All means All – or does it?

My church has becoming a reconciling church. This means we are all inclusive, specifically to the LGBTQiA+ Community. Recently, however, I have been asked does all really mean all?

Did Jesus draw a line with those he included? Was there ever any place where Jesus said, “Nope, not you because you are a: _____ (insert sin here)” ? I think we all know the answer to this. Jesus frequently communed with the broken; communed with those that were least in society (women, children, the poor, the sick); communed with the prisoner; communed with the unlikable (tax collectors). Jesus even communed one final time with the one person who he already knew had betrayed him! If this doesn’t mean yes, all people, I don’t know what does.

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Romans 15: 7 (New International Version)

Recently I went to a training through the Cal-Nev Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church on creating new spaces for new congregations. It was inspiring to hear the dreams and visions of so many who truly believed “All means All” and how to show that in their community. However, I was struck with an unfamiliar feeling when one courageous soul expressed her dream to bring a new space for worship to a congregation specific to single men who had been incarcerated for pedophilia.

Does all really mean all in this instance? This challenged my personal convictions. Would I welcome in someone who served his time because of this conviction, knowingly, into my church? Would I feel different between knowing if they had repented verses not repented for such a sin? Do I truly have the right to judge who can seek God’s forgiveness?

By including one group of people, we are almost assuredly excluding another group of people. By including someone as described above, we are most likely creating a space that is not safe for families within the congregation.

We at the Church of the Joyful Healer, have a large population of the unhoused that participate in our ministry in some way. We have hear that this may keep out others who do not feel safe around the unhoused. For now, we have not noticed this to be true, but I am very cognoscente of the fact that there may be people who choose not to come to our church because of this ministry.

Our facade of our building adorns a rainbow. This is an outward expression of our inclusion of the LGBTQiA+ community. I fully understand that there are people who choose not to enter our building, or judge us as not fully Christian, because their interpretation of the Bible.

church front building with rainbow colored windows and balloons.

With all this swirling in my brain over the weekend, I was then hit with the news of the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others who were traveling with them. My Facebook feed was filled with people who adored Kobe and were extremely saddened, as well as with many angry posts. One such post compared the death of Kobe to that of the possibility if Harvey Weinstein was killed in such a way. This is in part due to Kobe’s past charges of rape and sexual assault. Make not mistake, both of these men used their power to take advantage of women. But I find a fundamental difference between the two.

We know that most people of power won’t accept their role in anything, apologize, and/or ask for forgiveness unless they are made to. They will uphold their innocence as long as they can, until convicted. And, our justice system is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

In the case of Kobe, the charges were dropped. Kobe was not required by anyone to accept his part in anything, and yet he did. While some believe that his public apology to the woman in the case was a publicity stunt and not heart felt, there are many others who see this differently. I admit, I’m one of them.

It would be different if Kobe apologized, and then went out and did it again, and again, and again. Instead, it appears that Kobe turned to his faith. It was a dark point in his career, and he knew it. He repented. He asked for forgiveness. He turned over a new leaf in life. He became the man, and father, and husband, that everyone hoped he would be; knew he could be.

Does “All means All” include people who have used their power to exploit, assault, or harass the vulnerable? Does “All mean All” include people like Kobe Bryant?

For some, that answer is going to be no. For some, there are some evils in this world, that no matter how many times someone asks for forgiveness; no matter how many times they attempt to start fresh and live life through Jesus that they will never be welcome into a church community with them.

May we seek understanding and forgiveness. May we strive to walk like Jesus with all people: the broken, the unhoused, the poor, the incarcerated, the convicted, the forgiven, the sinner and the saint. May we remember that the Kingdom of God is open and available to all people, through Jesus.

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