Editor’s note: In her book One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins (Fortress Press, 2019), Emmy Kegler remembers falling in love with Scripture while wrestling with the ways it has been used to exclude, traumatize and marginalize people. Here she offers a glimpse into the lives of those “on the margins,” how God’s love continually finds them and how we as a church might bring ourselves alongside them.
Speaking of communities and individuals “on the margins” is a complex prospect. Systems of power and privilege intentionally silence those who challenge the hierarchy, fracturing their witness, destroying their stories and splintering any attempts at coalition and action. Sometimes we think we’re attending to their problems, only to find that, despite our good intent, we have made mistakes. It is in the ever-offered grace of Christ that we find both mercy for our mistakes and a call to transformation and new courage.
In the #MeToo era, we daily experience opportunities to be more aware of how gender has been used to silence and subjugate people. We see, in accounts of creepy comments, workplace misogyny and sexual assault, how the world (and even the church) has allowed sex and gender to become a basis for transaction rather than relationship—a way to “scratch our own itch” through someone else’s vulnerability.
Yet grounding ourselves deeply in Scripture reveals a better way—the Jesus way—that rejects objectification (Matthew 5:27-30) and disposability (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:1-12) and instead makes space for people of all genders to become disciples (Luke 10:38-42).
We need to ask how we, as church, make that space. The church needs to lift up the voices of young women as much as we praise young men. We should offer men ways of being in the world that speak a countermessage to a culture of dominance and self-aggrandizement. We ought to respect the nonbinary bodies of intersex, transgender and gender-nonconforming children of God.
As members of one of the whitest denominations in America, ELCA Lutherans are particularly called to recognize how our theology and practice have kept us from reflecting the beauty of God’s creation. Our love for our Western European roots has become dangerously idolatrous, centering hot dish and organ music over witness and welcome. Ministry with other races has too often been ministry “to,” as if we are the only ones with gifts to offer and a single volunteer event can undo centuries of disempowerment.
Yet God, choosing to become embodied among us, came not as a powerful Roman citizen but as a member of the racially, ethnically and religiously oppressed people of Judea. Images of Christ should reflect his brown skin, his dark eyes, his oily hair and the dirty hands of a carpenter.
It is in the ever-offered grace of Christ that we find both mercy for our mistakes and a call to transformation and new courage.
Many of us know the challenges of updating our buildings to make them accessible to all. Adding ramps and elevators for those who cannot use stairs has been an important part of almost any capital campaign for many years. We may long for the healing power of Jesus, who broke down ability boundaries not by changing buildings but by transforming bodies. Although we can be overwhelmed by big and expensive changes, we can fail to notice smaller and less obvious needs.
We need to be attentive to the abilities and disabilities of our members, both longtime worshipers gradually aging and newcomers unexperienced in liturgy. Use microphones to better communicate with deaf or hard-of-hearing attendees. Run off a bulletin in large print. Ask communion servers to get flu shots each season so as not to share a fever along with the body of Christ.
The church—from buildings to institutions to each worshiping community—has relied on its members’ generosity and its leaders’ wise stewardship to nourish disciples and proclaim the gospel. Yet that monetary need has often tempted us to prioritize parts of the body who can give more and to grant more “say” or the larger portion of our attention to our biggest givers and most-ready volunteers. We know that Jesus’ ministry relied on financial support (Luke 8:1-3), but he focused his work and the arrival of the kingdom on the poor and hungry (Luke 4:18, 6:20-21).
We should make space in stewardship conversations for those who, due to economic stress, cannot deduct another 1 percent from their budget or who work too much to volunteer their time. Encourage new offerings that don’t rely on significant gifts of time or money—praying for those on the prayer list, writing a note to a homebound member, becoming a “buddy” for new worship visitors.
Wading into work on the margins can be daunting; the needs of those who have been shut out and silenced can seem overwhelming. Yet with intentional self-reflection that leads to small changes, we participate in God’s work of sowing seeds of welcome, inclusion and transformation—not just for the lost and marginalized but for all of God’s children, brought back together.