March Reflection by Richard Parrish Buzzwords & Boundaries The Inclusion Confusion
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” - John 17:14-17 (NRSV) 
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), John 17:14-17.
Buzzwords and phrases often emerge as an attempt to create awareness. “Just Do It!” is synonymous with the brand Nike. "It’s the Real Thing” is tantamount with Coca Cola. However, the marketing and promotion of a product line is not the only purpose of catchwords.
The word “inclusive” is rapidly becoming an identity for those who resist any form of exclusion. The increased use of the word in political, social, or church environments serves to reinforce awareness of discrimination many individuals experience. Whether the bias is due to one’s race, gender identity, religious preference, physical condition, or economic status... to be “inclusive” suggests that ALL people are entitled to a level playing field.
However, to be completely inclusive requires a change of position. When “inclusivity” becomes the acceptable norm for society, then to “exclude” an ideology or individual for any reason, must be seen as unacceptable, uncaring, and unreasonable. To be totally inclusive requires no boundaries. None.
Within the Christian community, the word “inclusive” is at times an overdue wake-up call for followers of Jesus to right wrongs that have unjustly and insensitively been imposed upon individuals. Much damage has been caused by insisting to use Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) as a hammer! Name-calling and rancorous labeling is not a reflection of God’s gracious, loving and merciful attributes! Never.
The gospel (the Good News of Jesus) is for ALL people who believe – regardless of race, gender, or lifestyle preference. However, along with that great news of an all inclusive gospel, the message of God revealed in Christ does have boundaries. The gospel is inclusive and exclusive.
To believe in the gospel is more than a cognitive assent. It imposes on each of us the obligation to obey the teachings of God revealed in Christ. That poses a problem for me if I desire to be fully inclusive. What do I do when God’s word, revealed in Christ, is in conflict with cultural preference?
Praying to God, Jesus said of his disciples (his followers):
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” - John 17:14-17 (NRSV).
Those who believe the gospel are citizens of the kingdom of God. It should not surprise us when the world (our social and political predilections) resent and resist Christ followers. Jesus’ social and political world hated him!
God’s love and mercy – revealed in Jesus – guarantees a level playing field for EVERYONE! That’s the inclusivity of the gospel message. No one is better or less. Each of us who believes in the gospel acknowledges our sinfulness and gratefully accepts God’s love, revealed in Christ. However, that’s the beginning.
Now, the gospel message begins to expose those areas in my life where God desires me to grow. Through God’s word, his Spirit corrects, reproves, and instructs me as to how I am to grow in my relationship with God. As those areas are revealed, God’s invitation is for me to obey and trust. Often, those invitations are difficult. I may not see them as fair. I may not understand how (or why) God would judge something in my life that is so comfortable and feels natural to me.
That’s why the gospel message (God’s word revealed in Christ) is so important! I’ve been asked more than once: Why do you place so much emphasis on God’s Word (the Bible)? The answer to that question is: Because the game of life needs an umpire.
Every sport team understands that – at times – an umpire or referee is necessary. My perception can often be different than yours – especially on close calls.
As a boy playing sandlot ball, we were – for the most part – capable of resolving disputed calls (even if we didn’t agree).
However, when the game was close: A ball hit close to the line, a “hail Mary pass” to the corner of the end zone, or a last second shot that goes through the hoop, had the capability of launching a spirited uproar from both teams. “It was out of bounds! NO, it was a fair ball!
God’s Word – according to the Psalmist – “ ...is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s lamp and light assist to lead me and reveal God’s ruling. I’m thrilled when it goes my way. However, when God rules that I’m out of bounds, I may not enjoy the decision, but I know it’s accurate!
I’m grateful that God’s love is inclusive of ALL who believe. I’m also thankful – though at times it’s painful – God is kind enough to let me know when I’m out-of-bounds. His judgment call is because he wants me in the game!
Do you believe it is possible to be completely inclusive?
What are three (3) social issues you find to be in conflict with biblical guidance? Why?
What means can you implement to demonstrate your love, respect, and care for those who share different views?
What areas in your life do you sense God desires you to grow? Repent?
Are you willing to accept that invitation?