The examples of Christ’s inclusivity are many. There is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, whose people were so despised by the Jews of the day for their ways of worship and ancestry.
There is the story of the tax collector, shunned from his society because of his overbearing collections and swindling.
Who can forget the story of he adulterous woman, unclean and despised in her own society because of her act.
All of these, although they were excluded from their own society, were ministered to or healed by Jesus. Of course it only takes a few seconds to apply the proper words of those excluded today to see the example is still the same. Yet what has not changed is the ministry of Jesus as one that reached primarily to the outcasts of society.
Today it does not seem that much has changed. We are willing to point out the speck in other’s eyes while ignoring our own.
We quickly jump to the injustices committed by followers of other religions and ignore the ones done in the name of our own. The message of the institution has become one of conformity, not transformation. The message has become more of exclusivity rather then inclusion.
Until we can overcome this narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness, the institutional church will become more and more irrelevant to the people for whom it is suppose to exist.
We cannot continue to see ourselves a superior to one another. To continue on that path is to shut out the beauty of the diversity of God’s creation.
Perhaps even more distressing, however, is the fact that we practice exclusion in our churches in so many other ways, all those isms’s come to mind.
People of different ethnic backgrounds still tend to group together at churches, and there is very little mixing.
Many mainline churches refuse to acknowledge female ministers.
The poor and/or homeless are often made to feel unwelcome because they lack the proper attire for church or cannot give to the latest building fund.
Those of minority sexual orientation (GLBTQI in straight churches, straight in GLBTQI churches) are made to feel uncomfortable there, if not by doctrine, then by social interaction. Our churches rather then leading us toward God keep pushing us farther and farther away. They have become a place to have our ignorance (and prejudices) upheld and reinforced, rather than challenged and changed.
The price we pay for this is incalculable. Without differing viewpoints provided by different backgrounds and experiences, our beliefs and view of the world can become dangerously skewed. We lose the ability to make well-informed decisions on outreach, because we have no idea what the people “out there” need. In fact we reject any notion of God’s creation having a free will with the unique ability to think and choose.
Instead we fall into a circle of self-congratulatory ego-boosting, rather than truth seeking. We become Christians or people of faith in word(s) only, not in deed.
How can we make EVERYONE welcome in our churches and communities? Well, for openers seeing each and every person as a unique creation of no less then God.
In truth, God loves us greatly in every way, and does not focus on our shortcomings; rather, the Creator wishes us improvement for our own sake.
We might be able to realize that we are so much more alike than different – and that the differences only add good contrast, not discord, to our “big picture.”
I think the mindset change would bring about other action changes – truly becoming involved in our communities, conversing with – not proselytizing – followers of other creeds, making sure we welcome everyone into our midst.
All of this must be proactive – we must work toward it, or nothing will ever happen. That work begins with our own personal outlook.
Rev. Paul M. Turner is the Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta. For more information, please visit www.gentlespirit.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.