This Easter season has caused me to think some about the distinction between limited inclusion and exclusion.

Inclusion is defined by what is inside. For example, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican culture observed in Southern California. While it is not a time of bratwurst and bagpipes, the focus is on what is common to the celebrants.

Exclusion is defined by what is outside. For example, some social clubs have rules excluding Jews or blacks. These organizations are focused more on how they differ from those outside than they are on the characteristics that the members have in common.

There is noting intrinsically wrong with a limited inclusion. However, a focus on “what we are not” is by definition bigoted and is a step on the road to hatred. Sometimes those things originating as inclusion become tools of exclusion, such as when a St. Patrick’s Day event becomes a celebration of all things Irish – except for gay Irish. Then such an event can become defined by who it excludes rather than by who it includes.

It is a sad fact that recently conservative Christians have rejected an inclusive message in favor of exclusion. Rather than be a joyous body of those who share the redemptive message of Jesus Christ, they have become known by what they are not. It has even reached the point where those churches, such as the UCC, who seek to stake a position of inclusion are considered “political” or “controversial” and denied the opportunity to spread their message of inclusion.

The exclusionary focus of some can be observed in the news on a daily basis. The Roman Catholic Church is seeking to define adoption services by whom it will not allow to adopt – gay people. A Lutheran church in Minnesota defined its adult day care service by those to whom they would not provide government-contracted services –transsexuals. Some religious activists believe that gay families should be disallowed from participating in the Easter Egg Roll at the nation’s capital.

Some exclusionary attitudes disguise themselves as inclusionary. “I’m not excluding you, I’m just including everyone except you”. Sometimes anti-gay groups take that approach, but a closer look usually demonstrates that they are not focused on the commonalities of heterosexuals but rather on how they differ from gays. This is particularly true of ex-gay political efforts; they include everyone – including those attracted to the same sex – except for those who are “living the homosexual lifestyle”. Their focus is entirely on who they are not.

It is sad that this attitude should be so prevalent within certain groups of Christians. Jesus spent much of his ministry breaking down separations and exclusions by spending his time with those who society and religion would not accept. And the early church continued the trend with Paul addressing the exclusionary attitudes of his day by declaring that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Today, one might add “there is neither black nor white, gay nor straight, rich nor poor, conservative or liberal”.

This Sunday is the holiest day of the year to Christians. It is a time of celebration for those who are included in the body of believers. Sadly, many churches will not open the door to all who are one in Christ Jesus, but will instead focus on who should be left out.

Many Christians will put on new clothes and be sure to make it to church for this special day. No doubt some will look around and be happy to belong to a faith where “all are welcome”. I wonder how many will see the giant invisible “except…” that their church has put at the end of that statement.

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