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Can exclusive communities be inclusive?

01/07/2009

We are told we need to work for stronger, more sustainable communities, healthier communities, safer communities… But also that we should be inclusive in all we do. Isn’t there a contradiction here somewhere?

I am interested in all sorts of social groups, some of them also communities. Some are neighbourhood groups, some faith groups and some ethnic groups. Almost all exclude those who aren’t ‘one of us’. So, given that everything is meant to be inclusive in Britain today, how inclusive are they?

The answer you most often get is that, if people fulfill the criteria for membership, they are welcome to join. Which sounds quite like the rules that barred black and asian people from joining working men’s clubs a few years ago…and they were not very inclusive at all.

What then of faith communities? With a bit of pushing, you might get their more severe leaders to accept that believers in other faiths have a right to exist. With a lot of shoving, they may even accept that more liberal members of their own faith are human, but what they still won’t be able to accept is that homosexuality is part of the human condition.

Such is the double think on this matter, that an evangelical Christian I know was bemoaning the potential for schism in the General Synod. She was all for the ordination of women priests but had serious difficulty accepting gay ones. “What” I asked “if the gay priests were women?”

The idea of community is complicated and we really ought to adopt that old standby ‘Society’ once more. There are things called communities… But let’s not get carried away by the the government’s rhetoric of cohesive communities. The strongest, most cohesive communities are also those that are most exclusive and anti-social.

What we actually want is social cohesion, and that’s something quite different.

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