My thoughts for this reflection are inspired by Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles when he says “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10: 34). Peter’s assertion points to how God does not have, as a Malaysian-Chinese saying goes, “one eye big and one eye small.” In other words, God does not discriminate, as God “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5: 45). No one is left out of God’s love. God embraces and accepts every person. This embrace, acceptance and non-partiality of God form the inclusivity of God. In the same way we say “God is love,” I suggest that we can also say “God is inclusivity.”
What is the meaning of inclusivity? Perhaps the best way I can explain it is to borrow from the website of “The Fellowship,” a group founded by African-American lesbian theologian and bishop Yvette Flunder. “The Fellowship” is a group consisting of different “African American Christian leaders and laity representing churches and faith-based organizations from the USA, Africa, and Mexico.” This group believes in the idea of “radical inclusivity,” which means “the intentional inclusion of all persons; especially people who have traditionally lived at the margins of society, such as people suffering from substance abuse; people living with HIV/AIDS; same-gender loving people; the recently incarcerated; and sex industry workers.” In other words, inclusivity means intentionally including people who are usually excluded because they are seen as abnormal, sinful, criminal, unrespectable and indecent. Inclusivity means doing away with the distinction between who is normal and worthy, and who is not normal and not worthy. Inclusivity means that no person should experience discrimination, or be left out as an outsider because that person is different in one way or another. Inclusivity means that each person is valued and appreciated and included simply on the grounds that a person is a person.
Many of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, intersex and queer have experienced what it is like to be excluded and left out. Even now, some of us continue to experience what it is like to be on the margins, on the outside. We are often told that because of our sexuality, or how we identify our gender, we are abnormal, sinful, criminal, unrespectable and indecent.
Yet it is not only our genders and sexualities that cause people like us to be marginalised. Recent events in Malaysia have shown that to be a Christian can sometimes invite exclusion, notably in the controversy over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. Owing to complex issues which will not be discussed here, the Malaysian Home Ministry had for some time been arguing against the use of “Allah” in the Malay language section of a Roman Catholic weekly, The Herald. Nevertheless, on December 31, 2009, the Malaysian High Court ruled that “Allah” could be used in The Herald. In January 2013, the Sultan of the Malaysian state of Selangor upheld a fatwa – an Islamic opinion which can take the force of law – that the word “Allah” could not be used by non-Muslims in Selangor. Consequently, Islamic religious offices could take legal action against anyone who went against the fatwa. The Home Ministry continued to appeal against the High Court’s ruling and eventually won. In October 2013, it issued a statement that prohibited the use of “Allah” in The Herald, but permitted its use in Malay language bibles. Concerted efforts by Christians, such as the Christian Federation of Malaysia and the Association of Churches in Sarawak condemned these moves and asserted their intention to continue using the word “Allah.” In December 2013, Roman Catholic priest Fr Lawrence Andrew affirmed that churches in Selangor would continue to use “Allah” in weekend masses. This caused a massive uproar from more extreme Islamic groups. In January 2014, more than 300 bibles which contain the word “Allah” were seized by Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) from the Bible Society of Malaysia. Although the understanding of the ban from using “Allah” shifted between its application to The Herald and to bibles, the message was clear: Christians are outsiders in Malaysia, and despite the guarantee of religious freedom in the Malaysian Constitution, continue to be excluded and held with suspicion.
As such, those of us who identify as LGBTIQ and as Christians have a multiple marginality status. We are marginalised as LGBTIQ and as Christians. Additionally, we are marginalised by other Christians who do not see us as valid Christians. Often, the temptation is to adopt an attitude of total alienation from those who are antagonistic towards us. Although I think that safe spaces are important in the face of antagonism, I realise that a habitual alienation could cause us to exclude others from our lives. There are many people out there who may not identify as LGBTIQ, but are genuinely interested in who we are and how we live. These are people who are struggling to understand us. By rejecting them because we are afraid or ashamed to be LGBTIQ, we are excluding them just as we have been excluded. We are excluding people who can potentially be our friends and allies, and who may have a better understanding of LGBTIQ lives after they have met with and listened to us.
Even among ourselves as LGBTIQ persons, we sometimes experience exclusion. Gay men may exclude lesbian women. Lesbian women may exclude trans* persons. Gay men and lesbian women may exclude bisexual men and women. We may exclude people who like to cross dress by labelling them as “weird.” We may exclude people who prefer to have many sexual partners rather than being in exclusive relationships by accusing them of being promiscuous. We may exclude LGBTIQ people who are living with HIV and perceive them as contagious and dangerous. We may forget that we are capable of excluding people just as we ourselves have been excluded.
Within God’s own self, God manifests what it means to be inclusive. God’s overflowing of love leads God to create as an act of love. God chooses to include what God creates within God’s own love. God also chooses to include human beings in God’s own capacity to love, and so we find ourselves capable of loving others. God’s act of creating is an act of inclusivity. In the same way that God is love, so too is God inclusivity. In the person of Christ, God chooses to reveal how God loves and cares for each of us. By telling us stories of God’s love, Christ reminds us that we are included in the life of God. When we respond to the love of God, we make the inclusivity of God very real in our lives and towards others.
To be inclusive Christians first means that we take the risk to tell our stories to those who are willing to listen. By sharing our stories with them, we include them in our lives. Our aim is not to convince or convert people, but to share stories of our lives and our faith with others. Secondly, to be inclusive Christians means that we watch out for ways in which we exclude others. Sometimes, we are not even aware that we exclude people, even our fellow LGBTIQ brothers and sisters. Lastly, to be inclusive Christians means that we try to be more inclusive not only towards LGBTIQ persons, but towards people who are excluded and marginalised in any other way, including their ethnicity, religion, physical appearance and status. As Christians, we are called to inclusivity because each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Each of us is a follower of Jesus Christ. We are called to inclusivity because “inclusivity” is another name for God. Through Baptism, we make the decision for our lives to proclaim and bear witness to the fact that we are children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. In this way, we take on God’s name as our own, and are thus called to reflect God by becoming inclusive towards others.
Joseph N. Goh is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Gender, Sexuality and Theology with the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University, Malaysia. He holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, CA. An ordained minister with the North American Catholic Ecumenical Church (NACEC), Goh is also a member of the Emerging Queer Asian Pacific Islander Religion Scholars (EQARS) and the editor of the Queer Asian Spirit E-Magazine (QAS E-Zine).
Copyright © 2014 Joseph N. Goh. All Rights Reserved.
 The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, “The Purpose Of The Fellowship,” The Fellowship, last modified 2011, accessed January 10, 2014, http://www.radicallyinclusive.com/content.cfm?id=2054.
 The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, “What Is Radical Inclusivity?,” The Fellowship, accessed January 10, 2014, http://www.radicallyinclusive.com/content.cfm?id=2006.
 The Star Online, “High Court Grants Catholic Publication Herald the Right to Use ‘Allah’ Word Again,” The Star Online, January 1, 2010, accessed January 11, 2014, http://www.thestar.com.my/story.aspx/?file=%2f2010%2f1%2f1%2fnation%2f5399211.
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