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How Appealing to "Inclusivity" Is Detrimental


On February 7, 2022, Brantly Millegan was fired as the director of operations for Ethereum Name Services (ENS).

RainbowFlagThe cause for his termination was a Tweet that he posted in 2016 that expressed Catholic moral teachings in blunt form. It read: "Homosexual acts are evil. Transgenderism doesn't exist. Abortion is murder. Contraception is perversion. So is masturbation and porn." Speaking for True Names Limited (TNL), the nonprofit organization that oversees ENS, Nick Johnson said that Millegan's "position with TNL is no longer tenable" and explained that "we strongly believe that ENS should be an inclusive community." Many did not miss the irony that in order to be inclusive, the organization had to exclude someone.

The irony points to a problem with appeals to "inclusivity." Namely, arguments that appeal to "inclusivity" do not actually deliver the inclusive communities that they claim to want; instead, they actually become the basis for forms of exclusion. Further, by claiming to do away with exclusionary practices when in fact they do not, they divert our attention from a challenge that arises from exclusionary practices, namely, the need to avoid mistreating and scapegoating those who are excluded. By diverting our attention from this challenge, the appeals to "inclusivity" allow the challenge to go unmet and leave the door open for the excluded to be mistreated.

In fact, rather than appealing to "inclusivity" as though an unqualified good, it would be better as well as more honest to admit that any sizeable group of people will exclude some individuals. Exclusion here means limiting in one way or another a person's participation in the normal affairs of a group. Thus, exclusionary practices include when a company fires or does not hire someone, when a government imprisons a citizen for a crime, when a culture pushes someone out of "polite society" due to shameful conduct, or when the Church excommunicates a member. Exclusion occurs and, in certain circumstances, it is justified. When we admit this, we can see the challenge mentioned above: because anger, resentment, or hatred is often directed toward the excluded, there is a risk that they will be mistreated or scapegoated in a society. Again, arguments based on "inclusivity" cannot meet this challenge and they cause harm by diverting our attention from it.

The "inclusivity" argument holds that it is impossible both to exclude someone and to value and love that person.

I recently encountered arguments based on "inclusivity" in a controversy over hiring someone in a same-sex marriage at the Catholic high school that my monastery founded. The traditional view, which I support, is that in Catholic high schools and K-8 schools educators must teach Catholic morals not only by what they say but by the example of their public lives. That is, teaching is done not only by words but by example. Consequently, those who are in same-sex marriages or who are cohabitating, to give some examples, should not be hired as educators in these schools. They are teaching by their example something that is contrary to Catholic moral teaching on a significant matter, namely, marriage and sexuality.

Similar cases have been faced by other Catholic schools and these cases offer an opportunity to see how "inclusivity" arguments work. Such arguments have two parts. First and most obviously, because inclusivity is presented as an unqualified good, exclusionary practices are presented as always being wrong. Thus, if a Catholic school does not hire someone because of one's public life, that is an exclusionary practice and, as such, it is wrong. Second, the "inclusivity" argument holds that it is impossible both to exclude someone and to value and love that person. This comes to the fore if you claim that we can love and value people even when we disagree with them and refuse to hire them. In response, proponents of the "inclusivity" argument reply, "No, you necessarily reject people and do not love them when you exclude them." If you are in a Christian setting, they will add, "If you exclude someone, you are failing to love them as Christ would."

Both parts of the "inclusivity" argument are wrong. The problem with the first part may be seen in the following line of questioning. We may ask proponents of "inclusivity": "Are you ready to give up all exclusionary practices in hiring?" An honest answer would be: "No, of course not, for there are qualifications for jobs that exclude some people from those jobs." But they might add: "We are against exclusionary practices based on morality. Moral differences should be overlooked and the only qualifications to be considered are those that have to do with fulfilling the job itself (for example, how well one teaches a subject matter)."

This answer overlooks the fact that if part of the job of a Catholic educator is to teach Catholic morals by word and example, then the morally upright conduct of one's public life is a qualification for fulfilling the job. But leaving this aside, we may next ask: "But surely some moral issues matter in hiring, right? If an educator is often found to be verbally abusive, then that moral failing may rightly disqualify the person from being hired—right?" The honest answer is: "Yes, there are certain moral failings that are grounds for excluding a person from a job." Therefore, it is not true that exclusionary practices in the workplace are always wrong, even if we limit ourselves to moral issues. It would be more honest to say that some moral issues do matter, although we may disagree about what those issues are or should be.

There is also a hypocrisy when the proponents of "inclusivity" promise to eliminate exclusion and then actually practice it. This is seen in the firing of Brantly Millegan in the name of inclusivity. It is also seen in our "cancel" culture, when people are excluded from public forums for the sake of "inclusivity" or, in similar fashion, when a uniformity of thought is required for the sake of "diversity."

It is impossible, the proponents of the argument say, to exclude a person and still value and love that person.

In Catholic schools, this hypocrisy can work as follows. People in the school begin to promote "inclusivity" as the ideal. In turn, it starts being said that those who advocate unpopular Catholic teachings (especially on sexuality) are not being inclusive. They are said to make certain people uncomfortable, to be not welcoming to all, and/or to fail to minister to all. They are called "divisive" and are portrayed as a hindrance to the ideal of "inclusivity." In this atmosphere, those who advocate the Church's unpopular teachings get the message that they are to keep quiet. Otherwise, they will be further ostracized or even pressured to leave.

While the problem with the first part of the "inclusivity" argument is that it is not true and is even hypocritical, the problem with the second part is that it stifles the moral imagination and thus perpetuates mistreatment and scapegoating. Recall that the second part of the argument maintains that excluded people are necessarily rejected and hated by those who exclude them. It is impossible, the proponents of the argument say, to exclude a person and still value and love that person. This possibility is beyond their moral imagination. That is, they cannot envision it as a way of thinking and acting.

Notice the result of this stifled moral imagination, once we see that the first part of the argument is wrong and that, in fact, there are people who are rightly excluded on moral grounds. The result is that there are excluded people and it is impossible to love and value them. They must be hated and rejected. There is no other way to treat them, when the moral imagination cannot picture anything other than having to hate and reject those whom you exclude.

This would explain the hatred, vitriol, ridicule, doxing, defaming, and scapegoating directed toward those who are "cancelled" in our culture. They are to be hated and rejected and the mainstream media even aids and abets the hate and rejection. The proponents of "inclusivity" cannot see it otherwise, for by their own admission one cannot accept as valuable and love those whom one excludes. This failure of the moral imagination opens the way to mistreating and scapegoating the excluded.

To work for a more just society, we should reject both parts of the "inclusivity" argument. First, rather than holding up "inclusivity" as some absolute, unqualified good, we should honestly acknowledge that there are occasions for rightly excluding people. After we acknowledge this, we may then reject the second part of the "inclusivity" argument and, instead, acknowledge the possibility of valuing and loving those who are excluded in some way. This opens the way to discussing how to love and value those who are excluded due to moral shortcomings, and how to avoid mistreating and scapegoating them. Such discussions will consider when and what kinds of exclusion are acceptable—and which go too far. By means of such conversations, we can expand our moral imagination to see different ways of valuing and loving the excluded, even as Christ would (and does) love them.

These conversations would be complex with various factors to consider, but they could be very beneficial. They would consider the many different kinds of exclusion. One of the ways in which exclusions vary is according to the group from which a person is excluded. The group may be a family, a voluntary association, a company, or society at large, to give some examples. People can also be excluded from the marketplace, such as when they are not allowed to do business, have extra burdens placed on them doing business, or are boycotted. And with respect to exclusion in a group, there are differing degrees, such as being excluded from membership to being excluded from holding particular roles. Thus, while one may be excluded from "polite society," it is another degree of exclusion to be imprisoned. Constructive conversations about exclusionary practices will ask about the different kinds of exclusion, their differing degrees, when exclusionary practices are acceptable, how exclusion can be misused, and what limits should be set upon excluding people even when the exclusion is justified.

The Church realizes that no matter how heinous someone's actions, that person is still made in the image of God and has inherent dignity. And she never loses hope in a sinner's conversion.

Even as we recognize that no society can avoid employing exclusion on occasion, we can also recognize that exclusion on moral grounds can have a harshness to it. And since exclusion can be harsh, there can be a worthy impulse in a society to keep the exercise of exclusion within limits, lest excluded people be overwhelmed or reduced to dire straits. This is not to say that we should act as though every form of exclusion is so unbearable that it should never be employed or that a group never has the right to expect someone to bear the hardship of exclusion when that person's actions call for it. But even while avoiding this, we can be mindful of how exclusion can go too far and how it can work against a person being helped to turn from his or her moral failings.

The Church, I believe, can play a significant role in such conversations about exclusion. It is not that members of the Church have never participated in mistreating the excluded. Still, the Church has received from her Lord and His apostles ideas not only about how exclusion is sometimes necessary (e.g., excommunication and exclusion from ministry), but also ideas about loving and caring for those who are excluded. To prevent mistreating the excluded, such as imprisoned criminals, the Church realizes that no matter how heinous someone's actions, that person is still made in the image of God and has inherent dignity. And she never loses hope in a sinner's conversion. Also, to prevent scapegoating, her members are taught to know their own sins and, thus, their inability to condemn anyone. Moreover, the Church learns from God's patience as He continues to sustain the world while waiting for human beings to turn back to Him. The Church can thus counsel against a social and political impatience that is tempted to exclude and mistreat those who are said to get in the way of progress.

These constructive conversations are worth having, for they can identify principles for justly applying exclusion and for avoiding the mistreatment and scapegoating of the excluded. But as long as our society keeps making specious appeals to "inclusivity," it cannot have these conversations and reap their benefits. Rather, far from eliminating exclusion, these appeals even justify exclusion in the name of "inclusivity." And rather than address the challenge of not mistreating excluded persons, they leave the door open for this mistreatment to happen.

This is Meaghen Gonzalez, Editor of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

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AbbotAustinMurphyAbbot Austin Murphy. "How Appealing to 'Inclusivity' Is Detrimental." Homiletic & Pastoral Review (September 30, 2022).

Reprinted with permission from Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Image credit: Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash.

Homiletic & Pastoral Review is an online pastoral magazine that covers all aspects of Catholic faith and culture. Founded over one hundred years ago, HPR provides monthly homilies and articles to laity as well as clergy.

The Author

Austin G. Murphy is the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, IL. He studied for the priesthood at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., and he earned a doctorate in Theology at the University of Notre Dame, working in the area of patristics, especially the thought of St. Augustine.

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