One of the key flashpoints over the identity of the Church has been the notion of inclusivity. When my church-related school redid its mission statement a couple of years ago, those who wanted an expansive statement that moved the school well beyond providing students with training in knowledge and truth usually did so under the banner of “inclusiveness.” All are welcome, none are judged. To make the absence of discriminating judgments the basis for education was, for some of us, a bitter pill. Neither were we comfortable with the suggestion that Christian churches ought to welcome all into their midst. After all, the message of the Gospel separates even as it unites. To emphasize one to the exclusion of the other more than distorts the message: it fundamentally alters it.

I’m fighting this battle on separate fronts at the moment, but one I had not anticipated was recently reported in the Toronto Star. Serving a dog communion likely won’t be as far as the Anglican church will go in its desire for inclusiveness, but the story indicates what happens when that desire is coupled with an utterly impoverished notion of the nature and purpose of the sacraments. The combination creates indifference. If colleges or churches are going to be at all relevant, interesting, and formative of individual’s identities, it will be because they self-consciously operate as communities set apart and treat their own practices – in all their particularity and unacceptability to others – as if they matter. Otherwise, there’s no point.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.

4 COMMENTS

  1. The story about communing the dog saddens me deeply. If the story is correct, the priest who did that did so without thinking and is deeply embarrassed. I’m willing to believe that’s the case. But the question remains, how did we come to a place where someone could conceivably accidentally decide to give a dog the Body of Our Lord? You hit the nail on the head when you mention an “utterly impoverished notion of the nature and purpose of the sacraments.” William Laud and Jeremy Taylor are turning over in their graves.

  2. Polet: If a church wants to baptise, confess, and commune dogs, that’s its business. If it wants to ordain dogs to the priesthood–and not just sires but bitches too–that’s also its business. Learn to accept Shaggy and Scooby-Do or take your bigotry and go back to Rome where you belong.

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