We live in a very diverse nation and world where exclusion is a very common reaction to those with whom we disagree, dislike or don't relate to. Exclusion can be our reaction to homelessness, pro-choice, pro-life, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, criminals, substance abusers, race, size, age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, poverty, manner of dress, pro-environment, pro-development, culture, religious preference, as well as physical, emotional, behavioral, cognitive or intellectual disabilities. The list is endless. Too often our response is withdrawal of love, concern, relationship or rejection. Our labels hinder growth and understanding.
Our recent election was an example of "smack down" behavior, where hurtful words prevailed. We see similar behaviors in many areas of life. From childhood through old age, there seems to be a bully seeking to control or diminish us. If only society could replace the need for control with the blessings of inclusion.
Scripture reminds us to "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). We are advised to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (Ephesians 4:31). So "Putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully," as Ephesians 4:25 says, leads to more friends, fewer enemies and an environment of mutual respect rather than division and exclusion.
When we make exclusion our solution to diversity, we close the door to the blessings of common ground. The struggle for "common ground" leads to welcoming diversity, mutual respect and appreciation.
The temptation to label or exclude is based on pre-conceived ideas, influence of family or friends, upbringing, political leanings, religious training, stereotypes, or bad experiences. It reflects an unwillingness to grow in understanding of someone perceived to be different from us.
Parenting teaches skills of exclusion and inclusion. When children are young, parents commonly judge the misbehavior of another parent's older child by saying, "My child will never do that." As their child ages and exhibits the same misbehavior, parents face the decision to grow with their child in unconditional love, or to set rigid boundaries that alienate and break down the parent/child relationship. Parents need to find inclusive ways to deal with "smack down" behaviors that give children the wrong message. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to role model and teach inclusiveness through family and community relationships.
Jesus' own disciples often sought exclusion. Yet, Jesus went out of his way to include and reach out to people whose labels and realities caused them to be rejected by the people of their day. His example continues to be our resource for 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. We, too, are challenged to accept diversity with open arms.
We find many reasons to exclude. People of every faith often assume the false role of judge when, in fact, we are to be caregivers of all people. The Ten Commandments seek to bring stability to us. They are not an orderly account of reasons to exclude people who disobey them. They point out our need for God's love and forgiveness. In Matthew 22:26-37, a religious leader asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He 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 seek alternatives to "smack down" behavior that promote understanding, compassion and love for all people. Take a look at your life and how you live it in relationship to others. Are there some changes needed? Can your barriers of exclusion become opportunities for inclusion?
Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.
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