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.

Solidarity

What does it mean to stand in solidarity with someone?  I have a friend who talks about standing in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.  Others talk about standing with the poor and oppressed.  Still others want to stand with the people connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  I know people who desire to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti, Palestine, and those fighting for freedom in the Arab Spring. What does it mean to walk in someone else’s shoes and see the world from another perspective?  Is this even possible?

A little over a decade ago our family moved into an urban neighborhood, motivated by John Perkins’s three “R’s” – redistribution, reconciliation and relocation.  Moving from the suburbs to the city has been life changing.  Issues such as public education, gang activity, racism, classism, and immigration take on a whole different meaning when one is living with those who are directly impacted by these concerns.  Our boys attended a low performing school.  I witness the dehumanization that subtle racism causes on a daily basis.

Am I standing in solidarity?  Maybe, maybe not.

I have always had the option to move – to a “better,” more Anglo neighborhood.  Not all my neighbors have this option.  I don’t have to stay and this fact puts me in a whole different space.

Solidarity has something to do with experiencing the pain;  knowing what feels like to wonder where your next meal is coming from, or not knowing if a loved one has been picked up and taken to an immigration detention center.

I remember the third time our house was broken in to the police officer said that we had been targeted because we were white.  That was a frustrating day – we had been picked on simply because of the color of our skin.  That was also a day when I began to feel just a little (very little) how my friends of color must feel when they are targeted simply because of how they look.

I don’t wish harm to anyone, but is seems to me that if we are going to stand in solidarity with others we also must risk experiencing what they experience.  This can be scary.