The problem with endeavoring to be an inclusive community is that there may be some who want to be a part of it who are exclusive. I found this to be one of my greatest challenges as a pastor. I continue to find this a challenge on this blog, nakedpastor.
My take on the ministry of Jesus as told in the gospels is that his greatest adversaries were precisely the exclusivists. The exclusivists were those who had a very exact and exacting understanding of the law that protected the intelligentsia and prohibited the rest. I don’t believe they necessarily intentionally or even consciously made it difficult for the rest. They just enjoyed the luxury of observing their interpretation of the law while it was near impossible for the rest for various reasons.
We see the same dynamic in Christianity today. Not many would dare declare that they are exclusivists. They would point to the Bible and say that’s just what it says. When in fact it is their interpretation of the Bible that says it. Unintentionally and unconsciously they exclude many who cannot or will not subscribe to their particular interpretation. When an exclusivist, who may enjoy the fellowship of an inclusive community, emphatically declares exclusivist values that has the effect of delineating a fellowship into these who know and obey and those who don’t, and this is mentioned to the exclusivists by the inclusivists, and the inclusivists ask the exclusivists to relax their divisive declarations for the sake of unity, the exclusivists often accuse their accusers of being exclusivists themselves by excluding them.
This is indeed a conundrum. The exclusivists believe that the Bible says it and if you don’t believe it or do it then that’s your problem. Their concern is for the integrity of biblical truth as well as the purity of a believing community. The inclusivists say the same thing, for their concern is also the integrity of biblical truth as well as unity.
Let’s take an example: Let’s say Judy genuinely enjoys being a part of a congregation that has gays in its membership. Most of the gay people have partners. Judy is verbal about her belief that homosexuality is a sin and that those who live a homosexual lifestyle are going to hell. She also says she loves them and wants to be in fellowship with them so that they might eventually be swayed by her prayerful patience for them. Some of the gay couples excuse her belief as narrow and love her enough to tolerate her occasional expressions. But some are very disturbed by her beliefs and its expression and are thinking of leaving. Neither the gay people or she will change their minds.
What’s to be done? Should she be asked to leave? This would break her heart. Should they be asked to stay and endure her position? This would break theirs.