Us and Them

January 18, 2022
A brass door handle on an old wooden door

I was just reading an article in the Spring 2021 edition of the University of Alberta Alumni magazine, New Trail, and a couple of headlines caught my attention, which then gave me food for thought for this issue of Gathering on ongoing racism in the church.

It feels like there is so much division and polarization in our society today. The first headline in New Trail asked “Who is ‘Us’ Anyway?” The author, Kate Black, begins the thesis with “when we talk about us, there’s an implied edge at which our group stops and another begins.” She goes on to discuss what happens when we choose to expand the notion of “us,” which is a fairly abstract concept. Who exactly is “us”? And moving on to the next logical question, then, who exactly is “them”?

The “us and them” division sometimes creeps into church settings in other guises. The “early” versus “late” service. “Contemporary” versus “traditional” theology or music. “Congregational members” versus “strangers.” “Our denomination or religion” versus “other denominations or religions.”

Many times in my life, especially in my upbringing, I have been guilty of an “us and them” mentality; I won’t deny it. But, I would hope that I am unlearning some of that behaviour. I believe the key is realizing how damaging that mentality can be and then having an open mind, an even more wide-open heart, and a willingness to learn—from past mistakes and from others who experience racism.

We continue to try to break down barriers and strive for a more inclusive, diverse, anti-racist, and Affirming United Church of Canada. As leaders, we can do this through choosing, without tokenism, appropriate music (e.g., from our lists of hymns from various cultures featured in recent issues) that reflects diversity—and leading it with integrity. We can also break down barriers through the choices we make in the language we use and through heartfelt, clear, and open communication, both within our individual congregations and to the wider community.