Microagressions and Microinvalidations In Religious Institutions

chaliceMicroaggressions and microinvalidations are inclusive of, but not limited to issues of race.  They also appear in religious institutions where people of a dominant culture or ideologies are unable to own their privilege and unwilling to divest themselves of said privilege in dealing with those who’s personhood is marginalized within any context.  The egregious effects of these marginalizing and dismissive moments are multiplied when a person experiences the intersectionality of multiple burdens. When a person is Black, from a non-dominant religious tradition, female, and maybe, in the case of higher education, non-tenured, these lived realities add up to creating environments that are at best difficult to navigate.

Religious institutions such as churches, universities, and hospitals are often centers of ideological hegemony. Those systems of practices, meanings, and value which provide legitimacy to the dominant society’s institutional arrangements and interest are covertly communicated through microaggressions which serve to validate and make legitimate oppressive beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. This is often carried out in religious institutions under the false pretense of progressive liberalism or the cover of conservativism. Microagressions are brief, everyday exchanges, that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group affiliation, while microinvalidations invalidate, negate, or exclude thoughts, feelings, and experiential realities of targeted parties (Yarber 2015). Such is the experience of minoritized people in world; but the emotional and mental toll of these experienced is magnified when the safety of a religious space is diminished because of these experiences.

Culture is the totality of any given groups way of life and comprises a people’s total social heritage, including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organization and traditions (Douglas 1999). Whether or not an organization claims to be religious in its aim, expression, or beliefs, that organization is still a repository of culture. Far too often the culture of the organization takes on the complexion of the dominant power group of that culture.  This cultural identity serves as a barrier to the success of non-dominant people within that organization or community. Most people within a dominant culture fail to understand this phenomenon as privilege because privilege and supremacy are far too often valorized and encoded in justice or faithfulness language. For those who have had marginality thrust upon them the experience is often a painful burden. It is of great emotional and mental anguish to be tolerated, but not fully recognized, particularly in a religious context (Laurent A. Parks Daloz 1996).

As a Protestant Black Pentecostal Bishop, working in a Catholic institution dedicated to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, I understand clearly the effects of microaggressions and microinvalidations. I also see the impact of these interactions on my colleagues who are woman. I am aware of and mourn with those who encounter the realities of being openly LBGTQ+ membersLords-Supper-Church-Stock-Photos of communities who do not affirm their sacred worth. As a liturgist, I am committed to finding pathways of healing for all people when we as community gather in worship.  The music, the gathering, the shared meal, and the story is our best opportunity to welcome everyone to the table.

A welcome table is not a place for erasure of our contradictory personhoods; it is the place where ALL of who we are is welcome to the table. We are never in worship asked to be less of our authentic selves, instead we are invited to express our whole self wholly and as Holy!  Finding common ethical and behavioral ground is as important to the survival of the community as the theology of the welcoming table is to the creation of a community (Flunder 2005). It is not enough to say everyone is welcome; we must commit to allowing each person to maintain their full authentic voice at the table without fear of aggression or invalidation if there is to be any hope for our religious communities to survive.

Peace Is Possible,


Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 


Works Cited

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where The Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgram Press.

Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen, Sharon Daloz Parks. 1996. Common Fire. Boston: Beacon Press.

Yarber, Cody J Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microagressions in Ministry . Louisville : Westminster John knox Press.

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