*Easter Message Delivered in Denton, Texas
Let’s begin with the excluded God. What does it mean for God to be left out? My mind immediately conjures up a situation at the church I attend, the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ. Our church was founded to be the ultimate space of inclusion for LGBT people and those that love them. Presently, the church’s idea of liberation is based around your ability to fit within certain identities. This is not a phenomenon unique to our church. For the past 40 years, identity-based churches have become the leaders of progressive Christianity. You have the gay church, black church, latino/a church and many others. These spaces exist to liberate the populations they serve. I am beginning to be firmly convicted that our ideas of liberation and inclusion have created a new exclusion. For illustration purposes, let me return to the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ.
We are a congregation that has existed to promote the inclusion of LGBT people. Over the last few weeks, I have noticed that a row of chairs in the back of the sanctuary where homeless LGBT people usually sit has been removed. While I can’t speak to the precise reason why this row of chairs has been removed, I can say that a congregation that has consistently been about the inclusion of LGBT people has now marginalized some of the most vulnerable people in their midst. I am beginning to realize that inclusion has now become code for an ability to exclude whoever we want to exclude…or at least to interact with them on our terms.
Inclusion has become the highest priority in our modern culture. The Gospel of Jesus is not about inclusion…it is about exclusion. Following Jesus is about being included in the excluded. Whenever we institutionalize inclusion, we often find out that the institutionalization of inclusion most often leads to exclusion. When you are included you are excluded in the realm of God. Jesus said, “What you have done to the least of these you have done to me.” I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was sick. I was in prison. Jesus was excluded and continues to be excluded in our exclusions. It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t say, “What you have done to the included you have done to me.”
We are at an interesting time in history. We are months away from marriage equality. We are having more nuanced conversations about race, class, sexuality, gender and a whole host of other things than we have ever had before. As the world shifts and some people gain more rights and access, how will we treat those who are excluded? If what I have seen throughout my life is any example, the suffering will be left to suffer and the excluded will continue to be excluded. Let me break it down in Easter terms…for most people, Jesus will remain dead.
Friends, a dead Jesus is a safe Jesus. For most churches and the people within them, a dead Jesus is far easier to manage than a Jesus that is alive. With regard to the message of Jesus, safe spaces are always going to be dead spaces. Jesus calls us to interact with the excluded or those who the world would say are not very safe. Dangerous faith is a faith that can declare that Jesus is alive. A safe faith would just leave Jesus in the grave.
When I think about living out a dangerous faith… I think about the courage that it takes for a woman to hold the hand of her girlfriend in homophobic spaces throughout this nation. I think about those who are struggling against police brutality in the midst of overwhelming racism. I think about those Christians in the Middle East who are daring to follow Jesus in the midst of certain death. I think about the Muslims who are pushing back against Islamaphobia in this nation. I think about the poor, homeless and dispossesed people of this world demanding better. I could go on and on…but there is something divine about having the courage to live dangerously and simply be who you are. Those who live dangerously will always be excluded…but Jesus will always be right there with you.
I think we need to quit talking about inclusion and safe spaces. If you are black and gay, you will not achieve equality based on the constructs of inclusion and safe spaces. If you are poor and transgender, you will not achieve equality based on the constructs of inclusion and safe spaces. If you are disabled and a woman, you will not achieve equality based on the constructs of inclusion and safe spaces. We have to create a movement of love and justice that liberates people based on who they are and not where they can fit. A dead Jesus makes people fit. A resurrected Jesus liberates people from their individual location…no matter where they are.
We will be able to say that Jesus is truly risen when we begin to work to create a world where people can feel alive in their individuality and find community in their exclusion.