31 May 2006

Or perhaps they can't hear us because we're not saying anything

The United Church News, the print news service of the United Church of Christ published an article, "Amplifying the Mainline" this month. The article addresses the woeful lack of presence by mainline church leaders in major news media. It cites a report by the research group, Media Matters that indicates that mainline churches, who according to the article, happen to hold one-quarter of America's church-going membership, are rarely, if ever, represented on national news reports.
The article also goes beyond merely lamenting the presence of mainline church leaders in discussions of Christianity to focus on the work of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an institution dedicated to reforming the mainline church through a return to biblical principles. In the article it's called a "neo-con" organization that has been launching systematic attacks on the mainline denominations "to disrupt mainline churches, discredit their national agencies, and 'decapitate' mainline leaders. "
So now we know why mainline churches have been failing to reach the hearts of the American public. It's "their" fault.
Or -- and I know this is a stretch -- perhaps it's not someone else's fault at all. Perhaps it's because we haven't had anything to say.
For at least four decades mainline churches have been more focused on holding together crumbling infrastructures and maintaining outdated hierarchies than focusing on what gave us our status as, well, status-symbols in the first place, which was a very pointed and real effort to reach the unchurched. Somewhere along the line, we figured that since we didn't see anyone who was unchurched, they didn't exist. That, or they were "over there" in some far off country or they were young and foolish and would join our ways if just given enough time, though we'd be darned if we were going to expend much effort on them in the meantime. We had proud histories of ministry and change. We rested on them, clung to them, and held them up whenever anyone asked about our relevance in the world.
Into that void, stepped the young upstarts, the evangelical, pentecostal, and charismatic churches who bothered to connect with youth, made mission a priority, worked on being relevant in their communications, and decided to make history now rather than reflect upon it.
Et voila! Evangelicals on the rise, mainline in decline.
Clearly it was "their" fault.
Ok. I know it's more complicated than all of this, but really -- do we have anyone to point to other than ourselves? We're the ones who have let this happen, who have treasured institutions over individuals, structures over Spirit, process over people. This mess is all us, not "them."
The thing is, if we want to change whether we are heard, we cannot use our scant resources to work against those we see as our antagonists. That's just immature and childish. Nor can we adopt the victim mentality with which we are all far too familiar and whine about how those mean big voices are drowning us out. So what if "they" are out to get us? Shake the dust off our feet and get on with ministry, for heaven's sake.
It's time to move beyond this and start actually doing what our denominations were founded to do -- put faith into action without leaving our brains at the door.
The fact is -- the mainline churches do actually have a pretty large leg to stand on when it comes to Biblical theology. We've got pretty good ideas, really, and a history to back us up and inspire us, not excuse us from action.
But in order to speak, we're going to have to have something to say. As the article in United Church News said, quoting Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches said, "It's time for mainline church leaders to spend less time trying to hold their organizations together, and speak instead about those issues that God cares about -- that God cares about the poor. God cares about justice. God cares about the stewardship of the Earth."
And it would really help if we knew what we were talking about. Most of us are terrified by the evangelicals living next door because they know the Bible and we don't. Well, the way to fix that is to read the Bible. Get into a personal relationship with Jesus. Find the mission to which He is calling us. Put faith into action.
And while we're at it, let's just ignore the people trying to derail the plan. Let's not get distracted. Let's not stoop to that level. If conservative groups in our denominations want to call us faithless, so be it. Let's not turn around and call them simple. Let's not prooftext unless we want to be prooftext-ed to. Let's not express pity for the poor fools while looking down the nose at them either.
Let's just follow Jesus.
This seems like a no-brainer to me. If we want to be heard, why don't we start saying something worth hearing. Better yet, why don't we let our actions speak louder than our words. Let's change the world. Eventually, they'll hear what we have to say.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant - as a quasi-evangelical, neo-non-mainliner, I think this is...brilliant.


Gary Aknos said...

The UC News story is way, way overblown. Details at http://www.UCCtruths.com/

April said...

You know, I should say, I don't doubt for a moment that there are conservative groups in our denominations trying to get their messages out there. And I don't doubt that there are people behaving poorly (from any side of an issue). We're humans. We want what we believe to be true to be heard.
I am SO tired of "liberal" Christians speaking to and about "conservative" Christians as though they are foolish, simple-minded or fascists. And I am SO tired of "conservative" Christians speaking to and about "liberal" Christians as though they are snotty, fragile-faithed, or elitist.
But that's not really the point.
The point is -- we can only control our own actions and spending the little energy and resources our denominations have available to refute or attack "the opposition" is ridiculous in my mind.
There's this great old adage that comes to mind -- something about actions speaking louder than something...oh... it'll come to me...
Yeah, so what if the IRD is targeting mainline denominations. If the people in the pews knew why the leadership is pursuing their theological stands AND more importantly, saw them actually DOING the theology they profess, the issue with IRD and similar groups would probably fix itself.
Or it wouldn't and we'd have to let God deal with those little buggers. Something like that.