Who are the Outsiders: Breakin’ it Down…

For the remainder of this chapter we’re going to take some time to broadly identify the various kinds of “outsiders” that exist in North American society currently. No doubt there are corresponding groups of outsiders throughout all of the cultures of the world, and throughout all history. We’re going to focus on the groups in North America, however, simply because of familiarity… I am somewhat familiar with categories of outsiders here. I am not familiar with them elsewhere.
You may notice that the titles for the upcoming subsections could be construed as offensive and/or flippant. Please be aware that I mean them to be neither. Rather, my goal in choosing these sub-headings is to emphasize immediately that the groups that I am about discuss are indeed “outsiders” in some sense. The very fact that we have words with distinctly negative connotations to describe these various groups indicates that people who could be said to fit into these categories have been and are ostracized by at least some other portions of our society.
You may also notice that I have tried to avoid judgment about how outsiders are treated in these upcoming sections. That is not because I don’t have opinions about how the outsiders have been and are treated in our society. And it is certainly not because I don’t believe the Bible has anything to say about how the outsiders ought to be treated. Rather, it is because we are trying, in this first chapter, to simply identify who the outsiders are. After we have identified the outsiders, we will examine how Jesus dealt with outsiders (chapter 2). We will then go “back to the future”, as it were, and examine how the church, in the centuries following Jesus’ earthly ministry, dealt with (and deals with) the outsiders (chapter 3). 
After the historical overview of the church’s relationship to the outsider in chapter 3 we will look once again to the Bible. This time, however, we will look to the “God of the Old Testament” and His relationship to the outsiders—not because there is any difference between the “New Testament God” and the “Old Testament God”, but rather the opposite: because many people struggle with seeing the unity of God in these two sections of our holy scriptures, we will take time to illustrate that God’s dealing with the outsiders in the Old Testament is, at heart, really no different than Jesus’ dealings with them.
After we have looked at the Old Testament in chapter 4, we will then move back to the New Testament and see how the apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers, outside of the gospels, deal with the outsider in chapter 5.
In chapter 6, we will wrestle with the question of “So What?”—what does all of this historical and biblical overview mean for how we ought to relate to the outsiders of today? I suppose, if you really wanted to, you could try to skip right through to chapter 6—if you just want to see the bottom line, as it were. I would encourage you, dear reader, to bear with me though, and try to walk through the first parts with me. I believe that it is important for us to hear the fullness of our failure, as a church, to relate to the outsiders as God would have us do. If we do not know the fullness of our sin, how can we genuinely repent and turn to His way for us?
My goal is not for us all to go away from this book wearing hair shirts of guilt, or participating in guilty self-flagellation. Rather, my hope is that we may honestly repent, put our guilt behind us, and turn (back) to the path that our Lord has laid out for us—the one in which all of us “outsiders” strive, through his love, to welcome all his creatures “in” to His family. Hence we end this book, not with guilt, but with hope. 

As the saying goes, however, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Therefore, let us go into the dark night of seeing all those rejected by our society (and by the church, largely). Let us not go there without hope, however!
The first group of outsiders that we will examine are the “Down-and-Outers”—those who are ostracized from many parts of North American society due to a lack of economic resources. These people are often called “the poor”, and though some would argue that even the poorest of North Americans is better off in many ways than many “regular people” in the rest of the world nonetheless, the North American poor face limitations and restrictions. They are often not welcome, or not able to participate in societies activities or become members of other societal groups.
In contemporary Western society economic outsiders are more plentiful than many of us think, and the number of these particular outsiders is generally increasing throughout the world. In Canada, roughly 1 in 7 people lives in a low income situation, or approximately 4.8 million people, as of 2011?1.
According to the United States Census Bureau’s report: “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012”, 46.5 million people (emphasis mine) lived in poverty in 2012, up from 37.3 million in 2007.?2
Worldwide, according to Hunger Notes, approximately 805 million people were “hungry” in the period 2012-2014.?3 
But beyond the questions of who is hungry, or who is poor, or even what those terms mean, although they are very important questions, there is this question: How are the poor treated?
In the country in which I live, Canada, the oppression of the poor may seem subtle to some of us, may even perhaps seem to be non-existent, but sadly the illusion is just that—illusion. Recently in Canada there has been a focus on child poverty. This focus has been somewhat successful in not only raising awareness of the issue, but also in reducing the number of children living in poverty.
However, recent (as of 2011) news reports have once again highlighted for us that there are many, especially among our far northern first nations communities, who suffer the deprivations of poverty.
But for our purposes the question is not so much whether or not there are poor people among us (there are), nor is it whether or not they need help (they do), but again, how are they treated among us?
2 “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012” https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-245.pdf
3 WorldHunger.org “2015 Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics” http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
If you wonder about how the poor in our society might be ostracized or oppressed think about this example:
For a small portion of our lives, my wife and I lived in the United States—in a medium sized city. When we moved there, we were pretty excited about the adventure. I was going to do some studying, and my wife, who was on maternity leave, and the kids were along for the ride.
The neighbourhood that we could afford to live in was more “diverse” than any we had lived in before. We were students, and on a tight budget, and so we took the rental opportunity that we could afford. That happened to be in a location within this city that was primarily african american and latino.
Having gone to school previously at a very multi-cultural school, but having lived in a Canadian city that was very “white” demographically previously, my wife and I were both excited that, at least for a little while, our children would have an opportunity to experience some of the diversity I had enjoyed at school.
We settled into the neighbourhood pretty quickly. Our white landlords who also lived in the neighbourhood, invited us on the very day we arrived to a neighbourhood “block party” that was coming up within the next couple of weeks. We eagerly accepted the invitation, thinking that it would give us an opportunity to be introduced to some of the folks in the area.
On the day of the party we went to the house designated as the party place and met lots of wonderful people. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. My wife even got to meet a fellow Doula and had a good, long conversation with her.
After a while, though, it dawned on us that the demographic makeup of the party-goers didn’t seem to match the makeup of the neighbourhood. Almost everyone we saw at the party was white, whereas almost everyone who lived in the neighbourhood, that we had seen, was not!
We didn’t know what was going on. My wife and I decided to “investigate” the matter quietly.
Gwyneth started attending a regular ladies’ tea hosted by the local homeowners’ association (the same group that had sponsored the block party), and I made some quiet inquiries at the school I was attending. 
Between the two of us we pieced together the puzzle. It seemed that the hosts of block party, being members of the homeowners association, had naturally extended invitations to all the homeowners. The only reason we had received an invitation was that we happened to be, so to speak, “in the right place at the right time.” However, most of the people who actually lived in the neighbourhood (the african americans and latinos) weren’t actually homeowners—they were renters. Therefore they didn’t receive an invitation.
Now put like that, I’m afraid that I may have painted a more sinister picture than I’ve meant to. As I mentioned, all of the people that we met at the block party were lovely people. I’m quite certain that if one were to talk to them about racism they all would’ve protested strongly against it. I’m quite certain that none of them considered themselves racist.
But that’s a part of the problem, isn’t it? Here we were confronted with a systemic exclusion of a couple of racial groups based, not explicitly on their race, but on their socio-economic status, which happened to coincide with their race. An exclusion that the “perpetrators” were more-than-likely totally unaware of. People had been made into outsiders. 
I don’t want to give you the impression that my wife and I were the “good guys” here and that the homeowners were the “bad guys” either here. The truth is that when it sunk in with us just what was happening, we started to question ourselves and ask, “who do we exclude without even knowing it?” This led me to first nations peoples in Canada, where my wife and I normally live…