Why I’m not a fan of inclusive church

First of all, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the organisation Inclusive Church. If you’re not familiar with their work, check them out here: http://www.inclusive-church.org.uk/ They’re brilliant, really they are, and they’re doing wonderful, Godly work.

What I’m not a fan of is the habit of churches describing themselves as inclusive of a particular group: “at St N’s we’re inclusive of children/women/LGBT people”. Undoubtedly this is well meant. But it inherently sets up an uneven power dynamic: one party (“us”) is doing the including; the other (“them”) is having the including done to them, as it were. One is active, one is passive. And the power, the decision making, the choice to be inclusive (or not) is all with one party, the “us”.

So when I see something about a church (or any other group of people, really) being inclusive, I want to ask myself three questions:

1.  Who is doing the including?

2. Who is being included?

3. Is the relationship between the two a relationship of equals, with an equal balance of power?

The answer to question 3 is, almost inevitably, “No”.

So am I saying that the church can’t be inclusive? Absolutely not! Because there is One who can do the including, who can and already does include everyone: God.

God already includes everyone, already invites everyone to the table. Our job is simply to pass the invitation on. God’s church is sometimes a bit slow (or more than a bit!) to catch up with the absolute, boundless, radical inclusiveness of God.

But we have to keep on trying.

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4 thoughts on “Why I’m not a fan of inclusive church

  1. “Inclusive”… “all welcome”… “celebration of difference”… all phrases which jar, which can so easily degenerate into “we’ll accept anyone… include anyone… accept their difference… provided they don’t try to express a contrary opinion, rock our boat… because of course we’re right. It’s always been this way and always will be. I you disagree, you’re wrong. You’ve misunderstood. It’s because of some inadequacy in you. If you find our judgement of you painful it’s because of your immaturity”.

  2. Really spot on.
    It’s not up to us to decide who we include or who we don’t – we’re not the gatekeepers of the Church, it’s simply our job to ensure the doors are as open and wide as possible – to reflect, as best we can, the totally inclusive welcome of God.
    It can’t be ‘us’ and ‘them’. “Come and join us” always sounds odd to me. It’s “come and be a part of us” – be changed by God, and alter the body of the Church by your presence. Whoever you are.

  3. with you all the way, Sebastian. But are there any churches out there at all which are like that? since moving house it seems that wherever I go it’s “come and become like us”…

  4. Dorothy, you’re right. I’ve always felt that way about most churches. It’s what kept me from joining them.
    I finally found a church whose mission is to help folks “belong before you believe.” They are the most inclusive, least in-your-business congregation I’ve known. But guess what – they did want me to change and be more like them.
    But they didn’t want me to let go of my identity. They actually like me! They want me to be happier, so they encourage me to let go of anger, jealousy, grudges, guilt. They want me to feel that I have power in my life, so they encourage me to accept responsibility for my actions. They didn’t want my heart to be broken by young men anymore, so they encouraged me to stop getting too emotionally involved until I knew more about the next fella. They didn’t want me to get anxious and depressed anymore, so they offered to pray for me, and taught me how to pray, and taught me how to rely on God instead of myself.
    My church wants to see women treated and respected as daughters of God, so they are likely to discourage misogynistic views/jokes/language and viewing of pornography. They want to see people’s finances get controlled, so they’ll probably discourage excessive spending on materialistic things. They hate to see friendships and marriages slowly drowned by someone’s alcohol or drug use (whether it’s an addiction or not), so they discourage the use of those substances. They love to see people lifted by their own understanding of their God and the history of their religion, so they encourage study of the Bible.
    I think every church wants to help newcomers, and a lot of that help translates to the newcomer changing something about himself or herself. Every church is gonna want to change your life for the better. If your life includes drains of happiness, you bet that you’re gonna get changed by a church. But the good congregations will love who you are as a person, they’ll love your sense of humor (or lack thereof), they won’t care if you have any style, they won’t care if you have a nice car. They’ll do their best to love you as you are and help you get to the relationship with God that you want to have.

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