Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Counting the Beans

It was time for forms again, as my little congregation cranked through our required annual statistical reportage to the denomination.  My clerk of session and I went back and forth with emails, checking numbers.

One of the questions, though, was a bit fuddly.  Had we used the services of a racial/ethnic pastor in the previous year?   Well, no, I suppose not, given what that peculiar term means within my oldline denomination.  It's a code word for "not white," because as we know, there are "whites" and there are "racial/ethnics."  Here is a categorical system that assumes that Slavs are the same as Scots are the same as the French are the same as Norwegians, but that draws no distinction between a Korean and a Kikuyu.  

"White" is the norm.  Everyone else is "other."  It's a peculiar thing.  Well meaning, yes.  But also more than a little awkward to the ear.  

I personally know African American pastors and Asian American pastors and Latino pastors, sure.  They'd be great.  But they've got gigs on Sunday, responsibilities to their congregations that would make it a challenge to get out to a small quasi-rural community.  Or they're friends now far away, and my wee kirk can't afford to fly people out for a Sunday.

But undoubtedly, hearing preaching from different cultural traditions can be both important and awesome.  

We wrestled with this on Session, as we tried to figure out a way we could do this without being embarrassingly obvious about bean-counting.  There's a list of pastors who engage in supply preaching, but it doesn't make a point of categorizing them by racial/ethnicness.  

Not that I am suggesting this.  Lord help me, I'm not suggesting this.  

"We'd love to have you preach," we'd say, "but we're looking for a racial/ethnic," we'd say.   "Are you a racial/ethnic?"  That feels faintly insulting.  Well, more than faintly.  

What human being wants to be a slot-filler, just a particular kind of bean to be counted?