And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” …
The third of the eight points of Progressive Christianity should be a “no brainer” as they say, and yet it seems to be the center of broad contention in the wider Christian community. Point three suggests that we, seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
Believers and agnostics,
Women and men,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all classes and abilities;
It was a principle aspect of Jesus’ prophetic ministry that he regularly expressed in action and in word. Jesus called attention to the seemingly exclusive nature of the temple Judaism of his day by making rank outsiders the exemplars in his parables and by spending his valuable time, his loving compassion, his healing capacity, among those who had been pushed to the margins. Still, apparently, it isn’t perfectly clear what we are to make of this.
In our world, as in his, there are communities that are much more comfortable in the certainty of a rules-based religious experience. One inches one’s way toward divine acceptability, across the great chasm between us, by strictly obeying a set of rules and precepts that cannot be violated upon pain of failure and rejection. Our compliance with the rules helps distinguish us from the hoi polloi, and so, as natural consequence, the rules create categories of people; insiders and outsiders, obedient and disobedient, believers and non-believers, us and them. The rules exclude anyone who can’t, or won’t, conform.
The other approach, the one favored by Progressive Christians among others, is to earnestly enter into the same struggle we see in Jesus’ ministry, the struggle to identify the marginalized and bring them into the embrace of God’s Holy Love, not so that we can correct their faults, but simply because Jesus teaches us that God’s love is not exclusive. I don’t have to be able to mount a cogent theological defense for every category of person. I have only to know that God’s love extends to them as fully as it extends to me.
It is a struggle because we can always find categories of person or behavior that are repugnant to us. If I can tell myself that such people have violated THE RULES and have placed themselves beyond God’s contractual obligations, then I never have to face my own lack of compassion. But if I believe that God’s Love extends to everyone, then I have regularly to wrestle with my own small heart.
“Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that category has no one left in it.”
“I feel like we need to be aware of the ways we use and misuse religious dogma: whether it takes us deeper into love and inclusion or it separates us.”
Sue Monk Kidd