How did Jesus practice inclusiveness? I was faced with that question last week as I put together a resource list for our month on listening to the life of Jesus. One person complained because I included an author who is fairly conservative, excluding women from leadership and condemning LBGTQs. Another person complained because I included an author they thought was too liberal. It is very difficult for us to be inclusive across the full spectrum of Christian belief. Often in our attempts to include the excluded we alienate and therefore exclude the once included (hope that makes sense). Conservatives exclude progressives, progressives exclude conservatives.
While I was pondering on this today, I read this quote posted by my Facebook friend Kevin Bennett:
E. Stanley Jones, the missionary to India, once asked Mahatma Gandhi: ‘How can we make the Christian faith more native to India, so that it is no longer something “foreign” which is associated with foreign governments and seen as foreign religious practice, but it becomes part of life in India and a faith that makes a powerful contribution to building up this country?’
Gandhi replied: ‘Firstly, I would suggest that all Christians – missionaries and others – must start living more like Christ. Secondly, practise your faith without blurring it or watering it down. Thirdly, put special emphasis on love because it is the central point of Christian faith and therefore the decisive motivating force. Fourthly, study non-Christian religions with great sympathy, so that you can appeal to people of other faiths more effectively.’
Ray Simpson (2002-08-01). A Holy Island Prayer Book (Kindle Locations 1001-1007). Canterbury Press Norwich. Kindle Edition.
And I thought: There it is. Jesus had friendships and relationships that seemed to span the spectrum of society and I suspect of religious beliefs. And I think that Jesus would have applauded Gandhi’s perspective.
- Live more like Christ. This is not an easy statement to understand or to follow. We have different ideas of what it means to live like Christ, but as I read the gospels what I see is in Christ love, compassion, generosity, and acceptance. Jesus did not turn his back on those who were considered unacceptable by his audience be they Pharisees, Samaritans, Gentiles, lepers or prostitutes, unless they turned their backs on him. One characteristic of Christ I love is the way he treated people who brought “sinners” to him for judgement. He always pointed back to the sin in their own lives. Acceptance not condemnation is the way of Christ. We are all called to work on the sin in our lives, not on the sin in someone else’s.
- Practice your faith without blurring it or watering it down. Jesus calls us to take our beliefs seriously and to live them out with confidence, grappling with the hard questions such commitment raises. As we do so we learn more of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and sometimes in the process our beliefs change.
- Put specific emphasis on love. Wow – if we all lived this one out we would not need the others. Love is the centre of Christian faith – love towards friends and enemies. There is no place for hate in Christian faith. Our response to those who think differently should be to reach out in love, to seek to understand their perspectives and help them understand ours.
- Study non-Christian religions with great sympathy so that you can appeal to people of other faiths more effectively. I would expand this to say “study Christians with other faith perspectives with great sympathy too” and be prepared for the fact that you may need to change as much as they do. Christianity is about unity not uniformity. When those outside the faith see that we are able to love each other across the barriers of race, gender and sexual orientation they will truly be impressed and willing to listen to our message. I suspect that was one of the reasons they were so open Jesus. He welcomed them, questioned them and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in their lives to help them understand truth.
What is your response?
Watch the video below. Think about the way you live your life and represent Christ. Are there people you exclude by your attitudes and beliefs? Are there times you might have excluded Christ in the process? Are there ways you could become more inclusive? What response is Christ asking of you today?