Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Genuine Inclusivity

If you have any experience with mainline Protestantism (by which I mean the vestiges of Protestant Christianity in these United States), you have probably had the misfortune of hearing talk of "inclusivity". The rhetoric usually goes something like, "We need to be inclusive of all people in our fellowships and embody the 'radical inclusivity' of Jesus." You might hear of "intentionally welcoming" churches or perhaps they are more into "embracing" things. There seems to be a plethora of "intentional communities" "striving for justice and equality" among "all". If "inclusivity" is a buzz word, a goal to be strived for, "exclusivity" is now a nasty word, especially in mainline Protestantism, and our beloved Episcopal Church.

I'm going to say something shocking perhaps for my readers, I agree with these statements, the Church should be more inclusive of all peoples. Now, I think the problem with this type of thinking is that it seriously misunderstands what inclusivity means. It seems to me that inclusivity in this paradigm is intended to mean the full acceptance of a person and their behaviors. This is seen particularly well in the so-called "full-inclusion" of gays and lesbians into the life of the Church. The problem with this sort of definition of inclusivity is that it isn't inclusive at all, it's rather indifference. I will continue with the sexuality debate because it's so prominent in the Church today. It's become vogue in our culture to not comment on other people's sexual lives (especially for "heterosexual" people), regardless of whom they chose to sleep with, and, might I add that this is equally a problem in 'conservative" churches as in "liberal" ones. Just go count how many supposed "evangelicals" are living with their significant others or how many pastors are divorced and remarried or the prevalence of pornography among God's people. Homosexuality is not the only sin plaguing our Church. Let me say something, there is nothing about homosexuality that should draw special condemnation from Christians, especially if we are going to ignore the rest of our Lord's teaching on sexuality and marriage. All are sinners, some happen to be gay sinners, but there are quite a few more straight sinners, just statistically speaking. Now let me say a bit more about gays, since everybody loves talking about them so much. First, if you are excluding gays from the life of the Church, shame on you. I'd be the first to personally go and invite them in because everyone is welcome and we should be welcoming all into our fellowship. Now, to return to the idea of inclusivity as modern progressives understand it, I really believe we've swapped apathy for "inclusivity". There's a huge difference between welcoming all into our midst and looking past sexual deviancy. If a married man were committing adultery, would you not confront him about his unfaithfulness to his wife? Accepting people does not mean accepting their behaviors and, in fact, true inclusivity means addressing un-Chrstian behaviors of people who are in our parishes. 

The Church is a welcoming place, as it should be, but it is not an indifferent place. We have rules, you know, and when you are buried in baptism and dead from your sins, you are raised to new life in Christ and bound to his perfect law, not your own. Me too, for that matter, I don't particularly find chastity all that appealing but it's not up to me. Now, here's the important part, for me, yes, the Church should be welcoming all into her midst, to learn and share and live with us, but these persons must conform to the teachings of Holy Scripture, if they are to participate in the sacramental life of the Church or serve in leadership positions. I say invite everyone you know to Church and they can see what it's all about. They should not come forward to receive Christ's body and blood by faith, because they have not yet been claimed by Him neither claimed Him as Lord and Saviour. However, they can and should listen to him in the reading of the Word and preaching. They can (hopefully) see his love in our love for one another.

Yet, you might ask, what about the "inclusive message" of Jesus? What of his "gospel" of inclusivity? Better yet, what of the Bible's message of "inclusivity"? If you were thinking these things, you would have been most certainly right. The Bible is a very inclusive book and is concerned immensely with the inclusion of all persons in the Kingdom of God. The Bible goes a step further than even the most radical progressive is willing to go in proclaiming (boldly) that we are all the same. Scripture tells us that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23) and that "none are righteous" (Ps. 14:3; 53:3; Rom. 3:10). These portions of Holy Scripture reveal a profound egalitarianism in God's Word written, that being, that we are all  equal in our transgression against Almighty God and all deserving of eternal damnation apart from God for our many sins and wickednesses. However, we know that we have an "inclusive" God who does not ignore our condition, He is anything but indifferent towards us. He has graciously sent his only Son to die on our behalf so that we can again be in relationship with Him. As the Scriptures say, because of Christ's one, perfect oblation of himself, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). We are all one in Christ Jesus, not in our natural state, not because of our achievements, but because of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. The condition for our oneness in Christ is, of course, our acceptance of Him, by and through his grace, "WHOSOEVER believeth in Him shall not perish" (John 3:16). God's love for man is unconditional, unending, and "inclusive" of all peoples, races, ethnicities, and all other divisions, yet, we must accept Him as Lord and Saviour over our lives, this means submitting ourselves to His will for our lives. As we see throughout Scripture, this means giving up things that we might be fond of, even people, for the sake of God, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10), if God can give up His only Son to die an atrocious and painful death on our behalf, surely we can give up those "devices and desires" which keep us from Him, by His grace. 

In conclusion, the attitude of the Church towards sinners should be that of Christ Himself. Consider the story of the adulteress, "caught in the act" itself. The people gathered to stone this woman to death, yet, Jesus enters the scene and says, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11). 

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