A Firm Foundation?

By the Rev. James E. Flowers Jr.
Rector, St. Timothy's, Alexandria, La.

This article appeared in the Oct. 19, 2003, edition of The Living Church magazine, an independent weekly serving Episcopalians since 1878.
Reproduced with kind permission of The Living Church.


Throughout the recent General convention, I was struck by the prevalence of the words “inclusivity” and “diversity.” They seemed to be a part of the explanation of nearly every resolution, the raison d’etre at almost every committee hearing, the guiding principle of almost every worship service. I heard these words in the legislative halls, in bars and restaurants, in the hotel lobby, on the streets of Minneapolis, and once I even found them written on a bathroom stall, though I am reluctant to disclose the context.

I was familiar with these words prior to my arrival in Minneapolis. both are essentially newly styled or coined words, which have burst upon the cultural scene in the last decade or so. “Diversity” is an old word, but with a new primary meaning. Indeed, in my older dictionaries it never refers to persons, as it does almost exclusively today, but rather the defining example is generally something like “a diversity of opinion,” which, it seems to me indicates opinions which are likely at odds.

In the case of “inclusivity,” though I can find it in none of my dictionaries, clearly today's meaning is something like “every person is included.” It's interesting that the word “inclusive,” which is in all my dictionaries, rarely if ever refers to persons but rather almost always refers to numbers as in “1 to 10 inclusive.”

Now I understand that language evolves and changes. But I think that it is somewhat ironic that an increasingly illiterate generation would choose such words as guiding principles, i.e. words which either have to be re-defined, or made up altogether in order to make any contextual sense.

That being said, the more important point lies in the prominent and even overwhelming use of these words at General Convention. They were used too much, in fact, that an observer might easily conclude that they were doctrinally or ideologically foundational to our deliberations and to our Church itself. The problem with this, of course, is that neither word represents a Christian or biblical concept, much less a guiding principle or doctrine.

The Bible never teaches “inclusivity” as it has been coined and defined in our day, nor do the gospels themselves. If anything, the gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive, i.e. you must believe and/or do certain things in order to be included. As but one example of this, consider the poignant story of “the rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18-30, Matthew 19:16-29, Mark 10:17-30). Here the young man is clearly excluded even though his sincerity is obvious.

He is excluded because he is simply not willing to conform to the standard Jesus sets. This principle of conditional acceptance, though it offends us moderns and post-moderns greatly, is to be found on almost every page of the New Testament. It is without question a guiding principle of Christianity. As such, the notion of inclusivity, no matter how attractive to our modern ears, must be rejected for it is neither biblical nor Christian.

“Diversity” as it has come to be defined in our day is not necessarily in opposition, to biblical principles as inclusivity is, rather it is a concept that is simply not to be found in the Bible, and so we are hard pressed to consider it a defining principle of Christianity. (Of course one could point to Jesus’ consistent exclusion of non-Jews in his concept of the kingdom as the antithesis of diversity, but here Jesus’ attitude hardly constitutes a basis for a biblical or Christian doctrine either.)

Even Paul’s famous proclamation of unity, “Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female ... ” (Galatians 3:28) is not about inclusivity or diversity, but rather about being one in Christ Jesus. Inclusivity is not an issue here, for all those who are not baptized believers are definitely excluded. Though diversity is somewhat applicable, that concept as we understand it is clearly not part of Paul’s larger point. Indeed, Paul’s point is not that people are diverse, but rather that they are unified, in and through Jesus.

So how are we to understand the church’s obvious fascination with two words, two concepts, which are not particularly Christian or biblical, and in fact which may even be shown to oppose Christian essentials? I would suggest to you that the reason is not hard to understand. Said simply, the “gospel of inclusivity and diversity” is easier to take, is far less demanding, than the true Gospel, the bloody-cross, personal-salvation, repent-and-be-saved Gospel, which is the cornerstone of the New Testament.

We must assume that those who have embraced the gospel of inclusivity and diversity have either abandoned the real Gospel because it is just too hard, or have never known any other gospel thanks to the church’s teaching in recent years. In either case, this anti-gospel is quite simply a lie. It has no saving power, it brings life to no one. Rather it is the path of least resistance, which in my experience is always the path to hell.

It is easy to understand how our Church, having largely embraced the gospel of inclusivity and diversity, managed to elect and then confirm Gene Robinson, For that gospel is a feel-good gospel, a don’t-hurt-anyone’s-feelings gospel, an I’m OK, you’re OK gospel. There’s just one problem: It’s not the true gospel. I, for one, believe that’s a very serious problem indeed.