The biggest problem we’re facing in the 21st Century involves the limits of inclusion. It is at the heart of the so-called culture war, the immigration debate, and post-9/11 foreign policy. We are seeing it now in matters of race: in policing and in flags: and in matters of guns and safety. And we are (quite remarkably) seeing it in matters of faith and sexuality. All of these involve the limits of an inclusive society and the limits of protection for exclusion.
The question of inclusion is the question of our time.
We know that it’s a hard question, or we would’ve solved it long ago. When somebody asked “How far are we willing to go?” we would have said “this far!” holding up our hands shoulder-width apart. And the questioner would say “Oh, yeah. Of course!” Obviously it isn’t that easy. But it could be.
The question of inclusion is tricky, but I don’t think it comes by its trickiness honestly. I think we are thinking about it all wrong. Here’s why.
We often frame the conversation of inclusion this way, saying:
In a truly inclusive society, how can we include the excluder? If we include them, they break the system. If we exclude them, we become them.
Of course, after making this argument against inclusion, the Philosopher Saint smugly crosses his arms and smirks.
It certainly seems tricky, doesn’t it? And those of us who want to live in a more inclusive society and champion a radically inclusive church, are left fumbling with an argument for why we still support this belief in light of such a devastating critique. And we moan and howl at the moon, tearing our clothes and weeping. Or we go back to our statistics and the value of being more inclusive than we are.
But there is no need to weep or tear clothes because there is nothing to worry about it. Radical inclusion is still a good thing for our society and for our church. We just have to deal with a little hypocrisy to protect the system. Much the way the framers of the constitution understood that liberty would quickly become an endangered species in a true democracy. So they created a system which would protect both.
The community which believes in inclusion need not be a safe place for the excluder, for they would find no community there. She would find no common purchase with these people, for their most important things are at odds. The lion doesn’t lay down with the lamb when eating lambs is the lion’s priority. And lambs need not put themselves through the emotional wringer for not being very welcoming to the lion.
Lions and lambs hang out only when their natures change and, ultimately, they become supporters of radical inclusion. Like the sharks in Finding Nemo, the conversion experience means that they can become a team player.
But if your conscience is still bothering you, take this to heart: the question of inclusion vs. exclusion is not an honest question or a true test of logic. It is a riddle. It’s a dishonest test or an excuse to reject something we don’t want to believe in any way. It is like the canard about whether or not GOD could make a rock too heavy for GOD to lift. If GOD can make one that heavy, then it shows GOD is not almighty (for GOD could not lift the rock), but if GOD is unable to make such a rock, then GOD must not be all-powerful.
This isn’t logic; this is a puzzle. It was written to deny one power or to put one power above the other. So is this question about inclusion. It puts its opposite in the question to negate it. In other words, it forces every hearer of the question into a predetermined response: that inclusion is impossible or morally wrong. That isn’t honest debate, that’s trickery.
Inclusion in the 21st Century is not a puzzle meant to trap us into being jerks to one another or to protect a status quo of exclusivity in which we feel righteous when we refuse to bake wedding cakes based on “sincerely held beliefs”. Inclusion is a thing worth fighting for, and radical inclusion is the powerful notion that even the scum of the earth are able to walk in and join us. Scum like racist murderers and bigoted abusers. That they could have a seat at our table.
But only if they are willing to follow the rules of the table. Rules which allow everyone the chance to speak, every voice gets heard, every pain is acknowledged and every abuse is revealed. Rules which protect the suffering from their abusers, the poor from being made invisible by the wealthy, and the children from being denied a place of wisdom. Rules which protect the vulnerable and challenge the powerful. If they are willing to follow these rules, they can stay.
If not? Then point out the door.
It may seem hypocritical, but it isn’t, really. It is far more honest than protecting the excluder from his own game. Which also puts us at odds from our true pursuit, to build an inclusive society.