Faith and Diversity

For the most part I have chosen not respond to comments made about my blogs. My hope it that comments both positive and negative spur deeper conversation. Some like this policy while others think it is a bad idea. Today I am going to deviate from my policy and reflect on a theme that emerges whenever I write about diversity - women, race, immigration, and sexual orientation. Interestingly enough people do not challenge the idea that women and race are important when it comes to faith and diversity. It seems that including people of color and women in the kingdom of God and church leadership has become a theological “given.” This is good news!

This is not always the case when I move further down the list. Including immigrants and especially people of various sexual orientations stresses people out. The result of this stress is a movement from acceptance to exclusion. For many the Word of God is clear, and these people are out. Even entertaining the possibility that they might be part of the kingdom of God is viewed as wrong, verging on sin.

Now I am a white straight male; from a certain perspective I have nothing to gai2014-06-26 09.16.06n or lose by including immigrants and gays in the list. (Although I do have to visit the Department of Homeland Security later this week to renew my Green Card.)

I realize that there is a major theological and biblical debate raging about sexual orientation and to a lesser extent immigration. There is much you can read on these topics. The cliff notes version of all of this is that the bible is not nearly as clear as people assume, need, or want it to be.

I am fascinated with is this deep-seated need to have someone or some group to exclude. In many ways this desire goes back to Acts 6 when the Hellenistic and Hebrew Jews could not get along with each other. It almost seems as if people of faith have always needed someone to exclude, and the list is long – women, Jews, people of color, Catholics, protestants, communists, Muslims, insurgents, immigrants, and homosexuals. For every one of the excluded groups or individuals the church has found biblical and theological reasons to place them outside the kingdom of God.

What would happen if the church adopted what I am calling the Mark Twain approach? “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” When Jesus was asked about the important stuff his response was simple and clear: love God, love people. It will not be easy to overcome the need for a “sinful” other. If we can find the courage to move past exclusion I suspect the world and church will be a much more joyful place.

An Immigration Parable

Then Tom sought the Lord in prayer and asked, “Lord, how many more times should we offer amnesty to foreigners who keep trying stay in this country? After all we did offer this in 1986!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just in 1986 – but in every year that people cross into your country seeking a new start…

You see, citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is like a chief who wanted to make sure the people living in his territory belonged. As the chief was going over the pedigree of his personal servant it was soon discovered that five generations back his servant’s family came from across the ocean seeking a new start in a land free of religious persecution. Surprised and enraged the chief summoned the servant into his presence. Since the servant could not prove the purity of his citizenship, the chief ordered him deported along with his wife, children, and extended family.

The servant fell on his knees before the chief. “Please don’t send me back, I will prove my worthiness to stay here – just give me a chance”

The chief took pity on his servant, and gave him and his family amnesty.

But when this servant went out, he found a fellow servant, who had come from the territory to the south two years ago, hoping to find a way to provide for himself and his family. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “You have no right to be here; your presence is taking away jobs, draining our resources, and trampling on our values.”

His servant fell on his knees. “Please don’t send me back, I will prove my worthiness to stay here – just give me a chance”

But the servant refused. Instead he went off to the local immigration office – reported the man and his family and had them deported.

When the chief’s other servants heard what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went to the chief and told them everything that had happened.

Then the chief called the servant in. “You wicked foolish man” he said, “I gave you amnesty, I gave you a chance to prove your worthiness. Shouldn’t you have shown mercy on your fellow immigrant just as I had on you?” In his anger the chief had this man, his wife, children and extended family sent back to the land of their ancestors.

So here is the question, how should we treat today’s immigrants?