LGBTQ

The Problem With Assuming That It's the Millennials' Fault for Abandoning Religion

By Derek Penwell

[Note:This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.]

I used to work with a guy who had a gift for breaking up with girls. He was so genuine and kind that afterward the girls would invariably leave feeling affirmed and cared for, like George Clooney had just fallen apart on them, relating how unworthy he was of their affections. Masterful. He was the ultimate “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” guy.

If you’re going to get dumped, that’s the kind of person you want lowering the boom, isn’t it?

But most people can’t pull off that level of empathy. Most people struggle between the poles of blame, between “your fault” and “my fault” -- all too aware of the other person’s problems, but also painfully suspicious (if not quite aware) of their own complicity. It’s normal.

Then there are the people at the other end of the spectrum, unencumbered by the decided disadvantage of ever entertaining the possibility that they’re wrong. This is the “it’s-not-me-it’s you” person. These are the folks who believe that no problem is too big or too complicated that -- with the application of a little intellectual candlepower -- it can’t be successfully blamed on somebody else.

Now this shedding of responsibility can come in two different forms. The first type is what I call “the slippery blame-caster” -- able to weasel out taking responsibility for anything that goes wrong by deflecting it onto someone else. This is the person who always seems to be standing behind you when the boss is around, pointing a finger at you when she thinks you’re not looking.

The second type I’ve labeled, “the belligerent blame-thrower” -- unfailingly staking out the moral high ground, convinced that culpability must lay with someone of obviously inferior moral fiber. This is the person who is sure you’ve screwed up somehow, but hasn’t quite figured out your tricks yet -- because you’re a slacker, and who else would do something like this?

I find the belligerent blame-thrower much too regularly in the church. Something goes wrong and this person’s default posture is “it’s not me; it’s you.” I knew a leader at one church who -- if he showed up late for something -- wouldn’t think of apologizing for keeping you waiting, but would proceed to blame you for giving bad directions, or changing the time, or failing to remind him.

I thought about that guy the other day as I was reading an article about whether Millennials are leaving religion because of the treatment of LGBT folks. The author cites a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey entitled, A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues, which indicates among other things that (31 percent) of Millennials say they are leaving religion over LGBT issues. Interesting, but come on, we pretty much knew that, didn’t we?

No, what I found particularly difficult to wrap my mind around emerged as I read the last part of the article. Turns out that, at least when it comes to appearances, fully 7-in-10 Millennials “believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.” That is to say, (70 percent) of people born between 1980 and 2000 believe that the church is hostile enough to LGBT issues that it’s driving people away.

On the other end of the age spectrum, however, only “roughly 4-in-10 (43 percent) members of the Silent Generation believe that religious groups are alienating young people, while nearly as many (44 percent) disagree.” That is to say, after looking at the decline experienced by American religious groups over the last fifty years,1 a larger portion of the Silent Generation responded to the trend by protesting, “It’s not us; it’s them. We don’t know why they’re leaving, but we’re pretty sure it’s nothing we did.”

I find this stunning lack of self-awareness on the part of older generations of religious people troubling. Notice I didn’t say that I find the inhospitableness of older generations troubling (although, the survey numbers do suggest that the older you are the less likely you are to be welcoming of LGBT folks). My problem has to do with the apparent inability of older generations to understand how they appear to others. Saying, “Well, I’m not intolerant of LGBT issues, and I’m tired of getting blamed because people misunderstand me” misses the point.

Pro tip: If you don’t consider yourself anti-gay, but you find yourself expending energy repeatedly defending against charges of homophobia, you probably ought to consider the possibility that maybe you’re not just being misunderstood.

This penchant for viewing the problem of the exodus of young people as unrelated to anything you’ve done is very near to the heart of the problem.

Case in point: One of the commenters on the article, a man who appears to occupy the graying edges of the age spectrum, implied that Millennials leaving religion because of anti-gay bias is their problem: “Saying, ‘I am not going to church anymore because of their hostility to gay and lesbian people’ is akin to saying, ‘I don’t eat seafood anymore, so I am not going to eat in any restaurant.’”

Now, the commenter may be right that young people have just misunderstood the message that religion presents on LGBT issues, but that misses the point. If you desperately want young people to help you stem the tide of religious decline, blaming them for not coming to your aid because you’re misunderstood, only soothes your own sense of inadequacy by blaming someone else for it.

“It’s not me; it’s you” is the death rattle of the isolated.


    __________
  1. 1. While I’m thinking first about the majority of those religious groups associated with Christianity, Judaism is also experiencing difficulties around declining membership. ↩

#YesAllWomen

By Rev. Mindi

In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, this time in Santa Barbara, the hashtag #YesAllWomen popped up on Twitter. Because while this was another mass shooting, this time the motive was quite clear from the beginning: the shooter’s hatred of women.

This isn’t mental illness. And while the shooter may have had a mental illness, it does not go hand-in-hand with his motives. Misogyny is not a mental illness. Misogyny is a direct result of patriarchy. Women must be controlled, despised, scapegoated and blamed.

Of course, the backlash started almost immediately with “not all men.” We women know that. We know that not all men hate women—but the minute we start to dismiss it we have lost the voice of women. All women have experienced sexism. All women have experienced fear. All women have been marginalized, oppressed, and in some ways have experienced violence or the repercussions of it. The fact that the woman who began the hashtag has now removed her Twitter account due to the threats against her is proof enough.

And within the hashtag other conversations have occurred. Often, white women end up dominating the conversation, ignoring the violence of racism within the conversations of patriarchy and feminism. The voices of women of color, women with disabilities, trans women, and women who are poor may be ignored or trampled on, or seen as not as important as the “overall” message of violence against all women. But we cannot include all women if we do not include the voices of those who have experienced violence and hate due to race, sexual orientation, transgender, disability or poverty.

It is time—instead of letting another misogynist gone rampant—to allow the voice of women to speak. It’s time to allow the stories that women share to speak for themselves. For all of us to listen to the voices of the girls in Nigeria, the Christian woman in prison in Sudan, the voices of women in our churches who have experienced sexism and violence.

As Christians, where do we speak up for all women? Another hashtag, created by Joelle Colville Hanson, #YesAllBiblicalWomen is a powerful voice about the marginalization and oppression of women in the Bible, in church history, and church life today. There is now a Twitter account @AllBibleWomen that is tweeting the stories of Biblical women along the hashtag that speak out for women from the Bible to church life today. Here are a few examples tweeted out in the last two days:

Sarah: because my husband thought pimping me out was better than other men killing him to take me.

The Daughters of Zelophehad: Because women controlling their own lives was so radical we had to advocate for the laws to change.

Miriam: because I was a prophet and a worship leader, and my role is minimized to sister and singer.

Joanna: Because I was an apostle, but they did not believe me, and did not grant me the title.

Phoebe: Because I smuggled the Epistle to the Romans into the city, but women still can't be action heroes.

Michal: bc I loved/protected a man who "won" me from my father by sexually violating 100 foreign men. Turned he was a rapist and murderer.

 

For more, check out Twitter #YesAllBiblicalWomen @AllBibleWomen, and #YesAllWomen

Let the voice of women, silenced in the Bible, silenced in our churches, and silenced by gunshots, be heard loud and clear. 

Never Let the Guy with the Broom Decide How Many Elephants Can Be in the Parade

By Derek Penwell
 

“Who authorized that decision? Nobody knows what’s going on around here anymore.”

How many times have you heard that one?

What’s the quick response when that complaint makes its way into the life of a congregation?

“Well, it has been a while since we talked about the organizational structure. Maybe we should look at the constitution and by-laws again, make sure we’re doing it right.”

It occurs to me that what’s at the heart of grousing about congregational organization is fear over who gets to say “yes.”

“Who authorized that decision?” is usually an expression of fear about where power is located. So, congregations spend much of their time in organizational thinking concentrating on this issue—who gets to say “yes.”

By-laws, organizational charts, endless meetings all exist—at least in part—to rehearse the relationship between an idea and its authorization.

“I’ve been in recovery for 3 years now, and I’d like to start an AA meeting in the adult Sunday School classroom on Tuesday nights. Who do I have to talk to get permission to do that?”

“Well, you’ll need to check with the secretary to see if the room’s available. You’ll probably have to get board approval for that. Is there going to be smoking on the grounds?”

“I’d like to offer a middle-school class. What’s my next step?”

“You need to talk to Angie, she’s the Education chairperson. She’ll bring it to the committee. Then, they can pass a recommendation to the board, which will vote on it.”

“We’ve got a group that wants to use the church fellowship hall for a drag show. Is that all right?”

“You’re going to have to bring that one straight to the board.”

We have amazingly complex systems of authorization in place. Layers of bureaucracy that ensure no one gets away with anything.

Believe me, I understand. You can’t have just anyone doing who-knows-what in the name of the church. Eventually, that will come back to bite you.

But for all the time churches spend figuring out who gets to say “yes,” it’s amazing to note that they’ll let just about anybody say “no.”

“Now, see, I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration.”

Is it really? How many truly interesting ideas have been shot down in church because one person pulled the trigger?

“That sounds like a great idea, but I’m afraid that if we let those people use the building, something’s going to get broken.”

 

“Of course we love young people, but I don’t think that kind of thing is appropriate for Christians.”

 

“I think you’ll find that nobody will mind … except, Norman. Yeah, he won’t go for it.”

Brooms, Elephants, and Blocking

Merlin Mann has famously said: “Never let the guy with the broom decide how many elephants can be in the parade.”

What does that mean?

It means, according to Mann, that to the guy with the broom, an elephant isn’t an elephant, it’s a source of inconvenience. If you ask that guy, he’ll say there shouldn’t be any elephants, and you should spend your time and money hiring more broom guys.

Why?

Because elephants, no matter how wonderful they might make the parade, threaten to make that guy’s life miserable.

“What is the purpose of a parade?”

To entertain people.

“Do elephants entertain people?”

Yes.

“Then let’s have more elephants.”

No.

The guy with the broom answers the question about elephants by saying that elephants upset the balance. As if the purpose of a parade was not to entertain people, but to make one guy’s struggle with life a bit more manageable.

Of course, people say “no” for reasons other than just that a proposed action produces more headaches. There are any number reasons people give for blocking:

  • We don’t have the money to do x.
  • We’ve tried x before, and it didn’t work.
  • We’ve never done x before, and we shouldn’t start doing it now.
  • “People” will get upset if we move forward with x.
  • “People” might leave if we follow through with x.
  • My aunt Gladys would roll over in her grave if she knew we were doing x.
  • X is just not something a place like this should be involved in.

Or, there’s the all-purpose blocking tactic:

  • I’m not comfortable with us doing x.

Any idea, no matter how good, reasonable, or promising that runs up against one of these phrases in a meeting is almost surely doomed in most churches. In unhealthy systems, blocking tactics are virtually fool-proof.

And the beauty of it is almost anyone can successfully execute them!

  • People who haven’t been to church since the Nixon administration
  • People who’ve never given an hour or a dime
  • People who’re resentful about the prospect of having to give another hour or another dime
  • Even proxies for people dead, absent, or non-existent (i.e., “People are saying …”)
  • (I’ve even heard of denominations that are set up to allow people to be bused in for the express purpose of keeping change at bay.)

Bonus: The louder and more obnoxious you can be the better chance you’ll have at succeeding!

The Problem

Don’t misunderstand. Sometimes blocking is necessary. Prophets are often blockers—loud obnoxious people who are famous for standing up and saying “No!” We need people with the courage to stand in the middle of the road and refuse to get out of the way of the oncoming tank convoys.

The question I’m raising is not whether blocking should occur sometimes, but whether or not a congregation or a denomination should be prevented from ever even attempting great and interesting things because of the threat (real or imagined) of the broom pushers, who if asked, will invariably say “no.”

Or what about this: Everybody in charge knows it’s the right thing to do, but nobody wants to clean up the inevitable mess.

Organizations devote so much time and energy to set up systems that are explicit about who gets to say “yes.”

What’s a quorum? How high up the organizational chart does it need to go to get authorization? How many votes are necessary? Who said you could do that?

I think organizations would benefit from spending a quarter of the time dealing explicitly with the question of who gets to say “no.”

What kind of investment is necessary on the part of a person who seeks to torpedo an idea? Does the person have to demonstrate any expertise in the area before being able to stymy the group, or is just “feeling” like it’s the wrong thing to do enough? Can one person carry the water for another person, a group of persons, a whole demographic?

Saying “no” is just as much an exercise of power as saying “yes.” We write all kinds of rules about the latter, without ever explicitly taking up the issue of the former.

The problem isn’t just that good ideas are always in danger of being shot down. In an unhealthy system good ideas often don’t see the light of day because everybody knows up front that bringing them up is a waste of time. I would wager that serial blockers have killed ten times more ideas in people’s heads than they’ve killed on the floor of meetings—just because everybody is convinced that bringing up an idea would be a waste of time, or because it would cause World War III.

The reality of the situation is that you’ll never do great things, exciting things, things that change the world if every idea is stillborn for fear that somebody will object.

Spend some time considering to whom you give the power of veto.

Make sure you know why the guy with broom doesn’t like elephants in the parade.

Or don’t do great things. The choice is ultimately up to you.

Here’s an idea for a cheap bracelet: WWJASN

Who would Jesus allow to say no?

(From the archive.)

An Atheist Reminder of How Christians Appear to Everybody Else

By Gregg Cooley

As a child of the 60’s growing up in Chapel Hill, NC, I remember well the days of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws, separate water fountains, and very specific “lines” between White communities and Black communities (most of which were nothing more than rotting shacks with dirt floors and maybe an old wood stove for heat). Racism and bigotry was, and still is, a horrific blight on America’s promise of “liberty and justice for ALL,” and that “ALL people being created equal.”

The modern version of Jim Crow Laws aimed squarely at the LGBT community are being proposed from one end of the USA to the other, in Russia, and throughout Africa, all of which are connected to US Christians and Evangelicals in positions of power and influence. There is nothing “Christ-like” about these laws and initiatives; this hatred is certainly not the “will of the God” that I learned of as a child attending Episcopal Church every Sunday. I learned that God was LOVE, though my thorough reading of the Bible would eventually steer me toward atheism, and teach me of many instances where God was anything but loving, but I digress.

I have had friends and family tell me that I paint Christians with too broad a brush, and that I’m basing my opinions of them on the actions of a few.

My response to that is: If the actions of those few paint you in a bad light, then it is your responsibility as a Christian to scream just as loudly as you can, and to call-out in the public square, that the hypocrisy of those who act and legislate in such a hateful un-Christ-like manner are the true abominations in the eyes of your God.

These laws are resulting in the murders, suicides, and imprisonment of innocents, whose only “crime” is being born with same-sex attractions … if those of you who are Christians in the truest sense of the word do nothing to denounce the actions (loudly) of these impostors, then you are as guilty as they are through your acts of negligence.

Practicing Inclusion

By Rev. Mindi

“Inclusive” has become a buzzword descriptor among churches these days. Perhaps you mean it to include LGBTQ individuals and families in your congregation. Perhaps you mean it to include people of different ethnic backgrounds. Maybe it means including people of different economic statuses.

Inclusion means including everyone. It doesn’t mean creating a special program for or a specific mission outreach to a certain group of people.  Inclusion means you actually include someone: you value, encourage participation, listen to and incorporate all people into your congregational life.

Inclusion is actually very difficult to accomplish. Most of us have the best of intentions but don’t actually follow through. Most of the time, our inclusion is actually under another buzzword, “Welcoming.” We throw together a welcoming statement and say we welcome all people. We might even go to the next level and say we welcome all persons regardless of age, gender expression, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic identity, economic status, ability, etc. etc. etc.  However, there are places where we specifically do not include people and we need to not only be aware but acknowledge this.

We often do not include children, whether it be in worship (though many churches do include children to a degree, but we still often send them out after the Children’s Message) or in church business. Sure, we might ask them their opinions or talk with them in children’s sermons about things happening in the life of the church, but rarely are they included in business meetings or given the right to vote (my current church is in the process of revamping its constitution and it still states that members have to be age 16 in order to vote).  We have our reasons—they are not old enough to understand, or they would just vote the way their parents did giving them twice the vote, or other reasons we pass off. We also don’t include homebound members (often still called “shut-ins” in the life of the church) because they are no longer able to attend.  Sure, we visit them now and then, but we don’t include them in the business of the church, or the worship, for that matter.

And we do not include people with differing abilities, usually. We assume persons who use a wheelchair or walker, or those who have long-term illness, mental or physical, cannot participate in the life of the church. Sure, we welcome them to worship and we may build ramps and make our restrooms accessible, but we often do not ask them about participating, assuming they cannot.

Can a person who uses a wheelchair still hand out bulletins and greet people? Can a child carry the offering plate? Can a person who is ill still help make decisions in the life of the church? Can a young teen have a mind-blowing idea that could change the church? Of course!

Look at your congregation’s practice of inclusion. First look at what you say about yourself. Then look to see what you are really doing. Who is in leadership? Who is involved in worship? Who is involved in outreach or other ministries? What is the diversity represented? Even if there is little ethnic diversity in your congregation, look for other diversities. Are people with differing abilities represented? Are people of different ages represented? Economic status? How do you include home-bound members and those who deal with long-term illness?

How are you practicing inclusion in the life of your church? Is it a matter of lip-service, or are you doing your best to include people from all areas of life?  If not, how could you improve?

Here are some recent examples from churches I have known that have made a change to practice inclusion better:

 

-Including a ramp for the choir loft so that singers of all abilities could participate.

-Moving the choir down to the sanctuary floor for the anthem so that others could participate who could not get to the choir loft.

-Inviting a young man using a wheelchair to collect the offering

-Including a teen with Asperger’s on the youth outreach committee

-Making all restrooms accessible and changing the signs to “Restroom” with no gender indication

 

What can you do to practice inclusion better as a church community?

A Faithful "NO"

A Letter to Indiana Legislators

By Doug Sloan

One of the overarching messages of the Bible is that it continually calls us to grow and to move beyond where we are now and to more fully live as a community of God. Even the proponents of HJR 3 demonstrate this when they advocate only for Leviticus 18:22 and not for Leviticus 20:13. Both verses prohibit sex between men, but the latter stipulates a death penalty. HJR 3 does not require a death penalty and its supporters are not clamoring for it. However slight, this is a move forward and a sign of a growing understanding and a maturing faith.

The Bible was not written in English. Consequently, any English translation – at best – can only approximate the language, meaning, and connotation of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. For those of us who do not read ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, we must study the research and opinions of biblical scholars who do and who have access to the biblical source documents. The hundreds of biblical source documents range from complete scrolls to fingernail-sized fragments, were written over a span of several centuries, and source document copies of the same text can have significant differences. The books that are selected to be included in the Bible varies throughout the world – there is no single universal authoritative version of the Bible. The source documents span a lengthy time and clearly document that the text itself changed over time as it was copied. Most importantly, there are no original documents and there is no way to verify how closely the source documents replicate the original documents.

Over time the understanding of the Biblical texts has grown and matured. Slavery used to be the norm. Now, we reject it and advocate for its global abolition. Racial discrimination used to be the norm. Now, we reject it and advocate for global racial equality. Women as chattel used to be the norm. Now, we reject it. Women can own property, vote, and have access to a wide range of educational, economic, and ecclesiastical opportunities. Like the struggle for racial equality – the struggle for sexual equality continues globally, including the United States. Through all of these changes, the text of the Bible did not change. What did change was our understanding of the Biblical message, our understanding grew and matured.

Torah (best translated as “instruction”), the first five books of the Bible, has 613 instructions for the ancient nation of Israel – substantial evidence that they took seriously the call to be a people of God. The specifics of most of those instructions for the ancient nation of Israel have no relevance to us. We are neither controlled nor obligated by them. What remains is the message, gathered from the entire Bible, that we worship a God of unrestrained boundless love and unconditional grace whose deepest and most passionate desire is that we live long healthy joyous lives as a community of peace, justice, and compassion and as individuals of generosity, hospitality, and service. We do not worship a god of war, suffering, exclusion, vengeance, condemnation, sacrifices, blood debt, torture, abuse, shame, of neither punishment nor reward. We reject the universalism that declares every person is born into a state of hopelessness and condemnation. We continuously engage in lengthy, serious, deep scholarly study and prayerful contemplation of the Bible. Consequently, we proclaim the Good News that as a community, we are divinely called to a life of inclusive justice that repairs, rehabilitates, restores, and – where possible – reconciles. As a community, we are divinely called to be a people of abundant generous compassion that feeds, quenches, clothes, heals, houses, visits, and welcomes without exception or qualification.

Because it is contrary to the Good News, contrary to what God wants for us, and contrary to how God wants us to treat each other; vote “NO” on HJR 3.

Douglas C. Sloan, Elder

Central Christian Church

Terre Haute, IN

A Response to HJR-3 on Same Gender Marriage

By Bruce Barkhauer

As the Indiana Legislature considers HJR-3, I offer a few reflections. 

1. In our legacy as a country, time has not favored the suppression of the rights of a minority by the will and power of a majority. Whether it was enslaving other human-beings, forcibly taking the lands of Native Americans, failing to grant women the right to vote, interring all of the Japanese Americans during the Second World War, or any of a plethora of similar travesties; they all share one thing in common – they have proven to be on the wrong side of history and those who championed them now lie disgraced on the sideline of human progress.

2. “Letting the people decide” while politically expedient, is morally bankrupt.  If Congress in 1964 had allowed the people to decide the outcome on civil rights, in many southern states African Americans would not be able to exercise the right to vote and would still be drinking from “separate but equal - Blacks only water fountains”. [Look at North Carolina’s response to SCOTUS relaxing of voting law changes in the once segregated southern states if you think this is over-reach.] At the risk of failing to win a future election, this group stands in the privileged place of doing what is just, fair, and right.

3. I have yet to be convinced that my marriage (or the institution of marriage) is threatened by allowing same-sex persons who choose to commit themselves to one another to enjoy the same legal rights that my partner and I enjoy. 

4. Religious Communities who teach against same sex relationships will continue to be protected in their right to do so (and while in disagreement with them, I would defend their right to do so).  Churches and pastors will not be required to marry same sex couples.  As a pastor for 25 years, there were numerous occasions where I elected not to solemnize and preside over a couple coming to me who wanted me to officiate at their wedding.  No attorney or state official ever “came calling” to threaten or force me to do so.  Nothing changes.

5. The arguments made not to grant same-sex couples these rights are primarily based on religious values and a particular interpretation of sacred writings.  The very communities that claim these writings as scripture are not in full agreement about this, nor are they of one mind about hundreds of other issues. The First Amendment would suggest that such a basis for a law (solely based on religious practice) would in fact, render it unconstitutional.  Yes, many of our laws are based on some of the “Ten Words” of the Hebrew Bible – but they are also laws which order society in such a way as to protect and sustain human community and are not bound by a particular religious perspective.  Allowing two people who choose to be committed to each other share property legally, provide for the transfer of that property as inheritance at the time of death, enjoy a tax deduction, and have a right to visit and care for their partner as any married couple would; strengthens, rather than diminishes our social fabric.  Such commitment between individuals provides for stabilization, not chaos, in our communities.

6. Making something legal does not mean I condone it, it simply provides the protection of the civil rights of those who choose to do so.  There are plenty of laws on the books that allow me to do things I personally find objectionable. I simply do not engage in some behaviors that I am afforded the right to under the law, should I choose to exact that privilege.  For example, just because it is legal and constitutionally guaranteed that I may own a gun, does not mean I have to purchase one.

7. Should Indiana both resist the temptation to crystalize this aging and passing cultural norm of the opposition to same gender unions and eventually come to (however hesitatingly) embrace or accept these unions, it would strengthen the state. By affirming the value of the diversity of her citizens, it would be a recognition that all who reside within its boundaries have gifts to share that benefit us all.  Such a position would be more true to the framers of our original governing documents who were never foolish enough to believe that “Out of Many, One” meant homogeneity of thought, but rather unity of purpose.  That purpose, at its best, was meant to be the freedom to pursue one’s happiness and to contribute to the prospect of liberty and justice for each and every individual. 

8. Bad laws can be undone, but it is messy, expensive, time consuming, and wastes energy that could otherwise be used to craft legislation that is badly needed to protect the poor, secure the legacy of our natural resources, and provide for the education and nurturing of our children.  The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually struck down by the Twenty-first, and this too, if ultimately enacted could be (and likely in less than a generation will be) undone – but at what cost.  Let us focus instead on some of the things that really will make the Hoosier State a better place to live.

No more Either/Or; Now Both-And

By Rev. Mindi 

“The world has changed.”

I hear this all the time in the church: “The world has changed.” And of course it’s true, and of course it’s the same. Nothing new under the sun. World without end. And we don’t like change.

I think one of the most difficult changes for people, however, has been this shift from Either/Or to Both-And. This is within the church and within society in general. And perhaps the shift has come in waves across generations, through Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and in GLBTQ equality; and this wave of Both-And is just finally smacking the shore and changing the Either/Or landscape forever.

Church doesn’t look like it used to. Church was in a big building with a big committee and the most important thing were two-parent-heterosexual young married couples with children coming through the door.

Churches now have a building and don’t have a building. Churches now have heterosexual and homosexual couples and single people and no children and children and couples not married and older people bringing their grandchildren and animal blessings for pets in October and they meet in traditional buildings and coffee shops and movie theaters and homes and schools.

Even in the SBNR (Spiritual-But-Not-Religious) debate the wave has drawn over the conversation: Church now is full of religious and spiritual people, and so are coffee shops on Sunday mornings and bars on Tuesday nights. The either/or dichotomy is not working.

It’s not working among families where dads stay home and moms go to work or *gasp* both parents share parenting and work roles. Or parents partner with other adults to co-parent and form relationships beyond traditional models. Or among people who are genderqueer and do not claim a traditional male or female identity. Either/Or thinking does not work in families or churches anymore.

And while we have a long, long way to go, many of our churches are starting to look different among the younger generations as multiethnic families grow up. We all have heard the statistics: White-Euro-Americans will no longer be the majority racial/ethnic identity among those under 20 by the year 2020. Everything is changing. Our identities are going to be changing, and this will be huge for traditional White-Euro-American churches. Some of our traditions and cultural practices will change and I don’t think we’ve recognized that yet. But it’s coming.

Either/Or isn’t working anymore.

And in fact, I’m not sure it’s never worked, if we believe in the fully-human-*and*-fully-divine Jesus. Jesus was not Either/Or. Jesus was Both-And.

Jesus ate with the leaders as well as with the poor. Jesus welcomed the children and welcomed the adults. Even when Jesus said, “You cannot be my disciple if you do not hate father and mother,” we know James and John loved their mother and Peter his mother-in-law and we know they were flawed people who still were Jesus’ disciples. Even when Jesus used either/or language with the disciples, we know that Jesus still came to that group who had utterly abandoned him to the cross and said, “Peace be with you.”  Even Jesus cannot be bound to the Either/Or. It’s Both-And.

Both-And gives us room for tradition and innovation.  Both-And gives us room to teach our history and embrace the newness of change. Both-And says all people are welcome, whatever kind of family or no family.  Both-And says traditional pastoral ministry and new community ministry are needed by the church.  Both-And says yes to traditional church at 10am on Sunday and yes to new ways of being spiritual community. Both-And says that our understandings of gender and sexual orientation and race and culture are all being challenged and are more fluid than we had thought. Both-And says we have more than one option when it comes to challenging the human rights abuses in Syria and in other parts of the world. Both-And says there are many options for peace.

We’re moving to a Both-And world. That’s not to say it isn’t scary. The things we once knew we don’t anymore. The world is changing. I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t say it’s always a good thing, but it is what it is.

Everything is changing. Let’s be sure we’re alert, aware, and ready for the wave coming. World without end.