Excluding the Exclusionary

Many of you have already heard about the Bristol University Christian Union and their policy that they will allow women to speak (sometimes), but not too often and not without their husbands. Emphasis below mine.

“It is ok for women to teach in any CU setting… However we understand that this is a difficult issue for some and so decided that women would not teach on their own at our weekly CU meetings, as the main speaker on our Bristol CU weekend away, or as our main speaker for mission weeks.

“But a husband and wife can teach together in these.”

Look at that bold line above and tell me if your reaction wasn’t similar to mine: Who gives a fuck? No, seriously, who gives a damn that some people think something incredibly stupid? Lots of people believe lots of stupid things and we don’t bend over backward to accommodate their idiotic notions, so why bother compromising with these assholes when a simple, “Sit your ass down and listen to this intelligent woman or GTFO” would more than suffice?

The Bristol Christian Union considers this a “secondary issue,” presumably less important than a shared belief in Christ, but I, for one, fail to see how a decision that literally affects real, actual people in the real world is somehow secondary to a shared belief in the incarnation and resurrection of somebody who may or may not have existed. Holding the latter belief, as separated from all other considerations, is harmless.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that a person believes that a Canaanite Jew died and rose from the dead 2000 some years ago, but there were no moral or lifestyle precepts attached to their belief. Sure, there’s a promise of candy and rainbows forever after death, but it has no real impact on this life here. It’s a low value belief, and holding it does nothing other than give the holder a warm fuzzy feeling and assure them that they don’t have to die like the rest of us.

Now, let’s look at the other belief: that women in this life are not supposed to speak or teach, they are to remain silent. This has a huge impact on the lives of people living now. This isn’t a literally pie in the sky promise, it’s a deliberate attempt to exclude people who the holder feels are unworthy. This is a high value belief, if for no other reason than the person who feels this way sees it violated on a regular basis, moreso since there isn’t really any wiggle room where Paul said, written in his Tarsian dialect, “But it’s totes ok if she’s with her husband or it’s not, like, the regular weekly meeting or a big event or a mission trip or things like that”. No, if you claim to take it “literally,” the compromise is impossible, and the Bristol Christian Union is basically stuck playing to the more restrictive beliefs of its members.

I would call the second belief much more primary than the first, if only because it affects more people directly. And yes, I’ve seen the transliterative and theological backflips that people have done trying to make sense of this “difficult” passage (code for “I want this all to be true, but it seems awful, so let me twist until it matches what I want it to”), but so far the most compelling response I’ve seen so far that isn’t an atheist is Fred Clark, who basically said, “Ignore it, Paul did.”

OK, enough about that for a moment, let’s look at another Christian group, this one at Tufts University. About a year ago, Steve Jackson, a leader in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at the University of Buffalo was kicked out because he was gay. IVCF, realizing their funding was in trouble, insisted that it wasn’t because he was gay, but rather because he wasn’t anti-gay enough, and didn’t hold the correct doctrinal beliefs.

This became a problem for the Tufts Christian Fellowship, which is an IVCF chapter, when they were suspended for not adhering to the nondiscrimination policy of the university for requiring people in leadership positions to sign on to their statement of faith. They appealed, and they actually have won permission to discriminate and still receive benefits from the school.

I should point out that I fully support their right to believe what they want and put any restrictions on their membership that they feel necessary. However, if they want funding from the school and to use school resources, they need to obey the nondiscrimination policy, and “religious objections” are not a valid reason to continue to be paid to exclude people.

And that’s what both of these cases come down to: exclusion. These two Christian groups feel that they have a right to exclude others for no better reason than that they read it in a book, yet they still expect that they should receive the benefits given to open, inclusive groups.

There is nothing wrong with excluding the exclusionary. In order to be tolerant, we don’t have to accept the intolerant. Rather, being tolerant and inclusionary means to protect the ability for as many diverse people as possible to join in and be a meaningful part of the discussion. It means that those who want to set themselves up as gatekeepers must be chased from the gates. Bristol University Christian Union can no more include sexists and their beliefs while not excluding women than Tufts can include homophobes while not excluding LGBT people. They are not searching out neutrality, they are making a choice, and they are choosing the most exclusionary among them as a baseline.

It is vital that we defend the ability to be inclusive by refusing power to those who want to exclude. If we allow petty tyrants to come in and set the standards for entry, soon there will be nothing left but the tyrants and those they wish to control.


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