Francis Gardom examines the implications of Inclusive Church
A circular urged me to sign-up for Inclusive Church. It pointed to the website http://www.inclusivechurch.net. There I found A Declaration of Belief which read as follows:
A Declaration of Belief
We affirm that the Church’s mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation. We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation. We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel’s proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church’s own common life must be justly ordered. To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.
Note that recurring phrase regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation. Removing it leaves an orthodox if somewhat anodyne, description of Catholicity.
But why, I wondered stop at ‘sex, race or sexual orientation? Why not include intellect, social class, wealth, and age for example?
Closer inspection provides the answer: ‘Inclusive Church’ is but Affirming Catholicism writ small. Keywords have been used in their propaganda to facilitate accusing critics of being totally opposed to these well-sounding abstractions. Here are a few recent examples of such euphonous terms:
Fairness, Justice, Natural, Equality, Inclusiveness, Non-judgemental, Undogmatic, Self-fulfilment, Caring, and, of course, the granny of them all, Dialogue.
Each of these words is used to further a political objective. After its sell-by date another term is found to replace it. The strategy is the same: treat the current keyword as if it were the only virtue that matters. CS Lewis wrote a revealing passage on this in Mere Christianity when he said:
The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice, you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity’, and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.
The riposte of any Pressure-Grouper when challenged about his preferred keyword is to say. ‘So you don’t believe in justice/caring/dialogue then?’ – with a resonance implying ‘how shocking!’
In reply we must insist that there are two distinct approaches to discovering the truth about God’s will about anything – the rational and the revelational: ways which are sometimes reconcilable, but more often incompatible.
Consider how this applies to Inclusive.
To the Rationalist, being inclusive is a self-evident and universal virtue. But is it? Let us consider the example of a Golf Club.
To play golf needs a properly maintained course. Constructing a course and maintaining its fairways, greens, tees and buildings is beyond the means of individuals. But by clubbing together, they can enjoy its facilities and achieve what as individuals they could not.
Golf courses enable golf. Many would also be an ideal venue for grass-track motorcycle racing. But the two are incompatible. So belonging doesn’t confer upon members the right to ride their Harley-Davidsons up the fairway to the chequered flag on the fourteenth green. Such activities must be excluded if the course is to fulfil its designated purpose.
There are many other examples where inclusiveness simply doesn’t work. ‘Marriage … is the union of one man with one woman for life to the exclusion of all others’ say the words on the Registry Office wall; team-games require a limited number of chosen players on both sides, to the exclusion of others, however keen they may be to play or good at it; and a Medical School must insist on certain minimal intellectual capabilities if it is to turn out reliable doctors and nurses.
‘But what about the Church?’ people ask. ‘Surely that should be all-inclusive’.
Well, yes and no. Sic et non, as Origen would say. An institution based upon the profession of certain beliefs by its members must draw the line between those who believe what they profess and those who don’t – however often the latter recite the Creed during public worship. Exclusion may be the last resort in dealing with those members who profess one thing and practise another. But unless diligence is constantly exercised in an organism like the Church, indifference will ensure its becoming precisely what its critics often accuse it of being: a comfy, middle-class club of like-minded people who enjoy meeting together regularly to celebrate their self-sufficiency.
But the Christian Inclusivist has even more serious problems should he turn to Holy Scripture to justify his beliefs.
For scripture demonstrates in many places that inclusion/exclusion (even if it’s only self-exclusion) is an integral part of God’s strategy for the saving of mankind.
Here are a few examples:
The Church is the Bride of Christ. Marrying her to the beliefs of the present age will serve to make her an adulteress in the here-and-now and a widow in the not-too-distant future.
The Church is the Body of Christ. Human bodies are constantly rejecting what is harmful and regenerating what is wholesome. If our bodies were not constantly expelling malign substances and cells, we’d soon succumb to cancer.
The Foolish Virgins, the One-Talent Servant, the Underdressed Wedding Guest, and the Lukewarm Laodicaeans are all examples of those who found themselves excluded – cast forth, or ‘spat out’ in the colourful language of Revelation. The Two Ways, the Two Leavens and the Sheep-and-Goats all describe the acceptance of some and the rejection of others.
The Twelve Apostles – all male and chosen to the exclusion from that office of many others who followed Christ. That’s an elitism which wouldn’t go down well in the present secular climate. But there’s worse still. So far from all the apostles being treated equally by Jesus, one, St Peter, was invested with primacy, John alone was called the Beloved Disciple, and Judas Iscariot became self-excluding.
These examples demonstrate that inclusiveness is neither the rational, nor the scriptural ‘stone that turneth all to gold’. On the contrary, they suggest that the phrase Inclusive Church is a self-contradiction.
Francis Gardom is Honorary Secretary of Cost of Conscience.