Monday, July 13, 2009

On Appropriate Use of Righteous Anger

I'm still thinking about General Synod. I'm still thinking about the episode that played out during the Tuesday morning plenary, but I'm also thinking about some other events.

I'm thinking about a report made by the national youth staff, particularly of a national effort to meet with and survey youth and young adults from all over the UCC, during which a condensed version of this video was shown:

And then I think about the person who stepped to a microphone afterwards and complained that there were no minorities included in the video and, as I recall, no minority youth included in the survey. There were plainly minority youth included in the video, and Thomas Chu, the head of this effort, waited very patiently at a mic before sharing that he had, in fact, met with multiple groups of minority youth throughout the UCC.

And I'm also thinking about the nominations for Executive Council, when the youth from Ohio (not that there's anything wrong with that) stepping to the mic to ask why no youth or young adults were on the ballot. The response was that youth and young adults were included on the board, and these were to fill other vacancies.

I think about these three scenarios, and I'm a little concerned. And I know that I'm not going to end up saying this as well as I want to, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

At Synod this year, I saw and heard more righteous anger than I think I ever have at these events. People seemed to be ready to jump to a microphone at any real or perceived slight to their own cause or group; to be offended and to express offense at every opportunity. It seems to me that this Synod exhibited a level of sensitivity and emotion that both affected the atmosphere and was preventable.

Consider that the protest of the "single governance" outcome and subsequent insinuations of racism could have been prevented if someone had simply used the process to move for more discussion time. Consider that there were minorities included in the youth video, whom someone didn't see or chose not to see. Consider that the spots being filled on Executive Council did not call for youth or young adults at this time.

I worry that this Synod was illustrative of what is consuming and will consume the UCC over time: misplaced righteous anger. I worry that we're being overcome by a desire to rush to charges of discrimination; an attitude looking for opportunities to be offended that will ultimately distract us from our real work as a church seeking to pursue and embody God's love and justice.

I hear the objection. I hear and understand that part of our work to embody that justice is to make sure that all are fairly represented at the table. And I hear and understand that we need people to remind us when that isn't happening. We need voices calling the entire group to task when someone else's voice is being silenced. I do not disagree, and I hope that this post isn't being read that way.

My point is that, in these specific cases, the cause for offense was not an accurate perception, or could have been prevented. People spoke often at this Synod out of their emotions when a more rational assessment of the situation could have been more productive. And I worry that emotion is becoming the rule of the day in the United Church of Christ. I worry that righteous anger, whether warranted or not, is becoming a primary determinant of our work, rather than a reasoning together of people who share a goal of seeking God's kingdom in the world and a unity in Christ. I worry that moments truly calling for that righteous anger will be lost in the shuffle; diluted to the point that they won't stand out from the rest.