Inclusivity: What it Is and What it Isn't.

Douglas P. McManaman
July 15, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

"Inclusive" is a frequently employed word today, especially in educational contexts. Education ought to be inclusive, but it wasn't always so. Considering this from the point of view of Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, I think it is fair to say that education used to be geared primarily towards those with a high linguistic-verbal and mathematical disposition. Highly intelligent people who were not so disposed might have had a hard time in school, done poorly, and may have gone through life under the mistaken impression that they are not all that smart.

Even in the time of Christ, the Pharisees were a rather exclusive group. Those on the outside were the tax collectors and sinners, which included the lame and those who were sick - since their sickness was attributed to ancestral or personal sin (Cf. Jn 9, 1-4). In the gospel of Matthew, we read:

The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." (Mt 9, 9-13)

Jesus included the sick, the ritually unclean, the lame who were considered "forsaken" by God, etc. He came not for those who are "well" - for no one is well, but not everyone is aware of their own poverty - , rather, he came for those who are sick and aware of it: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs" (Mt 5, 3). He identifies with those who find themselves in the penumbra: "I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you cared for me, in prison and you came to visit me..." (Mt 25, 36).

The very word "Catholic" is from the Greek kataholos , which means 'on the whole' or universal, that is, all nations. The New Covenant is an international covenant, not a strictly national covenant as was the Old Covenant. Christ sent his apostles out to "all nations" to proclaim the good news of our redemption, the new life that is found in the Person of the crucified and risen Lord. And so "Catholic" means inclusive.

But today, the word 'inclusivity' has come to mean many things, some of which is very different from - often contrary to - what it means in a genuinely Catholic context. The Church has always distinguished between a person's chosen course of action and the person herself (or himself). Persons are always included, because Christ died for all human persons, for he came to reconcile humanity to God. But many today have a difficult time making distinctions, and so inclusivity, for many people, has come to mean accepting both the person and the person's lifestyle choice, whatever that turns out to be. This has never been the case for Catholics, whose primary source for what is true is Christ himself, who said of himself: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14, 6). A perfect example of Christ's inclusivity is the story of the woman caught in adultery:

But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?"

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, sir." Then Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more." (Jn 8, 2-11)

Christ does not condemn the woman but saves her. In doing so, he includes her, loves her, defends her dignity as a human person created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, he came to die for her. But he does not include her choice; for his final words to the woman are: " not sin any more". Such a command is consistent with love, because sin destroys the human person. Our happiness and well-being lie precisely in choosing in accordance with the will of God. Sin, on the other hand, puts us on a path of self-disintegration. And so, for the Church, inclusion does not mean moral permissiveness, which is inconsistent with love of neighbor - an attitude of moral permissiveness is more a matter of sentimentality than one of authentic love.

This lack of distinction regarding the notion of "inclusivity" is especially evident in the area of sexual morality, in particular, homosexuality. Many people, even in Catholic circles, cannot understand how inclusivity with respect to persons with same-sex attraction can mean anything other than a total acceptance of the lifestyle choices of certain people with same-sex attraction. But the Church believes otherwise. Firstly, in section 10 of the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons , we read:

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

In section 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read:

They [persons with a homosexual orientation] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

There are many more texts in various Church documents that stress the very same point regarding the rights and dignity of persons with same-sex attraction. However, the Church points out very clearly that neglecting the fundamentals of ethics is inconsistent with genuine love and true pastoral care:

But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church's teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church's position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve. Op.cit., 15.

The Church is very careful to protect the fundamental identity of the human person, which is rooted in the fact that human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image of knowledge and love, an image that is fully revealed in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, and not in one's sexual orientation:

The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Everyone living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life. ( Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals , 16).

Concluding Thoughts

Today it is not easy to have people understand why the call to a celibate life - for those with same sex attraction - is not really a curse, but a blessing. That is why clerical celibacy, one that is lived joyfully by otherwise good-looking clergy, is more important today than in any other time within the past one hundred years. Morality is not primarily about what not to do - it is secondarily about that; primarily, it is about what we ought to do to achieve our destiny, which is eternal union with God. There are certain choices that are inconsistent with that destiny because they are fundamentally self-destructive, but in ways that are not immediately obvious to people today; for although such choices are self-destructive in the long run, in the short run they can be rather attractive. The pervasive message that young people are being fed by popular culture is that 1) happiness is fulfillment and 2) that fulfillment is the satisfaction of the passions - which is simply a confusion of happiness with pleasure and doing my own will. The irony here is that happiness is not a matter of being filled up, like a jug that is being filled with water, but is really a matter of being emptied out, or poured out. Happiness is not the fulfillment of one's passions, but one cannot teach this with any conviction unless he or she knows it from within, all as a result of living it.

Happiness is an achievement, primarily an interior one, and a necessary condition for happiness is dominion over one's passions, which is an ordering of the emotions in accordance with the demands of reason, disposing them so as to readily follow reason's command, which of course implies a mind and heart completely subject to will of God. To share in Christ's joy, one must share in his feast, and his "meat" (Gk: broma) is to do the will of the one who sent him (Jn 4, 34).

It is by raising up and divinizing the passions through grace that one achieves emotional and human well-being. Following passions' lead is nothing but a more subtle form of slavery that ends in emptiness and frustration. In other words, happiness is the risen Christ. It is a matter of entering more deeply into the paschal mystery in which Christ carries the sins of humanity upon himself, becoming a sacrificial offering on the wood of the cross, and rises to a glorified life. To share in this mystery involves the free decision to consecrate oneself in his consecration and to leave behind "the world" with its threefold concupiscences of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn 2, 16) and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to our unique place in the plan of providence. The flesh draws us down to the mud of the earth, but the Spirit raises us up. Happiness in Christ is a rising above what weighs us down and enslaves us to the earth, and it is exhilarating, like the flight of a dove, or the view from a mountain top, but the climb is a labor that requires trust in the one who is leading us upwards, namely Christ himself. For those brief moments in their students' lives, Catholic teachers must be that unique "Christ" that only they can be, for unless the teacher is a genuine follower, he or she cannot be a genuine leader.