Wednesday, June 29, 2005

'Mainlines' in Trouble, Part 4

I've shared my thoughts on the specific things we'll be discussing at the UCC's General Synod here, here, here, here, here, and here. So what's left to say?

Yesterday I received a letter that had apparently been sent to all Synod delegates from Ohio. It was sent on behalf of one UCC church (many members' signatures were on the back) expressing 'concern' over one of the resolutions on equal marriage rights. Another UCC congregation had sent one out a few weeks prior in support of this resolution. I've heard rumblings of another letter floating around where one man threatens to pull his church out of the UCC if this resolution passes. Three different opinions sent along to delegates, and the minority side afterwards says its view wasn't considered. This is the stance taken by the first letter I mention. There is this dichotomy at work where, because the minority viewholders don't see things work out the way they wanted it to work out, their view wasn't considered. Period. A milder take by some is that one's view is 'patronized,' but not really heard.

The other night George Bush made a nationally televised speech about the war in Iraq. I didn't watch it, but the newspaper this morning reported that he did acknowledge that the war has been hard, and he acknowledged that not everyone is happy about it. Internet pundits spin this either to mean that Bush acknowledged it and dissenters should shut up or to mean that he's 'patronizing' the minority view without changing his tactics.

Why do I bring that up? We can expect similar spin starting July 6. Synod will be over and new battle lines--theological, political, ecclesiological--will be drawn. Some will claim that what is wrong with the 'mainline' church today, at least in the case of the United Church of Christ, is that it has become too political or that the national body doesn't listen to its local entities. The case can be made for other 'mainline' groups. Consider the United Methodist Church and its struggle over 'practicing' homosexuals. Consider the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and its internal battle over divestment from Israel.

Someone is not listening to someone else, it is claimed. And thus we get letters threatening to pull out or threats to withhold funds from national or regional projects. Whether Bush was throwing a bone to those who disagree, whether the majority viewholders at a national gathering throw a bone to those who disagree, whether any of it is genuine, finally rests at the word of the one who said it. I myself am flying to Atlanta having genuinely wrestled with the issues being brought to the floor. The letter from the church in support of equal marriage indicated that it had as well. Church members such as those deserve more credit than what they get from those who disagree.

What's all this have to do with 'mainline' churches in trouble? I'm not totally sure. Maybe some on both sides don't listen. They're too busy yelling to hear themselves. I'm planning on hearing plenty of yelling in Atlanta. Some of it I'll agree with. Some of it will make me cringe. But I hope someone else is listening.

The other side is that someone can only listen for so long. I know I have my limit and others do, too. What happens next? Well, that's to be solved another day.