Lovingly Inclusive (part 2)

We recently put up these banners outside our front door, on a main thoroughfare through Plymouth. They are 12ft tall! If you zoom in you can see our newly adopted values.

It has correctly been pointed out to me that the steps are not inclusive of those who have mobility difficulties. There is a ramp, just to the right, which is not in the picture, but it illustrates how inclusivity embraces such a wide range of issues

This bloggage explores the second of our values which Mutley Baptist Church has adopted. The full text is:

Jesus calls us to love God and love people, and to be a community of his followers who are:

Lovingly inclusive

Like Jesus: celebrating and affirming every person and refusing to discriminate; valuing everyone and being accessible to all; ensuring everyone has a safe place in God’s family; and especially caring for and welcoming those who have been marginalised.

By ‘lovingly inclusive’ we mean that we want to be inclusive of everybody, regardless of ‘difference. That includes disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality – the list comes from the Inclusive Church Network website.

For far too long churches have been known as places that exclude others for various different reasons. But when I look at Jesus he seems to be on the opposite trajectory. He tried to break down barriers and rules that religious people had put in place to try to protect God from people or people from God. Yet God’s character and nature of limitless love and grace seem to be all about inclusion and embrace, not keeping people beyond arm’s length.

When we look at Jesus in the gospels he breaks social and religious rules about gender, ethnicity, economic power, health and much more. In his death he destroyed the myth that God wants to keep us away from him: signified by the supernatural tearing from top to bottom of the vast curtain in the Temple that kept people out of the Holy of Holies.

Because of God’s loving nature, the quality of our inclusivity is loving too. Love that wants the best for the other person, love that is willing to sacrifice our own resources, needs, ambitions and reputation for the benefit of others.

I am delighted to be minister of a church that is seeking to be lovingly inclusive. We won’t always get it right. But when we fail we will humbly seek and offer forgiveness, and we will always seek God’s Spirit’s help to be more like Jesus.

Lovingly Inclusive

This is the second of a short series looking at the new values that we have adopted at Mutley Baptist Church. The previous two bloggages are an introduction and a look at the first one. Our second value is that we are called to be Lovingly Inclusive. The explanatory text reads:

Like Jesus: celebrating and affirming every person and refusing to discriminate; valuing everyone and being accessible to all; ensuring everyone has a safe place in God’s family; and especially caring for and welcoming those who have been marginalised.

It’s really important to notice the quality of the inclusivity. It is loving. There should be tenderness, gentleness, humility and grace in the way that we include people. There should be a place for everyone, if they want it.

(Model of the Jerusalem Temple at the time of Jesus. Photo (zoomed) by Dan Lundberg, used under Creative Commons license)

When you read about Jesus in the New Testament you see him constantly challenging the religious conventions about who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. It’s exemplified by the layout of the Jerusalem Temple, which was laid out like an archery target with concentric rings. Each layer or courtyard marked the limit at which some people were able to go towards the centre, which was the Holy of Holies. Progressively non-Jews, women, men who were not priests, and ordinary priests were prevented from getting to the centre and kept away from God’s presence.

There were some who would never have even been allowed through the door into the outer courtyard because of their age, reputation, illness, profession or disability. Jesus seemed to go out of his way to mix with those people. He embraced them (sometimes probably literally). He was criticised constantly by the religious people for this approach. Scornfully they called Jesus, ‘friend of sinners’ – a label I suspect he rather relished. Nobody was excluded from Jesus. Yet sadly there are many who have found that they are excluded from his church.

It is Jesus’ approach to inclusion that this value encourages us to emulate. We want every single person to be able to encounter Jesus with us and in us. The Inclusive Church Network lists a range of ways in which churches need to consider their inclusivity. Their Statement, which lists a number of the ways in which people experience discrimination in churches, reads:

“We believe in inclusive church â€“ a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate.

We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.

We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

I love that statement. But it’s challenging isn’t it? It’s meant to be. The range of ways in which we need to take note of our actions and attitudes is broad. It needs to be so because discrimination (deliberate or inadvertent) exists in all these areas. We seek God’s Spirit’s help for us to embody these values, and humbly we seek and offer forgiveness for the times when we fail to do so.

Being inclusive like this is brilliant because we don’t have to agree about everything to belong. There are issues that have led to churches splitting and Christians falling out with each other, where the value of loving inclusivity has been lost in the rhetoric. They are not primary issues – about who Jesus is, what he did and so on – they are secondary issues (‘disputable matters’ (Romans 14:1) where there is room for difference. What makes it possible for us to remain united is not that we ‘agree to disagree’ but we agree that everyone matters equally and love everyone accordingly. I believe, and our church is declaring, that being lovingly inclusive, like Jesus, is crucial.

Be blessed, be a blessing