First let me beg mercy. This my first post to a new blog and I know a few things. I’m a terrible editor, this post is most likely rife with grammatical errors. Secondly I’m not a data driven writer. A few of my friends who blog are much more data driven. I’m attempting to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness that is “Church” in the 21st century. I also know that I’m talking about two things in this post that will probably upset someone. Church and Race. Look I’m used to upsetting folks. In fact, my only job as an emerging leader is to shake up the comfortable coffin we call main line Protestantism today. I also know that when we are discussing things that matter intensely to folks they can become passionate. As I’m working on my book I felt it was a good time to blog. That way I can separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to new theological thought. To be clear I believe that theology is something we practice in public. That means it is inherently political and charged. In my case probably subversive. Is that enough of a disclaimer?
Now let’s get to the meat of this post. To my beloved Church you aren’t dying. I know it feels like you can’t breathe. #Icantbreathe. No one listens to you anymore. The folks who do are the same folks who always do. You are belittled in the media. People mock your culture and traditions. You are being lampooned by pundits. You try to communicate what you believe are values that are vital to your survival. No one hears you it seems. You are asking yourself at night why doesn’t the life of the Church seem to matter? You are surrounded by an increasingly myriad and pluralistic chorus of voices. They drown you out. You watch as your finances are becoming more strained or are non-existent. When you have important get-togethers to discuss proactive change less people show up. Nothing seems to change. The general public has no idea what you really stand for. Your most trusted institutions are rapidly transforming into something unrecognizable. #LTSP #LTSG #NewschoolofTheology. Forces from within are struggling to understand what is happening. They cry out for a more “civilized” time. The generation gap seems insurmountable. You see the endless stream of battles ahead of you and your spirit starts to sag. Church you aren’t dying. You are becoming a minority in America.
That is why you are so afraid. Your position of privilege and power is being threatened for the first time in your life experience. I’m looking at you ELCA. Being marginalized feels like dying to you. Now this isn’t the case with all main line denominations and I can only speak into an ELCA context. But a new American reality is that not only has Gen X been disaffected by the Church, but millennials no longer look to you as the moral authority. Also from an interfaith perspective we are one of many voices. You are becoming a minority. You could say that Church is the new Black. No longer will political powers pander for your vote. When you come to sit at the table of social justice you will have to A-ask young people for permission to be at the table, B- take direction and leadership from them. Or you can remain largely ignored. Church you will have to fight for your piece of the pie.
As a person of color I can tell you that this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, this might be the most life giving thing to happen for the Church in 500 years. Post reformation we became entangled in empires; we are covered in the blood of the indigenous the world over. We are still wearing the rusting chains of the Transatlantic slave trade and the legacy of America’s original sins. We allowed the rulers of this land to use us over and over again as an engine of oppression. While we have much to be proud of as a Church those movements of the Holy Spirit have usually burst forth onto the Church through the marginalized, or those willing to stand with them. So many times you have lamented we need the Church in Acts. Church your prayers have been answered. You will now know what it’s like to stand up against an increasingly hostile world. I can tell you from personal experience missing a meal or two can build character. Not knowing where you are sleeping from night to night can throw you into the realm of the Spirit instantly. Sitting on the cold sidewalk of downtown looking up at those going about their day as they willfully ignore you is the same fires that forged me. In a very real sense that’s where you find yourself. Be still Church. Know that God is God.
You have examples in the new direction your discipleship is headed. #blacklivesmatters. The LGBTQ community and its constant battle for the same rights I largely forget are afforded me. You can look to MLK jr, but only if you start with the speech “Vietnam a Time to Break the Silence.” Not the coopted version of Dr. King that our middle school kids are being spoon fed this month. Church you will be lucky in 20 years if there will be a “Church History Month.” Hopefully you get more than 28 days. You can look towards Bonhoeffer if you remember he drew his inspiration from the Black Church in the South during Jim Crow. Church you can look at Fergensen MO and see how those faith leaders became members of a community, not the center. Church for so long you have made justice a committee but now it has to become the lifeblood of all you do. Draping yourself in the flag won’t help. America has weighed you and found you wanting of the things it values. That’s ok, most of them aren’t life giving anyway.
God is a God of the oppressed. As we journey through the book of Luke this year pay attention to the special dispensation for the poor and marginalized. That is the Gospel for you Church. Be heartened by the fact there is a generation of leaders emerging who intuitively understand everything I’m saying. The Holy Spirit is stirring and renewal is coming Church. We are not becoming smaller we are being refined. We aren’t losing what makes us Church, we are gaining a new clearer understanding. I know it’s hard. I know you want to scream. A loving God has heard you, and folks like myself are going to get through candidacy and lead. I promise. One more tip Church, try not to get pulled over.