Christ didn't exclude those who were different

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2000

I would like to think that there have been a lot of improvements in our desire to be inclusive as a society. But exclusion remains a common solution to those with whom we disagree, dislike or have little awareness of. Such labels or realities as homelessness, pro-choice, pro-life, Democrat, Republican, brain disorder, prisoner, alcoholic, race, size, age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, poverty, manner of dress, pro-environment, pro-development, culture, physical or mental disability, or religious preference can result in the withdrawal of love, concern, relationship or even rejection. Our labels hinder the need for growth and understanding.

When we make exclusion our solution to diversity, we close the door to the blessings of finding a common oneness with people who are different from us. It is good to struggle with finding common ground. When there is respect for diversity, mutual respect and appreciation can grow.

The temptation to label or exclude can be based upon pre-conceived ideas, the influence of family or friends, our upbringing, religious training, our stereotypes, a bad experience, or an unwillingness to grow in understanding of someone perceived to be different from us. There are innumerable ways for us to develop a basis for exclusion.

Even in parenting, skills of exclusion and inclusion are experienced. When children are young, parents commonly respond to an older child's misbehavior by saying, ``My child will never do that.'' As their child ages and does the very thing ``they would never do,'' parents face the decision to grow with their child in unconditional love or to set such rigid boundaries that they alienate and break down the parent/child relationship. The solution to these changes is to find inclusive ways to deal with behaviors that lead to exclusion. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to role model and teach inclusiveness through family and community relationships.

Jesus' own disciples often sought to exclude, while Jesus sought to include. Jesus went out of his way to reach out to people whose labels and realities caused them to be excluded by the people of their day. His example continues to be a resource for our everyday relationships.

The early church struggled with inclusiveness. Was the message of Jesus for all people? Thankfully, the disciples caught the vision of God's love being a gift for everyone. That vision needs to be our vision as we relate to the diversity of our society and community.

We can find all kinds of reason to exclude. In fact, even churches and Christians find it all too easy to take on the false role of judge when, in fact, their role is to be caregivers of all God's people. Scripture is very clear about a vision for our lives. The Ten Commandments are a gift from God that bring order to our lives. They are not an orderly account of reasons to exclude people who break them. They point out our need for God's love and forgiveness. In Matthew 22:36-37, a religious leader asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Jesus responded, ``You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,'' and secondly, ``You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'' There are no excluding qualifiers to these most important commandments.

May we in our struggles with exclusion and inclusion find God's love leading us toward understanding, compassion and love for all God's people. Take a look at your life and how you live it in relationship to other people. Are there some changes needed so that barriers of exclusion can become opportunities for inclusion?

Larry Rorem is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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