Friday, May 25, 2012

The Silos We Choose

Last week, I read through an interesting op-ed by a conservative Democrat.  Rep. John Barrow of Georgia wrote a piece lamenting the growing polarization and partisan paralysis in Congress.  Barrow is a Blue Dog Democrat, one of a dying breed of conservative Southern Democrats that unsuccessfully try to stand to the right of most of the rest of their party.  The decline of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans wasn't news, not to anyone who's been paying any attention to politics for the last Lord knows how many years.

What made the piece interesting was that Barrow suggested that gerrymandering...the questionable practice of recasting the political map to favor one party or another...might be at least partially to blame.  I'd never quite thought of it that way before, but there seemed some merit to the idea.

If political parties can select boundaries that concentrate sections of the electorate to favor a particular partisan outcome, then it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that one factor in our collective incapacity to work together for the common good is that our structures are inherently radicalizing.   The system rewards the extremes.

Which got me to wondering about church siloing.   'Cause do we faith folk ever silo.

Don't get me wrong.  I think our selection of where we worship and spend our faith-time has to be voluntary.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with engaging with a community because it speaks meaning to you, and you can be authentically yourself within it.  I think the religious richness of our pluralistic culture is a vast improvement over the oppressive monolith that was state religion.

Yet within every system, its strength is the heart of its hubris.  Our freedom to find the community that perfectly matches our predilections is not without dangers.   In making our selection, the moral and spiritual hazard lies in the tendency of self-selected communities to polarize, and to define that which was not-chosen as inherently inferior.

That was certainly a challenge in the denominational era, when congregational affiliation was structured along class lines.  But it is no less a challenge in this era of nondenominational, marketized Christianity.

Unless we intentionally press out through it, our choice can become the wall that prevents us from seeing the other, and from really engaging with the other.

And that, at least for Jesus-folk, is a very dangerous way to be.