As the new student, let’s call him Sam, rolled his wheelchair into the sixth grade classroom, the teacher knew she faced a challenge from him and the rest of her students. The new boy confirmed her first impression when Sam told he couldn’t use his arms and legs. His classmates didn’t know whether to laugh at Sam or feel sorry for him, so they did both.
Trying to maintain a normal classroom, the teacher asked Sam to write his name. Sam bent over, put a pencil in his mouth, and wrote his name on the class roll. The teacher held it up for Sam’s classmates to see, announcing that his writing was an example for the rest of the class to follow. Over the next few weeks, the Sam taught all of his classmates how to write their names with their pencils in their mouths. They thought Sam was the coolest friend ever. Sam became the most popular student in the sixth grade.
.In Mark 9 John said, “Teacher we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
But Jesus replied,“Do not stop him. For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
Jesus was inclusive. Jesus’ view of discipleship was not to be exclusive, rather inclusive. The work of God is not for a private privileged group. The work of God is for everyone.
The Old Testament lists groups of people that were to be excluded.
Children: Deuteronomy 23:2 No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.
Ammonites: Deuteronomy 23:3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.
Handicap: Leviticus 21:17 The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God.
Women: Throughout the Bible it is said that women were not allowed to leave the house without permission, were restricted to roles of little to no authority, and were not allowed to talk to strangers.
But Jesus on the other hand associated with several different people. Jesus 12 disciples consisted of ordinary men including fishermen and tax collectors.
The Bible illustrates to us the number of different people that Jesus associated with. Luke 5 says he reached out and touched the man with leprosy and healed the paralytic. The Pharisee’s asked Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” In chapter 7, Jesus anointed a sinful woman and in chapter 8 he healed a demon possessed man.
One of the most well-known parables is The Parable of the Lost Son which is found in Luke 15. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Back when the church was first being formed, people were sorted out into all kinds of categories, ranked by their position in life, each one holding more esteem than the other. Those at the top of the ladder had the grandest life, with the best seats in the house, the best food on their plates, and dressed in the finest clothing. They walked the town with everyone staring in admiration.
Those at the bottom of the ladder were forced to live outside the society. They were forced to sit and sleep on the floor, with only scraps to eat, dressed in what only could be described as rags. They walked (when they dared) into town being ridiculed. And it wasn’t just in the towns, or in the society, it was in the church as well.
Unfortunately, the church has a long history of excluding people. To “exclude” is to “shut out, to hinder from entering, to deny admission.” To “include” is the opposite: to “shut in, to contain, to hold” or “embrace.”
Exclusion is often due to prejudice, which is a dislike of people without knowledge of understanding of those people. The “isms” and “phobias” in society are based on fear, fear of the unknown.
The more people perceive someone to be different, the less likely they are to feel comfortable with or trust that person, and they place the person in their out-group. This kind of categorization, while usually unconscious, can do significant damage.
An article by Mark Sandlin in Sojourners Magazine lists the “10 Things the Church Can’t Do While Following Jesus”.
- Be hypocritical
- Let “how we’ve always done it” rule the day
- Worship the Bible rather than God
- Enable a consumer Christianity
- Let polity be more important than people
- Exclude people
- Think of outreach only as the giving of money
- Refuse to advocate for the least of these
- Hate a person or group of people
When people are exposed to people outside of their comfort zone (African Americans, gays and lesbians, elderly, women), they become more comfortable and accepting.
Inclusion is often referred to as diversity. There is a significant difference between the two. Diversity is like being invited to sit at a table that is already set; inclusion is being asked to partner with the host to help set the table.
When groups gather, it is only human nature to want to be included. Fear of exclusion begins with childhood games and birthday parties; it continues with being picked – or not – in sports teams, with finding a seat in the high school cafeteria, with seeking new friends in college, with finding a bar stool at happy hour or a seat at the office Christmas party. We never want to be excluded, and we are filled with natural indignation when we witness someone unjustly exclude another.
Jesus sought to include among His company many that had been excluded from society – tax collectors, public sinners, lepers. Before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus commanded his apostles that all peoples are to be included in His Church: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
The Apostle’s Creed includes the words “I believe in the holy catholic church”, meaning the church whose mission is universal. This is a church that seeks to bring the teaching, love, and mercy of Christ to all people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, social status.
In God’s eyes, we are all equal: we are sinners in need of Christ’s redemption. All are welcome in Christ’s church.
Sadly, the inclusion that the Church desires is sometimes impeded by the Church itself for reasons beyond understanding. The church is failing in opening its doors to all. The church allows too many barriers to be constructed.
The church needs to realize that all people are created equal and equality for anyone is equality for everyone. When we say everyone is welcome, we mean everyone, including the LGBTQ community which the church often rejects.
A survey was done by the PC(USA). 2,763 people were surveyed and asked what they believe the church should “be and do”.
27% believe that the church should be welcoming and inclusive, 12% said is should be creative and relevant and another 8% said it should be more progressive and liberal while building community.
The church needs to create a new model. A model where all are equal, can share their life experiences and those God given talents allowing for creativity and participation. A place where all are welcome, the seekers and the doubters. A church whose mission reaches all the God’s children. The church needs to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dark world.
What is the value of inclusivity? Inclusivity generates fresh ideas and perspectives and leads to a richer life experience. It can shed light on a life different than your own, experiencing new cultures and traditions. Most importantly inclusion leads to a growing acceptance and diminishes discrimination.
Writer Del Shores puts it this way.
“Sometimes I close my eyes and create a perfect world
A world of understanding and love, a world where there is hope
Even if the hope was just a whisper
A world where people change
A world where all are accepted
A world where the lonely are no longer lonely
A world where sermons preach about truth. about love and hope
A world where mothers and fathers accept, embrace, and love every single part of their children
A world where I can love, and he can love
But I always wake up
But now with hope and that world will still be there”
The churches message to all should be that God is love and love comes from God born of God and knows God. Whoever does not know love, does not know God because God is love