Does inclusion mean never having to say: “You’re wrong”?

Last week, I attended a conference in London, aimed at increasing inclusivity of the LGBT+ community. This blog is not so much a record of the conference, but more of a general reflection on the nature of inclusivity that it sparked.

The conference was hosted by the Oasis organisation. Oasis, a Christian-based charity, runs schools and various community development projects in 51 communities worldwide. It also achieved a certain degree of notoriety when it’s founder, Steve Chalke, an Evangelical Baptist minister, published an article in 2013 advocating a fully inclusive (of LGBT) Christian Church. This conference, Open Church 2015, aimed to provide a forum to explore how to make the Church more inclusive for the LGBT community.

One recurring theme of the conference was the desire by many LGBT Christians to be inclusive towards traditionalist Christians, who held a different view of homosexuality to them, i.e. it is a ‘sin’. A number of LGBT Christians testified of the hurt they had suffered at the hands of such traditionalists, but how they had come to forgive, understand and even seek to welcome them into their Church communities. I found their commitment to love their ‘enemies’ hugely inspirational.

One keynote speaker in particular, Andrew Marin, argued strongly for the need for LGBT people and traditionalist Christians to be reconciled. For over a decade, he has worked in Boystown, Chicago, seeking to help the LGBT community and traditionalist Christians understand each other better, without necessarily changing their views. He likened his ministry to that of Nelson Mandela, who strove to work with his former white persecutors for the sake of ongoing peace.

Although I was really impressed by Marin’s work and can see the great value of it, it did raise some questions for me on the limits of inclusivity. Mandela did work with his fomer opressors and, quite rightly, is highly regarded because of it. However, he only did that after he had brought change to his situation, i.e. the end of Apartheid in South Africa. To have ‘included’ Apartheid supporters, by accepting that their view was just as valid as any other view, could have resulted in no change to the situation. In order to bring about the end of Apartheid, Mandela and his supporters needed to declare the pro-Apartheid supporters’ views as ‘wrong’ and campaign for them to be changed. That is, in order to create greater inclusivity in South Africa for some groups, they had to exclude the views of one group.

This seems to me to be the paradox of inclusivity. If you are to be truly inclusive, you need to include those who advocate exclusion. Steve Chalke, the passionate advocate of inclusion, summed up the practical challenges of this in the real world: “Would Oasis employ a teacher in one of our schools who for example regarded black people as being inferior to white?” The assumption is that they would not. That is, that people with such views would be excluded from working for Oasis.

So, then, inclusivity is an impossible ideal and can never be really achieved. Maybe so, but just because things are impossibly ideal, doesnt make them worthless. Inclusivity as a concept is something that inspires us and, although pragmatic decisions may need to be taken that effectively result in exclusion for some people, it is very valuable in guiding our day-to-day decision making.

Aspiring to inclusivity is undoubtedly a good idea, but, ultimately, decisions need to be taken about who to include and whose views cannot be condoned. The Open Church adherents seemed to have made their choice to include LGBT folks wholeheartedly. At the same time, graciously as they can, they have inevitably rejected the views of the ‘traditionalists’. Whether this is philosophically fair or not can be debated, but I suspect that in 20 years time, when people look back to today, it will be the inclusivists who are esteemed in a similar manner to Mandela.