Faith: God's inclusive community
God's call contained no asterisk
This past week I had the opportunity to be interviewed for my friend’s television show, “Bottomless Coffee with Jerome,” to discuss Christianity, inclusivity and my experience as a pastor in the church.
One question that has stuck with me was, “Does God care about inclusion in God’s church?”
My initial reaction to this prompt was, “Of course!” But, upon deeper thinking, why does inclusion really matter to God?
Unfortunately, the words “inclusion” or “diversity” in some circles today are perceived negatively. Somehow these words have been tied to a particular political agenda, but speaking Biblically, these words are deeply ingrained into the Christian faith and theology of the church.
Since the church’s inception, Christ has called the church and all of his followers to go out into the world - a world full of diversity - and proclaim the Good News to all of creation. (Mark 16:15)
The command by Christ to go out into the world is clear. There is no litmus test to those who are called to go out into the world or those who are called into God’s community. There is no dogmatics exam required. No requirement for how you worship. No count on how many people you convert.
You don’t need to look, dress or act a certain way to be called into God’s beloved community. Just faith in Christ Jesus.
The Bible is riddled with verses talking about how communities of faith are to open their hearts and doors to all people (Romans 15:7; Galatians 2:28; James 2:1-4; etc.). Most churches will have “Everyone Welcome” on their front door, but unfortunately that slogan is not always practiced as God intended.
These words are often followed by a hidden asterisk. People are turned away from the Lord’s Table, scorned for looking or dressing a different way, or made uncomfortable for a variety of reasons when entering a new place of worship.
Too often I have found the slogan to read “Everyone Welcome” *except* if you are gay, trans, a woman, poor, too young, too old, new to Christianity, single, divorced, an addict or a sinner.
But friends, that is not what God has intended for His beloved community. God’s love is not limited. God’s reach is truly inclusive and diverse, exactly how God has made His good creation to be.
And there are no exceptions for who God calls into the body of Christ. We are to receive all people with open arms.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Certainly, there are good theological debates to be had and communities have the right to establish norms and governance to guide themselves. That all is adiaphora.
But, when one’s traditions get in the way of welcoming the stranger or prohibit you from sharing the Good News with someone who may be different from yourself, that is when the church turns away from God’s intention and broader mission.
So, I challenge all my fellow Christians to reflect on our own communities of faith and work toward a church that truly lives out God’s inclusive and radical love for the world - welcoming all, with no exceptions.
Austin Nelson, of Minneapolis and Crosslake, is a pastor, church historian and Pequot Lakes High School graduate.