Catholic Exclusion: Drive out the wicked from among you.
One of the ideological emphases of our contemporary religious and moral culture is “inclusion”. I say “ideological” because the imperative to be “inclusive” has become yet another “ism”—though we usually call it “inclusivity” rather than “inclusivism”. Now “isms” are always viewpoints that override everything else and cause us to interpret all things from the perspective of the “ism” in question. I often remark that the only legitimate “ism” is Catholicism, precisely because it means universal, and so excludes nothing that is real.
Nothing that is real? Yes, this is an appropriate phrase because there is a fundamental sense in which only the Good is real. Evil is an absence of a due good, and in this sense the identifying mark of evil is not its own substance but its elimination of a good in which the evil-doer and others could otherwise participate. In other words, the one who does evil is actually depriving himself and others of some good. Thus, evil is always an attack on the Good and on those who uphold the Good. For this reason, we find that there is a moral necessity to exclude from the community of the Church those who repeatedly and unrepentantly attempt to eliminate what is Good.
Eliminating the Good, after all, is an attempt to eliminate God, for there is an inseparable link between Being and the Good. In moral terms, the opposite of recognizing this inseparable link is an undifferentiated “inclusiveness”, that is, the ideology of inclusivity—or inclusivism—which, at its root, treats being and non-being as if they are the same thing. I grant that this is a very philosophical way to phrase the problem. But it is important for us to recognize that to deliberately “include” moral evil is to deliberately violate the good, and therefore to violate being itself.
A problem of evangelization today
Now let us consider all this in light of a serious problem in the Church today. We seem to be short on outreach. We cannot seem to figure out how to evangelize in an atomized culture in which people spend their time in hermetically-sealed homes, focused on hermetically-sealed media, enjoying themselves in hermetically-sealed groups, and having little or no connection to wider community ties which might afford opportunities to hear the Gospel. The days when a mendicant preacher could walk through a rural village on a Sunday and be immediately surrounded by a throng of curious onlookers are very far in our rearview mirror. Besides, he’d need a permit.
Instead, people must make a point of stopping by the parish rectory or looking for Catholic information online or watching a particular TV channel or listening to a particular radio program or podcast. But none of these things call out to you in the street, or knock at your door. On university campuses, through groups like FOCUS, this older style of interaction is still possible. But in our hermetically sealed anti-communities, the normal engagement processes are largely missing. I’m willing to bet that in most parishes, nobody goes door to door even to visit inactive but registered parish members, hoping to re-engage them in the life of the Church. Few parishes have activities which reach behind the steadily-declining established groups within the parish, or which seek to offer the general public an opportunity for engagement with Christ.
Now the tie-in: Perhaps the largest group of those who insist on Catholic recognition, Catholic interaction, and Catholic inclusion are those who already claim to be Catholics without taking the teachings of Christ and the Church seriously. Their mission is to change the Church so that she will validate their own sinful decisions. And of course Catholic parish, diocesan and academic leaders who believe that what we call “Catholic Faith and Morals” have been superseded by “modern” values are prone to see a moral “inclusivism” as the key to the development of a more enlightened Church.
The result? There is a whole lot of talk going on, but very little preaching of the Gospel, resulting in what we might even call Gospel Exclusion.
The instructions of St. Paul
In reality, Catholics are supposed to be excluding from the Church whatever is contrary to the Gospel, by which we are to understand all those who seek to justify error and evil as goods, preferring non-being to being—those, in other words, who are unwilling to accept the Church’s correction, to repent and to strive to amend their lives, and so share increasingly in the life of God. The near total absence of this exclusivity today is what makes St. Paul’s attitude appear to be so striking. Paul makes a stunning distinction between how we should act toward those in the Church as compared with those who do not claim any affiliation with or membership in the Church. Consider this key passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” [1 Cor 5: 9-13]
I have cited this passage in six previous commentaries in as many years, but each time in a slightly different context and for a slightly different purpose. Today the point is that Paul here clearly indicates that the purpose of his injunction is not that we should fear interacting with sinners (for in the world, we must do so all the time) but that we must fear violating the integrity of the Church as the conduit of both Christ’s teachings and the grace to live in accordance with them. If in the Church we permit those to remain in good standing who have no intention of accepting and living in accordance with the teachings and grace of Jesus Christ, then we do severe injury to the integrity of the Church. This means we significantly diminish the Church’s ability to transform the lives of her members, so that they might become one in Him.
It is frankly astonishing that so many voices within the Church herself are constantly clamoring for the full inclusion of those who, in accordance with the fashions of the times, have no intention of either accepting Christ’s teachings or receiving His grace, but who simply see the Church as the one institution in which they do not yet enjoy an absolutely complete approval, the one institution which still bears a partial and halting witness against the way they are conducting their lives. She alone has still neither officially welcomed them without their repentance nor completely silenced those of her members who would rather know nothing but Christ crucified than proclaim a gospel which includes sin.
Power of the Spirit
As St. Paul put it earlier in the same letter, he did not purport to teach the Corinthians in “lofty words or wisdom” (1 Cor 2:1), at least not as the world understands these things:
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [1 Cor 1:22-24]
It is of course very well-known that even “inclusivism” is not inclusive. It does not include those with unfashionable ideas, whether about entertainment, the family, public policy, ecology, or truth and morality. Right now those who defend the natural and Catholic understanding of human sexuality, marriage, and family life are significantly more likely to be excluded from the public forum than are those to be excluded from the Church who first insist that she change her teachings and then proceed to act within the Church as if she already has.
Please note that I am not speaking of those who accept but have trouble living up to the teachings of Christ and the Church. This “living up to” is the conscientious effort of a lifetime, which is precisely why the Church has sacraments. I am referring to those who defy those teachings, seek to change them, teach falsehood, and boast about their transgressions as the Corinthians did: “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?” (1 Cor 5:2) St. Paul had the answer to that, and it was very clear: “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’”
Next in series: The Case for Excommunication Today
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Posted by: Jeff Mirus -
Oct. 19, 2022 7:54 AM ET USA
esalex947010: Thanks for your comment. Rest assured that I have never blamed Pope Francis for this problem as if he is the source of the problem. The source is, as you suggest, a culture-bound People of God. But it is true that Francis at this particular time in the Church's history is continuing to foster rather than correct the problem. He is an acute example of it.
Posted by: miketimmer499385 -
Oct. 18, 2022 9:17 AM ET USA
I am surprised that there is an absence of comments about this post, and I hope it's because readers feel it is simply so true that no commentary is needed. I was impressed to see that The Catholic Thing today (10-18) linked to it to give wider exposure. The acceptance of your logic and action in the life of our faith will do much to turn the baleful course we're headed on as indicated recently by Cardinal Muller.
Posted by: esalex947010 -
Oct. 17, 2022 6:24 PM ET USA
Why do people, like the above commenter, continue to blame Pope Francis for this problem? This so called 'new paradigm' was there for decades already before he assumed the papacy and it will be there when he leaves. To continue to blame him for the problem is to miss the point entirely and will never solve the problem. The problem is that the 20th century Church fell in love with the 'modern world' and thought they could tame it to make it serve their purpose. They were wrong.
Posted by: rfr46 -
Oct. 15, 2022 3:32 AM ET USA
Thank you for this thoughtful and much needed essay. PF and his acolytes would profit from reading and heeding it, but alas, it does not fit the "new paradigm!" I wish that every parish bulletin would reprint it, but there are apparently few pastors who would wish to or risk to do so.