The Church cannot be all-inclusive

There are certain truths the Church cannot abandon

On a recent edition of Prime Time, the new Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Denis Nulty, said something to the effect that we must balance inclusiveness with communion. He hit on a very important point that on its own should be the subject of a television programme.

The topic under debate on the night in question was the future of the Catholic Church. Inevitably, the talk turned to matters like homosexuality and women priests. In fact, the future of the Church depends on how well we Christians do at telling people about Jesus, but this hardly figured at all in the debate because that kind of talk is practically barred from current affairs shows.

Bishop Nulty and Breda O’Brien (columnist with this paper and a patron of The Iona Institute) both performed very capably but the main source of any pressure they were under was to explain how the Church could become more ‘inclusive’.

‘Inclusion’ is one of those ideas we’re all supposed to favour. Who could be against it, and isn’t the Church supposed to be a welcoming place and therefore the very model of ‘inclusion’?

The problem, say the critics, is that a lot of the time it is the very opposite. Thus actively gay people are made to feel excluded. Divorced and remarried Catholics feel excluded. Those living together outside marriage feel excluded. Those who have had abortions feel excluded. Many women feel excluded because they can’t become priests. The list goes on.

The point is that a community, namely the Church which is supposed to welcome everyone, in practice makes a whole lot of people feel unwelcome, and how can that be Christian?

This brings us to Bishop Nulty’s point. A communion, or community, that is all inclusive won’t be a communion at all. Or to put it another way, it will be so all inclusive that it will be very hard to say what it stands for and what it believes in anymore.

Girl Guides
A case in point. The Girl Guides in Britain used to require their members to make a pledge to God and Queen (or King). That is gone, especially the first part because it was deemed to be ‘exclusive’, that is, it excluded those who didn’t believe in God.

Therefore the Girl Guides is now an organisation that does not have belief in God as one of its defining characteristics.

The pledge would-be Girl Guides now take is to develop themselves and be true to their beliefs.

Notice how completely individualistic this is. In order to be ‘inclusive’ the Girl Guides no longer require their members to be true to anything outside of themselves. There is nothing external, like God or country that they are required to believe in as a condition of membership.

Now, this does not mean the Girl Guides is destroyed as a community. They still come together, share time, go camping and so on. But they stand for less than they used to.

Nothing was ever stopping anyone from setting up their own version of the Girl Guides, one that uses the new pledge of the original Girl Guides. But the old Girl Guides decided to become ‘inclusive’ and therefore to water down their beliefs and their identity.

A similar pressure is on the Catholic Church, and on Christianity generally. Obviously the Church as a community, as a communion, cannot be for and against divorce, for and against homosexual conduct, for and against women priests, for and against abortion.

As a communion it has to take a stand on these things. It has to permit divorce or not permit divorce, favour abortion or not favour abortion and so on. It literally cannot be all things to all people.

And this is the point. No community of belief can avoid making a stand. If the Church suddenly decided it has no moral objection to divorce, then it will exclude those people who do have a moral objection to divorce and think it is important to make a stand against it.

The same goes for abortion and a whole raft of other moral issues. If, by some horrible and impossible to contemplate turn of events, the Church was one day to become ‘pro-choice’, it would immediately exclude everyone who does not believe in a ‘right’ to abortion.

More importantly, the Church would be abandoning things it believes to be true in themselves, for example that abortion is wrong in itself. The Church has no more power to alter what is right and wrong than you or I have. Its duty is the same as yours and mine, that is, to discover the truth and then live by it.

Therefore an all inclusive community is both an impossibility in the sense that it is impossible to stand for everything. In addition, a Church that tried to stand for everything would be forced to abandon certain important truths which would be an injustice.

So, does this mean the Church cannot be welcoming? Not at all. The Church welcomes everyone who wants to live in the truth. It doesn’t welcome everyone on their own terms, but on the Gospel’s terms. Anyone who is willing to try and live by the truth of the Gospel is welcome by definition.

‘Inclusion’ when it is used in a certain way in fact means relativism. Those who use the word in this way want the Church to relativise its beliefs and become like the modern Girl Guides and simply be a place where we develop ourselves and our beliefs whatever they may be.

On the other hand, the Church is inclusive on the Gospel’s terms. There are certain truths it cannot abandon. If it ever did abandon those truths, it would no longer be a Christian communion at all and that, I think, was Bishop Nulty’s point.