Monday, January 16, 2006

WHen is it TOO inclusive?

Christianity has a root of being radically inclusive (IN Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.). Jesus of Nazareth ate with sinners and touched the unclean. THe challenge for the church ever since has been what to do about that inclusivity.

The denomination which I call home prides itself on being inclusive. WE talk about our strength in our diversity. We are proud that we were the first major denomination in Canada to ordain women, that we made a statement that sexual orientation was not a bar to ordination, that we are willing to face our culpability in the mis-treatment of First Nations people. We try to portray ourselves as being open to conservative and liberal and radical versions of Christian theology. It sounds great doesn't it?

BUt I am not so sure. I have a fear that such inclusivity can be a problem. If we try to be open to all, to be "all things to all people" don't we run the risk of becomong nothing? Is there the chance that we will so lose track of who we are, in an attempt to find a definition that appeals to all, that we will literally not be able to describe, and sell, ourselves? I think there is. I think it is alright to realize that we are not, can not, and will not be home for everybody.

WIthin the United Church of Canada we have issues that we call "denomination shaping". I think this is one of them. I think that it is time we found a way to define ourselves. I think we do this not to shut people out but to be truly welcoming. It seems more honest to me to be able to say "this is who we are. It is up to you to decide if this is a place you can call home". My hunch is that the definition we come up with would lead people on both ends of the theological spectrum to ask "is this the place for me?" and that can be a good thing.

15 years ago, as I was starting the process towards ordination, I met with the chair and vice-chair of our local Ministry & Personnel committee. In that meeting the chair asked "are you sure this is the church for you?". He said he had talked to clergy who, after many years in the pastorate, suddenly realized they were in the wrong church. To be honest I thought it was an incredibly odd question at the time. Now I see the wisdom in it. And still I can say unreservedly YES to it. I just wish we had a way of knowing who we actually are--which may not be who we think we are.


  1. I agree with you entirely Gord. I struggle with the UCCan trying to be all things to all people. We simply can't do it.

    I struggle when leaders such as Greta Vosper are declared to be important voices for our church, despite her clear disbelief in almost all of the basis of union. She is quite devout in her secular humanism, but hardly a strong voice for a Christian denomination.

    I'm concerned that we are becoming increasingly undefined. I am concerned that in some circles in the United Church, using the name of Jesus makes me "so conservative" -- yes, that concerns me.

  2. This is a problem that plagues many main-line denominations. The UC of Canada is not alone. You could apply what you wrote about the need for definition and the problems of inclusivity to my church as well--the PCUSA.

  3. I don't know about the United Church of Canada, but your instincts are right: there are limits to ideological inclusivity.

  4. THat was one of the examples I was thinking of Sue. BUt, as I said, I think that it works both ways. THere are members of our church who are more conservative than the church as a whole (who insist that the Articles of Faith should be how we express our Faith today for example--in 1925 language and thinking). If we were honest about who we are as a denomination they may come to the conclusion many others have made and seek out a place more in line with their thinking (I know of a number who moved to Alliance or Free Evangelical churches in 1989/90ish).

    The challenge is both to not be offended when people feel they have to leave, but also to not make it sound like we are saying "you are not welcome".