Reply to Susan Russell on Inclusivity and Grace

Kendall Harmon had a recent post on the Presiding Bishop’s webcast that included the statement, “There will be no outcasts in this Church.”  I could not resist responding as follows:

You cannot continue to give preference to one without slighting another, for selection implies rejection. You despise, therefore, those whom you thus reject; for in your rejection of them, it is plain you have no dread of giving them offence. (Tertullian, Apology, 13)

The concept of an “all-inclusive” church is simply unrealistic.

The one reply specifically directed at me came from no less of a personage than Susan Russell:

So is “love your neighbors as yourself.”
That’s why we’ve been given grace.

My first reaction was to think of the grace it took to go through the acrimonious back and forth I went through last summer with her fellow California homosexual Liam over same sex civil marriage and adoption.  (That whole business, however, has made a turn for the better with Liam’s comment on my latest posting on the subject.)  But the whole business of inclusivity and grace deserves a more in depth analysis.

Let’s start with inclusivity.  I said an all-inclusive church is impractical.  It’s not only impractical, it’s not Biblical either.  Consider the following:

“If your Brother does wrong, go to him and convince him of his fault when you and he are alone. If he listens to you, you have won your Brother. But, if he does not listen to you, take with you one or two others, so that ‘on the evidence of two or three witnesses, every word may be put beyond dispute.’ If he refuses to listen to them, speak to the Church; and, if he also refuses to listen to the Church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax-gatherer.” Matthew 18:15-17.

“I told you, in my letter, not to associate with immoral people– Not, of course, meaning men of the world who are in immoral, or who are covetous and grasping, or who worship idols; for then you would have to leave the world altogether. But, as things are, I say that you are not to associate with any one who, although a Brother in name, is immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or abusive, or a drunkard, or grasping-no, not even to sit at table with such people.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11.

The point of both of these passages is to show that it is certainly possible for some people to be expelled from the church, or for the church to refuse fellowship to.  Some people just don’t have any business in the church: temporarily, hopefully, but still, some people don’t.  You can’t have an all-inclusive church with this possibility.  And, if I consider all the clerics who have been deposed (to say nothing of sued,) I begin to have my doubts that Rev. Russell is as up on the concept of an “all-inclusive” church as she might think she is.

Turning to the issue that seems to have everyone’s attention, I am one of those people who believe that the Biblical standard for sexual conduct—sex strictly between a man and a woman within the confines of Holy Matrimony—is non-negotiable.  Period.  It’s not my fault and it certainly isn’t God’s fault that the world has chosen to go another way, but it isn’t incumbent on Christian churches to follow suit just because everyone else says it’s a good idea.

If a church wants to be in sync with the world, it should simply adopt the sexual ethic of the culture around it and be done with it.  But that begs the question of why the church exists at all.  Under these circumstances the church becomes pointless, as I’ve been saying for the last ten years.  But if a church wants to be “salt and light” as so many do, then it needs to expect its members to adhere to the standard which God set forth.

Now Rev. Russell may not be aware of it, but I have enough ministry experience to know that a) people will fail and b) the church has an obligation to treat them pastorally and attempt to facilitate restoration, which is only possible if those people really want it and aren’t playing games or doing things for appearance sake.  But pitching out the standard for God’s people isn’t the way to solve this problem.

And that brings us to the issue of grace.  The whole concept of grace doesn’t mean much if we don’t consider it in an eternal perspective.  As I note in What is the Gospel?, the fall created a situation where people no longer had the resources to cross the divide between sinful people and a holy God.  Grace is what makes it possible for that crossing to happen, the grace made possible by Christ’s finished work on the Cross.  There is nothing we can do in this life to merit it; we can only accept God’s free gift.

Unfortunately “reappraisers” have muddied the issue of eternity.  Universalists tell us that everyone is going to heaven, so grace is meaningless, as is whatever we do in this life.  People who used to proclaim that “God is dead” sent the message that heaven was closed, which was a strong signal to many that eternity didn’t matter.  Then there are those who think that what we do gets us eternal life.  Good grief, we don’t need Christianity for that: my ancestors preferred the Lodge for that message, and now we have Islam prominently featured in our society that teaches the same thing.  Finally I get a whiff of universal annihilationalism from one of your Presiding Bishop’s statements.  Although I understand that one cannot get through life without God’s grace, messing up the vision of the eternal goal undermines any attempt at appealing to grace.

As far as loving one’s neighbour is concerned, my challenge to TEC on this point is here.

Three years ago, my wife and I visited Palm Springs.  Our flight left from Ontario on Sunday.  As we drove out of town, we could see the gay men at their favourite hangouts, taking in the morning.

The GLBT’s community in TEC—of which you are a prominent leader—does not face its greatest challenge from the reasserters.  You people have a knack for dealing with reasserters, although if you don’t use some wisdom it could cost you more than you anticipated.  Your greatest challenge is going to be to convince secular members of the GLBT community—and others—to give up their passing joy in taking in the morning and come to (and support) your church.  I’m glad it’s your job and not mine.  If you fail, the issue of inclusivity will be moot, because there won’t be anyone left to include.

11 Replies to “Reply to Susan Russell on Inclusivity and Grace”

  1. Don,

    You quote “You cannot continue to give preference to one without slighting another, for selection implies rejection…”

    Why do you confuse inclusion with preference? And why would anyone tolerate Tertullian’s falsehood “selection implies rejection”? I selected a banana to add to the berries in my shake this morning.

    Your “slighting” here looks rather like that Tea Party trope of constant loud self-pity. Nobody is being slighted in the case in point. Stop your whining, boy.



    1. Many of the choices we make in life are a) mutually exclusive and b) over time affect subsequent events, which make going back to the alternative impossible. (These, to be technical, are “irreversible” or “path-dependent” events, and we see them in nature as well as in human life).

      I like to say that the easiest way to make an American angry is to state the obvious. I guess that applies to Canadians, too. It must be that long border between us.

      P.S. In response to your musings elsewhere about “It is a puzzle to me why President Reagan is not celebrated more for his introduction of democracy to Latin America. When he took office most of the continent was under either military or fascist civilian rule. Eight years later the only non-democracy was the peculiar technocracy headed by the soi disant communist Fidel Castro. I forget the number, but something like a dozen countries went over to democracy with the help of Schultz, Reagan and a wee nudge of force from Maggie”, I would point out that it doesn’t fit the liberal meme that a conservative American President would do anything but support right-wing dictatorships. So they bury it. But that observation would be whining in your estimation, wouldn’t it?


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