Include me out

In my experience, the warmest gestures of inclusion usually come from people who spend little time talking about how inclusive they are. When a person flashes inclusivity like a badge, especially in comparison to those noninclusive extremists over there, it's a safe bet an ideological mugging is imminent. Consider, for example, the Rev. Nanette H. Hilliard, pastor of The Great Awakening, an 18-month-old United Church of Christ Congregation in Virginia Beach. Hilliard and The Great Awakening (one of the coolest, most audacious congregation names in American history) are the subjects of a glowing profile by Steven G. Vegh in this morning's edition of The Virginian-Pilot. Hilliard is prepared to bless gay couples, but she assures Vegh that she extends compassion to the invincibly ignorant people who do not agree with her. Vegh writes:

Hilliard is similarly broad-minded about the Bible and conservatives who base their rejection of gays on a direct reading of Scripture. "The literal meaning, without any further research, is where they desire to stay. I respect their right to be there."

Her own approach is to dig deeper, studying the texts' literary forms, the circumstances of the writers, why the passages were written in the first place.

But, then, the problem is just as likely with Vegh's reporting style.

He speculates loosely about people's church backgrounds based on their posture and writes as though Pentecostals consider the Holy Spirit an impersonal force, like electricity:

Take that woman bowing toward the altar on Sunday morning -- probably an ex-Catholic. The singing parishioner with an arm raised like a flag pole? Assemblies of God. Now and again, someone will be "slain in the spirit," Pentecostal jargon for the jolt of religious ecstasy that can knock a body head-over-heels.

He tosses "sex outside of marriage" into a list of legalistic taboos, as if it's as frivolous as a stolen moment with one's first Marlboro :

Hilliard grew up attending the Church of God in Christ, where doctrine forbade cursing, tobacco, sex outside of marriage, attending dances and watching movies.

And by story's end, Hilliard again expresses her kindness toward those pathological, ism-driven souls who haven't risen to her level of Christian discipleship:

Hilliard knows views like hers are unusual, even unpopular, among many who live and worship in Hampton Roads. She is not dismayed.

"I'm black, I'm female, I'm a divorcee, I've been a single parent," she said. "I'm familiar with ostracism, racism, sexism. I'm familiar with rejection, disapproval, sabotage -- and I'm primarily talking about the church.

"But I'm more familiar with the love of God, extended to all people. Jesus Christ has never called me to be popular -- only faithful."

Some reporters actually cover church debates about homosexuality that reflect the theological engagement, honest questions and respectful disagreement existing on both sides. Ah, but when your subject has achieved such a sublime level of inclusivity and her opponents are such indisputable knaves, why bother?

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