Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Honestly, y'all...

Once upon a time, I attended a church that had very specific, yet unspoken, views on a number of subjects. Since we were united in our desire to follow the way of Christ rather than a unanimous agreement on various points of theological concern, I was able to be a very active member of the congregation while not necessarily holding to all of the views wrestled with at the pulpit on any given Sunday. They didn’t have female pastors or elders, but there was a sort of advisory council which included representatives from across the spectrum of gender and race and socioeconomic status of our congregation. We opened our arms, our lives, our homes to people from every tribe, tongue and nation. Coming from a very traditional and conservative church experience, this was a progressive and exciting place.

Eventually, however, the curtain was pulled back and I was forced to see some of the negative mechanics that kept the organization running. I had to take a hard look at people, including elders, who had made the decision to leave the congregation, and at those, including staff, still struggling to stay committed to the community. On the surface, there was unity in diversity. But as you moved further in and further up, you quickly learned that you don’t challenge the ideas of leadership, even if they were constantly changing at the whims of one individual. There was manipulation and power and even sparks of anger lurking in the deep.

I was already in the midst of difficult conversations with leadership when the statements began to appear. Gradually, issues that arose were addressed in sermons, and the sermons were posted to the website as Statements of Belief, representing the whole body to the public. One statement, on the nature of church itself, had direct references to conversations I had participated in. Others didn’t affect me, but I knew they had created a barrier to others remaining in community there. And a few, particularly those on the role of women in the church and homosexuality, caused quite a stir.

Now that stir, mind you, was not within the congregation itself. In fact, it seemed that few within the church were even aware that the statements existed. For me, they were part of the catalyst of leaving the church – it was difficult for me to justify worshipping under the banner of “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” (which was explicitly stated in the Statement of Belief, and which when I questioned the pastor about the inclusion of the statement, was defended as being “catchy”). There were other reasons, of course, but these statements did help to make my decision clearer.

What offended me more than the presence of the statements was their disappearance. You see, it didn’t matter that people were leaving the community, hurt at feeling pushed away, because they could not concede agreement with the Statements of Belief. However, when professors from the local university, a community partner of the church, began questioning the association of the university with a congregation that made such public statements limiting the participation, and even the humanity, of women and lgbtq individuals – when the professors began calling for an end to the community partnership – the statements were quietly removed from the church’s webpage. Again, many congregants never knew they were there, so they certainly did not notice when they disappeared.

Did the views change?

Was reconciliation pursued?

No. The offending views were just quietly tucked away so as to improve the public image of the congregation for the purpose of community partnerships.

This is how I feel about the Republican response to Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about rape and reproduction. His comments caused an uproar, so they want to hide him away. The problem is, he is not the only person making such comments, and he is not the only person pushing related legislation.

What offends me more than Akin’s comments is the attempt by his party to pretend those views are not part of their platform, that they somehow do not represent the legislative plans of the Republican Party. Disassociating yourself from one person because he said what he was thinking does not make the problem disappear – it only serves to make you look hypocritical. I have to at least give props to Huckabee for publicly validating Akin as a prophet of the party.

This is also how I feel about the Democratic (lack of) response to continued abuse of war powers under their administration. The vocal opposition to decisions made by President George W. Bush, to war crimes committed under Republican leadership, was loud and proud. And yet, while atrocities continue to be committed at taxpayer expense, those same voices remain silent.

What offends me more than the atrocities of war being justified overseas, is the denial that they are happening, or at the very least, that they are wrong. We cannot vehemently decry waterboarding under one administration, and sit idly by while the next allows the murder of field rescuers. It is hypocritical, and it is evil.

I want to learn to be more honest. I want be clear about what I believe, what I support, and even what I am unsure about. I want my yes to be yes, and my no to be no… or at least my “I don’t know” to be “I don’t know.” And I want to expect more of this from others, particularly those in leadership. I don’t want to follow blindly, and I don’t want to ignore things that are wrong for the sake of public reputation. I want to wrestle with ideas, openly and honestly… and I want listening to be a BIG part of that process. This is the legacy I want to leave – that pretending, concealing, “being sweet” isn’t healthy or helpful; that conversations can be hard, and they can still practice peace, and patience, and kindness and gentleness – but they have to, above all, be honest.


Ramón said...

This blog post could be about my life right now. We've got a lot to catch up on, Kim. Once again, our journeys run in parallel.

Bill said...

This great post resonates with me on many levels. I understand EXACTLY what you're saying about your church experience and I totally agree with you about the silent acquiesence of supposed progressives in the warmongering of this administration. Thanks for this excellent post. I hope you'll post more often. :)