Does Justice Require Inclusion and Diversity?

Does Justice Require Inclusion and Diversity?


The simple answer to the question that is the title of this blog post is “yes” and “no.” But my emphasis here is going to be on the “no” simply because I exist in a religious context where that is what needs to be said and heard.

Some years ago my family played a (then) new board game called “Scruples.” The game involved attempting to guess what another player would do in certain specific and highly dilemma-creating ethical situations. The game has three kinds of cards that players can use to declare their answers: “Yes,” “No,” and “It Depends.” After a few rounds we decided to set aside all the “It Depends” cards because they were being over used. In most cases the player “on the spot,” so to speak, about whose hypothetical decision other players were guessing, said about his or her behavior in a dilemma-creating ethical situation “It Depends.”

Of all of my family it was I who especially often, usually, played the “It Depends” card about my own hypothetical behavior in the hypothetical dilemma-creating ethical situation described on a question card “in play.” While I do not like the phrase “situation ethics,” I have long believed and still do believe (as I have revealed here many times) that, in many dilemma-creating ethical situations, how I believe I would act rightly depends on the context. So, when asked what I would do in such a hypothetical moral situation demanding a decision and response I say “It depends” and what I mean is “It depends on the context.”

I fear that in today’s American society and especially in moderate-to-progressive Protestantism (my religious context) many people have come simply to assume that justice requires inclusion and diversity—but without considering contexts.

“Inclusion” and “diversity” have become mantras in many moderate-to-progressive religious contexts (to say nothing of secular ones). Anyone who even dares to take a breath and hesitate and then say “It depends” is written off as uncaring about justice and love.

Years ago I invited the pastor of a Baptist church that advertised itself as a “liberal church” and described itself also as “an inclusive church” to speak to my classes about liberal Christianity. He was a well-educated, bright and articulate man who did not mind at all walking into a class of mostly conservative students and answering their questions about his church and its theology and ethos. He returned to this gig several years in a row and seemed to thrive on defending his church’s “liberal” and “inclusive” labels.

Some of my brighter students dared to ask him whether his church would “include” a conservative Christian who believed the Bible to be supernaturally inspired, inerrant and authoritative. At least one asked him whether his church would “include” a white supremacist. In every case his answer was that it would not; it would help such a person find another church to attend. My students began to look skeptical and some even snickered quietly.

Finally, because no students asked this question, I asked him whether a person could become a full member of his liberal and inclusive Baptist church without believer baptism. He said that such a person could not join the church although he or she would be welcome to attend and participate. Again, the students found this inconsistent with his previous and public descriptions of his church as “inclusive.” To defend his church’s requirement of believer baptism for membership he appealed to “tradition.” Some of us pointed out that this also seemed inconsistent with his Baptist church’s seeming freewheeling breaks with tradition.

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

Does anyone believe that all non-profit organizations, whether religious or secular, must be totally and unqualifiedly “inclusive” in order to exist in a state of justice? I doubt it.

So, for everyone I know, the answer to whether their church or other non-profit organization should include “all comers” is always, when pressed, “it depends” and even, eventually, “no.”

Let’s imagine a non-profit organization that exists without boundaries of any kind; everyone is welcome to participate, vote and even potentially lead—regardless of their status, beliefs, lifestyle, etc. I submit that such an organization would be impossible because it would have no real purpose other than inclusion and diversity.

Now, of course, I anticipate the objection from someone that such an organization could have as its purpose promoting inclusion and diversity through meeting people different and through dialogue with them. But what if someone wanted to join who was adamantly opposed to inclusion and diversity and dialogue with people different from themselves? Ah, eventually such an organization would find a way to ostracize such a joiner and if he or she persisted in promoting exclusion and separatism would be asked to leave.

Now let’s take under consideration an entirely different kind of example. Let’s imagine a non-profit organization that exists primarily for fellowship and support among people who feel they are marginalized, disempowered, and disadvantaged by the dominant culture and society. Let’s get specific. Imagine a non-profit organization that exists for such a purpose and in such a manner primarily for Native Americans/American Indians. Must such an organization be diverse in order to be just? Does justice demand that such an organization include a non-Native American/non-American Indian—even one who is unsympathetic with the plight of Native Americans/American Indians in North America and who wants only to gain financially from the profits of gambling casinos on Native American Indian reservations? Who would say yes to that question? I can’t imagine anyone claiming that “justice” requires inclusion and diversity there without qualifications.

I return to my response of “It depends.” Whether justice and (in a religious context) even love require inclusion and diversity depends on many factors.

Notice that here I am not talking about government entities or even businesses, although I would argue that even such are never “wide open” to inclusion and diversity without qualifications. I am talking primarily about non-profit educational, religious, fraternal and charitable organizations.

Some moderate-to-progressive religious organizations are talking as if “inclusion” and “diversity” matter more than anything else, are required by love and justice, and are ends in themselves. My response to this trend is “It depends.”

Let me offer one example where I believe an emphasis on inclusion and diversity can go too far.

One church with which I am very familiar that prides itself on being moderate-to-progressive began to sing during its Sunday worship services a newish hymn entitled “For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table.” (You can look up all the lyrics using an internet search engine; for obvious legal reasons I can’t quote them here. The song is copyrighted.) One verse of the hymn lists the kinds of people who have a “place at the table.” Although the song itself does not explicitly identity “the table” with the Lord’s Table of Communion I think it’s safe to assume that identity although the hymn writer would probably say “the table” represents more than just the Lord’s Table of Communion. In the church to which I refer I think it is safe to assume most people automatically identified “the table” in the hymn as the Lord’s Table of Communion. And probably with membership in the church.

Among the people the hymn says have “a place at the table” are “abuser and abused.” To the best of my memory, the hymn says nothing about repentance or reform—as a condition of having “a place at the table.” When I asked the pastor about the hymn, and whether we should really be singing a song that seems to include abusers together with the “abused” at the Lord’s Table he responded that the song assumes repentance and reform. I don’t see that it does. If that hymn is to be sung in a Christian church someone ought to make it clear that abusers need to repent and reform before coming to the Lord’s Table—or even seeking membership. I never heard that said.

I suspect that some readers here will accuse me of “nit-picking.” I don’t think so. For me, the fact that that church continued to sing that hymn even after I pointed out the obvious problem with it contributed to my decision to walk out of the sanctuary and leave the worship service—at least for a time—whenever that hymn was sung. I walked out in solidarity with the victims of abuse.

I believe the custom of singing that song in worship is an example of an end-point of an over-emphasis on inclusion and diversity “jumping backwards;” to me it was emblematic of where a not-properly qualified emphasis on inclusion and diversity can lead.

My point is simply this: “inclusion” and “diversity” should not be unqualified mantras; when they become such the door is opened to a host of problems. “Justice” and “love” do not require total and unqualified inclusion and diversity. Most reasonable people know this, but it’s all too easy for even them to be seduced into thinking that all the boundaries and barriers that have been in place must all be lowered if not destroyed. Eventually, insofar as this happens, the organization becomes compatible with anything and everything and then has no real reason for existing.

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined).

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