A great challenge facing Christians today is the cultural battle over words. All too often in this “post-truth” generation facts take a back seat to feelings. As a result great pains are taken to claim ownership over words that evoke the emotions necessary to change minds and move masses. In the process however, meaning is blurred and facts are forsaken.
One of the most powerful examples of such emotion-evoking words is the word inclusive. Everywhere you look people are bending over backwards to show how inclusive they are. From businesses to banks, schools and charities. Inclusion has become our culture’s highest value and woe to you if you aren’t included among the inclusive.
THE POWER OF WORDS
There is a real danger however, when we allow shared words to be given new meaning, especially when that meaning is laden with hidden or unchallenged assumptions. That’s because without identifying and validating (or invalidating) those assumptions we run the risk of uncritically accepting them without even knowing it.
In June of 2018 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Trinity Western University’s bid for accreditation of its law school, affirming provincial law society’s rights to grant or deny accreditation on the basis of what they deemed in the public’s best interest. The details around the Supreme Court’s ruling are complex and beyond our scope here.1 What is relevant however is TWU’s subsequent decision to drop its mandatory Community Covenant. In their public statement they said:
“In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”2
One can appreciate the difficult decision TWU’s board needed to make. Whether or not it was the correct decision is a matter for debate. What is worthy of our attention and concern here is their intentional use of the word inclusive in their explanation. Is this really something that removing the Community Covenant will accomplish?
WHAT’S IN A WORD?
When we say “inclusive” what we most often mean is “welcoming”. We’re referring to whether or not a person feels accepted and valued in a group or community. And this is certainly something Christians above all should seek since Jesus taught us that welcoming the “least” in his name is evidence that he is welcome among us. (Matthew 18:5)
But that isn’t what inclusive actually means. In its most basic form it comes from the word “include” which means “to make part of a whole or set.”3 This is simple when dealing with things like shapes or numbers, but becomes slightly more complex when dealing with people. That’s because sometimes people really are included in a group or set, and other times the best we can do is make them feel like they are included when in fact they are not. We encounter this all the time.
For example, my best friend growing up is from a large family who lived on a farm. They were and still are extremely gracious, loving and hospitable people. Consequently, I was made to feel very welcome and at home whenever I was there. Sharing meals, watching movies, helping with chores and sleeping over; all of these things made me feel like I was one of the family. But that didn’t mean I actually was. I felt at home among them, but I wasn’t really at home, and so there were certain lines that I would not cross. I would not enter the parents or siblings bedrooms uninvited, rifle through their drawers or leave my dirty underwear in their laundry bin. That’s because their family is defined by a specific set of boundaries that I exist outside of. In fact it’s boundaries that make inclusion into groups even a possibility. Let’s return to the example of TWU to see why.
TRUE INCLUSION REQUIRES BOUNDARIES
The stated purpose behind the TWU Community Covenant is as follows:
“The Student Code of Conduct is intended to promote the formation of a distinctive community that acknowledges and respects the Christian values of TWU.”4
In other words, the purpose for the covenant was to establish a distinctively Christian community in which students (whether Christian or not) could receive an education shaped by a Christian perspective. What established that distinctiveness of course were the boundaries of faith and practice contained in the Bible. These were exactly the boundaries that defined the the community. But this isn’t only true for Christian communities. All groups or communities are defined by their distinctive boundaries which set them apart from everyone outside the community or group. By definition, whatever is included in a group (whether airplane parts, food groups or people groups) is identifiable only by virtue of the boundaries which exclude whatever or whoever is outside of it.
NO INCLUSION WITHOUT EXCLUSION
Think of it in terms of a country. It’s plain to see that whatever is not within a country’s borders is not included in the country. Now suppose there are people living just outside of those borders who want to be a part of that country, but who are unwilling to move. The inclusive sensibilities of our day would say it’s simple; just move the borders to include the excluded and everyone is happy. But suppose this process gets repeated with the next group over who are now just outside the newly drawn border, and then the next one and the next one after that until there are no more border lines to be drawn. Some might say this is the ultimate aim of inclusion. One big unified, happy world where everyone, everywhere is included. What they fail to see however is that whatever it was that people originally sought to be included in no longer exists. The country in which people once sought to be included, is no longer definable or identifiable. So what is it now that people are included in?
Boundaries establish what group members share in common with each other; what makes them a community. (“Community” means “common”) But by removing boundaries in order to be more inclusive you are actually removing what it means to belong to that community. As Caroline Westerhoff writes:
If belonging is without obligation and accountability, then we finally have not joined much of anything at all, and any significance that community might have held for us evaporates like mist.5
Kevin DeYoung points out the irony that inclusion cannot exist without exclusion since “every group that can be meaningfully joined together stands against some other group.”6 What is troubling is how blind those most vocal about inclusion are to this fact. They do not see that their demands for inclusion necessarily exclude those who do not agree with them. And how unwelcome indeed you are made to feel if you are so identified.
What is concerning however is the speed at which Christians are calling the Church to inclusiveness. Where this means an end to prejudiced judgmentalism and a loving, accepting environment where all sinners can come as they are to find Christ, then a hearty “Amen!” to that.
With growing frequency however what is more often meant is an actual dismantling of the biblical boundaries that identify the body of Christ as separate and holy from the world. While this is being done in the name of inclusion, one wonders what it is churches doing so think they are inviting people to be a part of.
PART 2 – “How Can Christians Be Inclusive?” – Coming Soon.
1.For a thorough and helpful analysis of the TWU case and ruling, read Bruce Clemenger’s “Making Sense of the TWU Court Decision” at www.evangelicalfellowship.ca.
2. Barry W. Bussey, “TWU Drops Mandatory Community Covenant”, www.cccc.org. [Accessed online Sept. 30, 2018].
3. Oxford Online Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/include
4. TWU Community Covenant Agreement, Section 1: Student Code of Conduct, www.twu.ca. [Accessed online Sept. 25, 2018].
5. Caroline Westerhoff, Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality, (Morehouse Publishing, 2004), p. 29.