Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Racial-Ethnic and the "Other"

A recent Thanksgiving gathering of old friends at my homestead stirred some interesting conversation around demography and race. This is unsurprising, given that our little fellowship included two professors of sociology and the director of research for a decent-sized corporation. In particular, there was talk about how meaningless it is to project the growth of particular racial categories in the United States. Racial categories can change, because in a pluralistic culture, race is not a static thing. We're a mongrel nation, and expecting racial division to remain long term ain't realistic.

Ultimately, the box we're all going to check when the census man asks about our race is "Other." Either that or "Mutt."

One of the things that cheeses me off most consistently about my essentially well-meaning denomination is our obsession over demographics. Being decent and orderly and all, we like to keep track of and monitor and fret over all manner of data. And because we're sorta kinda progressive, we tend to fret most intensely over whether or not we're diverse.

We're not, of course. We are, as a denomination, mostly Anglo and aging. Realizing that monocultures are vulnerable both biologically and organizationally, we talk endlessly about the need to be inclusive of our racial-ethnic brothers and sisters. Do we have enough racial-ethnic participation on our committees? Are we training enough racial-ethnic pastors? Do we have enough racial-ethnic congregants?

To which I find myself thinking: "racial-ethnic?" Why does that category exist at all? It is, for the PC(USA), a catch-all category that means "y'all-ain't-white-folk." And though we're trying to be meticulously fair, slapping a big NON-HONKEY label on people seems mostly just to make people aware that they are not "us." It's a recipe for failure.

Some will argue that we need to be intentional about things, that we need to keep track and keep ourselves accountable. I think there's truth in that. But more important than our intellectual intentionality is it's fusion with a culture of intentional boundary shattering in our congregations. To do this right, we've got to couple our intellectual intentionality with a change in the cultural expectations of our congregations. Meaning we're as heart-intentional about it as we are mind-intentional.

What we need, as Bulworth* might put it, is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of ecclesiastical racial deconstruction.


*Off-site links may not hew to the Beloved Spear no-profanity policy...so don't say I didn't warn ya.