Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Majority" Rules ??? - Adam and Shawn in Dialogue #4 ...

(To view Adam's comments click here to visit his Blog)

Adam:

I find myself an entry behind in our dialogue. Your reflection on Apocalyptic Welcome and the theology that lies behind it is marvelous ... it fits well with the theme of the sermon I offered this morning in which I quoted you and connected our Lectionary Readings and the frustration that is evident in Jesus' words and in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, with the inability to grasp what an Apocalyptic Welcome looks like, much less feels like ... I think the theme of Apocalyptic Welcome is one that will run throughout these conversations ... how can it not?? You've put into words what has been central to my view of faith since my days of studying at McMaster back in the late 80's !!!

Well done young man !!

Now, to you observations about democracy and the Church ... I can not agree more. Democracy has a place in the Church when it comes to finding CONSENSUS around issues that are trivial. When it comes to issues of Faith and the direction of Ministry and the claiming of ecclesiastical authority democracy is doomed to fail, even if the Church was enlightened and well educated - both pre-conditions that are lacking in this United Church of Ours.

As I prepare to bolster the case for letting go of the foolish belief that democracy has a place in The Church, I would offer you a quotation that is no doubt familiar to you ... it was penned by one of the great wild cards of the 20th Century while he sat in a jail cell for opposing what he clearly regarded as an unjust law ... a law that was "democratically" created, but a law that was unjust and doomed to fall because it was unjust before the Gospel ... thou he stood alone with this contention, he later found the historical understanding that "that which opposes God will not stand" come to pass, in the moment he wrote these words, the MAJORITY of people believed he was utterly and simply WRONG ...

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
"We have waited for more that 340 years for our constitutional and Godgiven rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored" when your first name becomes "Nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when your are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. "


The writer was of course The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, and he was, as he sat in the Birmingham jail, deeply enmeshed in the battle for civil rights - a battle that as you've noted had been waged at the ballot box, would still be raging ... sometimes democracy is simply and completely WRONG, even when the majority speaks ... think of South Africa - the majority wanted Apartheid to continue ... need we say more??

In the Church though, there is another issue that no one wants to acknowledge ... that of simple demographics ... if we allow democratic process ALONE govern the polity and procedures and the THEOLOGY of the Church, as we've done these last 80 years, we're actually handing ALL the power over to a very small group of people ...

A few sobering statistics from the United Church itself:

- in 2001 2.84 MILLION people in Canada - that was 9.6% of the population identified themselves as 'United Church'

- during this same time we identified roughly 700 000 people in Canada as MEMBERS of the United Church

- in 2007 there were approximately 200 000 people attending worship REGULARLY at the United Church Congregations across Canada

So, to do some math ... we have about 10% of the population of the Country calling itself United Church ... of that 10 % we have roughly a THIRD of THOSE people as actual members ... AND of that 10 % of the population we have less than TEN PER CENT (200 000) actually attending worship ... out of a national population of around 30 million people, we have 200 000 people attending worship regularly ...

Unfortunately there is no breakdown of that 200 000 to determine the ratio of member to adherents, because that's the point where the rubber hits the road ... in most of the Congregations I've familiar with there is a sizable number of folks attending regular worship who are NOT members, and there is a sizable number of MEMBERS who seldom darken the door of the sanctuary for worship ...

What ALL of this means is - a Church that is already a serious minority in the Country is controlled by a minority of a minority ... the members who regularly attend worship, who at MOST would number 150 000 nationally, control entirely the agenda and the direction of the church ...

Go back to your comment from Easum ... who is holding desperately to the status quo and is terrified of the changes that are breaking over us ???

To speak in broad generalities it is that 150 000 people, who control the affairs of the United Church.

And to further complicate the issues we KNOW that 70% of the 2200 active clergy serving the Church today are OVER 50 ... AND, they are assisted by a further 2000 retired clergy who are actively providing leadership in their communities ...

SO, not only do we have a system stacked against the majority - it is being aided and abetted by an aging population of clergy who may or may not be able to embrace and envision the change we are currently in the midst of.

Look at the explosion of online resources ... when I was ordained in 1993, the internet was unknown ... the first exploratory steps was a thing called ecunet ... then in time came email. I can remember suggesting around 1996 that we could hold Presbytery Committee Meetings online by using emails and I the suggestion was not poo-poo'ed, it was outright ridiculed ... the very idea of meeting via the net was regarded as ludicrous ... yet look where we are today ... The heart of the outreach undertaken by the UCC today is ONLINE ... wondercafe, blogs, emails, twitter, ALL of it is means of communicating the Gospel if we are open to it ...

But, look at what is wending its way through the Church today ... there is an reactive response to blogs like mine that wants to silence them ... instead of recognizing that blogs, twitter and other modern media are a means of reaching out to the TWO MILLION AND SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE who do NOT attend regular worship the minority who control the structure of the Church would rather silence voices they can not control ...

If the Church was truly interested in survival they would be actively listening to WHY those 2.6 MILLION people DON'T attend worship ... instead we shrug and dismiss them until there is a capital campaign or a fundraiser - THEN we search them out ... but when they speak of the wounding they've received at the hands of the Church, and they share their stories of pain and isolation from The Body, we don't want to hear it.

We have to ignore them lest we look into the mirror they hold up before us and we realize that WE, those who remain in the Church have work to do ...

Maybe the unfaithful ones are NOT those who are outside looking in ... maybe the unfaithful ones are the few who remain clinging to power and prestige and clutching the status quo ...

I find it fascinating that when I share the following quotation I get one of two reactions from people ...

The quotation is from 'Generation to Generation' by Rabbi Friedman (It's a book you MUST have in your library Adam - I wish I had it 20 years ago!!)

Friedman writes:

"In a family emotional system, when an unresolved problem is isolated in one of its members and fixed there by diagnosis, it enables the rest of the family to 'purify' itself by locating the source of its 'disease' in the disease of the IDENTIFIED PATIENT. By keeping the focus on one of its members, the family, personal or congregational, can deny the very issues that contributed to making one of its members symptomatic, even if it ultimately harms the entire family."

When I've shared this quotation with people who have been wounded by the Church they can identify the disease of the Congregation and how the Scaping Goating has occurred and will supply names and dates and examples of this process in action - usually spanning generations and involving minister after minister after minister ...

But when I've shared it with folks IN the church, particularly in active leadership, they DENY the process within the Church, they counsel at the danger of seeing the Clergy as the Identified Patient - EVER, and they pick fault with Friedman ... in short - they dismiss out of hand the very thought that scaping goating ever happens in the Church. They are so dependent on maintaining the status quo and not allowing for dissent, that they MUST - they absolutely MUST deny the possibility of problems with the way things are ...

As one who has been scape goated for the problems of a community, I can see how the pattern Friedman identified played out for myself and for my predecessors, some of whom I've spoken with and heard their story that remarkably involves the SAME people and families ... yet, the Leadership of the Church clings desperately to the flawed ideal that democratic processes WILL rid the church of the disease that ails it ...

The idea is simple - get rid of the minister and it will be all better ...

Makes sense historically - after all, for hundreds of years the Jews operated on the same principle with the Scape Goat that was driven into the wilderness to die bearing the sins of the people so they could carry on sinning for another year ... until God said - "ENOUGH!!"

In that moment there was no democracy, just the thundering voice of God speaking through the prophets who said - Your ways are no longer appealing to God ...

In today's Church, the prophets are speaking ... they are the mavericks, the wild cards, the bloggers and those of US who will not go quietly because a vote has determined we are no longer welcome ... Votes are good for deciding on the colour of the carpet, or the type of curriculum our Sunday Schools should use, but when it comes to guiding the polity of the Church and shaping the Theology, there is a reason why some of us are called and ORDAINED to leadership ... The Body of Christ includes everyone, but it never said it was a democracy ... last time I checked, the Body of Christ was lead by the Head - Christ Himself ... and as the ultimate wild card, I find it doubtful Christ would condone the dismissal of ministers by a "democratic" vote that is weighted against them, and that is ANYTHING BUT democratic ...

Go back to the quotation from King and think about what it means to say "wait" in the modern Church ... the reality of democracy in the Courts of the United Church is that there are conservatively TWO MILLION AND SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND people who have no vote, and no say and who are outside looking in and there is NO ONE in the power structure of the Church today willing to listen to their voices and thier hurts and their concerns ...

The Spirit doesn't call us to waiting ... the Spirit calls us to action ... action on behalf of the MAJORITY who are outside wanting to come home ...

1 comment:

Adam said...

Shawn this was an excellent post. You really took to splitting the hairs of each implication of political process within the Church and outside. I was glad to hear you talk about the places in the Church where democracy actually is beneficial and about how matters of justice we ought to be worried about democracy and its implications when we try to consider whether our decisions place us on God's side.