One of the themes that came up in last night’s AMA (with Jonathan Ziegler and me) was inclusion. Inclusion seemed to be at the center of all the offered questions. In the postmodern era, pluralism and inclusion are major ideas—morality is now defined by who is included, and if it is not everyone, in this megalopolis, it’s a problem.
I was glad to be up there with my comrade Jonathan because we often take a different perspective on most of the subjects at hand, but we have the same heart. I suppose that’s the starting point of Circle of Hope’s radical inclusion—we have diverse voices who are leading us to follow Jesus. There are many entry points, and a variety of expressions (that our fifty-plus cells and cell leaders embody), but we’re on the same team going for the same goals. That process from getting here to there can be a challenge for some, since individual expression seems to be the postmodern equivalent of salvation.
I guess salvation, for some, isn’t really salvation unless everyone gets in. That idea seemed to come up repeatedly for us. What happens when we die? Why would God damn people? Aren’t we all worshiping the same God?
I’ve written before about the theology of hell, so I won’t go into that too much. You can find the original post here, largely based on what we have been teaching in Circle of Hope for years. In summary, the concept of hell seems to be not only illogical, it does not match the character of an all-loving God, includes the pagan idea of eternal spirits, and moreover, seems to be the result of a bad translation of the Scriptures.
But still, one person asked the question about belief in God and why all religions aren’t simply the same. That’s a good question to wrestle with, especially after a week of holidays where we may have been with unbelieving family. (Or followers of Jesus who just seem to be off track.) The old idea that we often hear is that God is like an elephant and each of the faiths (only the popular ones get in), are grasping a part of the animal and claiming that they have the right answer. Of course, it gets more complicated when some folks do not believe that the elephant exists or, perhaps, that they are the elephant (think of the “religion” of capitalism).
So, yes, I do learn, for better or worse, from faiths and the ideologies and philosophies of the world. I take the good and leave the bad. I do believe that Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God, but certainly, I can learn about contemplation from the Buddhists, or submission from the Muslims, or even reason from atheists. But if I should choose to do that, I must also learn from everyone else. Well, I am not sure if I must, but why wouldn’t I also learn from what the civil religion teaches me? What American consumerism and capitalism teach me? What the military state teaches me, too?
Certainly, everyone can offer something to expand and grow us, and I think we do well to learn from others, their success, and their mistakes. We have done that with the historical church, why not just history in general?
The reason I bring this up is because we seem to be more willing to be inclusive of groups that we deem are worthy of inclusion—and judgmental and dogmatic when it comes to others. We readily understand and appreciate some people, and prejudicially exclude others. One person asked about how we include veterans and active duty officers and cops in our mission, when we so strongly believe that peace and nonviolence are important to the gospels. The old dictum “love the sinner, hate the sin,” seems to be as much of a platitude when it is applied to law enforcement or military officers, as it is when it’s applied to people that the church has historically “otherized.”
In that otherization is where we find one of the problems with inclusion. When we are not transformed together, inclusion merely compartmentalizes us. We look for equal representation, which I think is a noble and even important, but merely being equally represented or included is not salvation by itself. We could endlessly deconstruct ourselves into an array of categories and never feel like we totally belong or are totally included. Or we could use our differences and work toward a common end and common good, and find our true selves among our diversity. For me, finding our true self and taking advantage of what we are given is what God calls us to do.
When someone asked how we balance the boundless possibilities that surround us, I offered a simple response: think about what God wants you to do, talk to Him, listen to your instinct, and your faith community. More than that though, let us truly work to be our best selves in Jesus so that we can follow Him into bringing the Kingdom here now.
That project begins with inclusion, but it does not end there. We start with being separate, compartmentalized, disparate people but we find our unity and wholeness as God transforms us and reveals himself in the person of Jesus Christ and his Body.