by Mike Hellum
There was recently an article about Augusta National Country Club coming under attack for its policy of men-only. They should’ve seen it coming. If the boys of Little Rascals took heat 80 years ago when they formed the “He-man Womun Haters” club then it was only a matter of time for Augusta. But I digress. I started thinking about the whole exclusivity thing and what it means to belong to a club. Clubs bring benefits, or nobody would join them, but they also limit your freedom. There are certain rules that come with belonging to any club. We expect that.
I suppose there are (at least) a couple of reasons why clubs have rules. First, when you belong to a club, your behavior affects other members. No doubt the dress code at Augusta prohibits golfing in a mankini. We’re all grateful for that one. Sports teams typically have curfews because athletes who have been out all night don’t perform at their highest level; the whole team suffers. Or if you’re out late and your name is Tiger, you’ve got even bigger problems. The list could go on, but you get the idea.
Second, as a member of that club you are also a representative of the club. Outsiders naturally form opinions based on what they know about that entity. I have a rather positive impression about motorcycle riders, because I know some that I like and I don’t know any Hell’s Angels. What about Christians? Somebody once said, “There are five gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian; most will never read the first four.” If I’m all others know about Christianity, I hope they have a positive impression of it.
Like a club, Christianity has its own identification marks and behaviors. Jesus said so when he identified how people will recognize us (by our love — John 13:35). So what about when the church asks people to maintain certain standards of behavior? We’ve all heard people say, “They can’t tell me how to live!” If someone’s an outsider, the complaint is fair — I can’t expect them to live by the same code I do. G. K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. ”If it is a higher standard — and it is — why would an outsider want to be bound by it? On the other hand, if one identifies themselves as an insider, a different dynamic is in play. The insiders are bound together in a common cause and a common identification for a common good. It’s what it means to be in community — thus, we lay down our individual interests for the benefit of everyone else. It’s what Christ modeled for us (see Phil. 2, esp. vv. 1-4), and commanded us to model to the world. And with this “club,” the cost of admission is an investment that reaps infinite dividends.