I recently had an epiphany that gave me, as John Irving’s Owen Meany would say, “the shivers”. My epiphany was that as a member of the mainline protestant clergy, I had a lot in common with the members of the Republican Party. And for someone who has voted Democratic since the 9th student elections (Jimmy Carter), that was a little scary.
My epiphany came to me while listening to yet another speech by the GOP on how they really needed to “attract” minorities, youth and women. It all sounded so familiar. My clergy colleagues and I spend much of our professional lives trying to desperately trying to “attract” the same groups—especially the youth. And like the Republicans we are bitterly aware that we have lost two generations and equally clueless about how to get them back. If they come back at all.
I suppose that our youth and young adults perceive the Church and the Republican Party as irrelevant because both groups appear dominated by old white men expounding the ideals of a WWII culture. Not unlike Mitt Romney, the Church hearkens back to the ecclesiastical glory days of 1950.
But the GOP and the Protestant clergy share more than just a disastrous relationship with America’s youth, we also share a mutual sense of our own impending demise, a shocking realization of our own insignificance, and at the heart of everything, a niggling fear that maybe our youth and young adults are right—maybe we are irrelevant. Like the Republican Party, church leaders seem to have suddenly realized that the world has changed and they should be scrambling to change with it. And yet, they seem instead to be digging their heels and staying as far to the right of the pulpit as possible.
This clergy resistance to acknowledge the real world was obvious in my own church sanctuary. We had sponsored a workshop for transgender concerns called “Created in the Image of God”. The event was held on a Thursday buy proscar singapore evening and featured a dynamic speaker, a woman whose eleven year-old daughter is transgender. We advertised the event with bright pink flyers, word of mouth, an announcement from the pulpit, and a smattering of blurbs on Facebook and Twitter. The local paper was nice enough to advertise it for free. We made a careful effort to personally invite all local clergy in Burlington and the surrounding areas.
The event was a huge success. The church was packed with young and old. At the end of the evening, the speaker was given a standing ovation. However, one group was missing–the clergy. Not a single minister of any denomination attended.
That lack of support is at least part of the answer to why we have lost the last two generations of youth (and lots of other thinking individuals—young , old and middle aged). It was a night when the church was filled with people listening to a cutting edge topic, a chance to educate oneself on an issue of theological and social magnitude—and yet, not a single church leader showed up.
The act of maintaining the status quo is what got the Republican Party put on the shelf as a nice antique; I don’t want the Church I love to be a nice antique.
My epiphany that made me compare myself with the GOP was a little shocking. But shocking can be good. It is shock that gets a heart started again so maybe a little shock could get the church started again. It’s not too late. Maybe the Protestant church doesn’t have to roll over and play dead. Maybe it just needs to recognize that the world has changed and that although the occasional Garrison Keillor chicken noodle dinner is a nice fellowship event, a workshop on LGBT concerns isn’t such a bad idea either.
Jane Willan, Moderator of the Iowa Conference Board of Directors and Pastor at Burlington Zion UCC