APRIL 21, 2003
Martin E. Marty
"Exclusion," Carl Sandburg once said, was the ugliest word in the English language. Two kinds of exclusion appear in the sightings we do every week. It's important to keep them apart.
In the first, particular religious communities welcome only their own. Good Friday headlines said, "Pope: No Eucharist for divorced Catholics who wed." Catholics must also exclude themselves from Protestant communions. Excluding "us" from the Lord's Table is his business; it may grieve other Christians, but it's not directly a public matter. Yawn.
The Pope, like many other leaders among the 25,000+ small Christian bodies, excludes because of the belief that only Roman Catholics have it all correct. An irony, in this and other cases, is that it's the absolutists who contribute most to relativism. So the Pope maintains that all the others are false. Yawn. So the scores of fundamentalist denominations each insists that it alone has it right. Yawn. Next Sunday I will preach in a Lutheran church two blocks from the Lutheran church in which I was baptized; but, however friendly the good people with whom I grew up remain, they can not let me commune in their church. Yawn. And a thousand more yawns.
Alongside the mutually exclusive exclusions are cases that occur on public space. Friday's headlines illustrate plenty of such. In Muncie, Indiana, a National Day of Prayer group says "Christians only" as it uses everybody's space at City Hall. So others set up a rival prayer service. No yawn.
Another headline has exclusionist William Franklin Graham, known for the generosity of his Samaritan's Purse, the proselytism that goes with it, and his repeated assertions that Islam is "a very evil and wicked religion," got the Good Friday stand at the Pentagon, everybody's space. Enraged American Muslims asked the Pentagon to cancel the service. No yawn. Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said it has "a policy of openness and inclusiveness." She can't help it if such events are seen and heard as "divisive and bigoted," as Muslims claim this one is.
"December Wars," Albert J. Menendez called such conflicts in a book with that title in 1993. Back then the battles among absolutists and monopolizers ("We were here first; we are the true ones; we get to put up our symbols; we get to control the prayers") and everyone else were restricted to the Christmas season. Now, in the week of Passover and Easter, as in all other weeks, we find that exclusion and division are the most public marks of religion in the contemporary world. There is some contradiction between all this and the visions of reconciliation and peace they profess. Yawn?