Has it ever happened to you that a certain word comes into your mind and you keep repeating that word to yourself? The word rolls off your tongue – at least mentally it does – and you relish the sound of it. You then begin to wonder how that word came to be. Why did that particular combination of vowels and consonants come to represent that particular thing?
I had that happen to me the other day with the word egalitarian. For those unfamiliar with the word – a little lesson: a vegetarian is someone who dines on vegetables but an egalitarian is not someone who dines on eagles (eagalitarian?)… or should that be eggs (eggalitarian?). No! It’s a word that simply means equality – especially in political, economic or social life. And it was in that context that I came across the word. Someone had just commented that Australia is an egalitarian society. I suspect that this is not quite true though. We may be less class conscious than is the case in some other countries but I’m not so sure that there are no class distinctions at all in the Land of Oz.
Ideally, in the church we ought to be egalitarian. After all, don’t we pride ourselves as being “one in Christ”? Surely that’s the best kind of equality – being brothers and sisters in the Lord? But sadly… in the church too we don’t always get it right.
I discovered that in my teenage years. I grew up in a church that was located in an industrial suburb. With a few rare exceptions the people in our church were tradies or production-line workers. We had more than our share of welders and fitters. But at youth camps we mixed and mingled with young people from other churches – including a church that was made up mainly of professional people. I’ve never checked this out with my peers from those days but it has always seemed to me that there was not much acceptance of one another between those two churches. I can think of only one inter-marriage from those two churches amongst my peers. I’m not sure that it was ever said but we from the industrial class suburb seemed to think that these folk from the white collar suburb were all a little stuck-up. And it seemed to me that those from the profession class suburb tended to think of us blue-collar workers as rather unrefined and oafish.
Does that still happen today in our churches? I would like to think that it doesn’t but I’m afraid that over the years I’ve heard a few too many stories that show this is an area that we need to work at. If you’re a blue-collar worker do you ever sit next to a white-collar worker in church? If you’re a professional person will you chat with a tradie over a cuppa after church?
Actually the scenario that led to my recent discussion about being egalitarian had yet a different angle on the problem. She was a single mum of a couple of teenage kids. Sadly, she had overheard a husband and wife in her church remark that they were rather careful who they allowed their children to befriend because they wanted healthy two-parent relationships modelled for their children. That was a huge un-egalitarian slap in the face for that single mum.
The reality is that there are some very significant barriers that exist between different people in the church and all of us have a tendency to want to be with those who are most like us. That’s perfectly understandable but if we’re not carefully it will also turn the church into a bunch of cliques with lots of people left on the fringes who never really become integrated into the life of the church. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ then that needs to be more than some theoretical point of doctrine but must be seen in the way we interact with and serve one another.