Sunday, August 01, 2010


Why is "exclusive" a positive adjective when applied to celebrity wedding locations, clubs, parties, and educational institutions, but not religions?

Even where one suspects that privacy might be a reasonable desire--a wedding, say--no one troubles to be troubled by the substitution of the word "exclusive." A private wedding and an exclusive wedding are two very different things.

Exclusivity in this sense depends on the deliberate cultivation of the desire to be included. That is, it's not an exclusive wedding if no one but the invitees wants to come. It's not an exclusive college if no one applies. Exclusivity requires desirability. One must constantly and conscientiously widen the circle of people who want to be included, even as one narrows the circle of those who are.

Exclusivity in this sense also depends on the opacity and difficulty of the entrance requirements. If it were clear how to dress to get the bouncer's approval, everyone could do it, and then it wouldn't be an exclusive club.

Race, family heritage (often conceived either in ethnic or religious terms), and income level are among the most effective inclusion requirements, because they are easy to evaluate and difficult or impossible to change.

Social connectedness is less straightforward, and it works just as effectively for exactly that reason. If no one with sufficient standing within the community is willing to vouch for a newcomer, he remains on the outside. But "sufficient standing within the community" comes from a complex computation of largely unarticulated factors. Who knows how to become an Important Person, important enough that one's coattails are worth riding?

All of this is frankly disturbing.

But no one is disturbed.

To become a Christian, all one has to do is want to become a Christian. To become an acknowledged member of the Body of Christ, all one has to do is declare oneself willing to follow its head, the Crucified and Risen One, and willing to be called upon to live up to that public commitment.

Christianity is the only "exclusive" group whose standard and method of inclusion is so clear, so straightforward, and so entirely in the hands of the person desiring membership.

And yet its brand of exclusivity is the most vilified.


Anonymous said...

'Christianity is the only "exclusive" group whose standard and method of inclusion is so clear, so straightforward, and so entirely in the hands of the person desiring membership.'

This is overstating the case, i.e. declaring Christianity as the "only" such group.

Say the shahada three times in the presence of a Muslim and you have entered into that exclusive community.


Sarah Sours said...

Psh. Details.


I don't suppose I should say "Christianity (and its offshoots)" to rectify the problem, should I?

Anonymous said...

". . .so entirely in the hands of the person desiring membership."

How does that square with texts such as Romans 3:11, John 15:16, Ephesians 1:3-6, and Ephesians 2:10?


Sarah Sours said...

Hey, Brenda, thanks for commenting! Great to "meet" you!

Are you asking about predestination, then?

I imagine you would want to go through Philippians 2:13 to get from your verses to my blog entry.

The human capacity to choose the good is destroyed by the fall and requires God's grace to restore it. God's grace is what allows us to choose God.

You might find Wesley's explanation of justification a helpful one, although if you are a five-point Calvinist, it will probably make your nose wrinkle:

Anonymous said...

Pleasure to "meet" you as well. By way of introduction, I am currently working on my thesis for an M.A. in Humanities. I also have an M.A. in biblical studies.

Correction: I should be working on my thesis right now instead of meandering through the blogosphere.

Yes, I was referring to predestination and election -- two words that make Arminians a bit oogly.

So, you want to know if I'm a TULIP or maybe a TUIP? I am sympathetic to Calvinism and think there is much we can learn from it. If you're interested in reading a 70-page booklet on the history of John Calvin, you can access it here for free:

I just read it today and have found the book helpful in explaining a hesitancy to claim five-point, four-point, or any other number of points. I'll just leave the tallying of points to the hunters bragging about the bucks they've bagged.