I found this (so did Dean Baker) at the Daily Episcopalian on Episcopal Cafe:

Outside looking in

By George Clifford

In downtown San Francisco, an abandoned building has furniture, including a refrigerator, sofa, chair, and lamp, hanging out of windows and otherwise attached to the exterior. The building has stood that way for years, with colorful murals decorating the sheets of plywood placed around the ground level to keep people out. I do not know the building’s story, whether the perpetrator(s) intended it as an artistic statement or something else.

In any case, the building seems an apt metaphor for too many denominations and congregations. These churches leave some of the people who should be integral to their community hanging in limbo outside, superfluous except as a painful statement of the types of people that Christian group excludes.

Sadly, some churches even boast about the types of people whom they exclude. Intentionally excluding people contravenes Paul’s vision of the body of Christ as mutual interdependence in which no person, regardless of perceived externalities, is dispensable. Each and every person brings gifts to the body, enriching the membership, strengthening the community, and contributing to the incarnation of Christ’s body in the world.

Healthy Christian communities regularly monitor themselves to identify the types of people whom they exclude, intentionally or unintentionally. In the past, most Christian communities excluded the physically challenged because buildings were not handicap accessible. People with mental challenges or behavioral control issues often exceeded (and still do in many places) a congregation’s tolerance for behavior outside conventional norms. Fear of contamination, as happened when the full magnitude of the HIV/AIDS problem first shattered public apathy two decades ago, erected new barriers to inclusion and thereby excluded some from Christian communities. Snobbishness, whether based on socio-economic status, perceived moral probity, or another factor, continues to bar some from admission in local Christian communities.

Each person is, as it were, a lump of clay in the potter’s hands, still being sculpted into the artistic and useful vessel the potter designed. Excluding people from the community not only impoverishes the community but also devalues the potter’s unfinished work as unworthy. Intolerance, from the right or from the left, has no place in Christian community. All people, no matter how personally repugnant I may find their views or behavior, are, like me, an unfinished vessel in the potter’s hands, still being sculpted into an artistic and useful creation.

Part of the historic Anglican genius has been our commitment to unity in the midst of diversity. Sometimes called “big tent Anglicanism,” this requires making room for those with a wide array of beliefs. Preventing the big tent from collapsing on top of those within it, stifling both their vibrancy and their ability to welcome others, requires humility, trust in the potter, and honoring our baptismal vow to respect the dignity and worth of all persons.

I’m thankful for the courageous stands that the Episcopal Church took at its 2009 General Convention. Having clarified who we are, and whose we are, now the harder work of lovingly living into that vision of inclusivity begins, a task in which we chart our direction and our progress with more difficulty. But even as the heat of a kiln is necessary to finish transforming clay into a useful and artistic vessel, so the heat of the hard work in the years ahead is necessary for us to incarnate fully God’s loving embrace of all people.

The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He blogs at Ethical Musings.

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