Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Equality and Inclusivity

In 1980, Hank Williams Jr. recorded a song titled, The American Way. The song speaks to the prejudice against southerners, and those who do not appear to have money, throughout America. A line from the song says, I've noticed I don't get much help when they see my blue jeans. Some slick with a suit walks up, ‘Oh, can I help you please’. Yes I'm learning, as I gain a little age. About the power of the dollar, and the people with white collars and the good old American way.

Are you prejudice? Most of us in this 21st century would answer that question in the negative. Most of us do not believe that we are prejudice at all. We believe that we hold all human beings in the same equal status. That is what we say. However, our actions betray our verbal statements sometimes.

The more appropriate question is, “What are you prejudice against?” We all have prejudices. Prejudice is defined by a preconceived, unfavorable opinion. The fact that the opinion is formed without proper knowledge or experience, is the key to understanding prejudice versus ordinary dislikes.

Some prejudices are very petty and go unnoticed most of the time. I don’t like martial arts movies. I have never watched one, but they don’t seem very entertaining to me. This is a good example of a prejudice. I have no reason to not like them, but I don’t like them anyway. On the other hand, I also do not like cantaloupe. I don’t like the way it smells or tastes. My wife and family love them, but I don’t. Why don’t I like them? I have tried them and have realized that I do not enjoy eating cantaloupe. This is a dislike, not a prejudice.

As we are working through our church’s “Key Characteristics”, we find the following characteristic in our church constitution:
Equality and Inclusivity: While every child of God is unique, we have a common bond which transcends our differences: We are all persons created in the image of God and persons for whom Christ died. Therefore, our church is inclusive of all people, regardless of background, age, race, gender, or social status. Furthermore, opportunities for growth and service are open to all people and are qualified only by how each individual has been gifted and called by God. Our equality and inclusivity are mandated by the Gospel and stressed by the emphasis in our Baptist heritage on the priesthood of believers and the autonomy of the local church.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that 11:00 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. The trouble with that statement is that it was made over 40 years ago, and it is still true. However, it is not only true of racial differences, but many others as well.

Did you know that many people see Edgefield First Baptist as a snooty church? They do. I know that the statement is not true. However, I have talked with more than one person, who I invited to worship with us, who said they couldn’t because they didn’t have a suit. One of those people was actually honest with me, and said that we were a “snooty” church.

Why did they feel that way? Perhaps we have inadvertently sent out signals that we want everyone to act like us. If someone shows up with a suit or nice dress on, we don’t think anything about it. They are like us. However, if someone came into our church on Sunday morning with leather pants, tattoos, multiple piercings, and unkempt hair, what would happen? Would the Sunday dinner conversation be about the music or the message, or would it be about how that person in leather came into “God’s house” with no respect? That, my friends, is also a prejudice.

What do we do about it? Is there some magic potion to make us love and appreciate everyone? No. We have to see them through the eyes of Jesus. We have to let Christ be so much in charge of our lives that we are able to see the whole person, rather than just the exterior. Pray to God and ask Him to give you eyes that see what He sees in people, and how to reach them with Jesus’ message of hope and life.

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 7-8 NIV)

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