Second-Class Church Citizens
In the Bible the church is talked about using a bunch of different nomenclatures. In some instances the church is described as a body where every person plays a part with some parts being bigger or smaller than others, and all parts being important. In other places the church is described as a family that loves and takes care of each other.
Out of all the descriptions of the church in Scripture my favorite has to be when we are called a "holy nation" (1 Pet. 2:9). My fondness for this description comes from the fact that it describes us as a whole. We are not divided by ability, we are not separated by age, we are simply a holy nation of God's people. Unfortunately, this is not always lived out in the church today.
Before you close the article hear me out. This isn't another millennial ranting against the church post. It is however a call to look at ourselves and see how we view those around us. Recently, I wrote an article inquiring about how we'd treat adulterers and homosexuals if they were to walk into our worship assembly. Today I want to turn our attention to the Christians within our assemblies that sometimes feel, by the words and actions of other Christians, as though they are second class citizens.
What is a Second Class Church Citizen?
According to dictionary.com a second class citizen is someone who "is not accorded a fair share of respect, recognition, or consideration...a person whose rights and opportunities are treated as less important than those of other people in the same society." In short, a second class citizen is someone who is a citizen, but they don't have the same rights and are seen as lower than other groups with the same citizenship. For our purposes, a second class church citizen is someone who is looked down on for something they are doing, or something they've done in the past.
Second class church citizens are those people who have been saved as we were saved, are a part of the same "holy nation" we are a part of, and yet we look down on them, withhold opportunities from them, or just simply see them in a lesser light than others with the same citizenship.
Who Are These Citizens?
There are a number of people we could put down on the second class church citizens list. This post isn't an exhaustive list, but is a list of people I've talked with who feel like they're sometimes treated as second class citizens (note: the following points are generalizations. Also, I believe these things are done unknowingly, but we ought to discuss it nonetheless).
Divorced, single, or childless families
We treat certain family arrangements as second class church citizens. How? When we repeatedly ask singles "so...when are you going to get married" we treat them as second class. When we ask the married couple "when are you thinking about having kids?" or tell the family with more than three kids "you know what causes that right?" we treat them as second class. When we shake our heads at those who have gotten divorced because they must be terrible people for it to have not worked out we treat them as second class church citizens. All of us has a certain ideal of what families should look like and when we look down on others for not fulfilling our ideal, we are treating them as second class citizens.
Former porn addicts, those who have had abortions, and other "undesirable" sins
A couple years ago there were a string of videos released concerning Planned Parenthood's selling of babies body parts. There is no doubt that abortion is murder to those who have studied the subject or watched those videos. That being said, there are women who run to these clinics thinking they have no other options. There are many women who get abortions truly believing that the child was just a bunch of cells, only to find out later that those cells were a human being, and repent of their actions.
These are not scenarios we typically present in our sermons or articles though. When we constantly call those that receive abortions murderers, we can understand why they might feel like their inferior to us "non-murderers".
This isn't limited only to abortion. We look down on those who have struggled with pornography because they are "perverts". We look down on those who are overweight because they have "no self-control". The list goes on.
Those that don't fit in with the church subculture
I don't know if you know this, but our churches have their own culture. We have words, practices and events that don't make sense to outsiders. Sometimes when those outsiders come in we treat them as second class. Sometimes they don't fit in because of their clothing. Sometimes they don't fit in because they have tattoos and piercings. Sometimes they don't fit in because of their race. Sometimes people feel like second class citizens when we pressure them to change who they are and fit into our subculture.
Please understand that none of the things I'm dealing with here are doctrinal. The issue of others feeling second class has everything to do with how we treat particular sins and how we voice our opinions of how things ought to be. These few categories represent those that can feel marginalized to second class. Here's what we can do to change that.
What Can We Do To Avoid Making Others Feel Second Class?
The greatest cause of others feeling second class is our treatment of sin. When we treat one sin as worse than another or single out some sins in our speech and ignore others we make those who struggle with those sins feel like second class citizens. We need to change the way we look at sin. All sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:2) and every one of us is a sinner (Rom. 3:23). Instead of holding some sins up higher than others let's deal with each sin as an equal separation from God.
People in the church also feel second class when we look at them as sinful people and not the forgiven people they are. People with sin in their past shouldn't be treated as sinners in the present, but as forgiven people residing in God's holy nation.
As we interact with those inside the church let's make sure we're doing all that we can not to remind them of their past, but remind them of their bright future and of their beautiful present in Christ Jesus.