What does "inclusive" mean?


A lot of churches make a point of stressing that they are "inclusive", and I often wonder what that means. It could mean, for example, that a church can be inclusive theologically--meaning that it welcomes seekers and people of diverse beliefs who want to participate in the worship experience. Or it can mean that it accepts people who are rejected by many other Christian churches--specifically, and usually, this pertains to members of the GLBT community.

I certainly think it is great whenever a church welcomes gays and lesbians--not just welcomes them, I might add, but will accept them into its clergy. This is a necessary component of inclusion; but this is not, in my view, a complete expression of what I consider inclusiveness to be. If a church continues to stress Christian orthodoxy in most areas, then I, as a non-orthodox believer in God, who is attracted to Christian tradition but who rejects literal belief in many Christian myths, will not feel either welcome or comfortable attending services there.

Sometimes churches might say that they are open to "doubters", "skeptics", or "seekers". I am not necessarily comfortable with the terms "doubter" and "skeptic", although I think it is fair to say that I am a "seeker". A "doubter" or "skeptic" presupposes, in my mind, that there is a standard of orthodoxy against which one is judged to comply with or not--and if one doesn't comply, that means that one doubts or is skeptical. But the problem with that is that I have my some of my own beliefs, beliefs that I consider logical and reasonable and proper. I feel that am no more a "doubter" of the orthodoxy than those who hold orthodox positions are "doubters" of my beliefs. In other words, I happen to think that my beliefs are just as good as the orthodox ones. We both simply have different, though perhaps at times overlapping, opinions.

I ran across a San Francisco church that has published a statement of "inclusiveness". Here is one portion of what its resolution says:

Whereas we recognize that along with the blessings the church has brought to many, inside and outside the institution, the church has also often reflected the prejudices of society including racism, sexism, homophobia and religious exclusivity. The church has too often been unjust and self-righteous rather than loving and inclusive. Fear, prejudice and discrimination are part of a history of oppression within the church and society that distorts our relationship with ourselves, with God and with other people, and diminishes the humanity of both oppressors and oppressed.

Therefore we resolve to make explicit our welcome to all people. To women, men, children and youth. To people of all colors. To lesbian and gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, and straight people. To single, married and partnered people and to all families, however constituted. To people of all cultures, classes, ages and abilities. To people of all faiths and to all questioners and seekers journeying more deeply into the Holy. [Name of Church] welcomes you.
This is a wonderful statement, because it includes "people of all faiths", "questioners", and "seekers journeying more deeply into the Holy". While I don't consider myself a "questioner" for the reasons cited above, I think that the inclusiveness towards other belief systems is something I approve of.

I had a brief e-mail exchange with a member of the clergy from that church. I specifically asked about whether the church included the Nicene Creed in its services. The answer that came back was no, which pleasantly surprised me. It was suggested in the response that we should talk further, by e-mail or on the phone. I have to admit that this intimidated me a bit, because I am strictly looking around at what's out there right now, and I didn't want to give the impression that I was ready to commit to any denomination. But after some thought, I decided that I didn't want to ignore that sincere effort at reaching out to me. I wrote back with a lengthy description of where I was theologically. I also stressed that I was "church shopping" right now--probably a mistake, since after several days I haven't heard any response to what I wrote. When push comes to shove, I sometimes feel if I am too explicit with where I am theologically and what my concerns are about committing to a church or finding a church home, I am likely to be written off. I am thinking that this was what happened in this case.

This continues to illustrate the frustration that I feel in my encounters with mainline Christianity. I know that there are people out there in the mainline churches who feel as I do. There are also clergy who feel as I do. And yet, I feel that it is hard to wade through the maze of denominational practices, theologies, congregational styles, and differences in clergy, to make sense of where I would fit in. I feel so out there in left field when it comes to Christianity, and yet I am trying to find ways to connect to God despite these difficulties. And it is a hard road for me.