Othering and Belonging: A New Task Force

part of the Mission Focus
of the Social Justice Action Team
Church of the Palms UCC

There is a new task force at Church of the Palms: Othering and Belonging (O&B). It has formed out of the continued investment in education events around the social justice issues of anti-racism, oppression, marginalized people, criminal justice, etc.

O&B will be exploring further education opportunities, additional social justice ministries opportunities and collaboration with other social justice like organizations/ institutions for those we sadly call “the other” in our society.

It is likely most have not heard the word “othering” and assume they know the full meaning of “belonging.” Let’s explore both words in the context of our responsibility to include all at God’s table.

What is othering?

Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group 1… Othering also involves attributing negative characteristics to people or groups that differentiate them from the perceived normative social group. Othering in our world is the marginalized, the oppressed, people of color whether that be black, Asian/Pacific Island, Indigenous North Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, “isms” such as sexism and ageism populations. You get the idea. Someone not meeting the standards of “white norms,” not having had the privileges of being white in this nation.

In marginalized groups, we find it expanded to those living in poverty, homeless, disabled, mentally ill and once again not “normal and white” as some wish the world to be.1 Even to the point of making that group seem less than human. This process can trigger instinctive emotional reactions towards members of that group.

What are examples of othering?

It not only can be pronounced and displayed in public or private, but the subtle expressions are just as damaging.

“Othering” can be as subtle as:

  • Ignoring people’s ideas, work, or opinions.
  • Not giving people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Failing to share important information.
  • Avoidance.
  • Withholding resources.
  • Excluding people from meetings or social events.1

“Othering” is a pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on having identities that are different from the what the norm states.2

dr. john a powell (no capitals because he considers himself no higher than any other part of creation) is an internationally known professor on the topic of “othering and belonging.” He is a lawyer and Professor of African American Studies at U. of California at Berkeley. He founded the “Othering and Belonging Institute” at Berkeley (2012). He has written and lectured extensively on structural racism, othering and belonging.

powell notes that vast impact of othering:

“The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of “othering.” In a world beset by seemingly intractable and overwhelming challenges, virtually every global, national, and regional conflict is wrapped within or organized around one or more dimension of group-based difference. Othering undergirds territorial disputes, sectarian violence, military conflict, the spread of disease, hunger and food insecurity, and even climate change.”3

“We conclude with a call for belonging and inclusion as the only sustainable solution to the problem of othering.”5


It is critical to note that the “opposite of ‘Othering’ is not ‘saming,’” it is belonging. “And belonging does not insist that we are all the same. It means we recognize and celebrate our differences…where ‘we the people’ includes all the people.”3

The most important good we distribute to each other in society is inclusiveness that consists of all rights and privileges without any criteria, proof, or hoops to jump.

The right to belong is prior to all other distributive decisions since it is members who make those decisions. Church of the Palms has exhibited a deep awareness of language and its importance when they decided to become open to LGBTQ+. A member of this church at that time recalls the conversations around being “open.” The LGBTQ+ community was clear that the word “open” without the word “affirming” has no substance. Thus, we are an Open and Affirming congregation.

One of the three major words in our church’s mission statement is “an extravagant welcome!” Belongingness entails an unwavering commitment to not simply tolerating and respecting difference, but to ensuring that all people are welcome and feel that they belong in the society. powell’s institute calls that the “circle of human concern.”4

powell and Toppin explains this “circle of human concern”:

“This calls for the right not only to participate in the ordering of society and its rules but also to co-create who we are as a people. Ideally, the circle of human concern would be wide and encompassing enough to hold all people within its boundaries, as well as all forms of life and nature.”6

The Church of the Palms is ready to broaden its definition of “extravagant welcome,” and we are not bashful as to what that means. All are welcome and belong at God’s table. In simplest terms…we affirm the humanity of all. They are to be no longer separate but fully included.

powell and many others consider this to be what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as: The Beloved Community.

The O&B Task Force is on solid theological ground with its focus on “Belonging” to counteract all the exclusionary practices and marginalized people of this world. One example in the Hebrew text in Jeremiah 1:5 hears God’s words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”7 The New Testament reinforced the Creator’s design with the clear statement in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 7

Our privilege and responsibility is now to step into identifying “othering” and extending invitations to “belonging” with the Church of the Palms, as we are the church in our communities, at work, and at home.


1 MacMillan Dictionary
2 Eskalera https://eskalera.com/what-is-othering/
3 Us vs them: the sinister techniques of ‘Othering’ – and how to avoid them
john a powell The Guardian, Nov 8, 2017.
4 Tom Rudd, “Marc Anthony and the Circles of Cognitive Caring,” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, August 2, 2013, accessed February 16, 2015,
5 John A. Powell, Symposium, “The Needs of Members in a Legitimate Democratic State,”
44 Santa Clara L. Rev. 969 (2004), accessed on May 30, 2016,
6 AMA Journal of Ethics: Illuminating the Art of Medicine. john a. powell & Eloy Tompin, Jr., MMP. 2021;23(2):E166-174.
7English Standard Version of the Bible.

© Othering & Belonging Task Force Church of the Palms, January 2022
David Klingensmith, Chair; John Durbin; Mary Hoy; Kay Klinkenborg; Nancee Noel; Nancy Nonini