Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Church Politic

For the last few days, mixed in with my readings for my doctoral project, I've watched the goings on of my denominational Mother of All Meetings from afar.  I've tracked the online chatter.  I've followed the #hashtag.

What has struck me, harder this year than before, is just how very much our way of being together is a political system.

Like, say, the websites set up by folks who were running for the esteemed position of Moderator of the General Assembly.  Oh, sure, there's not a party affiliation--not formally, not yet, thank the Maker--but these are exactly the same sort of things you see when your state senator is out there shaking the web for votes.

Or the wrangling on the floor and behind the scenes over procedural issues, the sort of back room wheeling and dealing that happens whenever human beings get together in huge groups to figure things out.  There's complicated commentary on rules, and wondering about secret agendas, and all of the [stuff] that rises from the organic life of parliaments and committees of the House of Representatives.

This all serves to remind me: in the way we structure our life together, we Presbyterians don't look anything like the sleekly focused corporate hierarchies of market-based megachurch Christianity.

Our way of being together?  It's not product.  It's the way of the polis.  It's political, in the same way that a constitutional republic is political.  It's just how human beings in large groups function, when there's no King or Emperor or CEO to call every last shot.

When I teach new members classes, or confirmation classes, I've tended to highlight that as a strength.  The foundation of our Presbyterian constitution arose from the same heady era as the Constitution of the United States, and that--for a very long time--was a great strength of our...um..."brand."

Now, though, I do find myself wondering if that's one of the reasons we struggle to connect with culture as a fellowship.

Here we have a culture that is worn out and disillusioned by the mess of political discourse.

It's always been boisterous, always, but that tendency towards rancorous hubbub has been amplified to bleeding-ear levels by 24 hour news cycles and the roaring partisanship of our online echo chambers.

That way of life, loud and divisive and messy, can be exhausting.  It can also be rewarding, in the complex way of human relationships, but demanding of our energy and attention.  It requires sacrifice.  No one gets exactly what they want, because in a relationship, that's an expectation that kills.

Here we have a culture, in which we live out our mess publicly and together, that has come to expect faith to look like a product.   We want what we want, with a couple of clicks and two day shipping.  Product does not challenge us.  It gives us what we want, or we return it.

And that's a bit challenging, when it comes time to tell people about this way of being we've found.   Come join our fellowship, we say.

It looks just like politics!