Whose Name is on the Invitation?

By: Stephen Ray
March 19, 2015

Because the move to inclusion is often in response to recognizing a history of exclusion it might well be thought of as an act of repentance

It is not uncommon for institutions in the Church and in the part of the academy engaged in Christian academy education to approach diversity through the idea of inclusion. Inclusion is a way of thinking about bringing those who have not been “at the table” into the circle of fellowship from the margins of institutional life. Usually, this takes the shape of curricular expansion, understood broadly, and the inclusion of actual bodies in the visible spaces of the Church life and theological education. Ideally, this expansion is in some way understood as being reflective of who we are becoming as a nation and who we are called to be as the Church. What is frequently missed in the deployment of the ideal of inclusion is the effect of what I term the Augustinian reflex endemic to both Christian identity and thinking diminishes the hoped for transformation at the heart of the entire project.

There is perhaps no more influential text in the Western Christian tradition in the construction of a vantage point from which to view the world than The Confessions by Augustine. Specifically, Augustine gives the tradition, and those shaped by it, a speech and a grammatical pattern through which to talk about Christian participation in the world. That pattern has to do with us as sinners in the world and how we might live fitful lives in light of that realization. The point to be noticed here is that the discourse that Augustine employs is almost exclusively one of interiority. That is, the whole thing is concerned with the world as viewed through the eyes of the sinner. So, the bent of Christian life and vision so shaped is a discourse of interiority.

Where this recognition of the discourse of interiority has purchase in conversations about inclusion is that it helps us to see how often these enactments turn on a static understanding of the identity of the one who is doing the “including.” Because the move to inclusion is often in response to recognizing a history of exclusion it might well be thought of as an act of repentance; thus, the Augustinian turn. Here is the rub. If we ever think about our institutions and the Church as needing to engage in this form of repentance, do we ever imagine those other than ourselves as the presumptive subject of this repentance? With the subject never changing, how do we expect our institutions and the Church to ever get to the point where discourses of inclusion do not presume the identity of host, leaving others to always be guests at the table who may lose their seats when the next course is served?

Photo by Esther Simpson

Tags: Diverse Solutions, Thinking Out Loud


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