Years ago I worked at a small computer services company. The environment there was pretty informal, and the conversations wandered everywhere. Politics and religion, topics studiously avoided in many settings, were definitely up for grabs, and I was eager to discuss both.
Our new customer service manager – let’s call her Claudia – also liked discussing her faith. She was Mormon, and had loaned me some literature about the church so we could talk about it. The materials were interesting, but left me with a lot of questions, so I did some research on my own. Like any religion Mormonism has a checkered history. One part that bothered me a lot was the church’s history of banning black people from full participation well into the twentieth century (which to be fair has not been a practice since 1978).
When I asked Claudia about her feelings on the matter, I was surprised she didn’t outright condemn the church’s history of racism. Instead, she explained to me that Mormons believe in a pre-existence, and your circumstances of birth are a reflection of how righteous you were in that pre-existence. There was also something about black people being descendants of Noah’s son Ham, who was cursed. “Doesn’t it make sense,” she said, “that you must have done something wrong to deserve to be born into such difficult circumstances?”
I was stunned. “But Claudia … you’re Mexican. By that logic lots of white people would say the same thing about you.”
“That’s different,” she said.
At this point, let’s be clear this isn’t about judging Mormonism or Claudia. It’s about extrapolation.
Extrapolation is an “act or instance of inferring an unknown from something that is known.” All of us have known what it’s like to be part of a group that’s been unjustly excluded. That exclusion can be cultural or generational. Too many times that exclusion has a supposed biblical basis. Yet so often we are unable – or unwilling – to extrapolate from our own experiences to understand the people we choose to exclude are experiencing something similar and predictable. Does it really seem likely that people who exclude you are acting unjustly, but the exclusion you inflict on others is rational?
Over the centuries, we’ve developed lots of “sound” theology to disenfranchise people from Christ’s table. So much so, that every one of us is probably banned from participating fully in one or more denominations, yet welcome in others. Entire denominations have coalesced around left-overs and left-outs. Could this division along the lines of personal prejudices disguised as doctrine really be what Christ had in mind?
Christ knows you. Christ knows your struggles. Not one perfect person has ever been invited to a communion table. And the reasons some churches may not invite you now have less to do with your imperfections than with the church’s own flaws. The people we excluded a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, even ten years ago are now full participants in the life of the church. History will eventually reveal the church’s unjust prejudices against some of the people we exclude today. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s your neighbor. Maybe it’s me. Knowing what Christ taught, should we be extrapolating practices of judgment or of mercy? Let’s continue that discussion around Christ’s table, where all are welcome.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.