The Tragic Cruelty of "Radical Inclusion"
I’ve supervised lots of new church starts. Well, maybe not lots for other people, but it seems like lots to me to have been directly involved in planting well over twenty church starts. (Some have actually worked!) One of the predictable problems comes after the church is launched.
To begin with, when we use the word “church,” people envision many different things.
Each one holds a picture in the mind’s eye of what the church will look like, and behave like, once it is up and running. In the beginning, people are willing to be quite flexible with the way things are done, largely because they assume that when things develop and are fully up and running, they will conform more closely to the vision that they hold in their heads and hearts. The problem, of course, is that other people have pictures in their heads that are held just as firmly!
In order to avoid a huge battle about a year into the life of a new church, we can obviate a lot of pain and heartache by clearly articulating at the start, in the form of a clear ministry and mission statement and plan, where things are going. When the direction is clear, some people may not join in the vision, but that is not a bad thing. Having people yoked with us who pull in a different direction is not creative; rather, it dissipates energy and robs fruit. Diversity in some ways can offer some spice to life, but it is not always helpful. In fact, it can be utterly destructive.
The amazingly successful campaign of Barak Obama promising “Hope and Change” was similar. Most people who heard that promise assumed that he was talking about changes that they wanted to see that would give them hope. In fact, President Obama introduced many changes that were very different from the changes people were expecting or desiring. He would very likely not have have been elected (or, for that matter, re-elected) if he had been clear that his changes were going to be things like federal funding of abortion, executive orders promoting abortion, and support for same-sex marriage. His most liberal base would have been happy, but lots of folks in the middle who voted for him were not looking for such stridence.
It is often the case that inspiring oratory draws people, but it is critically important that the context be understood. It is entirely possible that what is said may actually mean something very different from what a superficial reading might suggest.
Last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby offered an impassioned speech calling for the Church to develop “radical new inclusion.” He did not define those terms, but instead relied on the warm fuzzy feelings those words elicit. On the surface, those who follow Christ experience resonance with those sorts of words. Who would not want the Church to reach out and include people in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ? Those of us who have experienced radical transformation are not afraid of those who need to be transformed!
This latest comment is not dramatically new. The Church of England has been dealing with similar issues for (in my personal experience) more than forty years. In fact, I suspect that it has been going on much longer than that, but it is not sexuality alone that is at issue. There have been egregious examples of faulty Christology, lack of Biblical authority, and squishiness about fundamental doctrines such as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.
Archbishop Welby’s comments on sexuality were not offered in a vacuum. For decades, the Episcopal Church has been calling for “Radical Inclusion.” When ABP Welby referenced the “disagreement” in the church, he did it this way:
“To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.”
Even if we assign the very best motives to Abp Welby, there is a huge problem: he is trying to build a construct that incorporates both Biblical faith (understanding, and world view) and “a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.”
Reality vs. Rhetoric
Twenty-first century sexual understanding is, by definition, NOT a Biblical view of sexual practice. If the view is consistent with Biblical values, it is called the Biblical view. Anything else is presented in opposition to Biblical teaching. It appears that Abp Welby believes that it is possible, even productive, to incorporate some manner of 21st century sexual practice into the life of the Church—that is clearly in opposition to the plain language text of Scriptural teaching--while at the same time insisting on maintaining an historic Biblical position. The only way that is possible is to have a single institution that incorporates people who hold different positions. What is the consequence of that?
The classic Biblical world view holds that there are matters that if believed and/or practiced will separate people from Christ’s redeeming love. Of those, Jesus Himself was particularly clear that sexual behavior outside heterosexual sexual marriage was one of those topics. There has been “high level” talk about allowing “pastoral accommodations” for same-sex couples, presumably even including pastoral prayers and/or blessings. There is no question that such approaches in NGOs have transpired for decades in England with hardly a shred of discipline imposed on those who depart from Biblical norms.
Without clearly defined limits that will keep matters from going off the rails, this sort of syncretistic construct is fraught with danger—and rather than resulting in the maintenance of unity in the midst of diversity, the result is actually that the practice and life of the Church is diverted—warped if you will—to cause the trajectory for ecclesiastical life to miss Christ’s redemption.
Here is the heart of this proposal—which may be well intentioned: It causes people who participate in it to be drawn away from Christ, even while they are being fully incorporated into the institutional Church.
I can think of nothing more tragic or outrageous than for people to be led by the Church away from the redeeming love of Christ. It is far worse than war, pestilence, or poverty. It is even worse than outrageous interpersonal sins such as racism. Nothing is worse. Nothing. While hoping and claiming to be encouraging to people who are sexually broken, this pursuit instead leads people away from the One who can heal. And that, friends, is both tragic and cruel.
We ought to do better. We ought to love better. That means we have a responsibility to love people enough to tell them the truth of what the Bible says. We need to love them with a willingness to engage in a costly love that welcomes them, but does not leave them to suffer without transformation.