Monday, August 14, 2006

What is inclusive religion?

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I have come across a myriad of essays, advertisements, and blog postings identifying their church as being an inclusive congregation. There is even an Anglican website devoted to the topic. What does it mean to identify as "inclusive"? The website just mentioned puts it this way: "We have a vision of a liberal, open church which is inclusive of all, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality."

Of course the item that really makes the difference in applying the label is the church's teaching on homosexual behavior. A congregation or denomination that heartily welcomed everyone, regardless of race, sex, or sexual orientation and that also faithfully taught that sexual intimacy only belongs in marriage (between a man and woman) would not be labeled "inclusive."

However, I would suggest that such a congregation or denomination is the only kind of church that truly is inclusive. The mission of the church is to expand the fellowship between people and God--to call them to repentance, to be a hospital for sinners, to administer God's grace, and to teach the faith. In an eternal perspective, we might say that the church's mission is to help include all of us in heaven.

Yet, is a church which teaches that some behavior is holy rather than sinful really being inclusive? For it would be a church which keeps people from repentance, a church that misdiagnoses and dismisses the sick and wounded, a church that witholds God's grace of absolution, and a church that is deceptive when it comes to teaching the faith. Could you even say that those churches which label themselves as "inclusive" are in reality going out of their way to exclude real people from God's grace and fellowship? That would be tragic.

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