True Inclusion by Brandon Robertson
This is a powerful book. It pulls absolutely no punches in terms of identifying what true inclusion is and then challenging us to strive for it. Brandon goes right to the heart of the issue and doesn’t allow us to assume that simply saying everyone is welcome makes us inclusive. The approach of the book is perhaps best summed up by Brandon when he writes:
“Inclusion is a fundamental shift in our way of seeing and being in the world that changes how we think about everything and everyone.”
This is no quick fix and there is no easy route to achieving this inclusion but when the effects of exclusion are outlined in chapter one the reader can be left in no doubt of the need to work towards it. Not just because it is the right thing to do, not just because of the immense harm caused by exclusion rather than inclusion but because it is modelling Christ and making each of us Christ like. Throughout the book Brandon returns time and time again to the model that Jesus sets us. Brandon believes and articulates powerfully that “Inclusion is the burning heart of the Gospel.”
I like to think of myself as inclusive but this book caused me to look again and revisit what I believe and how I express that, both individually but also as part of a Christian community. Far too often we miss the mark even if we think we are inclusive and nothing less than a fundamental shift in our thinking and theology will do if we are serious about this. We can tweak the edges, we can put up posters and we can even change the words of our worship songs but unless there is a deep change in belief and therefore approach there will not be true inclusion.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 3 - The Inclusion Imperative where Brandon outlines how in the Gospels inclusion is fundamental to the ministry and mission of Jesus. He outlines what this means for communities of faith and does not shy away from the difficult questions of how we handle people who think differently to us and what the limits of inclusion are. His description of what the kingdom could look like if we were truly inclusive is both biblical and inspiring! Brandon then goes on in Chapter 4 - The Importance of Inclusion to link sociological, anthropological and theological ideas together in a clear and coherent way leaving the reader in doubt of both the importance of inclusion and the obviousness of striving to achieve it.
Brandon moves on from here to address the problem of Patriarchy in a clear and honest way and how this system of ‘othering’ ensured power remained in the hands of a few privileged men who had a vested interest in ensuring it remained that way. This is why Jesus was seen as such a threatening figure to both the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman government. He threatened societal norms and that was tantamount to declaring revolution!
Brandon’s description of how egalitarian the early Christian communities were is very interesting and I loved the way he described how salvation for them was liberation from the systems of oppression they were sued to and the creation of a new alternative and truly inclusive community. There then follows some interesting thoughts on where it went wrong (possibly with Constantine and the institutionalisation of Christianity) and where we are now and what we might do about it.
If like me you have been accused that your theology is on a slippery slope when you start to consider inclusion then you will love Chapter 6! Basically Brandon tackles this head on and says yes it is and you should dive straight down it to see where God takes you! Being inclusive isn’t about the misinterpreting of six bible verses or avoiding them altogether but an entire way of viewing, reading and using the Bible.
“Until you are willing to dive headfirst onto the so-called slippery slope and allow the wind of the Holy Spirit to guide you to new theological terrain, you will never be truly inclusive.”
There is a very adult conversation about the different ways that people develop their faith and what they may need at different stages. This includes a change of Christian community to suit this or maybe even an entirely different way of expressing faith, inclusive churches have revolving doors and don’t seek to hold people forever.
The book concludes with a chapter looking at real individuals stories of what has been good and what has been bad in terms of inclusion and some personal anecdotes of how people have been on the journey of the ‘slippery slope’.
This is an important book at an important time. A time when Christian churches of many denominations are having to deal with the effects of exclusion and, what I believe to be, a movement of the Holy Spirit to transform the church into a more inclusive one. At a time when committees and bishops and commissions are considering what inclusion might look like, what good practice might look like or even changing definitions of marriage and relationships to a more inclusive one there is a need for a book which identifies what the end goal is. A book which states clearly what true inclusion is and looks like. This is such a book and deserves, no needs, to be read widely.
The Reverend Canon Peter Leonard
Acting Dean & Canon Chancellor Portsmouth Cathedral
Chair of OneBodyOneFaith