by Robert Docter – 

We push people out on to the margins of life when we perceive them as less human than we are—less worthy—more inadequate.

Maybe they look different from us—dress, talk, celebrate or speak differently. Maybe the choices they make in life somehow disturb us, frighten us, or confuse us.
And so we shun them.

Oh, we do our shunning in a very subtle and civilized way these days—nothing too apparent—nothing overly visible—nothing blatantly racist or ethnocentric—nothing homophobic. Sometimes our weapon is the ballot box. We operate on the mistaken belief that a majority of people determines what is right and just. Not true! The majority might determine the law, but God determines what is right.

Sometimes we take a single statement from one verse in the Bible as the “rule” of human interaction and ignore the total context of God’s interpersonal message for us. He said we’re supposed to love him and to love each other. He went on to say that he evaluates the dimensions of our love for him by the quality of our concern for the “least” among us—the most different from us. He calls this “least” his “brothers.” They’re part of his family—just like you and me.

I’m convinced that the marginalized of society are the humans Jesus spoke about in his last, major address to his disciples on the eve of his final Passover and his betrayal. These are the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the shivering, the sick, the imprisoned–whom we either welcome into our fellowship and accept in Christian love, or be required to accept the consequences of our unlove.

We tend to define these aspects of marginalization in very narrow terms. We say: “There are homeless people, so let’s build shelters. There are hungry and thirsty people, so let’s have food service for them. There are sick people, so let’s build hospitals. There are unclothed, shivering people, so let’s clothe them. There are people imprisoned, so let’s minister to them.”

These are important programs, but they are insufficient in dealing with the broader definitions of homelessness, hunger, thirst, sickness, nakedness, and imprisonment. Having a house doesn’t mean one is not homeless. Having food and water doesn’t mean one has no hunger or thirst. Being out of jail doesn’t mean one is free.

If I diminish people for any reason, I am imprisoned by my own prejudices. If I have all the food I want and fail to hunger after spiritual and intellectual growth—I fail to accept full responsibility for my life.

It is said that marginalized people are required to exist between two cultures. Because they are part of neither culture, they fail to meet the demands of both and find only nonacceptance in either place. They are stuck and assigned to the margins because no one has been willing to facilitate acculturation into the broader multi-cultural society.

Acculturation is a developmental process. It requires moving through various worldviews. We might list them as: 1) embracing fully a perception of the dominant culture 2) rejecting the rules of the dominant culture 3) perceiving how some of those rules are helpful 4) accepting fully the bicultural nature of the life to be lived and integrating it into a multi-cultural pattern. This movement requires some effort on the part of the individual and a comparable willingness to facilitate that growth by caring members of many cultures. These caring members must be informed, knowledgeable, perceptive, understanding, patient—and most of all—non-judgmental.

A church-growth principle articulated over the last decade or so indicates that people want to attend church with people just like themselves. While there is plenty of evidence of the accuracy of this principle, I find it to be the antithesis of Christ’s view for the church.

Our Army must encourage members of all cultures to be involved in our organization. Together, we must strive to achieve a multi-cultural orientation and work to facilitate the movement of any marginalized individual or group into our fellowship.

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