Tag Archives: acceptance

Insiders and Outsiders: Knitting them together in love

Insiders and Outsiders — Juliusz Lewandowski

The Seminarian’s Cohort held an interesting exploration last month on a perennial subject in the church: “outsiders” and “insiders.” Sometimes the boundaries of the church are too thick and our area too constricted. Sometimes the the boundaries are too porous and undefined. So the subject of who’s inside and who is not is always interesting to those who want to be in and are bumping into the barriers to entry they perceive. And it is always interesting to people who are in and feeling threatened by newness or the loss of what they hold dear. The subject was also interesting to the Bible writers who were also forming community around the revelation of God — an enterprise that always implies that some people are moving in a common direction with God and others are not.

Here is a paraphrase of a key section of 2 Corinthians which has been used by defenders of holiness to explain their sense of the church being a new Israel on the way to the promised land and needing to be pure from outside influences. It tells us that insiders should be separate from outsiders and entry into the church means a deep commitment to becoming and staying separate.

The big temptation for God’s people has always been idol worship, being deceived, and thinking dark is light and lawlessness is righteousness. In Jesus, God has fulfilled an ancient promise to walk among His people, once in Jesus and now in His Spirit. We are the temple of God. That makes us innately holy and we dare not forget that. We need to separate ourselves from unholiness. Our goal should be to perfect holiness out of reverence for God. — 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Here is a paraphrase of a key section just before the previous one in 2 Corinthians which has been used by people who think the Body of Christ is intrinsically porous and has, as its main cause, including people from all the nations. It tells us that insiders remain on the earth for outsiders, persistently invade their territory, and urge them to enter into faith.

The love of Christ urges us on beyond our boundaries. We have a resurrection viewpoint we did not have before. So we see everyone as a new creation to be realized in the love of Christ. This is the basis of our new life: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

The call to insiders and outsiders to accept one another

The dividing lines in the church (and in our culture, by and large) follow the contrasting principles derived from these verses. On the one hand there are ethics based on taboo, shame, security, tribe and tradition. See this article of the religion of Trumpism from last week.  On the other hand, the dominant ethic is “do no harm,” based on freedom, democracy, individualism, self-reliance, and progress.

Paul, while solidly one end of the spectrum, personally, worked throughout his whole ministry to keep insider-oriented people and outward-focused people in the love of Christ. In Romans 14 and many other places, we see him trying to knit the two perspectives together. Here is another paraphrase:

Accept those whose faith depends on strong boundaries, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. When it comes to eating meat sacrificed to idols, some believe in eating anything, others won’t eat idol-tainted meat or any meat. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has accepted them. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Those who find it hard to stand will be made strong in the age to come. And those who think they stand tall may find that their certainty was misplaced when they meet the judge. — Romans 14:1-12

My Christianity was inspired by radicals who were committed to fleeing the death of the world’s ways and perfecting holiness, namely Francis of Assisi and John Wesley (as well as all those people in the Jesus Movement). Unlike other monks and missionaries. my mentors were interested in getting their holiness into the lives of others, not cloistering it away for themselves. Very early on, I felt an aversion to “reactive separatists.” Gwen and I summed up what we thought the Bible meant with the term “invasive separatism.” Our term is simple. It means we know who we are and we intend to live in a community that understands what God has made them. It also means from that place we shine whatever life we have and give whatever gifts we’ve been given.

When I first watched the TV series A.D. Kingdom and Empire I was excited to see the writers displaying great understanding about the subject of insiders and outsiders. As the series shows, the Jews who became Christians had spent a lifetime perfecting holiness. Then the  Holy Spirit demanded all sorts of change and acceptance. The way the script portrays the Apostle Paul is especially good at showing this perennial challenge. The fanatical Jew becomes a fanatical Jesus follower. The more conservative and communal original disciples have to decide whether they can accept their former persecutor into the fold on the basis of his unusual experience with Jesus. Even more, Gentiles and Roman persecutors receive the Holy Spirit and receiving them an insiders seems taboo enough to make a person queasy.  In the following clip, the ultimate symbol of an outsider, the Roman centurion Cornelius, is sent as a messenger to Peter who is compelled to accept him.

That’s us on TV!

Circle of Hope, although certainly turned toward “outsiders” has a lot of dialogue like those shown in the TV series. Social action people protect our morality against the powers that be and fight people who won’t do justice as they see it. Circle of Hope purists are suspicious of and resistant to change or just blithely set in their ways. Immigrants who are banging on the walls of the nation do not always find a place in the church, easily. The oldest rituals are maintained, like Sunday meetings at 5 and 7; just last week the pastors  had to argue that other meetings are also “public meetings.” Radical Christians sometimes shake the dust off their feet because they are tired of our uninspired compromises.

The Cohort soon realized that we had a subject that was much larger than we anticipated. Most of the time we don’t have much consciousness about people who are not “us” even if we just made the most recent rendition of “us” last week! When we got to thinking together, we had some important revelations to collect. Here is a sampling:

  • The call to the church to be separate is central to inclusivity. If there is no substance, just diffusion, there is no “in” in inclusion. If we pay attention to being inclusive too much we can undo what we are actually talking about. We want to welcome people into our life together with Jesus. If we protect people from the pain of change, thinking that is kinder than helping them over the boundary, we can leave them alone, “free” to be unconnected.
  • True alternativity requires self-awareness about the inevitable exclusion someone will feel. Unlike the present philosophy running the world, we do not believe that individual identity is a starting point. Inclusion is not granting the justice of everyone’s personal godhood or even assuming the personhood they bring to body will find a place to rest. They’ll certainly find love and acceptance, but a relationship with Jesus and his people is all about transformation.
  • People need to choose. We can make that easier. There is a call from God to every person in our not belonging. That means when we realize we are out, that painful experience calls us into something else. We have to choose to be in. The question is, “Can you accept belonging?”
  • People are filled with shame and naturally feel issues about how to attach and how they are not accepted or acceptable. There is really no way to avoid excluding someone, since they have already been excluded, at some level, long before they get to the church. Our strong desire to not be responsible for excluding anyone or making them feel bad can be self-serving and unhelpful.
  • We may need to reteach our long-held assumptions stemming from the process of reconciliation outlined in Matthew 18. The process of inclusion includes carefrontation. So much of what people fear is confrontation. Our world daily reinforces how depressing constant confrontation can be. Our resistance to adding to confrontation unwittingly leaves people out, since we won’t deal with their experience of being unreconciled because it might confront them and hurt them.
  • We noted that our document about atonement explanations is a characteristic, generous way we do theology that allows the several ways the Bible describes the work of Jesus to be OK. We encourage people to develop, and to assume the fluid nature of their faith. Some people may need a careful, boundaried period (like people in recovery, or people who have experienced trauma). Others may relish the ability to have different elements of themselves dialogue in safety about what are often mutually-exclusive thoughts. This kind of acceptance is reflected in the movement we note from Earth to Wind to Fire to Water along the Way of Jesus.

Fascinating subject, isn’t it? We just scratched the surface. Once again, daring to bring up subjects that are too big for us to handle helped us to trust God and not lean on our own understanding. At the same time, our dialogue demonstrated just how much confidence God has built into us — and we know stuff, too!

Acceptance: Fast or furious? Quakers and Puritans keep arguing.

I’ve seen the trailer for Fast and Furious 7 so many times it has taught me lessons. Like this one: Before the big stunt, one of the team mates does not understand what is going on and refuses to drive his car into a parachute jump (not kidding). Vin Diesel has a plan for this acrophobic team mate, since everyone knew he would be too afraid to do this crazy thing. Most of the team is fast at getting out of the plane; this one hold out is furious when they get him out, too. That’s the church. Some people are good at “wild,” some are less so, but we still figure out how to jump from the same plane in our hot cars. Right?

Well, maybe the church is not exactly like that. But our team is a lot like other teams. For instance, the other night at the BW Stakeholders meeting there was a brief interchange between a couple of the good people present. Their back-and-forth was another in a long line of similar conversations stretching back to the beginning of the country, even the beginning of the church! One of us said something like, “The Holy Spirit should run a cell, not some person or program.” Another of us answered back something like, “I just joined a cell that is very structured and I find it comforting.” One was ready to jump and one wondered about the plan.

Prophecy and order

Prophecy vs. order is always the balancing act of the church (I still recommend this book by one of my professors). Some people are always ready to jump — even think jumping is holy. Other people want to know the plan and think jumping all the time leads to destruction. They sometimes don’t like each other.

These days people think being one way or the other is just a matter of one’s “bias” or one’s “personality” or even “preference.” People have generally decided to not decide things in the name of tolerance. But I think there is an important issue that each growing person of faith can and should decide.

  • Is having a consistent order to things (which can quickly become law) numbing my faith?
  • Is having the freedom to follow the Spirit in every circumstance (which can quickly become selfish) undermining the community?
  • Is there really a contest between the individual and the community, between freedom and covenant?

There usually is a contest, but should there be?

I was surprised, for some reason, that we were having that kind of argument at the stakeholders meeting. I should not have been surprised since the church has been sorting out these relationships since the beginning. Especially in the American church, prophecy vs. order has been a constant place for arguing. For instance, at the last General Conference of the BIC I wound up on the outs with some people when I questioned the leadership — their reactions to me were not unusual. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1600s New England, the Puritans had similar reactions when Quakers landed in Boston to preach their radical new faith. The Puritans, who had been so rebellious in England, were now in the place of protecting an order they had built in the new world from someone even further out than they were. Bernard Bailyn describes the two sides very well — you can see how the descendants of the arguers are still with us!

Quakerism had emerged as the ultimate descent from rational, Biblicist, clerical Protestantism into subjective, anticlerical, nonscriptural, millennialism that threatened the basic institutions of civilized life – church, family and social hierarchy—that they were struggling to preserve. [The Quakers] challenged such fundamentals as the sanctity of Scripture, the principles of predestination and original sin, and the propriety of religious “ordinances”: the sacraments, scripted orders of worship, structured preaching, and the formalities of prayer.

quakerAmong the church plantings popping up in the Philly region these days this divide is still being played out. The Presbyterians inherit the role of the Puritans, hang on to over-rational faith and resist women and other people who traditionally don’t have power – especially “enthusiasts” who undermine the Bible with their feelings. On the other hand are Pentecostals who, like the original Quakers, trust their personal experience and bravely attempt to get everyone into their own version of it — all in the name of following the Spirit and applying the Bible.

Isn’t there a middle?

I am aligned with the “Anabaptists,” the kind of Christians who were also kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for being disorderly and just plain wrong. But I try to force myself into the middle, when it comes to prophecy and order, somewhere between Pentecostal and Presbyterian. For one reason, I think every version of Christianity usually has some brilliance to it. We are all one in Christ. But I also have more practical reasons and scriptural reasons, as well.

The Apostle Paul was confronted with this dividing point when he was writing to young churches. In chapters 14 and 15 of Romans he does a brilliant job of forcing himself into the middle by telling everyone to accept one another like Jesus accepts them — not because they are right or have rights, but because of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 9 he charts middle ground by telling everyone to become like everyone for the sake of the mission — not merely because of empathy or tolerance, but because of Jesus. Paul puts himself firmly in the freedom/prophecy/filled-with-the-Spirit camp. But he uses his freedom to firmly protect those who don’t feel it. There is no point in having freedom if one uses it to win a point or to dominate everyone else. Freedom is for love. At this point some people among the BIC might think I eat meat sacrificed Philadelphia idols. That doesn’t mean I need to chew it in their face all the time. We all need to stick together in Jesus. Some people in our cells need enough structure to help them feel safe enough to grow – their cell leader can provide it without writing a new set of commandments for them.

Even when Paul is very frustrated by the people who are turning the Galatians back toward the Jewish law, he is generous: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. …If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”(Galatians 4:14-15). He keeps his eye on the prize, “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Cor 9:19).

The leader of the plane jump probably needs to be “fast.” That will undoubtedly make some team mate “furious” about all this jumping. The leader needs to consider that certain valuable members of the team are not just like him. The point isn’t feeling unfettered or secure; the point is being in love and following Jesus. Some people will always be in love and follow Jesus in a more orderly way, some will be wilder. That’s how it is. Regardless of our differences or even liking one another, we can all be one with Jesus and grow toward having generous hearts. We can recognize who we are and who someone else is — and see all of us in the light of Christ.

The Difference between Acceptance and Agreement

What I want is what I have always wanted: to live in a community of trusted partners and to act for redemption in every way we can think to act.

  • I hope we can be Bible-lovers — like many so-called “conservatives,”
  • I hope we can be welcoming and justice-seeking — like many so-called “liberals.”

I hope we will never stop calling people to follow Jesus as their Lord and to discern the movement of the Spirit for their direction. And I hope we will never stop trying to create an environment in which people can come to Christ in different ways, at different paces and according to their ability. I want Circle of Hope to be a safe place to explore and express God’s grace where truth does not kill and love does not lie.

Orientation is a starting point not our end point

I think that spirit makes Circle of Hope welcoming, not just to people naming various sexual identities, but also to people of various political convictions and spiritual backgrounds. We don’t believe that people need to change their ordinary orientation, sexual or otherwise, in order to follow Jesus. Instead, we invite everyone to change their spiritual orientation toward God and their fellow human beings. When people adopt that orientation, they submit their humanness, in all its wonder and flaws, to God as revealed in the way of Jesus. That reorientation makes all the difference.

The New Testament repeatedly says, we are all wonderful image-bearers of God as far as the Lord is concerned because of Jesus, no matter how the world defines each of us. We can rest assured that God knows, as well as we do, that we bear that image in imperfect, broken, and often hurtful ways. But our ongoing relationship with Jesus as Lord and our movement toward expressing our true selves is much more important than our imperfect behavior. Hoping to keep us moving and not stuck in condemnation, I think Circle of Hope has been doing a good job to embrace and challenge people in all the broken and glorious conditions they come to us just like we accept God’s embrace.

non acceptance: Liberal-vs-Conservative-SimpsonsEven with that urge to embrace people as they are, it is almost impossible not to compare and contrast one another. But, the truth is, when it comes to “us” and “them,” there is no “them.” There is only “us.” We are all beautiful and precious people valued by God. We are also broken people, to one degree or another, needing the healing of the Holy Spirit and the experience of authentic community to live as Jesus calls us to live. To be human is, among other things, to be in some wonderful and weird way, dysfunctional. We are all broken people, as well as glorious people (Romans 3:23-24).

We need to get to “us” not just define “me”

As a result of our brokenness, we are prone to conflict and usually scared to death of “them.” I encourage Christians who invest too much time in defining their opponents to apply the difference between acceptance and agreement. When we confuse acceptance and agreement we do not love as we should.

In our Cell Plan we note that it’s a common mistake for people to assume that they should not accept someone fully until they have repented and changed. Some Christians think that a person is not evangelized until they behave properly! Some believers think they are condoning sin if they disagree with someone’s choices  but, at the same time, respect, honor, and accept them — even though the Bible calls us to be that generous! (see Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 3:15-16). If we applied acceptance and agreement as two different concepts, we might stop withholding acceptance as a form of disagreement and learn to better love those outside our boundaries of agreement.

Christ-followers ought to declare their love through their actions. Many Christians have the well-earned reputation of putting a lot of energy into their messages of disapproval — that’s their main activity! But disapproval is not the Lord’s main activity or His message! I hope people get the impression among Circle of Hope that, “We love you just like Jesus does.” For instance, we have been talking a lot about the protection of sexual minorities this week. I think it is an “of course” that people oriented toward Jesus and toward serving others would be among the first to look out for the human rights of any oppressed group, always showing them the utmost respect as image-bearers of God. The first time I ever got in “trouble” for moderating the Dialogue List was when I confronted a person who was sounding “anti-gay.” He was honing a message of disapproval and he wanted affirmation for it. I respected him, but I had to do my job, as pastor, to keep the community knit together in love, so I confronted him.

We want to be that unique Kingdom society within our secular culture that blesses those with whom we do not agree and who may not agree with us. Within that context of active, energetically-demonstrated love, we may then also make our differences clear. If we are loving as radically as we are given to love, this should only make the love we offer all the more meaningful and transformative. I don’t think I, or Circle of Hope, have always loved in transformative ways — but we mostly have! Even so, I am sorry for all the times people felt judgment, not love. People will outgrow us, get sick of us, or never understand us, but I always hope they never leave us because they bounced off our indifference or rejection.

We can’t make others accept before they agree. It takes faith.

I don’t think we are prone to judgment, but people feel judged nonetheless. It might be because they also need to learn the lesson we need to apply: the difference between acceptance and agreement. For instance, how someone sees sexual morality is the strange new litmus test for mutuality these days. Many people have liked us Christians but hated our morality. They have even felt “set up” when we were nice and then we did not agree with them; they felt welcomed to speak their minds and then felt betrayed when they were asked to listen. When it comes to unbelievers, in particular, they probably should restrain themselves from demanding that Jesus-followers sign up for the latest versions of the world’s philosophy, just like they don’t think Christians should tell them how to live. I felt like the church was demanding and a bit uncaring this week, too; so I also know something about how hard it can be to turn around and stay with love when I don’t feel the love coming my way. I still want to invite people into that process of staying with love in honor of Jesus, however.

I hope I am not wrong, but I think people can form mutually respectful friendships without demanding absolute agreement on all issues (most marriages seem to work this way!). There is a difference between acceptance and agreement. If there is acceptance, then any necessary agreement can be formed. Mutually respectful diversity, in the end, provides us with the most opportunity for growing, loving, and learning. What’s more, it allows Jesus to heal our wounds and make us one, just as the Healer and the Father are one, which is much more satisfying than anything the-powers-that-be promise.

Let’s look at this cohabitation thing again — You’re married, right?

I heard a common story from a new friend last night. As far as she knew about church people, “living together” was so frowned upon that she and her boyfriend suspected they would be ostracized if they got involved in Circle of Hope.

I said to her, “You guys are married, though, right?” She said, “Yes.” (This is not a transcript of our conversation, but that was the gist).  What stood in the way of the official ceremony was money. They did not have wealthy or supportive parents; they did not have the money for a big party, money for the ring, the dress, etc.; plus, she wanted to feel more established financially before they made a commitment. This story is so common it seems to represent a new rite of passage into adulthood.

cohabitors

Care about people where they are

The “principle Christians” sometimes criticize Circle of Hope, as a whole, for our acceptance of people who are “cohabiting,” like my friend is. The implication is that we should consider these people taboo until they get themselves corrected. Instead, we apparently just let people have sex, willy nilly, and encourage people to sin. (Really, that’s gotten back through the gossip chain).

But, in truth, we’ve come up with an alternative. We care about people the way we meet them. So we usually get to know people who are cohabiting and ask them if they are married. Most of the time, if they aren’t just sharing an address, they say “Yes.”

I think people need to make a public covenant and have the benefit of a church-sanctioned marriage for any number of reasons. I’m not sure they need the government involved in their marriage at all – if they see that as an advantage, fine. But if they have taken one another home, and we all know they are a “they,” I don’t feel out of line by acknowledging their marriage.

Cohabitation facts

Like I noted in a former post, cohabitation has increased dramatically in recent decades in the United States. It climbed from 500,000 couples in 1970 to nearly 6.8 million couples in 2009. It looks like most young adults today will, at some point, live with a sexual partner outside of marriage. The stats say that a majority of couples now cohabit before they marry. Often their parents encourage these “trial runs.” It looks like a generation with so many divorced parents is deciding not to get divorced by never getting married.  It is a new era with a host of new issues to sort out.

Many Christians think the 21st century increase in cohabitation without legal, covenantal or public recognition devalues marriage and undermines its goals. If recent research is a true indicator, Americans, as a whole, have not fully decided whether they agree or not.  Sex is easier now. The capacity to marry for love (as well as be unfaithful) provided by birth control shook old foundations and new foundations are being built in response. Divorce is easier. In 1900, two-thirds of marriages ended with the death of a partner, particularly when women died during childbirth. By 1974, divorce surpassed death as the most common way to terminate a marriage. By the end of the 20th century, divorce was considered both a common and culturally acceptable way to terminate marriage. It is easier to be “abnormal” now. Since the 1960’s, cohabitation, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock childbearing have become increasingly common and culturally acceptable.

Although the contours of marriage have changed over time, the definition has not.  Americans still overwhelmingly define marriage as being sexually exclusive and lifelong, even though many break their vows. They are pulled between opposites and are still sorting things out. They want the connection of marriage, but they have slowly become accustomed to being individualistic and consumeristic. They want the security and safety of marriage, but they still want all their choices unencumbered. They want to marry or exclusively cohabit, but then have extramarital sex or divorce, even though they no longer have to get married. “Freedom” is the slogan, but they seem to still be pondering with the Apostle Paul: “Yes, everything is permissible. But not everything builds up!” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

What is the best way to marry?

Even though there are very few negative social consequences for breaking former sexual codes by not being married, Americans overwhelmingly choose to marry, eventually. Even same-sex couples want to marry and thirteen states will allow them to do it legally. I don’t think I can answer all the reasons why people mate the way they do, but I do want to respond to what is happening with grace and discernment.

It is an interesting era. I am watching it as something of an outsider, since I and my Anabaptist tradition do not tune our faith to the varying pitches of government music or the society’s dance. As far as I am concerned, state and federal government definitions of marriage do not necessarily serve to increase the integrity of marriage as an expression of faith. I don’t think legislation on sex, finances, or even procreation will protect marriage enough to make it work. It takes commitment. I don’t think couples need an excessive wedding ceremony or a legal document to make a commitment. But I do think they need the sanction and participation of a living community in Christ to make a long-lasting covenant that is centered in the covenant we keep with the Lord.

As a church, we have not fully answered all the questions (including the ones that come through the gossip chain): Do believers need a wedding ceremony or a legal document to make a commitment? Does the covenant need to be made in traditional ways — especially now that many of those mostly-extra-biblical ways are becoming discredited?

A new look at the spectrum of how people, in general, are changing marriage from contract to cohabitation might come up with some advantageous ways to adapt:

  • Maybe we could free some people from the ceremony trap — some people don’t marry because they are saving for the bling and the spectacle! Just stand up during the Love Feast; we’ll marry you and you can have a big party on your fifth anniversary.
  • Maybe we could honor people by acknowledging their cohabitation before they enter their covenant publically. That would be something like the way we embrace people as members of the church community before they make a covenant with the body.
  • Maybe we should more clearly express our understanding that people who have sex are, essentially, married, albeit poorly and dangerously. But then, some of them are better married than some people who live together with a publically affirmed covenant.
  • Maybe we should stop keeping secrets. Why should someone feel like they are secretly married just because they have not jumped through all the sometimes-arbitrary hoops? Why shouldn’t we help people have healthy, godly relationships with the people they are living with?
  • Maybe we can help people who are getting married to relax about it and not try to meet the demands of the wedding industry. That might encourage others to celebrate the relationship they have made with more freedom and less stress.

Here are some more blog posts and pages about marriage:

The Marriage Story (August 2012) http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-marriage-story/

Sorting out cohabitation and marriage (August 2012) http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/sorting-out-cohabitation-and-marriage/

Keep Talking about How Your Lover Is Doing with Jesus (April 2012) http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/keep-talking-about-how-your-lover-is-doing-with-jesus/

Monica and the new marriage (June 2011)http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/monica-and-the-new-marriage/

Mating Choices (May 2009)
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/mating-choices/

Love (January 2009)
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/2009/01/12/love/

Go Ahead and Marry (2000)
http://rodwhitesblog.wordpress.com/info-and-articles/go-ahead-and-marry-2000/