“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NRSV)
Recently I’ve been leading an adult Sunday School class at church based on the book “Outside the Gate” by Roy Sano. It’s a study of the book of Hebrews and focuses on how we as Christians can make sure we don’t leave our fellow human beings “Outside the Gate” so to speak. It talks a lot about the struggle of both women and racial minorities and how they sometimes still find it difficult to fit in with our western modes of Christianity.
It’s really gotten me thinking about the labels we use on ourselves, and others. We’re so quick to apply a label to ourselves, our group. For example, lately there’s been an all out war on many social media sites over the term “progressive Christian.” Benjamin L. Corey wrote a fantastic piece on this particular label here. It’s been fascinating to watch the blow back on all of this. Part of the rediscovery of my faith has been the desire to be inclusive for as many people as possible. I firmly believe that the love of Christ is for everyone. Yet, while many of my conservative and even many of my atheist friends accept and encourage this thinking, I look at other “progressive” platforms and see that the label police are out in full force. If you don’t show the requisite amount of outrage at a particular incident or policy, you’re clearly offending one of the sacred cows and aren’t qualified to use the “progressive label.” If you espouse a more conservative viewpoint on a particular issue, you’ll find yourself ridden out on the rails.
If our first reaction is to apply a label or to exclude them out of hand, we miss a critical opportunity to not only find common ground, but to learn from each other as well.
The thing is, I don’t think that many of us are straight up liberal, conservative, or whatever straight down the party line. People make up their own minds about things, and sometimes people change their minds or evolve their understanding on a particular subject. If our first reaction is to apply a label or to exclude them out of hand, we miss a critical opportunity to not only find common ground, but to learn from each other as well.
It all goes back to the us versus them thinking, which to me anyway seems to be the opposite of the message Christ was trying to deliver, and that Paul was espousing in the verse cited above. We establish the group that is “us” through the application of a label, and folks who don’t totally espouse the label threaten the integrity of “us.”
But I think Christ calls us to see all of humanity as “us.” If we are really to believe that we’re all his workmanship, made in his image, then that means we all have value and we all belong, no matter our opinions or our imperfections. Such is the wonder of grace and the beauty of the diverse world around us.
It’s so easy to say that “they’re not one of us.” It seems that our human nature leads us to exclude. This person is of a different sexual orientation. That person espouses a different faith. This one over here is of a different race, or from a different country. That guy has a different political opinion….these are some of the thoughts that go through some of our heads, some of them even mine, as we seek to reinforce our own identity by excluding or cheapening others.
It’s a challenge to not think that way, but it’s a challenge that Christ calls us to accept. The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus siding the with marginalized of his time, to the pure amazement of the establishment around him. It is his example that we’re called to follow, even if it does make us uncomfortable from time to time.
I think when we do try to include everyone as much as possible, we often find more middle ground than we thought there would be. We also can use the opportunity to learn more about how a particular person or people see the world, which can help us break down the walls that we erect to divide us. I hope that you’ll join me in the coming days and weeks and try to catch yourself in the act of labeling others and even seeking to learn a bit from someone who has a different outlook than you do. Hopefully then we can start bringing all people “inside the gate.”