As a Progressive Church, one of the ideals we value is being inclusive. However, this claim is made by every church I have ever known and visited, but most of them did not practice inclusion.
Inclusion for most means that people will not be prevented from coming in, but their presence will not be valued, especially in leadership. As a church, we have certain habits and patterns familiar to the insiders but are strange and uncomfortable to those when it may be their first time with us. To be inclusive means our focus is on those who are new and not the old-timers.
In Acts, we see the new young church trying to figure out how to set the equal ground for everyone who came to believe in Jesus. As non-Jews became followers of Jesus, the new church enforced old Jewish food regulations to the new believers; they were upholding the traditions they knew and became the gatekeepers of the new religion.
In this week's text, we see that God calls Pete and Cornelius to change the paradigm and not judge people for different food practices. By forcing Jewish food laws on the new religion, two class systems were created: Hebrew Christians were the favored class, and Hellenistic Christians were lesser. The words that were used were "clean" and "unclean." While the food was "pure" or "not pure," its designation was also then applied to people who ate the food.
As the church goes beyond Hebrew culture, God changes the laws and declares that no food is now unclean. It is important to note that this did not mean that all Jews now had to eat formerly forbidden foods, but that those who ate the food that Jews do not eat are no longer seen as "unclean." New food practices were included, and the Hellenistic food practices were now equal to the Hebrew food practices.
To be inclusive means that those who wanted to keep the old practices had the freedom to do so, but we will not enforce the habits of the old to the new people. We also have to work to include the practices of the new people in the church's life. There is no one set of preferred laws in an inclusive community, but each person is valued, and their contribution is accepted and appreciated.
This means as a church, we will be vigilant in examining our practices and relationships to ensure that we do not put an undue burden on those who are new to our community by enforcing old rules that they know nothing about. We will work hard to remove the old ethos that acts as barriers to entry and not act as gatekeepers. But in Jesus, all are welcome, so there is no room for gatekeepers and barriers.
Let us be inclusive by removing all barriers, so everyone will know that they are accepted by God when they come into our community.