31 July 2012

38 years ago

I suppose it is appropriate that I am writing about this a few days after the event. 38 years ago when the Episcopal Church began, slowly, reluctantly, even illegally to ordain women deacon and priests, it took a while for me to notice, and for Sue-z and me to act. At the time we were Lutherans, and the particular Lutheran synod we were in did not move then, or for that matter in the intervening years. We moved. I am glad we did, and I believe even more confidently now, seeing what the ministry of women has brought to the church, that we were following the Spirit.

And yet, 38 years into the new paradigm, I see my own movement, and that of many friends, as a part of a disturbing American trend. Increasingly, we Americans are segregating ourselves. If you are a, "conservative" a word whose meaning has shifted over the last 38 years, or if you are a "progressive," you are ever more likely to live in a community of similar folks. You are likely to attend college with people who agree with you too. And, yes, you probably pray with similar folks. The trend is disturbing.

The way the reporting for the upcoming general election looks at "red states" and "blues states" shows what is happening, and the problem: we are creating a new sort of regionalism. If you live in the NorthEast, your chances of living in a progressive state are near 100%, and the entire Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada is there too. But if you live in the South or the portion of the Midwest West of the Mississippi, the reverse is true.

Looking as I am for a job, I have been asking myself where Sue-z and I might relocate. The answer is not based on weather or geography, but culture. We might move to New England, or the Mid Atlantic, but not Texas! Oh, I suppose if someone put a decent paycheck in front of me, I would change my mind, but it would be tough to do and tough sell to my love. And in moving, we would be looking for the outliers: communities and parishes that did not fit the general model.

One might ask, "so what?" After all, there have always been communities of interest, ethnicity, and the like. Much of what is now America began when religious communities came here to found segregated communities.

The American achievement however, was to found a culture of tolerance. Writing in the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that when they met in other countries, Americans were immediately friends, simply because they were the Americans. When any American went to another State or community, she or he expected and received a reasonably friendly reception. Going to any college, the assumption was that ones schoarlship, not one's region or religion. I went to a Jesuit school in the 1960's, was not only well treated but welcome. The Jesuits, and indeed in my experience, most academics in that time, believed that the interaction of cultures, ideas, and faiths was what made higher education worthwhile.

Then the likes of Jerry Falwell began building colleges dedicated not to this idea of, "liberal education" rather seeking to transmit, "pure" knowledge. While Loyola when I went there, was in the business of producing educated graduates, Liberty University is in the business of producing uncompromising believers. Perhaps the most notorious college in the indoctrination business is Bob Jones University. That school is famous for never ever allowing any doubt of its set of received wisdom onto the campus.

So how do we break the walls? I do not know. I am concerned that we are raising them. I can tell you why I think for instance that 38 years ago, TEC got it right. I can try to tell you of the many benefits women bring to the church when they are called to orders. I can even boast about how that call has brought us amazing converts both lay and clerical. But will you listen? Do we have a chance of a conversation? Or will I be labeled, "liberal," "heretic," or something else conveniently exclusive? What I think has happened is that as the culture has changed, groups that do not agree have sought not to change minds, but to change communities. Be it ACNA attempting to change what an "Anglican Communion" in North America looks like, Republicans attempting to bring back their (distorted) vision of the 1950's, or Roman Catholics heading back to the Latin Mass, these groups are intensely exclusionary. And it is growing. The walls are going up.

My son sees it most on Facebook. Try changing your profile to, "Republican" for a few days. Expect a welter of attack messages from, "liberals," "progressives," and "inclusive" folks calling you an idiot, fool, hater, and half a dozen other things. Wait a week, and you can start a cool relationship with Facebook's security staff as the threats and obscene comments roll in. You do not have to publish any particular comments to get this, just do not send immediate "likes" to their comments on Republicans and the posts will come. It works pretty much the same way if you change to "Democrat" but the terminally self-righteous are a different set of bigots. The same thing happens on Twitter. And if you publish a blog, like I do, heaven send you thick skin.

What is going on here is not the dialog the founders of Blogger, Facebook, or Twitter envisioned. It is the stuff of walls, partitioning, and boundary setting.

38 years later, TEC has become, a community of those who seek inclusion in an exclusive country. I hope I am wrong, but that is how it looks to me. This terrifies me.

9 comments:

John Sandeman said...

Jim,
I like to think that Australia is slightly better at avoiding culture wars than the USA, but maybe I am kidding myself.
Yet here we can have health insurance that provides contraception for anyone who wants it and no one makes a fuss, we provide needle exchanges for addicts but no-one thinks the government is endorsing illegal drugs.

So in the spirit of pragmatism, do you think TEC did its best to keep the conservatives in?

Jim said...

It is an odd idea, this concept that your freedom somehow is my compulsion. But there it is, deeply impacting American culture and politics.

I think there are conservatives in TEC. No one has asked them to leave.

In terms of effort, I think we have tried. I have not crystal ball, and so I do not know where various folks will go or not. My own sense of +Lawrence and the others in S. Carolina is that they will mostly stay. I hope they do. We need a loyal opposition, everyone does.

FWIW
jimB

John Sandeman said...

There is a difference between "we hope they stay" and "being a community of those who seek inclusion
". One is passive, the other active. How do you make a "loyal opposition" feel at home? Is it worth trying?

Jim said...

John,

I think in the Diocese of Chicago, we work to listen, to make very sure that for instance, traditionalist clergy are on relevant task-forces and committees. And we elect some of them - Deputy, Standing Committee, Deanary Deans, none are monopolized by progressives. Let's face it we have the votes. We choose to elect those whose voices we think should be heard.

Does that help?

FWIW
jimB

John Sandeman said...

Well let me put it this way. Among the progressives some of your best leaders are creative, entrepreneurial and troublemakers. They are the sort of people who question things and bring about change. If a bunch of conservatives were choosing to have a few progressives around, would a Susan Russell or Louie Crew be chosen? Its the same on the other side of the fence.
Progressives will produce a few "tame" conservatives and the other way around.
I am not sure we are really good at respecting difference, or as Miroslav Volf would have it "embracing the other".

Jim said...

My friend, if you think Fr. Matt is a "tame conservative" you do not know him! I personally campaigned for his election as Deputy last time, and I know others in the "troublemaker" category that did too. We expect him to challenge everything and everyone and he does.

For the church as a whole, consider how easily Bp. Daniel was confirmed after election in Springfield. He is certainly a troublemaker, and an active and effective advocate for views I at least do not hold. No problem, for either the diocese or church.

I do not know, and cannot speak for all progressives. But here in Illinois, and I suspect we are like most parts of TEC, we certainly will elect / select conservatives who are smart, active, "troublemakers." I think we rather like them!

FWIW
jimB

John Sandeman said...

Tame conservative? Long range diagnosis is hard. Let me ask a question. Did the Chicago deputies cast a vote in favour of A049 at the last general convention or was it a split vote? A vote in favour by the delegation would not render Fr Matt (if he was elected deputy) tame, but it may mean he is not a theological conservative.

John Sandeman said...

I see Fr Matt was only an alternate deputy which probably means he did not vote on A049...

Jim said...

I did not attend Columbus, an illness thing. I do not know when, or how the individual deputies voted, with a few exceptions.

One is not guaranteed a win. We have elected conservatives as both alternatives and deputies in my memory. None were, "tame." Which was more or less my point.

FWIW
jimB

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