a “lifestyle choice” but a way of being, however have difficulty fully embracing and being inclusive of those who have different orientations or identities than the majority of the community.


These same communities understand that polygamy is all throughout the Bible, but because “that just isn’t the way we do things anymore” can’t accept members who are polyamorous or consensually non-monogamous.


As a result, there are an immeasurable amount of people who are either left without a spiritual community or have had to lock part of themselves away in order to be accepted by those who are supposed to love and accept all – especially those who worship the same Divine Being.


I understand that those within spiritual communities should generally share interpretations and beliefs. We can find a sense of belonging when we are in communities that share our same values. Our spiritual communities should help us to grow and evolve into our Best Selves. What happens when our ideas of our Best Selves our invalidated or condemned because those ideas clash so heavily with our spiritual community’s interpretation of what is “acceptable” by social standards?


We are left stranded. We end up floating in this vast sea of spirituality and the world alone. Maybe we have a raft on which to float, maybe a piece of the wreckage of what we thought spiritual community was about, maybe we are out there treading water alone, trying not to drown.


If some of the goals of spiritual communities are to help its members develop a closeness with Divinity, grow its family in Faith, and embrace those who worship the same Creator, then why are members either still in the dark closet or pushed out, judged, condemned because they look, identify and love differently than others?


Do those of us who identify and love differently not deserve the sanctity, warmth, compassion, love and peace of a spiritual community just because we don’t fall into the “right boxes”? Of course, we do!


EVERYONE who seeks a spiritual community deserves a spiritual community.


EVERYONE who seeks a spiritual community free of judgement and condemnation deserves one.


Spiritual communities shouldn’t be reserved for just a certain group of people who look, love, and live a certain way.


Spiritual communities should be reserved for ALL who seek them.


Spiritual communities are supposed to be sacred and safe for all who wish to enter with the intention of worship, growth, and love.


Spiritual communities are supposed to feel like “home” where you are loved and accepted for being exactly who you are.


Spiritual communities and leaders must do better when it comes to embracing and including “non-traditional” members. This can come from truly understanding our own biases (no matter how deeply they are hidden); educating ourselves to be able to understand and bust myths; it comes from having deep, genuine, and likely uncomfortable conversations to understand how to do better; it means recognizing behavior, policies; programs; and communication that may need to change and then implementing those changes.


Figuring out and coming to terms with who we really are and how our hearts and spirits crave for us to be able to show up in the world is difficult enough in today’s society (still in 2019). Shouldn’t we ALL have the non-judgmental support and love of a spiritual community if we desire it?

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