The theme of inclusivity has dominated many of the recent General Conventions. Grounded in a sensitive reading of Scripture, the Episcopal Church has advocated the inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians at every level of our shared life. The vision has been a church for all people. It has been a powerful vision. We are the Church that refuses to exclude.
Yet the powerful vision is disappearing. There are those who are using the language of inclusion to justify exclusion. There are voices that insist that anyone who has the temerity to believe in traditional marriage, confined to man and woman, should not be allowed in the Episcopal Church; there are voices that want to advocate an unthinking vision of Eucharistic hospitality, which would result in the madness of inviting a Muslim who does not even believe that Jesus died on the cross to a table that remembers our Lord’s death; there are voices that want to cut ties to the Anglican Communion family because it had a problem with our progressive stance; there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion.
Living with disagreement is tricky. The desire to make the Church pure is so strong. We are so sure we are right that we don’t welcome conservatives. We are so sure that our progressive stance will be vindicated that we insist that those who want to “move less quickly” are ignorant appeasers.
Let us try to recover our commitment to genuine inclusivity. Let us continue to welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as an intrinsic part of the Church; but let us also extend a warm and affirming welcome to our conservative brothers and sisters. Let us try something new: Let us try to resist the tendency for purity and separation and instead live in a place that is more ragged and interesting.
Conservatives are important for two reasons. The first is that we need their voices. Conservatives keep asking the very basic question: Are we sure this is of God? A church is neither the “United Way at Prayer,” nor a social pressure group. Instead the Church is the Body of Christ and therefore the vehicle of God’s will in the world.
Everything we do should be tested by Scripture. We need to have our biblical reasons for the positions we take. If we lose this perspective, then we are just another dying cult that invites individuals to create whatever faith suits them.
The second reason is that there are many hurting conservatives who are feeling that this Church is not welcoming. Numerically the majority of the Episcopal Church is in the South. Many of the larger churches are evangelical. We need these conservative congregations and conservative dioceses. South Carolina is the only diocese that is growing: we need South Carolina to stay in.
I know it is easier to be small and pure; but it is much more exciting to be large and genuinely diverse. Let us hope we opt for the exciting route rather than the exclusive route.
I think that Dean Markham is absolutely right that "there are plenty of voices who want to exclude in the name of inclusion." And I find what he says about why we need conservatives in the Episcopal Church to be generous. But can there really be a "genuine inclusivity" that doesn't by necessity exclude some people's beliefs and agendas? I doubt it.
For the sake of being "inclusive" and "relevant" in a post-Christian culture, I note that we Episcopalians are increasingly willing to jettison traditional understandings of Christian faith and practice. By definition, that excludes conservatives (and even many moderates). It's really hard to see how the current trajectory of the Episcopal Church as charted by General Convention can possibly recover a commitment to "genuine inclusivity" that actually includes persons who adhere to a traditional, orthodox approach to Christianity.
In response to Dean Markham's piece, one of my conservative colleagues said: "Too little, too late." And in another response on Facebook someone wrote: "I agree that [this piece is] excellent. But let's not kid ourselves. I don't care who says it, it's not being heard."