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Exclusion and Inclusion and Vague Boundaries

A community must have some sort of definition in order to exist. This may seem fairly obvious, but often in discussions of religion we lose sight of that fact in efforts to be inclusive. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between saying somebody is a bad person and saying that they don’t fit into a particular community.

I could go on and on here, talking about communities within a community, such as congregations and denominations within the broader community of the Christian religion in general. There are different requirements for different communities. That’s not the particular issue I want to write about, however. I simply want to note that I’m aware that boundaries are necessary for there to be communities.

Having said all that, I’ve observed with interest the advent of exclusion talk in the atonement debates (recent discussion of PSA). While these specifically deal with the evangelical movement in the UK, I think many of the same questions are applicable on this side of the pond.

What’s interesting to me is that having heard the suggestion over the years (not just in the current debate) that liberals are not really Christians because of their view of the atonement, suddenly it is conservatives, specifically conservative proponents of PSA, who are concerned with exclusion.

I have noted the same thing in recent discussion with United Methodists. Some evangelical pastors and/or candidates are feeling exclusion from sponsors or from boards of ministry. This is an issue that concerns me a great deal. If the exclusion is real, and is not part of setting the appropriate bounds of the community, then we have folks on the liberal side not living up to their principles.

There is an alternative. Some people who have had the power to exclude become very irate when that power is taken from them or restricted. I have encountered more than one church in which established membership has become extremely angry and has felt excluded simply because newer members have gotten power and as a result have restricted the power of people who thought of themselves as permanent leaders.

A very specific case of this is when one restricts someone else from exercising the power of exclusion themselves. Let’s take a couple of hypothetical situations. (Though these two situations may resemble broadly some real situations, I do not intend to duplicate any real-world situations.)

Situation #1: A candidate for ministry expresses a very conservative view, supporting the United Methodist position (per UM Discipline) that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian practice. The candidate’s liberal mentor makes every effort to block this candidate’s continuation toward ordination.

Situation #2: A minister is accustomed to reject for church membership anyone he can identify as being homosexual in orientation, irrespective of whether such a person is celibate or not. He is instructed by his DS that such behavior is inappropriate. He claims he is being persecuted for his conservative views.

These are not well-rounded situations. Fill in the blanks as you wish. Even better, fill in the blanks in different ways, potentially producing different results. A key difference between the two situations, in my view, is that the first candidate believes nothing that is contrary to the accepted beliefs of the community, and has given no indication that he will not carry out his duties appropriately. (You may, of course, fill in the blanks with contrary information.)

The second candidate is potentially acting contrary to church discipline, yet he feels persecuted, and perhaps excluded by the actions of church authorities. (Note that I’m not a United Methodist pastor, and I don’t have a finely tuned notion of just how important an “admonition” for one’s DS actually is.)

Is the second person actually persecuted? I would suggest not. He can remain and carry out his duties as instructed.

Let’s compare these ideas to the PSA issue. Supposing we have a pastor of a church who believes in PSA and has been teaching people that in order to be regarded as Christians, they must understand and accept PSA. When new members transfer from another church, they are immediately indoctrinated into this position and are only made welcome as part of that church community if they accept that position.

If a superior authority in that denomination admonishes this pastor is he being exclusive? Consider the fact that if this pastor is ordered not to act as he has, he will feel that he is not truly bringing people to a saving faith in Jesus. Is it possible for him to minister honestly under those circumstances?

The boundary lines become somewhat difficult to draw under these circumstances. I’m simply exploring them. Off hand, I would suggest that the liberal mentor I mentioned is wrong to attempt to exclude the conservative candidate, but that the denominational authorities in my two other examples are acting appropriately. If these two pastors cannot function in a way that they feel is faithful to the gospel, they need to find a different congregation/denomination in which to exercise their gifts.

Membership in a loosely defined “evangelical movement” is a bit more difficult. Nobody holds the keys there. How much does the word “evangelical” mean? I’m not certain of the answer to that.

I would like to see moderates and liberals to support the maximum amount of inclusion possible consistent with creating a coherent community.

Dave Warnock made a couple of very cogent comments in his post :

I do not believe in a Christianity, or an Evangelical Christianity which does not welcome Adrian and those like him who believe so strongly in PSA. Mind you I also do not believe in a Christianity which demands that all believe in PSA nor an Evangelical Christianity which demands the same understanding and acceptance of PSA that Adrian has.

. . . and again . . .

We do need to recognise though that it is always a difficult challenge to include in a community those who continually attempt to exclude others.

He’s responding to an update by Adrian Warnock to his post Christianity Magazine reviews Pierced For Our Transgressions, in which Adrian says:

Since writing this article, I came across a piece from Carl Trueman that alleges that some UK ministers feel that they are being leant on quite strongly on the issue of the atonement.

Now Dave is right when he notes (in the same post) that there are a number of feelings and vague accusations going around (my paraphrase of his words). But those feelings and vague accusations are precisely what most exclusion is made of. It is rarely a matter of direct confrontation. It is a matter of suggestion and pressure, often subtle and not clearly expressed.

I advocate bringing these suggestions out into the open. We need to examine the boundaries we can accept openly. This is essentially what I was advocating in my post from June 2, 2006 Unity, Diversity, and Confusion. Sometimes we’re so afraid of setting explicit boundaries that we allow vague boundaries to contict our appropriate freedom.

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