“Who’s in? Who’s out?”
A commonality of all religions is that they distinguish themselves from others by declaring who is accepted by their God and who is not. Religions are local myths, or folk tales, of a group of people who have developed a shared interpretation of the world, this world, and the next. It is a system of belief that brings people together in everyday life.
Every religion has developed the idea that all of their members were included in their God’s plan, but it always excluded their neighbors or enemies. They also called those who were different from themselves or worshipped in another manner heathens, pagans, or infidels. In all cases, each group claimed that their God and their religion were superior to their neighbors. This enabled a group to bond and separate themselves from their neighboring groups of people.
Modern religions, especially in the U.S., are different because a hodgepodge of religions exists next to each other in an area and co-exist with other religions. Except for rare exceptions, no area has a religion shared by the entire group. As various religions exist next to each other from a different part of the world, it is difficult to declare that one religion is better than another. Religions have migrated with people, but we have by and large failed to develop new religions in our new worlds with our neighbors. By importing old religions and working to maintain old ways, we have hindered the growth of the community and sacrificed social connections that could have enriched everyone’s lives.
Examples of the atrocities performed in the name of religions fill the annals of history, but the worst example may be the genocide of native peoples in the “New World” or what we now call the Americas. The people who were already here were called “heathens” because they worshipped their God – by the way, they never knew about the Christian God of Western Europe, so they never rejected Jesus. The ones who were rejected were people who claimed to follow Jesus but came to kill, colonize, and steal from the natives – and the religious orders gave sanctions to wipe the people off the face of the earth. This was all done in the name of honoring Jesus.
The modern-day church continues this practice through its work in mission. By calling those who cannot say “I accepted Jesus as my savior and Lord” in English and declaring them as “lost” and destined to spend eternity in “hell,” the church has claimed they know who is in and who is out in God’s world. When they met new people who wanted to believe in God, the church demands that people jump through certain kinds of human-created hoops to satisfy the existing church leadership and prove that the new believers are good enough to join the existing group.
However, the early church was different. The early church saw many who previously were not a part of their Jewish religion wanted to believe in Jesus, and the new believers were forced to abide by Jewish food restrictions and rituals. Recognizing that the message that new believers first had to be Jews was contrary to the message of Jesus, the church leaders changed rules. They declared that acceptance by God is not determined by following human rituals but by the grace of God.
Later in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul states the same when he said, “[God] says to Moses, I ‘ll have mercy on whomever I choose to have mercy, and I’ll show compassion to whomever I choose to show mercy.” Who is “in” and who is “out” is not determined by us but by God. No matter how much we think we can read and understand about God, we can be certain that we cannot read God’s mind.
Just as the early church changed its religious practices to accommodate new believers, as an old imported religion, the Christian Church must change to the modern time to effectively demonstrate the love of God in our post-modern world. In a world where mystery has been replaced with rational thinking, and we are no longer as afraid of the unknown, labeling things we disagree with as demonic and calling those we disagree with as following false gods only prevents the church from demonstrating the grace of God.
God will choose whom God will choose, and who is in God’s kin-dom is not determined by humans. Let us love everyone and share God’s love with everyone.