Exclusion — After a long hiatus

After a long hiatus in writing, it seems only fair that I should get back to work. Of course, as we all attempt to do, it would be easy to justify myself as too busy to take on writing this blog. Yet that is really a cop out. I haven’t been to busy to play Top Down Baseball on Pogo or to partake of my political junkie fix via a variety of blogs. It really comes down the the notion that I haven’t had much to say, and frankly I didn’t have a need to write. But it’s time to get back into the discipline, so here goes.

We left off thinking about exclusion with a post from my friend Sue that touched the surface of theological exclusion. Those of us in the mainline church have been real faithful in dealing with issues of socio-economic and racial/ethnic exclusion. Likewise we have been out front (well, timidly a bit ahead) on issues of gender. What we have failed to talk about very much is the church’s ability to exclude folks from the table based on theological, political, and ethical beliefs.

Now at first glance, these areas may not seem connected. Yet, as I think we are discovering in the midst of this political season, one’s theology is closely tied to ones political and ethical beliefs, whether we want to believe that our not. Then again, maybe our theology is often more reflective our our politics than we would like to admit.

The way this normally plays out in the church is the divisions that we make between “conservatives” and “liberals,” or “evangelicals” and “mainliners” (and we don’t even know WHAT to do with the Roman Catholics or the Orthodox in there!). Very often, our identification according to these labels has less to do with our picture of God, and much more to do with our stances on a few key ethical or political positions.  Certainly, our justification for these positions is tied into our understanding of God. If our understanding of God is hierarchical, we might hold to certain notions of power and authority. If the God we place our faith in errs on the side of grace, we may be inclined to worry less about moral and ethical issues in the desire to welcome all.

The difficulty with these labels is our ability to transcend them in order to be in relationship with the other. Our culture is so focused on winning and losing that it seems irrational to suggest that relationship and reconciliation through the unity of Christ can be embraced by folks with such differing beliefs. “If you aren’t on our side,” we say, “you don’t belong.” If cuts both ways, in spite of liberal talk about tolerance. The reality is that we have a hard time embracing folks whose view of the world is so different from our own.

One approach to these differences is maintaining a degree of cultural purity. Thus we read blogs that support our world view, subscribe to magazines which reinforce our understandings of what is right, and basically surround ourselves with folks who agree with us.

There is a good reason for this . . . it’s safe. One morning the group of guys that I meet with each week were talking about this issue when one said, “I don’t really know that I can worship with someone who believes that I’m doomed for hell.” When our understandings and beliefs focus on judgment and damnation, the unworthiness of the other to enter the kingdom, then the ability to be a reconciled people is limited. Yet, is there a place where we can embrace others whose ethical and political stances are different than our own in love?

That is, I think, what was behind the animosity between Jesus and the Pharisees. While it’s easy to make analogies with modern day pharisees (and a cheap shot as well) the reality was that the pharisees were the religious elite of their day and were simply engaged in “protecting the faith.” Thus, when Jesus comes along and hangs out with the ethically and politically challenged (hey, the tax collectors were government lackeys and sympathizers) one could imagine their concern. These persons didn’t fit the established categories and put the well being of the community at risk.

This issue of theological / ethical / political exclusion is perhaps the most present expression in the story of Jesus. The tension between the religious and Jesus (a tension that would lead to his crucifixion) regarding theological and ethical categories permeates the story, and should be a place of conversation for us as well.

To be continued….


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