Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Inclusive Gospel

Given all of the rhetoric about "inclusion" in the Episcopal Church these days, and with the reminder that one of the grounds of accusation against the Bishop of South Carolina is his attack on the "false gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity," it's important to clarify what it means to say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive. To that end, I find the following statement helpful and faithful to the biblical witness:

Everyone is accepted in Christ, but no one is affirmed as they are.

The Left tends to emphasize the first part of this sentence while ignoring, minimizing, or denying the second part.

The Right tends to emphasize the second part of this sentence while ignoring, minimizing, or denying the first part.

The challenge for the Church is to proclaim a genuinely inclusive Gospel by affirming the truth of the whole sentence.


Joe said...

Bingo, and Amen! Coming to God through Christ is for each of us a life changing experience. After all, we are required (not asked if we would like to do so) to die unto ourselves and be born again in Him. If that doesn't equate to change, I don't understand the meaning of that word.

Joe Roberts (Cotton Country Anglican)

Rick said...

One must first define "gospel" before determining if it is inclusive or not.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the thumb's up, Joe. Much appreciated.

And you are right, Rick, about needing to define the gospel before determining if it is inclusive or not.

To that end, I think this quote from Bishop N. T. Wright's Surprised By Hope is helpful:

" ... the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world's creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world's true lord. ... The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind'), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God's future, and a vocation in the present."

C. Wingate said...

This last Sunday's gospel (the parable of the wedding feast) is quite apropos.

Bryan Owen said...

Quite apropos, indeed, C. Wingate.

Speaking of last Sundays' gospel reading, there's an interesting posting and comments about it over at Anglican Down Under in a piece entitled "The Robe of Orthodox Righteousness?"

Christopher said...

Oh, I think it's more complicated than left/right. It is contextual. Depending on one's privilege in society and church due to a particular confluence of traits inherited and over which one has no control that composes their person, one finds one is accepted in Christ and is affirmed as they are, and that that can go unchallenged while challenging those wrestling with overcoming those who learned they were neither accepted nor affirmed.

This more complex take speaks to race and the history of the Church, to sex/gender, and more. Until one finds oneself on the receiving end of "you are not accepted in Christ, and you are not affirmed as you are," you do not recognize the falsehood of this left/right proposition, nor of the danger such a quicky phrase can have toward others. I think of the fact that it took a papal bull to declare that First Nations peoples were in fact human beings--40 years after Columbus...

As a gay man most of what I have heard from Church "you are not accepted in Christ and you are not affirmed in Christ--but we are as straight people," or accepts the first half but insists I change the second without thought at all the straight people may in fact need conversion of their "habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions" toward people who are not heterosexual. I use that quote deliberately because Rowan Williams targeted it toward gay people in his interview on inclusivity without recognizing that his context and from where he speaks that those words are damaging. Exodus International still quotes him on this. He did not turn the quote back to himself. I do.

As it stands, I would say that the quote misses out how grace may function very differently for people who find themselves is disparate social locations. Affirmation led to a recognition of my acceptance in Christ, and to a deepening of what that response might mean in terms of ascetical theology/ethics/morals as a gay man.

Bryan Owen said...

Christopher, leaving aside the problematic issues raised by what appears to be your endorsement of a kind of “standpoint epistemology,” you seem to be revising my “dangerous” and “quicky phrase” to read: “Everyone is accepted and affirmed in Christ.” And it appears that this “affirmation” is indiscriminate.

If that’s the case, other than having had an experience in which feeling affirmed led to feeling accepted, what warrants from scripture and tradition are there for saying that everyone is affirmed in Christ as they are? (And please do note that I am neither singling out any particular group nor excluding anyone from the need for transformation with the second part of my dangerous phrase. Everyone needs conversion of their habits, behaviors, ideas, emotions, etc. No disciple of Jesus Christ is excluded from that lifelong task!)

You wrote: “Until one finds oneself on the receiving end of ‘you are not accepted in Christ, and you are not affirmed as you are,’ you do not recognize the falsehood of this left/right proposition, nor of the danger such a quicky phrase can have toward others.” I hear this to say: “Unless you share experiences of rejection and oppression like mine [and who gets to decide if they are sufficiently similar?], and unless you also agree with my take on things as a result of having shared such experiences [and who gets to decide what “agreement” looks like?], you can’t recognize that you are wrong.”

Leaving aside some of the problematic assumptions about others here, this strikes me as a rheteorical strategy that performatively contradicts itself. For in the very attempt to affirm inclusion and indiscriminate affirmation, it excludes those who (to list a few of the characteristics that were in play with this sort of thing while I was at Vanderbilt Divinity School) happen to be the wrong color, the wrong sexual orientation, the wrong gender, who inhabit the wrong social location and the wrong socio-economic status, who haven’t had similar experiences, who don’t share the same moral theology, the same politics, (or any combination of these), etc. It’s a strategy that necessarily singles out whole groups of others as by definition unenlightened and wrong. This merely turns the tables without changing the game. And depending on who the groups are that get excluded, it’s an attempt to refuse the Left/Right polarization that ends up landing squarely in either the Right’s camp or the Left’s camp.

The bottom line is that I do not believe that in order to accept someone I must also indiscriminately affirm everything about him/her. It’s true that the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels accepted everyone he met. He welcomed them, ate with them, healed them, and befriended them. But he did not affirm everything about everyone he met. Indeed, in some cases he had harsh things to say to people (not a very affirming thing to do). Jesus called people to repentance and transformation. He continues to do so today. And that remains the case even when people shamefully misuse the Gospel to malign, terrorize, and hurt people.

Bryan Owen said...

Christopher's comments bring to mind an earlier posting entitled "Utilitarian Religion and Self-Fulfillment." Looking at that posting again, I'm reminded that, in our arguments for how grace takes into account our unique particularities, we do well to avoid the error of equating God's grace in Jesus Christ with a simplistic affirmation of our deepest yearnings and desires and the unproblematic reflection of our moral and political values such that we never have to change. All of us - the Left, the Right, the Center, and those who claim to refuse the spectrum - fall victim to this temptation.