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Inclusion in the Church

Why the Name? Inclusion in the Church?


When I first toyed around with names for this website I had a challenging time picking something that would cover everything I wanted to include. Hmmmm. “Include.”


There is the all important word. “Include.”


I was pretty sure I was on the right track.



Who did I want to include? I could start with Gay Christians, but then am I leaving out Lesbians? I could use LGBT or LGBTQ or LGBTQIA or LGBTQ+. This is the “alphabet soup” that has some non-affirming people pushing back and inquiring, “When will it all end?” Or asking “How many genders and sexualities can there be?”


Since I didn’t want to risk inadvertently leaving out a group, Inclusion in the Church seemed to cover a broad swath without needing to list each of the many differences among people.


I admit that I saw the term “inclusion” being used by other organizations who focus on children with special needs being included in mainstream classrooms. Or inclusion of people with disabilities. But, I thought, aren’t the core concepts all the same? That Jesus loves us just as we are and the church should do the same?


My husband and I thought the choice was appropriate since the name should not scare away a conservative Christian who wanted information but was cautiously running a web search and afraid that a gay term would show up on their browsing history.


I felt I needed to have the word “church” since so much of what Moms like me deal with has to do with our history with the church. It will always be difficult for me to separate out Jesus’ teachings from my experience. And this is true for others who have not been as well entrenched in the church. I believe there are plenty of families outside the church who reject their children in much the same way that Christians have abandoned their LGBTQ relatives. Even if someone is completely unfamiliar with the verses that Christians use to turn their backs on LGBTQ, the influence on our society began over 400 years ago when Europeans first came to the Americas. Without even knowing it, there are non-Christian Americans walking around with some expectations of human behavior and sexuality that come directly from the way that the Bible was interpreted.


Inclusion In The Church was the winner. I knew that God already loved his LGBTQ children; it was organized religion and its adherents that had a problem.


When sharing my website with a pastor, he said that he didn’t “get” the title and I then realized how important it really is. Many leaders just like him see the church as working hard to welcome everyone. “All are welcome.” “Everyone has a home here.” “We are all sinners. You fit in here.” “You have a place in our family.” These are just a few of the slogans declared from church pulpits, printed in bulletins and flashed on marquees. However, the only people who feel good about them are those writing and speaking the words. Listeners and readers know that they must look and dress a certain way to fit in. My mom told me that her sister didn’t take her kids to church in the 1960s because she didn’t have the money for church clothes and she was embarrassed to show up with attire that was “less than” what the others wore.


People also realize there are churches where they would never take their friend with tattoos because of the possible reactions. There are plenty of places where divorcees know that they would not expect a warm welcome. They would be looked down upon for their “failure” in their life. Not to mention churches that are segregated by age, ethnicity or economic status.


My pastor was confident that he and his team had worked diligently over seven years to make the church an inclusive place. All ages. All ethnicities. They even included a Divorce Care ministry, stating that not only singles are welcome but also those who are “single again” as a result of divorce. But do those “singles” feel included?


Who gets to judge which place is inclusive? It should be the “includees” or the “excludees” - the recipients of the welcome or lack there-of. Think about it for a minute, though. When you have to call out a group, doesn’t it already mean that there has been consideration of excluding them?


During the February 2019 General Council of the United Methodist Church, a vote was held on the Book of Discipline and Sexuality. The results were shocking to the many Reconciling Congregations with LGBTQ couples and even lay and professional leaders in their churches.


The resolution included methods for dealing with leaders and congregations who violate the Book of Discipline and perform same-sex weddings. The final vote was to continue to follow the statements in the Book of Discipline statements that spell out homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching. Further discussion will be held at the 2020 conference in May, but my question is, “How is it that a church could be legislating who will be excluded?


One of my favorite comments came from a long time clergyman, Reverend Eston Williams from Aley UMC who declared, ”At the end of the day, I would rather be excluded for who I include, than included for who I exclude."


Bravo.


Wasn’t Jesus the first master at inclusion? From including small Zachaeus, the tax collector, to the Samaritan woman at the well to the woman who had multiple male “friends”, Jesus was the master includer in both his actions and in his words.


Richard Rohr elaborates further with

“If we read the Gospel texts carefully, we will see that the only people Jesus seems to “exclude” are the excluders themselves. Exclusion might be described as the core sin. Don’t waste any time rejecting, eliminating, or punishing anyone or anything else. We are all living en Christo, so everything belongs, including you. The only difference is the degree to which we surrender to this gift of gratuitous inclusion. The objective gift is called image (imago) and the subjective allowing is called likeness (similitudo). Together allowed and received, God’s image and likeness are our human holiness.”


If Jesus devoted so much of his time to including others, shouldn’t his followers do the same?


Instead, we see the church as being a masterful excluder, down to who has “earned the right” to take the bread and the cup. We see denominations break away over finer points of practice and after the separation, a disdain of the quality of believers at the competing locations is at issue. Purity in thought must be 100% and thus the American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Disciples of Christ and hundreds of other denominations were formed.


What do you say to your Muslim or Hindu or Jewish friend who asks “what kind of church do you go to?” And “how is that different from this other church?” When I have tried to explain the differences between two churches I have to admit I have been a bit embarrassed to explain that sprinkling water on the head versus immersing a person in water are different modes of baptism and was the basis of this or that split. It does sound quite trivial. Heaven forbid that a friend would ask me about Jehovah Witnesses or Latter Day Saints and want to know where they fit in. I would hate to list the comments I have heard from pulpits.


Aren’t Christians known to ask similar questions of their Shia and Sunni Muslim neighbors and then after hearing the answer, they trivialize it and quickly forget the differences that are carefully laid out in the explanation.


Yes, I think that Inclusion in the Church is a good starting point for my quest to have my LGBTQ family and friends know that they are loved not only by Jesus, but also by those who pledge allegiance to him.


In reality though, Inclusion (for LGBTQ+) in the Church is only the beginning of so much work that needs to be done.

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