The secular gospel of inclusiveness is a meaningless exercise in self-validation and it is time for TEC and others to abandon it, writes Gary L’Hommedieu
In a recent opinion piece in the Washington Tost (August 2009), the Rt Revd John Shelby Spong, The Episcopal Church’s iconoclast emeritus, weighed in approvingly on the actions of the recent General Convention in moving the gay agenda into the end zone of History. Assuming an air of authority he declared ‘the battle over homosexuality’ to be ‘over’.
1 do not want to be part of a church united in homophobia or one that pretends it can preserve unity by excluding any group of human beings,’ scolded the retired Bishop of Newark. He couches his remarks in reference to the secular gospel of which he is a self-proclaimed champion, the gospel
of inclusiveness. He pronounces TEC to be on ‘the right side of history,’ compared with the Archbishop of Canterbury who, regrettably, is relegated to history’s ‘backside’ for giving place to the majority of the Anglican Communion who do not share the anointing of the American Province and its leadership.
Spong is right about one thing; the battle is over in The Episcopal Church. Conservatives are reeling, scouring the horizon for ‘other issues’ to moralize about in order to persuade the public that they are not homophobic after all. They have yielded the moral high ground to the revisionists by giving credence to the faux pathology of homophobia.
One of the comments we conservatives make is that we really are the inclusive ones, that we alone truly welcome’ sinners through our willingness to lovingly speak the truth about their need to change. Gays and straights alike see this for what it is – a transparent display of self-promotion. What has astonished me is the need conservatives have for affirmation by those who have already rejected us. We can’t bear the thought that anyone might get the wrong idea about our good intentions.
It’s time for an ideological shift by the orthodox, both those remaining in TEC and those who have departed. For those who have ears to hear, it’s time to reject the inclusiveness dogma. The reason is not to persuade the revisionists and certainly not to win their approval – but to turn from the tendency to sell ourselves at a bargain price, which is the core motivation of Christian revisionism.
As a basis for evangelism and as a guiding principle of faith, the message of inclusiveness is associated with groups in rapid decline. As a word ‘inclusiveness,’ whatever it does mean, does not mean aggressively recruiting those who feel excluded. Even if a few do straggle in, the main thrust of the inclusiveness gospel is the validation of the institution that proclaims it.
The message of inclusiveness rings hollow for a number of reasons. Least among them is the fact that it represents a distortion of New Testament teaching and is thus a heresy – as if heretical institutions cannot thrive. The mainline churches are not declining because of heresy – not directly.
In spite of explosive controversies surrounding women’s and gay liberation, TEC’s proclamation of inclusiveness is anything but a prophetic challenge to authority. It is at best a calculated effort at running a parallel course to the secular culture, with minimal risk at predicting the drift of that society. In other words, TEC’s agenda is a strategy for systematically eliminating social stigma.
Bishop Spong’s terminology is revealing. He refers to his fear of being ‘irrelevant’ and ’embarrassed’- two code words for shame. He legitimizes his fear in grandiose terms as ‘being on the wrong side of history,’ indicating his own delusion regarding the social meaning of TEC’s lockstep conformity to the dominant culture. The rhetoric of inclusiveness, in short, is a formula for false consciousness.
Low cost’ religion
In their book Acts of Faith, Rodney Stark and Roger Finke identify a distinction between ‘high cost’ and low cost’ religions. Those religions that make demands on their membership, whether in terms of commitment or belief, are the ones that ‘cost! People join these faiths out a sense of need, and they are willing to pay a considerable price.
Inclusiveness is an explicit strategy for cost-free religion, which in turn is a formula for religious decline, as in Spong’s former Diocese of Newark. As Bishop Spong put it himself, TEC’s doctrine of inclusiveness is about ‘relevance’ – a thinly disguised bid for validation and an attempt to avoid embarrassment and shame.
Inclusiveness is the ideology of a toppled majority. It is a form of appeasement. It is the prophetic’ voice of those who have lost the will to defend any boundaries, physical or psychological, hence they can ‘include’ everyone. It is really impossible to join a group that has no boundaries. ‘Join’ doesn’t refer to anything. The invitation is imaginary.
We are not ‘inclusive.’ We have boundaries, like any healthy body. It means something to join our group, and it costs a lot. But we have something to offer, besides our illusions.