A Welcoming Church
“Brothers and Sisters, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism” James 2:1
The body of Christ, the church, is made up of people who God has accepted, forgiven and raised up to be a royal priesthood wearing the righteousness of Christ. This was all accomplished by grace without regard to gender, color, ethnicity, country of origin, age, health, wealth, or social status. God does not discriminate on matters of outward appearance or the identity we inherit. God does not show favoritism. Likewise, the church is to be a welcoming community that gives honor, space, and acceptance to every person without discrimination. James gives the example of honoring a well-to-do person, but marginalizing a poor person. Failing to be hospitable and welcoming to all who Christ loves is an insult to God.
A second reason James gives for not showing favoritism is the royal law of God’s kingdom that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This command was originally spoken in terms of loving the foreigner living among you as one who is native-born (Leviticus 19:34). Again the emphasis is on being gracious and honoring a diversity of people.
Do we discriminate against or give special privilege to certain types of people in our church? Given our value for “Minnesota Nice” and friendly greetings it is not easy to tell. Bethany has been very intentional in wanting to be a place where everyone is welcome and that has been a blessing. Yet in this long process of growth and change to become a reflection of God’s kingdom, there are ongoing areas of growth. In James it speaks of honoring people by making a place for them front and center. How do we make place for people that helps them feel included or front and center rather than being on the fringe?
One dynamic about large groups is that there is often a dominant culture of the group. When it is quite strong, it takes on a standard of being what is normal. Everything else then is identified as being other than normal, rather than just being one more variety. This can make it difficult for other cultural practices to be expressed freely.
The dominant culture in Minnesota is English-speaking, Euro-American, with mid-western white values and customs. For whites, it seems like being a normal American. When we go to the grocery store there is normal food and then there are a few isles for “ethnic foods.” McDonalds is just a restaurant, but Old China Buffet is an ethnic restaurant. The reality is that we all have an ethnic identity, heritage and roots from another continent and all food is ethnic food of one kind or another. There is no one ethnic group that is to have the privilege of being “normal” in a way that diminishes or marginalizes others. One privilege of being white in Minnesota is living life with almost never having to accommodate or switch to another culture or value system different than the one in our home. The church, however, is called to be multi-ethnic.
Being a welcoming church in a multi-ethnic church is something different than just being friendly. It involves honoring, making space, and giving liberty for each person to contribute to the larger body of Christ by being oneself and sharing from our cultural heritage and experience. This is why the welcoming church values and practices biblical diversity and inclusion, by creating space where we all can find connections with our stories and past, as well as grow through learning from others. Why do we sing the same style of songs that the majority enjoy? Why not more hymns, bluegrass, gospel, or songs that reflect other cultural styles? To be sure, this is one of the great challenges that stretches our capacity, but if it allows all of us to be at home or to be “front and center,” then Christ’s love compels us to do so. Ultimately, it is our common identity in Christ and future hope that unites us and brings us together. But coming together only in uniformity is not a reflection of the unity of the body of Christ.
Does the church ever discriminate? Yes, we are to discriminate between good and evil. We are to encourage one another to flee from evil and to not grow faint in doing good. When there is destructive beliefs or behavior among us, we are to discern what is right and to apply discipline. But among believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, we must not show favoritism.