On Choosing Exclusion or Inclusion

My email gave me a clear choice this morning
that reflects two fundamentally different approaches to life and
faith.

This morning I awoke to an interesting experience. I read the comments of R. Albert Mohler reported by AP religion writer Richard Ostling. And
I also read my email and learned that a group of United Methodist Christians in Mississippi have taken upon themselves to support the creation of a communications infrastructure in an African nation that will enable the church there to communicate about faith and important concerns that affect quality of life.

The information that will be shared through this communications technology will inform people about health care, economic empowerment, citizenship, community events, child care, preventing HIV/AIDS and malaria, education, leadership training and spiritual growth.

This is exciting! Attacking gays and lesbians isn’t.
What strikes me is the remarkable difference between these two approaches to life in the spirit. One seems restrictive, judgmental, diminishing and excluding. The other is expansive, affirming, hopeful and inclusive. One separates and divides. The other seeks to heal and include. One generates positive energy for me and the other negative. And that’s the crux of the difference between these two approaches.

In Chasing Down A Rumor: The Death of Mainline Denominations, Robert Bacher and Kenneth Inskeep write that the strengths of the mainline denominations are that they continue to try to embody community-building, communication, connection, service and dialogue.

Of course, there are those issues that divide us and rend the community. These are serious and painful. But if we continue to talk with each other, continue to study scripture, continue to pray for understanding and continue to hold to the belief that the love of God is inclusive and expansive, there is hope.

Moreover, if we follow the one who calls us to live our lives in service to others, there is more to unite us than to divide us. We find balance and purpose in the actions of faith. And Bacher and Inskeep remind us that if we recover the traditions of our respective communities and draw upon them as strengths rather than outmoded historical artifacts we may experience renewal because our traditions stand in contrast to the culture of individualism and materialism that is so pervasive in the U.S. today.

Also, mainline
denominations
would
serve as a
reminder that
true security is
not found in
force or mad
pursuits to
control others.
–Robert Bacher
Kenneth Innskeep

They suggest we look forward, plan strategically and carry out “courageous acts of mission and ministry” simultaneously. This is consistent with the Wesleyan heritage of piety expressed individually and in community, and social holiness which involves acts of service with the poor and marginalized, also individually and in community. These are strong principles that originate in the teachings of Jesus and of John Wesley.

Personal responsibility leads to corporate responsibility–to build up the community, to encourage and affirm others, not to mock the yearning for meaning and purpose nor to demean those who express their search in language and practice that is different from our expression.

We already swim in a sea of division, hate and diminishment. That’s, unfortunately, the world many of us know intimately every day.

Apparently this isn’t a new wrinkle in human history. Paul wrote to the Christian community at Philippi, “Do everything readily and cheerfully–no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night…” (Philippians 2, The Message version by Eugene Peterson)

The energy to destroy is easy to muster. It’s also much easier to criticize and tear down than to build up. It’s much more difficult to carry the light-giving message into the darkness where people already live in fear if not terror of a hostile and invasive society, one that generates diminishment and fear.

Paul calls the Christians to be different, to behave differently and not emulate the practices of the culture; to model a better way, a way of affirmation, inclusion and, ultimately, of justice. He calls them to be a community that reflects the light of a loving God in a culture of darkness.

Bacher and Inskeep say, “Also, mainline denominations would serve as a reminder that true security is not found in force or mad pursuits to control others. ‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.’ (John 14:1), said the Vulnerable One.

My experience this morning is that there is life-giving energy in this understanding of faith. It’s about healing, including and treating all respectfully. It’s about shining light in the dark places that are menacing and diminishing. It’s about choosing how we will live as disciples. We’re given that choice daily.

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