Groucho Marx once said, “I would never join a club that wanted me as a member.” It was a painfully humorous statement. He was referring to exclusive clubs that barred Jews from membership. They were not wanted. The spirit of exclusion affects more places than it should. Often, the exclusivity principle is not recognized for what it is.
So-called community organizations practice exclusivity in many overt ways. The Boy Scouts of America is one of the worst. As an organization dedicated to the promotion of citizenship and religious values, it often places barriers to membership that have nothing to do with either. This is true in practice if not in overt statements. I have known Boy Scout Troops that only take students from particular schools or from “feeder” cub scout packs. One parent and former scout leader told me of when her sons were not allowed to join a troop because it “didn’t want kids from the trailer park.” Her response was to contact the local B.S.A Council and ask to charter a troop for her trailer park. They obliged.
Many organizations choose members by their practices. When meeting times and places are prohibitive for the majority of people who could take part, the message of “you are only wanted if you conform to us” is clear. Other groups have “traditional practices” that are either racist or classist. I personally have waited for the annual promise of change for Freemasonry in the South to stop considering Prince Hall Lodges “clandestine.” It is a racist practice that should stop. The Grand Lodge in my state promises to change that every year.
People Like You Are Not Wanted
Classism affects many organizations that are supposed to support the good of the community. America has a system of social class that is often misunderstood. Blue collar workers who make a certain amount of money per year consider themselves “middle class” when they are in practice “working class.” The social class system in America is less rigid than in many other nations. But it is not invisible.
Two local high schools, Farragut and Bearden, are football rivals. One alumnus from Farragut was embarrassed to tell me that one of their favorite chants during games includes, “They’ll work for us.”
The forest fires that burned areas of Gatlinburg Tennessee in 2016 was given national attention. Local media covered the rebuilding of dream homes and accented the losses suffered by wealthy retirees. The loss of the old motels that housed the impoverished workers in the tourist town was not covered because the owners never rebuilt. These workers lost their homes with almost no media attention to their plight.
Members of civic organizations would do well to consider in which restaurants or homes their meetings and social gatherings are held. Would the price of the meal be a barrier to some attendees? Is the neighborhood particularly exclusive? Should another option be pursued to help others?
The Church Does Not Want You
The questions should be asked in church. Racial and class distinctions are nowhere nearly as obvious in America as it is in the church. Ageism is also prominent. As a young pastor, even with an expense account, members of the congregations wanted to have outings and gatherings in places that were very expensive for me. “We want your family going with us,” was often demanded by people who planned trips that cost $35 or more per person (meals not included). This was demanded of a pastor who made a little more than minimum salary.
The issue also involves plain prejudices. An conversation between two church leaders went awry when one spoke up about who he didn’t want in the church. The people not wanted were “politicians” (the person he spoke to was once a small town mayor) and people “with tattoos” (the mayor showed him the tattoo on his forearm).
My guess is the first individual didn’t want liberal political activists or younger people with body art (who are sometimes also political activists). In short, he had a cultural identity understanding of his church. This “culture war” attitude has caused more harm for churches. But like the class distinction it is invisible. The attitude of many lay people is similar to the one causing racial segregation in the churches. “Let them find their own church.”
Are We Wanted
We get into a new discussion like that between the church leaders. Do we want us in our churches? Do we want each other in our congregations? I note that neither of the two leaders are involved with that congregation any more. It is just as sad as it is true. The point is our negative attitudes toward each other will destroy the churches we claim to cherish and to love. Positive attitudes toward one another will preserve the congregations. And thereby bring glory to…God. Oddly enough, that is the person that has been ignored.
I once told a conservative colleague that no matter our differences, God made us brothers. I think now I should add that we are embarrassing our Creator.