Inclusiveness Run Amok

The impulse to include everyone in everything is an admirable trait.  God’s love is inclusive (“God so loved the world”) and the offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ is for everyone (not just “the elect”).  However, inclusiveness can become an ideology that becomes incapable of drawing boundaries or making common-sense distinctions.

The recent spate of campuses that have “de-recognized” Christian student organizations is an example of ideology trumping common sense.  One such group, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), has been penalized by Vanderbuilt University and the 23 campuses of California State University.  (Full disclosure: I participated for two years in IVCF during college, where it nurtured my newly discovered Christian faith, and my wife and I support several IVCF campus workers.)

Why was IVCF removed from the list of approved student organizations?  They ran afoul of the schools’ non-discrimination policy because, although they allowed anyone to become a member of the organization, they insisted that leaders must uphold the IVCF doctrinal statement and lifestyle commitments.  Because InterVarsity refused to compromise their convictions, they no longer have access to student publicity or activity funds (as other campus organizations do), and in some cases are no longer allowed to meet on campus.  (See another angle of thinking about this situation from Rev. Dr. Stephen Rankin, University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University.)

This action was taken because, according to the universities’ non-discrimination policies, IVCF was guilty of “religious discrimination.”  In other words, they required students to be orthodox Christians before being allowed to serve in a leadership role.  This ruling fails the common-sense test.  How could it be reasonable to require at least the possibility that a non-Christian can provide leadership for a Christian student organization to accomplish its purpose of evangelism and Christian discipleship?  Such a requirement would unquestionably weaken the ability of IVCF to win people to Christ and disciple them in the faith.  And it could lead to the demise of the organization itself.

The ideology of inclusiveness has trumped common sense.

I couldn’t help but compare this situation to what we have experienced in parts of The United Methodist Church over the past 50 years.  In many annual conferences, there has been such a push toward inclusiveness that boards of ordained ministry are sometimes incapable of drawing theological boundaries.  Although United Methodist clergy are required by the Book of Discipline to agree with, preach, and teach United Methodist doctrine in line with our doctrinal standards, many clergy are admitted who will not do so.

I have heard from parishioners who complain that their pastor does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the atonement, or Christ’s divinity.  One clergy colleague of mine makes a point of mentioning that he does not believe in the Trinity, yet insists that an “inclusive” church must make room for him in ordained ministry.  Rob Renfroe in a recent post reminded us that a clergy delegate to General Conference spoke during the debate on an issue, saying, “We don’t go to the Bible for the last word on anything.”  Why are these people still serving as United Methodist clergy, when they clearly do not believe United Methodist doctrine?  Rather than strengthening United Methodism, this type of doctrinal “diversity” weakens our message and obscures United Methodist identity.  No wonder our churches lack an energizing vision for mission and ministry—they are unsure of who we are, what we stand for, and what we believe!  And this uncertainty is only made worse by an appointment process that sometimes alternates progressive, moderate, and evangelical pastors in the same local church, until the parishioners get theological whiplash.

The ideology of inclusiveness has trumped common sense.

Over the last few years, another even more disturbing trend has developed.  Clergy who believe in United Methodist doctrine and teaching are being excluded from ministry simply because they believe and preach what our Discipline requires!  I asked one colleague why, when his belief was so strong in inclusiveness, he favored excluding evangelicals from ministry.  He replied that, since evangelicals didn’t believe in inclusiveness (because we believe there are theological boundaries), we shouldn’t be included.  Since evangelicals don’t believe in “tolerating” all beliefs and behaviors, we should not be tolerated.  This trend is seen most vividly in the pressure put on applicants for ordained ministry to support same-sex marriage and approve the practice of homosexuality.  Failure to do so can easily get a person turned down by a district or conference board of ordained ministry.

The ideology of inclusiveness is being warped to become the be-all and end-all of the church.  It no longer just trumps common sense; it is trumping Scripture and the teachings of The United Methodist Church.  That is truly inclusiveness run amok.

Comments

  1. I agree. We have become so embedded into our human culture, we cannot see that we have removed the power of the Gospel to transform the world.

  2. I wonder what these colleges say about the exclusiveness of fraternities and sororities.

    • Their policy makes an exception for organizations that involve single-sex living arrangements (fraternity or sorority houses). That would seem not to apply to fraternities or sororities that do not live communally.

  3. Tom, I agree.

    God’s love is all-inclusive, because He loves everyone. God’s call to salvation is all-inclusive, because He calls everyone to salvation, not being willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

    However, salvation comes through repenting of all sin and believing the Gospel (Mark 1:15); we are saved when we confess with our mouths Jesus as Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead (Rom 10:9).

    Furthermore, the Scriptures define the Church as the Body of Christ, consisting of those who have been saved by His grace through faith (Eph 2:8).

    Therefore, while God’s love is all-inclusive, and while God’s call to salvation is all-inclusive, the Church, by Biblical definition, is not all-inclusive.

    Should everyone be welcome to participate in the worship services, Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, and many other activities and ministries of local churches?

    Yes, but the activities and ministries of local churches are not the Body of Christ. At their best, they are things the Body of Christ–the Christians, who are members and participants in that local church–does. At their best, these are means of grace by which people can become Christians, and grow as Christians, in the Body of Christ that meets and serves in and through a local church.

    As members of the church, we should believe that the love of God and the call of God to salvation is all-inclusive. Believing this, we should answer the call of Christ to us all to go and make disciples…teaching them to observe all He has commanded us (from Matthew 28:19,20).

    We should share the Good News with others, that they can be saved, both forgiven and freed from both the guilt and the power of sin, by the grace of God.

    We do people no favors when we tell them that something they are doing that is sinful is not sinful, that there is no need to repent, when the Bible says otherwise, and when Jesus declares that we must repent and believe the Gospel.

    Indeed, as much as we might change or defy “the rules” of Scripture and denominational covenant, and try to force them in, we are really not including them at all. We may be including them in a church organization. But we are in fact excluding them from the Body of Christ.

    Is that inclusive? Is that loving?

    “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (Matt 16:19).

    We have a joyful and yet very serious responsibility and accountability for others, to make a true and clear confession of Jesus Christ to them, so that they too may confess Christ, be saved, and be members of the Body of Christ.

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