Friday, July 23, 2010

America's Always Done It That Way

America is, or so we are often told by people who should know better, a Christian nation. It's a fairly common refrain among those on the far right, those who would self-describe as ultra-conservative. They see resisting change as a battle against the forces that are gradually, insidiously turning this country into some unrecognizable socialist horror. You know, like the People's Republic of Canada. Change is to be resisted.

I found myself yesterday musing at the irony in this.

Conservatives in America tend to be church folks. And church leaders know that the kiss of death for any church comes when it is governed by one particular and pernicious phrase: "We've Always Done It That Way." As a theory for the primary cause of church demise and decay, it's well tested. If a congregation is not open to change, not open to responding creatively to the new challenges in its community and the world, then it will die. It might take a while. But that church will eventually calcify and crumble and fail, because it has ceased to be a living entity.

Here I'm not talking about changing the central governing values of the church. I'm talking about changing the structural and procedural mechanics of church. You know, the crap that doesn't matter. Big, vibrant churches...which, paradoxically, are often the conservative ones...know this. You modify the form, while maintaining the essential content.

Observing the intensity of the resistance to some seemingly obvious and necessary structural changes in our country, I marvel that a nation filled with successful churches should be so ferociously resistant to change. Take, for instance, our approach to transporting our selves and our stuff. A car-based system of mass transportation is obscenely inefficient, abusively wasteful of both our time and our natural resources. But we LIIIIKE it. It's the way we've always done it. It feels comfortable. So even though it can't be sustained, we resist any efforts to change it. Just drill more! Just make more long as you don't make us pay for them. And keep gas cheap, so we can drive our big lumbering Suburbans just the way the Founding Fathers intended.

We choose to ignore that things are changing. We refuse to realize that the easy and abundant energy that comes from carbon-based sources of energy was the only thing that makes the inefficiencies in our system possible. We close our eyes to the approaching end of the Oil Age. We are, as a culture, like that college-town church that clings to organs and stained glass and high pulpits and robes. It might, for a time, survive. But eventually, clinging to forms and structures that no longer reflect the reality around us will be the end of us. Assuming we're not dead already.

Any halfway competent pastor could tell you that.