On Facebook (yeah, I spend too much time on Facebook; you got a problem with that?) a friend posted a slogan from Occupy World. The slogan says, “Inclusion means making ALL people feel empowered and welcome.” (The caps are in the original.) This slogan, according to the accompanying text, is in support of gender diversity.
Now, gender diversity and racial diversity are lovely things, and I support them wholeheartedly. But the use of the word “all” makes me a bit nervous. Here’s the squeaky bit:
Does “all people” include men carrying assault rifles? Does it include those who refuse to be vaccinated? Does it include people who would like to distribute racist pamphlets? Does it include pedophiles?
You may think I’m exaggerating or engaged in a straw man argument, but I’m quite serious. At the point where “all people” starts to mean, “all people who agree with you and me about certain basic things,” it’s not inclusion anymore. It’s just sloganeering.
I’m perfectly willing to embrace what we might call selective inclusion — accepting and embracing all races and all varieties of gender identification and gender expression, while slamming the door on racists and white nationalist terrorists. But that turns out to be an awkward position philosophically, because if I assert the right to discriminate based on what I perceive as these basic moral issues (and I do), then how shall I tell an evangelical Christian that he is wrong to discriminate against homosexuals based on what he perceives as a basic moral issue?
The broad-brush embrace of inclusion is not quite as simple as we might prefer to imagine.
I’ve seen this kind of muddled thinking at work in Unitarian-Universalism, a once-liberal sect to which I still, at least nominally and for the time being, belong. UUs are very big on inclusion — on being a welcoming congregation. I certainly approve!
And yet, over the past couple of years there has been a concerted attempt, by a number of highly placed people in the national UU organization, to sabotage the career of a UU minister named Todd Eklof. Why have a bunch of UU thugs, including hundreds of Todd’s fellow ministers, ganged up on him? Because he had the audacity to publish a book that contained ideas they didn’t like. They didn’t bother to dispute the ideas in a public debate; no, that would have required actual logical thought. Many of them didn’t even bother to read the book before condemning it, if you can believe that. Instead they have engaged in a campaign of character assassination and tried to destroy Todd’s career.
How can these people consider themselves participants in a “welcoming” faith when they do not welcome intellectual diversity? When they insist on lock-step ideology?
The question is not whether Todd’s views are right or wrong. I happen to think he’s right, but perhaps I’m mistaken. The question is whether UUism welcomes a free and open debate about important ideas, or whether the people who are running the denomination feel that certain ideas are not to be expressed and the people who dare to express them are to be shunned. Thus far, the evidence points strongly away from any interest by the national organization in actual diversity of thought.
You can’t be a welcoming congregation if you don’t embrace intellectual diversity. Sadly, the minister of my own congregation is one of the signatories of the odious Open Letter that condemns Rev. Eklof’s book. Since I’m not in charge of the local congregation, there’s nothing I can do to get rid of this flaming pulpit hypocrite. But I do think the question of inclusivity needs some serious examination. Is “welcoming congregation” just an empty slogan? Is it just a cloak that we wrap ourselves in when it’s convenient and we want to feel morally superior?
If you follow the logic of this through to where it leads, you’ll soon discover that there are no objective criteria at all by which one might structure a morality. The moral choices — what we embrace and what we abhor — are all socially constructed and subjective. That being the case, the real problem is not that the UU higher-ups feel justified in attacking Todd Eklof. Just about all of us, excepting only a few rare enlightened individuals, spend a fair amount of time attacking people we disagree with. The problem is that the UU leaders are hypocrites. They claim to be inclusive and welcoming, but they’re not.
On that basis, I suppose we ought to admire racists and homophobes. At least they’re honest. I’m not going to try admiring them, but if I were really to practice inclusion I suppose I ought to.