Messages of Hope

Intersectionality

Published / by Sandy

Intersectionality has become a buzz word in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. While the theory (coined in 1989 by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw) has been used in the academic and social justice context for some time, it has gained more traction in corporate diversity and inclusion practice. Organisations have been intentional in using intersectionality as part of their common language around diversity, affirming the need to create space for and see employees as their ‘whole selves.’ There have been studies that create the case for organizations to replace traditional diversity and inclusion efforts that subscribe to a “check one box,” monolithic approach to difference and identity, with strategies that take into account the complex nature of our intersections.
(Making it real: equity is intersectional, by Brittany J.Harris)

Intersectionality acknowledges that our social identities overlap and intersect and form new, more specific identities with new implications. The individual identity groups we belong to – race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, etc – do not exist in a vacuum, and cannot be compartmentalized. Intersectionality acknowledges that a person can simultaneously belong to multiple historically marginalized groups, and that social identities converge with interlocking systems of power and privilege (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, nativism) and in turn foster engaged, activist work toward social justice.

It’s a lot to get one’s head around, and especially when the common narrative from political and community leaders seems to be in the realm of binary, polarised, ‘us’ and them’, and dualistic thinking.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace Ji-Sun Kim applies the concepts and questions of intersectionality to theology, highlighting that intersectionality demands attention to the Christian thinker’s own identities and location within systems of power and the value of deep consideration of complementary, competing, and even conflicting points of view that arise from the experiences and understandings of diverse people. Her book challenges readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion rooted in an ecclesiology that embraces difference and centres social justice. We were privileged at Pilgrim to have Grace speak at a service a few weeks ago, and she also enlarged upon intersectional theology at a special event at UCLT (theological college).

At the recent UCA President’s Conference in Fiji which I attended, Rev. Dr Sef Carroll spoke about using the lens of intersectionality to respond to issues of justice to ensure that we seek the liberation of all, including all of creation. Creation itself can be considered as marginalised by the utilitarian use of the earth’s resources, especially by big companies.

Earth Overshoot Day each year is the date that indicates when we have used more from nature than the planet can replenish this year, when people will have used up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for all of 2019. It happened this on Monday July 29th, 2019. The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year’s date is the earliest ever, according to a study by the Global Footprint Network.

In the Psalm reading last Sunday, we read, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky’. But the fecundity of precious earth has been damaged. Farmers are now trying to find way to grow drought proof grain crops. The mining giant Adani plans to take 12.5 billion litres of water from the Suttor River every year, nearly as much as all local farmers combined. The company has been given a licence to take water at a rate of up to 11,600 litres per second – a rate that would fill an Olympic swimming pool in about 3.5 minutes. This is a world where some gain wealth at the expense of their own workers who are simply trying to make ends meet. This is a world where every hour 300 football fields of precious forest in South East Asia are being ploughed to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in everything from snack foods to soaps. It is found in over half all packaged items on our supermarket shelves. In just the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. Over 6,000 orangutans are lost each year.

By using the lens of relational and inclusive justice and intersectionality, we can ensure that no one, including the earth itself, is left out. As Sef said, ‘this is a call to discipleship that is both rewarding and costly’. Indeed.