Is it a security thing?
Is it because by excluding them or ignoring them, we don’t have to explore what we really think or believe?
There’s a potentially apocryphal story about the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, that fits beautifully with where I want to go here. It’s said that Booth was once offered the chance to send a telegram to the rapidly expanding international Army, one which all officers would be able to read. The only problem was that it was pretty expensive, and so he could (or would) only send one word. Apparently he thought log and hard…and came up with this: Others. He wanted his movement to always focus on ‘others’ – for his followers to never forget that the gospel propels us out wards, never to spend our lives navel gazing on messy nonsense.
Now, I’m fairly sure the General would disagree with pretty much all of my theology nowadays, but I want to echo the importance of the idea of ‘others’. Church has spent far too long focusing on the difference between sacred and secular, on saved and heathen, on in and out. We’ve somehow become deeply exclusivist, when what Jesus seems to spend the majority of his time on Earth talking about is opening wide the gates of the kingdom. We want them firmly closed, the pathway narrow…only the true believers in.
Perhaps we’d been in a bit of a better place if we realised what the richness of engaging with ‘others’ can bring to our communities.
One of the things I’ve learnt a lot about over the last decade is how much I’ve learnt about myself and my faith from engaging with those who hold deeply different views to me. And by this I don’t mean becoming entrenched in my theology, ecclesiology and missiology (as can easily happen), but allowing bits and pieces of what I believe be moulded, challenged and reformed. A good friend of mine has taught me a lot about allowing myself to be ‘evangelised’ by others (something Peter Rollins writes often about) – sometimes a deeply uncomfortable experience, but also a deeply beautiful one.
I believe in a God who is just, beautiful, loving and good…and is the source of all that is just, beautiful, loving and good. It can follow (and many will disagree), that wherever we find those things, we find God at work, whatever the label. I’m a bit of an open universalist nowadays, so I’m good with the idea that all those good things seen in other religions, explained science and elsewhere can lead to the truth. I do believe following Jesus is the best possible way to experience this life, but I think God is bigger than labels.
Where does that leave us in terms of real people and real communities? Well, I guess it suggests that instead of being quick to demarcate in and out (and secular and sacred), who ‘believes’ the right doctrine (framework of beliefs) and ‘fits’ – life becomes much messier. We form a community in which there are diverse views and voices, all of which have the right to be heard. I think we can challenge ideas which don’t reflect what is just, beautiful, loving and good, but we can still be in community with those we disagree. So in other words, we don’t accept misogyny, homophobia, racism and whatever else…but we’re part of the journey which helps people to understand why these things don’t reflect the God we believe in.
People are different – but if we truly believe that we’re all made in the image of God, then we need as many different people as possible to truly reflect that image of God. If we all look alike, sound alike, think alike…what does that say about the kingdom?
Being inclusive in church or communities is not about being trendy. It’s not about being ‘shaped by the world’ as opposed to being ‘shaped by the word’. It’s about reflecting the fullness of the justice, beauty, love and goodness of a God whose arms are flung open for the whole of creation.
That has to be worth the messiness that will come.
Trying to root this in what we’ve seen revealed in that Bible thing…