Outsiders: Our History of Exclusion


Unfortunately, the church has created "outsiders" for more than 2000 years. Here's an example: around 200 A.D., Tertullian, a North African theologian, denounced the theatre— truth be told, he had some good reasons—then, in 398 the Council of Carthage declared excommunication for any Christian who went to the theatre rather than to church on holy days. Additionally, actors were forbidden participation in the sacraments... not just in the 3 or 400's, but in many places until the 1700's—long after the church had started employing theatre and actors in their religious festivals (Brockett, Theatre History, 7th ed., p. 71)!

While the theatre, particularly during the Roman Empire and the early middle-ages, had many excesses of violence and vulgarity, how does this treatment of the "actor" line up with Jesus' example? Even today theatre and actors are looked upon with some suspicion within the Christian community. Our own denomination sternly warned its members to avoid the "worldly amusement" of theatre attendance in 1928, and it wasn't until 1966 that we officially recognized that theatre and film could be legitimate cultural expressions under Christ's umbrella. You can imagine where this left actors in our denomination.

Actors who devoutly loved God and who glorified Him through the theatre arts couldn't be "insiders," even if they were absolute saints.

If this kind of exclusion is not just an exception, but is symptomatic of the church's attitude to the "other"—if my hypothesis is right, then at the very least I hope this blog will help us sit up and take notice of the contrast. But we also need to dialogue about a repentant and humble way forward that I believe lines up more closely with Jesus' ideals.

So, here are a couple of questions for us:

What's the difference between being "firm" on moral issues and "excluding" people because of their stance on those issues, or their behaviour? Is there a difference?
Who are some groups of people that we, as churches, exclude in a similar way to how actors were "excluded" from church life until even the 1960's in the CRC? 

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