Being marginalized is often framed as a deficit, but when it comes to being a faith leader, experiences of marginalization can prove to be an asset, as can be attested by many in congregations around the country, in the Civil Rights Movement, even in the Bible. Many who are marginalized -- whether because of race, age, career, gender or sexuality-- are inspired by their struggles to take up spiritual leadership, can see what more privileged people miss, and are prepared to navigate diverse communities.
Being marginalized inspires spiritual leadership.
The experience of marginalization often inspires marginalized people to become spiritual leaders. Growing up on the margins--whether through your sexuality, gender, race, age, or ability status-- you are a witness to a variety of injustices that more privileged people might ignore. Many marginalized people feel called to challenge the systems and culture that oppress them. Such individuals might organize against unjust labor laws, fight systemic racism, or minister to LGBtQ people abandoned by their parents.
Being marginalized helps you see what those with privilege often miss.
Many faith leaders experience a great deal of privilege. If you are always looking at the world from the center, your perspective can become rigid, you may not see the injustices around you and thus not know how to challenge dangerous and harmful aspects of culture.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the “outsider” status provides numerous characters with insight necessary to lead the people of Israel. For example, many of the prophets were outsiders who tried to change broken systems. As an enemy of kings and prisoner of state, Jeremiah saw that tyranny and religious hypocrisy would lead to the collapse of the kingdom. Deborah was a woman prophet in a male-dominated society, and yet led men in military victory. Gideon was a peasant hiding from occupying forces and knew how to maneuver his military forces through the land. Jephthah, the outcast son of a sexworker, led the very people who banished him.
Being marginalized helps you be adaptable.
In a 1973 interview with Bill Moyers, Maya Angelou said: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” Angelou is speaking about the ability to traverse a variety of communities when you are not bound to a single one.
When you are marginalized, you learn from an early age to navigate spaces that were not necessarily made for you. You learn to speak to different kinds of people. You are constantly challenged to see through perspectives that are different from your own.
By not belonging too comfortably in one community, with its specific norms and values, leaders who have experienced marginalization can go into situations where others would feel ill-equipped. They know how to adapt to their surroundings, when to listen, when to speak, and when it is necessary to break rules.
Want to use your experience to serve others as a faith leader?
If you’ve experienced marginalization in your life, you’ll find a home at United. There are many here whose identities, perspectives, or life experiences are outside the norm. It is an environment of solidarity, care, and openness to new and different ideas. Using their own experiences of marginalization, students learn to practice true hospitality and explore privilege in a critical and constructive way that honors diversity and difference. At United, we believe that your experience of marginalization is an asset to your calling to spiritual ministry and faith leadership.
Access to reliable technology can be a barrier to a career as a faith leader. United wants to help, so we're offering a computer to applicants between now and May 20.