Posted in Affirming Catholicism

How inclusive can a church be without becoming exclusive?

Paul Parkinson summed up a real dilemma very well in a reply – thanks, Paul. He said ‘the eventual extrapolation of a liberal othordoxy can end up in the land of the lowest common denominator. The effect of a totally liberal centred desire for a total state of inclusion of all views can actually result in a gospel of exclusion being promoted.’

At what point do you start to exclude people by including those who desire to be exclusive? My own feeling is that we need to tread carefully because there is good on both sides. It’s part of the DNA of the Church, in my view, to include as wide a spectrum of views as possible. So what’s possible and what isn’t?

I think the key thing is to detach (as far as anyone can) two different things: one is the desire to be rid of people I don’t like and who don’t like me; the other is the imperative to preserve the unity of the Church within as wide a boundary as can be drawn. The only way to do that has to be through using objective criteria which help us to avoid justifying our prejudices. Some of them are easy – for me the Catholic creeds provide one obvious boundary. But they don’t say everything, and particularly not when it comes to the bundle of issues around what might be called ‘the inclusive agenda’. We’re called into a difficult process of discernment.

In AffCath’s very first proper book, Richard Holloway wrote this

“Some time ago I copied a few lines of verse from a friend’s bulletin board:

They drew a circle that shut me out ­

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win­

We drew a circle that took them in.

“Is not this what a truly Affirming Catholicism would do? It would bring out of its treasures things new as well as old, and it would see grace in the conflict of ideas and human types. It would draw a circle large enough to include the world that God loved so much that he sent the divine Son into it to affirm its preciousness and die for its freedom. Such a Church would be a church of sinners and surprises – of sinners, because it would be for the not already perfect. It would be for men and women on the way, knowing something of their strength and much about their weakness. It would be a Church big enough to hold the ones whose ritual status is allegedly. not quite perfect, because they have failed some test of acceptability, by their marital or sexual status, or by their inability or refusal to see the point of pretending to exact knowledge of the unknowable mystery that besets us, yet who want to accompany the tradition and, above all, share its experience of prayer and silence. But above all it would be a Church of surprises because it knew that God had not finished yet and no grave can hold the divine.”[1]

Yes, yes: and how many of those who hold the opposite of those things can be part of the same circle? Only when the circle breaks do we find out that we’ve pushed it too far. And then we need wisdom to know what is the most loving thing to do: to hold back from pushing it further in the direction we want to go, or to try to re-draw the circle with some contrary voices outside it. Temperamentally, I feel better about the first than the second, unless I can see a pressing sign that injustice is being done.

[1] Richard Holloway, ‘Behold, I make all things new’, in ed. Jeffrey John Living Tradition (DLT, 1992), 115-130, 128-129.

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