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Living & Growing: Putting off falsehood and speaking truth truthfully

We live in a very diverse nation and world where exclusion and “otherizing” is an all too common reaction to people with whom we disagree, dislike, hate or don’t relate to. “Otherizing” can be our reaction to Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative, pro-choice, pro-life, immigrants, immigration, substance abusers, race, size, age, gender, sexual orientation, wealth, poverty, homelessness, criminals, manner of dress, pro-environment, pro-development, culture, religious preference, as well as physical, emotional, behavioral, cognitive or intellectual disabilities. The list is endless. Too often our response is harmful rhetoric, withdrawal of love, concern, relationship or rejection. New enemies should not be the outcome of our differences. Our abuse of labels hinders growth and causes misunderstanding. Respect and compassion, on the other hand, unify us and celebrate our rich diversity.

Scripture reminds us, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). We are advised to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:31). So “Putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully,” as Ephesians 4:25 says, leads to more friends, fewer enemies, and an environment of mutual respect, rather than harmful rhetoric, division and exclusion.

The temptation to label or exclude is based on preconceived ideas, influence of family or friends, upbringing, political leanings, propaganda, religious training, stereotypes or negative experiences. It reflects an unwillingness to understand someone perceived to be different from us.

Exclusion and “otherizing” can have tragic and extreme results that send shockwaves through our national psyche. “Otherizing” resulted in hate being lived out in the attempted bombing of national leaders last week. Last Saturday, 11 people died violent deaths because of extreme, unfounded anti-Semitism as they worshiped in their synagogue. Caring, faithful children of God died because irrational hate prevailed. As we mourn this hateful tragedy let us pray for comfort, love, compassion, caring, empathy and healing for the victims, their families, congregation, community and our nation, that we may all be one.

When exclusion and “otherizing” is our solution to diversity, we close the door to the blessings of unity in our diversity. When we stand with each other, we welcome diversity, mutual respect, understanding and appreciation.

We are facing a crucial election in two days that requires us to “think beyond ourselves” as we seek to unite our nation, state and community for the good of all people. Rather than focusing on our differences and divisions, why not focus on our God-given abilities to seek common ground.

The focus on God’s love is lost as people seek their own definition of correctness.

Jesus’ own disciples often sought exclusion. Yet Jesus went out of his way to include and reach out to people whose labels and realities caused them to be rejected by the people. His example is our resource for everyday relationships. The early church struggled with inclusiveness. Thankfully, Jesus’ disciples caught the vision of God’s love being a gift for everyone. We are challenged to accept diversity with open arms.

We find many reasons to exclude. People of every faith often assume the false role of judge when, in fact, we are to be caregivers of all people. The Ten Commandments seek to bring stability to us. They are not an orderly account of reasons to exclude people who disobey them. They point out our need for God’s love and forgiveness. In Matthew 22:26-37, a religious leader asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There are no excluding qualifiers to these most important commandments.

May we practice behaviors that promote understanding, compassion, empathy and love. As we put off falsehood and speak truth in love and caring, we break down barriers of exclusion and provide opportunities for inclusion and peace.

• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau. Laura and Larry are members of Resurrection Lutheran Church.

• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau. Laura and Larry are members of Resurrection Lutheran Church.

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