I am a white male. I would like to say that I am recovering, but it’s not something that is easily cast aside. The reality of being a white male is that I a part of a privileged class of folks in my country. Yes, there is certainly a rise in the population of other ethnic groups, and yes, affirmative action and other programs of inclusivity have reduced the privileges of whate maledom, but there it is still true that, for the most part, I know little about the reality and politics of exclusion.
After all, I have and will likely never:
Even more than my white male status, I am also relatively stable financially. Throughout most of the world, my family would be considered rich. We live in a large house that is provided to us by our church. We generally pay the bills. We were able to save and take the family to Disneyworld for a week. When we have a need, or for that matter most desires, we run down to Walmart with little thought. Add to that a high educational level, two adults with post graduate degrees, which helps us access the educational and governmental systems to our advantage, and it all wraps up to a life of privilege.
So any comments I make about exclusion come more from observation than reality.
I do know something about about exclusion. It comes not as one who has been excluded, but as one who excludes. For all my desire to be inclusive, to welcome all into my life, to cast aside my prejudice and bigotry, the reality is that there are a variety of ways that I practice exclusion.
After all, I can talk all I want about being racially inclusive, but when I don’t have friends of color and invite them into my home to break bread, I am excluding. I can preach about social justice every Sunday, but do I really have deep and meaningful freindships with poor folks. I practice exclusion through offering charity instead of relationship, by falling into stereotypes and generalizations about different groups, and by not taking seriously the call of Christ to a life of humility.
Exclusion is practiced regularly in the church. Oh, we give lip service to the inclusion of all. We are certainly willing to welcome “those folks” into our communion. Yet, we seem to think that saying the words and opening the doors is what inclusion is all about.
There are many ways that we exclude folks from full participation in our communal life. However, there are three primary areas of exclusion that I want to think about and deconstruct in this series of posts.
Socio-Economic Exclusion places boundaries based on class, status, and economic propserity. The Protestant Work Ethic of the American experience has created a myth which has suggested that lower economic status is a flaw in character rather than based in systemic and other realities. While the church often offers charity to the poor and marginalized (after all, we can’t completely ignore Matthew 25, these ministries are often focused on affirming our status as the expense of the poor. While there ARE ministries of partnership, the situation in most suburban churches is that we want to keep the poor at a distance.
Racial-Ethnic and Gender Exclusion places boundaries based on physical and sociological characteristics. We continue to live out a legacy of colonialism which divides groups into “us” and “them.” This plays out in our approaches to ministry with folks who are of a different ethnic heritage than our own. How many times have I heard the phrase, “Black folks wouldn’t want to worship with us because “they” worship different.” This isn’t to say that difference aren’t to be acknowledged and celebrated, but far too often we use those definitions as a means of excluding others from the invitation to the table.
I am still working out how to identify the third form of exclusion. The best name that I have come up with so far is Theological – Ethical Exclusion. This system of exclusion uses theological and ethical systems to determine boundaries. This applies to everything from the divide between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, to the battle between Pro-choice and Pro-Life advocates in the states. This one is especially interesting because the primary attack of the religious establishment against Jesus was that he included folks who were theologically and ethically challenged. We use our systems of ethics and our definitions of orthodoxy as a means for excluding persons from the feast.
There are, of course, many other forms of exclusion that I won’t be addressing. It is also true that there is overlap between the three areas. Take the issue of homosexuality for example. Homosexuals will often argue that their exclusion from the table is based more iin the second category, a boundary that questions their core identity. Folks that are working in opposition to inclusion of homosexuals more often than not suggest that they aren’t questioning the identity, but instead an ethical system of sexual behaviors and limits.
As I said in my last post, I am not arguing for a world with no limits or boundaries. Yet those questions are better left to the one who created us than to the created. Our task is to envision the kingdom of grace that God has given us and to broaden our vision of how we all are invited to the table.