Asterisk—a symbol used in printed text typically as a reference to an annotation or to stand for omitted matter.

You have seen this little symbol (*) many times. You always look below the text to see the explanation or what is missing.

Kyle Idleman, in his book, Not A Fan, describes a very familiar commercial practice used especially by some car dealerships. The commercial blares forth that anyone can buy a car at their dealership, while on the screen there is an asterisk (*). At the end of the ad, you see the meaning of the asterisk. It reads “With Approved Credit.” So anyone does not really mean anyone! Only the qualified should seek to buy a car at that dealership.

Idleman suggests that this same approach is used in too many churches. The sign outside the church may read, “All are Welcome.” But when one ventures inside, actions speak louder than words. Sometimes the actions are subtle, while at other times not so subtle.

What happens at your church? How do you act toward strangers in your midst? What signals are sent to those who dare walk through the doors? Do you and your church send the signal that only those who are approved need walk through the door? Do we really mean we are open to everyone?

Think of how a stranger feels who is bold enough to venture into your church. Sometimes the act is as simple as a glare because the visitor is not dressed to “our standards.” I have actually watched while newcomers were asked to move because they had sat down in a regular member’s pew. Now there’s a mortal sin if I have ever seen one! Other times, the newcomer is ignored while church members focus on friends and family, leaving the guest to feel all alone.

In smaller towns, where residents know one another quite well, there is a collective gasp when known “sinners” walk through the door. Most egregious of all is when we make people of another race feel out of place.

These are all asterisks that have no place among us. Our welcome sign should match the words of Jesus. “All may come.” “Whosoever will may come.” “Let all who are thirsty come.” There are no asterisks in the Gospel and none should be a part of the church. There is no place for a welcome to only those “who are approved.”

If you, or your church, have an asterisk in your mind or in your actions, I challenge you to remove it. Jesus’ followers welcome all who are hungry and thirsty because Jesus did. The Good News is for all to hear and experience.

Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.