Exclusion is a part of life. It is unavoidable. Not only that, it is good.
Isn’t it good that the whole school doesn’t get to have a say in your child’s education? That the whole church isn’t governed by the whim of the congregation each week but by a group of trusted elders? That only those who are trained doctors can make decisions about your healthcare?
Exclusion is a good thing. It is a protection.
But to many, exclusion is a great evil. The LGBT movement sees exclusion as evil. How can we exclude individuals from the benefits of marriage simply because they are of the same gender? Many hate Christianity because it is exclusive: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6) How could it be possible that God could exclude some from heaven simply because they don’t believe in Jesus? If God is good, how could He ever be exclusive, so goes the reasoning.
It can be easy for us, as followers of Jesus, to absorb this attitude and apply it to our own contexts of church and ministry. Being left out is usually seen as a great evil, one in which we should avoid at all costs. Isn’t the Church the place where all feel included all the time?
No. I don’t think it’s that black and white. Jesus Himself makes this a troublesome issue for us by being decisively exclusive on several occasions:
- Jesus chose 12 disciples from the larger group. There were many He didn’t choose to invite into that circle. “He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.” (Matt 4:18-22, Luke 6:13-16)
- On many occasions, He invited the same 3 from the twelve to join Him for special occasions. Here we see not just an inner circle, but an inner circle within the circle. (Matt 17:1-9, Mark 14:32-35, Luke 8:49-51)
- He told others that He didn’t come for them. To the Canaanite woman He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 15:22-28)
- He upset seemingly good inner circles, like blood family. He denied the request of His own family, using it as an opportunity to say His real family are those who do the will of God. (Mark 3:31-35)
Knowing Jesus is without sin and is the embodiment of love, going as far as the cross for unworthy sinners, forces us to create a new category: exclusion motivated by love. Though we can’t know all of God’s purposes in exclusion, one benefit it carries is what it exposes.