"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Not only is that one of my favorite quotes from "The Princess Bride," but that also happens to be one of my favorite quotes of all time. It is also one that manages to be quite fitting when we talk about one of the many new buzzwords floating around in popular Christian culture today. That word: "inclusive."
But what is being inclusive exactly? Is it even possible or is it some high-minded utopian ideal?
We need to ask ourselves this because that is the manner in which most religious groups or organizations seem to be using it in their discussions (or ironically, and more commonly, divisive arguments). Is this thing even obtainable? I would have to argue "Yes," as long as you understand what it actually is and that it is NOT a thing.
Let's start off with what it is by looking at what it isn't, by what it commonly gets mistaken to be. Inclusive does not mean "anything goes." It does not mean "no boundaries." And it does not mean "no parameters." There are words or terms for such a thing already: chaos, anarchy or something else that begins with the word "cluster" and ends in an expletive that I can't really say in writing. All these words are nouns, and none of them have the slightest thing to do with being inclusive, which happens to be an adjective by the way.
Something can be "in chaos" and something can be "an anarchy," but nothing can be "an inclusive" -- not without being preceded of followed by some sort of defining parameter. By its own definition it needs some other parameters to actually define itself. Furthermore, as an adjective its purpose is to qualify a noun. That is what we call a modifier. So not only by its own definition does it need a qualifier, but doubly so because as an adjective it needs one as well.
Let me put it a different way. You can't simply sign up for inclusive, but you could sign up for inclusive healthcare coverage. What one would expect to get with inclusive healthcare coverage would be complete coverage for any of your healthcare related concerns. However, it would be unreasonable for anyone to expect this coverage to also take care of their auto insurance or pay for the damages to their home after a fire or natural disaster. To most, this would seem pretty logical.
Reason and logic though tend to fly out the window when this same term is applied to anything of a spiritual or religious context.
When someone says that they wish to have an inclusive Christian church or organization, what most people seem to imagine is something with no boundaries instead of something existing within the boundaries of being inclusive and welcoming to anyone within the Christian faith. Furthermore, people begin to argue that since they are not including non-Christians into this inclusivity they are being the opposite of inclusive -- exclusive. This simply isn't true because it is the defining parameters that help make something inclusive in the first place.
This brings us to the conundrum of inclusivity. In order to actually be inclusive someone or something is going to have to be excluded.
We see examples of this a lot as well in groups or organizations that decide to become inclusive but then have people who wish to attack or have nothing to do with that which was then included.
There was a time in our recent history here in America when certain races were excluded from dining establishments, dance or concert halls. When someone made the bold and just decision to make their dance hall inclusive to any and every race something happened: There were some people who still didn't agree with this decision and felt excluded by it -- excluded because they were not onboard with this new inclusivity.
By defining themselves as being inclusive, they had to make a conscious decision to separate themselves from and make a stand against those whom would disagree with this choice. Furthermore, they had to take steps to protect those people they have decided to now embrace. What good would come from saying that someone from a different race was allowed to dance in your establishment if once there they were abused and mistreated by the other patrons? No, in order to be truly inclusive, they were obligated to make sure that anyone there was truly safe and secure. To not do so would be actually excluding those people you say you are including by your non-action. By allowing them to be attacked, even if through silence, you are actually excluding those you just opened your doors up to.
Today there is a debate going on in religious circles over a similar matter concerning the LGBT community. There are certain churches or groups that say they have become inclusive to them, but at the same time the refuse protect them or exclude those who oppose the inclusivity or even attack them. They say that this is done in love -- that to not include both the oppressed and the oppressor would be to cease to be truly inclusive, but this simply isn't true.
For in order to be inclusive to both gay people and straight people one must by definition be willing to let those who hate the idea feel excluded, and to not offer aid, protection or have consequences set up for those who attack one part of your group is actually taking the side against them, driving them out.
What would you be left with in the end? Probably a group that calls itself an advocate and ally, but when it looks around, realizes it's just a bunch of straight white men because all the LGBT members of the community fled since this wasn't a safe space for them.
Follow Pastor Neil Christopher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/neilcf