Excluding Exclusion

June 28, 2006

Every statement you make has a dark side (cue scary music). That is, every statement a group makes about itself inherently opens the possibility for exclusion. The Introduction to Liberal Christianity I have been mulling over is no exception.

If we are serious about radical inclusion then this must be faced.

One solution to this problem is to make no group statements – We believe becomes I believe.

Dave Marshall expressed this well in the comments for my last post, when he said that the Introduction should “ought to reflect where you happen to be. Not necessarily written in the first person, but not attempting to put anyone else’s view for them.”

I could (somewhat provocatively) call this the Thatcher solution – there is no such thing as society. Like Thatcher’s comment, it is obviously true at a certain level. People exist in an entirely different way to the way something abstract like a society exists.

What concerns me, though, are questions like: If a group cannot make a group statement, then how can it make a group action? And at a more fundamental level, without a group statement can there be a group language and without a group language how can we talk to each other?

(Random thought – maybe we don’t need a creed but a lexicon?)

Another solution is to ground our groupiness in praxis – in shared ritual rather than shared stories. Groups that have tried this approach: ECUSA (mass), Quakers (silence), UU (to a lesser extent, though turning up at a building every Sunday is a group ritual). But all of these groups face seem to face problems if no one can give a group answer when people ask “Why do we do this ritual? Why is this ritual meaningful?”; which is one reason why I’m skeptical about the possibility of a religious group without a core story.

Yet another solution is to accept the unfortunate reality that exclusion will happen, and attempt make the pain of exclusion as minimal as possible. The pain of exclusion from the medieval Roman Catholic Church was intense (very intense if we include the pain of being burnt at the stake). A city with many religious faith groups, ranging from liberal to conservative, Catholic, protestant, Muslim, Jewish etc, has a lesser pain of exclusion – you can always go up the road to a church or mosque whose story you can identify with. But there is still pain; leaving family, friends. Even a church which formally allows variation of faith within itself usually has a core story, either expressed or culturally implied, which will cause pain to those left out of it (and I note the important difference between allowing doubt and allowing difference in beliefs).

And of course the most common solution is to say “We know the Truth, if you reject the Truth then it’s at your own risk. Any exclusion that happens is not our problem but yours and as soon as you realise we are Right then you can come crawling back to us.” But it’s not a solution I’m particularily fond of.

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3 Responses to “Excluding Exclusion”

  1. hatless Says:

    I like the random thought – not a creed but a lexicon. Not literally a word list, but a common set of ideas and stories. Christianity includes the idea of Incarnation, and the stories of the birth of Jesus, and the setting of his ministry. When you start interpreting them and saying what they mean and how they should be expressed, then you get problems, but if it stays at the level of the stories and the claim that in Jesus God became one of us, then I think it stays open and exclusion isn’t a problem.

    Could the introduction to liberal Christianity stay at that level?

  2. dave marshall Says:

    “the Thatcher solution”???!

    I thought you were thinking in terms of a conversation. Whoever publishes this conversation would have an understood (and legitmate) editorial licence to colour the presention, to give it a distinctive personality. But actual content at the level of authentic liberal Christian faith (as I understand it from a sort-of-liberal, not-very-Christian perspective) would be personal. The ‘societal’ analogy from Thatcher’s remark would be the impression given by the whole. It would definitely exist. 🙂

  3. demas Says:

    Well, I did say I was being provocative 🙂

    I’m going to think about this a bit more before replying.


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