This next area of exclusion is perhaps the most difficult to deal with, since we start moving into questions of orthodoxy and political belief. Yet, congregations very often avoid embracing people on the basis of theology, political affiliation, or ethics.
To set up this discussion, I want to share a recent e-mail from a good friend of mine who worships in a progressive, urban church in a major metropolitan area:
I’m loving your thread on inclusivity. Giving me lots to think about (like a peri-menapausal mom of three teens doesn’t have a hard enough time ordering her thoughts). I thought you would appreciate this funny little snapshot of exclusion.
You know our little funny church is pretty welcoming and affirming and our rag tag army of parisheners shows that. There is a huge rich white upper middle class church in the east end that has for years partnered with us in our ministry to our neighborhood. They generally do that with their checkbooks. Their hearts are really in the right place, and they know they want to be involved and they are not real comfortable with getting their hands mixed up in it, but they see to it that the kids in the neighborhood have holiday gifts and all the school supplies they need to start school and other such honorable assistance. When a family in the neighborhood is in crisis, it generally only takes one phone call to these folks and whatever need there is is met. We love those folks. They are doing the only thing they know to do. And the mere delilvery of their “stuff” means that at least a couple of times a year they walk into our world a bit. Their kids collect school supplies as part of their Bible school, their youth come and help us pass out food baskets. I truly believe they are fine folks and know in my heart they want to do good things. Not everyone is called to live in this neighborhood. (As a teen in a middle class church, I delivered my share of food baskets, and in doing so my world was opened up to the possibilities that I live in today. ) And frankly we need their help. Their worship style is very different from ours.
We once invited their youth minister to preach at our church since she being a woman would never be invited to preach at their church. What we were not anticipating was a full blown BAPTIST sermon with non-inclusive language and an alter call. There were people in the church that got alllllllll worked up about it and a small ruckus followed. After the fact we found out that a couple of folks even wrote this woman notes saying that her non-inclusive language was “hurtful” to them. The staff wrangled with that for a couple of weeks. We say we are inclusive. But not so inclusive as we thought! We are not very open to folks who don’t talk like us! And the odd thing is that almost every one of us were just as earnest and “unenlightened” as that young woman at some point in our faith story. One of my duties as a staff member is to work with this woman and her youth on projects, and I know her to be an earnest and sincere woman of faith and she is living it out the only way she knows how at this point in her life.
This Sunday that same church is sending a group of senior adults to do an old fashioned hymn sing at our church. So, for three weeks Cindy [our pastor] has been saying in the announcements that we will be having this time, and how dear these folks have been to us over the years, and that they may sing songs we don’t know or even really like a lot, but that they are dear folks who are gifting us with their presence and encouraging us to practice hospitality. We spent way too much time in staff meeting trying to decide whether or not to let them come and how to approach it with the church and finally decided to just not plan it around any patriotic holiday. (When their youth came to do a program with our kids they taught them Lee Greenwoods Proud to be an American which started a lot of disucussions in our homes!)
I say this to point out that we never stop grappling with it all. And the grappling is the piece that keeps us alive and vital. Welcoming gays and lesbians, Sudanese and Hispanics, and the homeless and the mentally ill has been a piece of cake and now we can’t figure out how to find a seat for the people who want to sing Onward Christian Soldiers! Keep wrestling with it all. And keep all of your loyal readers wrestling with you. Good for you!