Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're NOT Inclusive Unless EVERYONE Is Included

Rev. Tim Miner  M.Div. OUnI
Okay, let’s cut to the bottom line right away.  We are NOT inclusive unless EVERYONE is included.  Period.  That means we have to include faith paths that we don’t agree with (practices) as well as paths we don’t believe (truth) into our scope of influence and to send invitations to them for our spiritual events.  This includes religious fundamentals.  There are several reasons why I think this is the only way.
The first is to provide logical consistency in our “theology.”  In my beginning apologetics class in seminary we learned about the “self-defeating argument.”   The fundamentalist’s argument against the inclusive theologies is that “your inclusivity doesn’t include me.”  For example, in the book Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening the authors state that one could be “attuned to an Integral spirituality” so long as one believes that it will “subtract (and there is no way around this) ..the belief that one’s own path is the only true path to divinity” (199-200).  Since there are fundamental paths that claim that they are “exclusive paths to a relationship to God” then their argument goes something like this.  “If your path doesn’t include my path then you are not really inclusive and therefore you are an illogical contradiction—a self-defeating argument.”  But what if we did accept the fundamentalist position as part of the included families of human spirituality?  While they may not feel their position is welcome, we would welcome them and we would be the ones consistent in our theology.  Author Samir Selmanovic, who wrote the book, It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian,”  told me that to keep the fundamentalists from being afraid of the inclusive movement, we will need to be ready to rebuild the mosque or church of a fundamentalist group when it is destroyed in the next disaster.  I think he is quite right.
The second reason to include everyone is that practices and spirituality within the fundamentalists’ religions offers us some lessons worth learning.  The “centering prayer” of the Christian faith and the Charity of the third pillar of Islam are only two of the ideas that I think we can all benefit from in our spiritual lives. 
Third, and finally, fundamentalists are spiritual people that we are called to serve in our inclusive ways.  As a chaplain I recently performed a Christian baptism at the request of the young parents.  A woman was crying in the back of the ceremony.  Later I talked to her in a private context and she had a story she needed to share with me.  In a private place she confessed to me that she had been brought up in a strict Christian background.  She was now living with a married man.  It was obvious that she was feeling guilty about her situation.  I asked her what she thought she should do and she said that she needed to get right with Jesus and God.  The act of declaring one’s life for Jesus Christ and accepting the salvation that comes from that is as sacred as any event in fundamental Christianity.  We were on our knees together and I led her through the text of the Christian Bible that would be her guide toward that event.  We prayed together.  Later that evening I called a local pastor of a Christian church to ask him to take this woman under his wing for the “discipleship” that she needed to return healed to her root tradition.  Had she been a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or any other path, I would have done what I could do to heal her according to HER traditional path.  She hurt as a Christian and it took a Christian fundamentalist ceremony to heal her. 
So we are not going to be inclusive unless everyone is included or at least invited to participate in our movement.  If they make the decision to not join us then we aren't the ones being exclusive. 
Peace and Shalom and Al-Salam and Namaste.
Rabbi Dr. Rami Shapiro OUnI
Let me be very clear: 1) Tim is right; 2) I hate that Tim is right; 3) Tim is still right.

When I first read this I thought the solution was to burn down all the religious institutions I disagree with and then offer to help rebuild them again. Slowly. But that isn't what Tim meant at all. He meant we have to sit down and chat with people who think we are spawn of the devil. We have to make room for them in the Big I of Inclusivity and Interfaith.

Actually I like talking with fundamentalists. They are clear about what they believe and not hesitant to share their beliefs. So on the chatting level I have no problem. My problem (and that is all it is MY problem) is that sometimes when we welcome those who disagree with us we end up catering to them as well. This is especially true when liberal Jews seek to engage truly Orthodox Jews in joint events.  Suddenly we, the liberals, have to live as Orthodox Jews so that we can enjoy the company of Orthodox Jews who have no appreciation or respect for our liberalism at all.

The challenge is to create a gathering where no one has to cater to anyone. Is this possible? I have yet to see it in the Jewish world.  What would this look like? What could such a gathering accomplish? If there is a constituency that will not budge, will the rest simply surrender? That is what seems to be happening with the Democrats in Congress vis a vis the Tea Party folks. The two party system is dead; we are all Conservative Republicans now. Except for Bernie Sanders.

The point is not to support one side or another, but simply to note that the most intransigent seem to win. Will this happen to the Big I Tent as well? And if not, why not?


  1. It is a blessing to work with Rabbi Rami. I do think that we need to be careful about what we call "catering." When we created the World Interfaith Harmony Breakfast program for the world we made a request that everyone serve vegan. That was literally "catering" to the most restrictive "fundamentalist" diets. Not my diet, but we did it anyway. Did anyone walk away less for walking in another path's "shoes" for the meal? I think we came away enriched. In the Big I we aren't creating one worldview that everyone has to believe. We are accomodating all worldviews whether theist, deist, agnostic..etc. Here we are recognizing the "family of human spirituality," while not demanding that we have the same DNA. Thanks for sharing and reading this.

  2. I could be wrong about this, but I somehow see a difference between finding a common menu and giving in on major principles. For example, I was at an ecumenical Jewish gathering, and because of Orthodox rules restricting the activities of women vis a vis prayer the community could not pray together. How would we accommodate those religions that do not allow women equal access to religion, or that do not allow women to be in positions of leadership over men?

    But these are just logistical issues. The principle issue is even greater. DO we accommodate religions that are anathema to the principles of equality I hold sacred? Are all religions and religious values equal? Are we somehow affirming discrimination against women and homosexuals, for example, if our tent includes those faiths that do just that? What do we do with those religious groups that advocate violence against others either in this life or the next?

    Another way to put this (and I am just thinking out loud) is this: is the Big I of inclusivity a version of Star Treks Prime Directive (never mess with the culture of another) or is an advocacy program that seeks to take the noninclusive faiths and challenge them to become more and more inclusive. Are we welcoming those who worship at the altar of "Us vs. Them" or are we pushing such people to realize there is no Them?

    These are questions I wrestle with all the time. I do not have answers. It is probably too soon for answers. But the inquiry is vital.

  3. Rev. Leslie DelGiganteJuly 31, 2011 at 7:23 PM

    Gentlemen, here's how I see an interfaith gathering/event. It centers on the celebration of a shared value, like religious freedom as our right in the U.S. or peace starts with each of us. Representatives of all faiths are invited. Whichever religion hosts the event gets to do it according to their customs/practices/beliefs. So if a mosque is the venue we separate women from men. If a zen center hosts, we'll be sitting on the floor. All know this upfront. If they choose not to come, so be it. It's not us versus them, it's all of the us-es who are willing to sit side by side. With full respect for the other(s). And, yes, there are "others." We learn by observing each other as we are. We don't have to like or to agree, but to exist in peace and to promote peace, we need to truly respect (as opposed to tolerate) the "other's" right to be "other" just as we respect our own right to be "other." Live and let live and keep a mind and heart open enough to listen and maybe even learn from the other perspective.

  4. EIRENE & CHARIS: i am not sure if you are considering inclusive theology events to be interfaith or interspiritual in nature? which is it? if just interfaith then rev. leslie's comments are valid, but if interspiritual then the ideals of interspirituality must not be compromised in any way. also, i am not sure why fundamentalists would be interested in attending interfaith and interspiritual events anyway, unless to co-opt and propagandize? fundies would be good to invite to debating events though obviously. but all who agree to abide by the event rules (whatever they are) should be welcomed. my big gripe with ecumenical and interfaith events in my area is that they all involve eating murdered animals which makes the event unwelcoming to all practitioners of non-violence. JAI MA

  5. Ah! My favorite topic.
    After my two-year dialogue with a Biblical-literalist bishop, I came to see that in this sample of one, at least, it is possible for values that seem alien to me to be powered by motives I respect. So I now try to assume those high motives in my relationships with evangelicals or fundamentalists of any stripe. For example, instead of feeling personally judged, rejected, or patronized when told I am going to hell, I instead thank the person for caring enough about me to have the courage to share their vision for me. When confronted with rejection of homosexuals, instead of suspecting scapegoating, projection, or hypocrisy, I can stand in respect of someone who is making a stand for something they genuine believe God has commanded--and of course I commend them on their efforts to "love the sinner." This is largely possible because I can see mixed motives in my own self for pursuing even those values I consider highest.

    Now that speaks to including fundamentalists in my heart. As to including them in interfaith work, in my experience, my bishop was motivated to do that as long as the group addressed concerns he shared--mostly laws in Virginia that inhibit churches from operating in storefronts or getting a break on the regulation of traditional church activities like bake sales or running a homeless shelter. But he was also motivated to lessen religious violence, and to that end would be quite willing to have an Imam pray to Allah when it was that person's turn to open a meeting.

    This set of questions is what I am most motivated to share and grow in--as expressed in my book and my blog--and my reason for joining OUNI today. Great meeting you yesterday, Rev. Tim, and congratulations on your important work.