Is being inclusive a virtue? If so what does excluding other people mean? Is it a vice, a moral evil, or a character flaw? Why do some people value finding ways to include other people? Why do other people value excluding others? What is happening when a person wishes to include you while excluding other people important to you?
Close Encounter With A Closed Mind
We were paying the check at aa Chinese restaurant when a friend of a friend said, “I don’t like that!”
I turned to see what she was talking about. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t like that,” she replied pointing at the nearby Buddha statue. It was one of the “good fortune” Buddhas. The round headed with the large belly while smiling statues. This depiction of the Buddha is not the ascetic meditative and thin Buddha that is serious we often see. No, this is the one I like to call, “fat, happy Buddha.”
So I asked, “What’s wrong with fat happy Buddha?” It was more of a challenge. She is the wife of a Pastor who has little theological training. In other words, she is a fundamentalist. The image of the Buddha is a nothing less than an unchristian idol. She looked at me like I was completely brainless. I admit I considered it nothing more than a decoration to give the restaurant the proper atmosphere. After all, it never seemed to bother her to eat food that was prepared in the presence of the “idol.”
My guess is she did not object to the statue until she felt somehow obligated to witness. My challenge was what was so wrong that she felt the need? Did she need God to think she was faithful then? If so, what is the idol involved here?
Protecting By Excluding
I value openness, reflection, and learning. I consider myself progressive for that reason. My neighbors often value protection. Church members often say they need guns to protect themselves, their homes, families, and lately their churches. From whom? Obviously someone who seeks to do them harm. But I am reminded of a church member who installed alarms, cameras, and kept an arsenal to keep control of his family. His measures were an extension of his abusiveness. He did not trust the people he wanted to “protect.”
It is a bizarre example, I know. But the whole notion of protecting by excluding is equally bizarre. I once responded to a church member who claimed he needed guns because “the second amendment” gave him the right to protect himself from the government. I asked, “Who is the cop or which soldier you wish to kill?” He and others claimed I was being unfair. The events of January 6th, 2021 validates my question.
What ultimately is being protected? What is the integrity being preserved? In recent months, people following the advice of public health officials are accused of being fearful. The accusers are many of the same church folks I describe above. The argument is they believe in protecting their rights. What is really being protected is their identities and egos.
The Opposite of Faith
The opposite of faith is not doubt. I believed it was for many years. But I realize the opposite of faith is ego. How many times have “conservative” church members asked, “Do you really want to open the church to (those people)?” The question is about protection. But it implies a crisis of who is part of our church? It illustrates a crisis of threatened identity. Who am I?
Doubt comes about when identity is threatened. “I did not leave the church. The church left me.” Conscience is the most interesting of attributes. So many evils masquerade as conscience. What bothers you about someone else’s activity is not conscience. It is a desire to control. Conscience is about what you do to other people. Moral evil and flaws of character makes lies look like truths.
Faith is about living in trust. Conscience is formed by what one is taught. But faith is progressive in nature. It is meant to grow and deepen. Ego is powerful due to its fragile nature. The more ego is threatened the harsher the response it gives.
Excluding Minds Don’t Care
Should we accept everything? Of course not. But we should respond in measure. My dinner associate acted as though window dressing was a crisis of faith. The excluding mind closes off and does not care how it responds. Unfortunately, this is why I have given up on the big tent concept of church. People who wish to do nothing but make sure their own identities and egos are not threatened do not care how destructive they are so long as they win. Such is the way of abusers. I am tired of persuading the unpersuadable.
This position is difficult. For many years, being a white male has been the reason I was placed in tough church situations. Many congregations that refused to have a female pastor grudgingly took me. Often they learned to like what I did for them. I was like them in most ways. But, it did not help me in the long run in doing ministry among them. It bothered me that I was accepted when female colleagues would not be. I once walked away from a “ministerial association” that never invited female ministers. People wondered why it mattered.
An Ironic Experience
A female clergy person was to follow me at one church. The lay leader and PPR chair approached me about it. One guy who attended church faithfully was being told by his wife (who never attended) that he could not go to church where a woman was pastor. It was because of something St. Paul said about women not having authority over men. What should they do? I should add both of these leaders were women. I said this. “Am I correct that her objection is that a woman should not exercise authority over a man while ordering her husband to stay away?” They admitted they had not seen the problem that way. They were trying to keep peace. There are some situations not worth dealing with.