Reformed Inclusion Riders

So, yes, like lots of folks I was watching the Academy Awards last night. At points I wondered why - but I admit I kept getting suckered in by (of all things) the pit orchestra which was playing Big Band, Cole Porter, etc. Even when the presentations got tedious, I was sustained by Cole.

Sustained until near the end, when Frances McDormand gave her now-famous acceptance speech for the "Actress in a Leading Role" award. I loved it when she asked all the women nominees in every category to stand for recognition: "C'mon, Meryl, if you do it everyone else will." And they did. But she ended her remarks with "I just have two words for you: Inclusion Rider." Apparently that sent everyone racing to Google to see exactly what she meant.

I assumed that she meant something like "freedom rider." But maybe I wasn't totally wrong. "Freedom Riders" were those brave people, blacks and whites, who rode buses across the South in the 1960s to protest segregated bus terminals. "Inclusion rider" is a contractual thing, not an actual journey. It's something that big-enough stars can request before they sign a movie contract. With an inclusion rider, the actor can require that not only the cast but the crew reflect at least 50% diversity. I guess in a similar way, they're riding alongside the more vulnerable to provide opportunity.

To acquire an inclusion rider, you have to know how to ask for it, and you have to be famous enough to demand it. But McDormand was apparently seeking to supply both of those things in her remarks last night: making sure that actors (a) know what it is, and (b) know that they can include it in their contracts.

You know me. Of course that got me thinking about my vocation. I thought, why do we need to ask for that? But I need look no further than the aforementioned Freedom Riders, no further even than the daily headlines, to know why. I hate it that diversity and inclusion has to be legislated by contractual agreement. But that's not new to Presbyterians. Even in my own line of work, we require search committees to attest to the fact that they have used "affirmative action" when seeking their new pastor. Even so, I am aware of some Pastor Nominating Committees who check that box and never think again about having made that commitment. And there are folks - even this writer - who have been eliminated from consideration for being too old, too young, too female, too male, too black, too white, too gay, too straight, too far left, too far right.

This all got me thinking about what an "inclusion rider" might look like for the church in general, and Presbyworld in particular. Could pastors, as part of their terms of call, decline a call to a congregation whose PNC, or whose Session, or maybe whose congregation, did not reflect 50% diversity? Could Committees on Ministry (or their equivalents) refuse to approve MIFs for congregations who did not first agree to interview equal numbers of diverse and non-diverse candidates?

I have always affirmed, in my own "call life" as well as to congregations and candidates I serve, that "God works through and in spite of the call process." The call process can be one of the most rewarding, and one of the most frustrating, times that pastors endure. If I did not believe down to my toes that the Holy Spirit is an active partner in the call process, I don't know that I could continue doing what I do. Given that, how is it that we can insure that the right candidates get before the right congregations without leaning on legislation that can be easily ignored?

I don't know. But I'm going to be thinking about it.


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