What Historically White Denominations Can Learn From the Republican Party

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The day after election night is like Christmas morning for bloggers and political pundits. Like eager children we come bounding down the stairs ready to rip open and reflect on wins, losses, gaffes and funnies left on the hearth of election night.

Oh but where to start?

I think I’ll start with race.

For as much as some would like to think that we are “over” race or that the whole reason we still have racism is because we keep talking about it, occurrences like John Sununu’s comments about Colin Powell and last night’s demographic breakdown have once again pushed race to the forefront of American political and cultural conversations. Other demographics: class, age, gender, etc. also play a huge part in the discussion, but over and over again, the pundits from both parties kept coming back to race.

The topic that has been particularly compelling to me has been about the future of the Republican party. In light of what one commentator described when talking about the impact of demographic racial diversity on the election saying, “The future as arrived” I am intrigued by how this mostly older, White Republican party will respond and adapt in order to regain influence?

Hey wait a gosh darn minute . . . White and older?

And this is where historically White and aging denominations like my own, the Presbyterian Church (USA) might want to tune into future discussions and developments in the Republican Party. Many of the Republican commentators described what is to come as anything from a pending civil war to a time for regrouping and deep soul-searching, but regardless of the intensity levels, there is obviously going to be some serious talk about how Republicans will reach the increasingly diverse United States population.

Yeah, kinda like what we Presbyterians and others need to do as well.

While I doubt that I will be invited into the strategy meetings of the Grand Old Party, I do know that I may have the ear of some of our Grand Old Denominations. With this in mind let me not-so-humbly offer a few words of unsolicited advice.

First, we must stop seeing these demographic changes as problems that must be leveraged in order to avoid death and instead see these changes as transformational realities that must be embraced in order to experience new life.

And second . . . well, let’s see if we can get a handle on the first one ;-)

On more than one occasion, it was said that the Republican party has a “Latino Problem” that must be addressed. While I understand what was intended by the statement, this framing of an ethnic group as a resource to be leveraged only goes to commoditize a people and does not invite new voices into the conversations as equal partners in shaping and forming the future of the body. This perspective only encourages resentment and disdain, because it forces those who hold power to give it up out of necessity and survival and not out of genuine openness to a new way of being . . . of being Presbyterian, of being Lutheran, of being Republican.

Some might say that this election and the current state of most historically White denominations makes it clear that it is simply a matter of time before our need to hold onto power, privilege and status creates an institutional reality so narrow that, as Brian Williams said about Donald Trump, we may drive “well past the last exit to relevance and veer[ed] into something closer to irresponsible.” And while I am don’t believe that we Presbyterians will be as outrageous as Mr. Trump in the ways we express ourselves during this time, to allow our deep theological and ecclesiastic traditions to be retrained and confined by our unwillingness to express those things in new ways and through difference voices, we will not only move closer to irresponsibility, but we will move closer to being unfaithful.

So as discussions about race continue in politics, and I hope in our churches, let us do so with pastoral hearts for the struggles that change invites, gracious voices that are committed to the conversation and liberating eyes toward who God may be intending for us to become.

This is an exciting and opportune time for us all and I look forward to the ongoing adventure that it is to be the body politic and the body of Christ.

May the peace of Christ be with you and may we see God’s blessings in us all.

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PC(USA) Moderator Candidates’ Wildcard Question

For you Presbyterians out there, admit it, you know you are getting all excited about our upcoming General Assembly (July, 2012) just around the corner in Pittsburgh. The exhibit hall schwag, the stylish local host aprons and the endless arguing over what word works best: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet or So (FANBOYS).

Yes, we Presbyterians know how to party like it’s 1955.

In all seriousness, while there is much to critique my denominational family concerning a great many things, there is a genuine sense of family for many of us who attend our biennial national gathering. At our worst we model the full spectrum of  human brokeness and at our best, we allow the Holy Spirit to move in and through our hearts, minds and actiona. It’s a frustratingly wacky family, but it’s my family.

One of the geekiest and loveliest parts of our General Assembly is the election of our Moderator. This is the person who moderates the week-long meeting of roughly 1,000 commissioners and then travels and speaks on behalf of the denomination for the following two years. I held this office from 2008-2010 and, while exhausting beyond belief on so many levels, it was a great honor to serve. It really was. As a denomination without a bishop in our structure, the Moderator has no real political power, but there is a great affection for and openness to the office by more folks than I had ever expected. Easy to dismiss as an irrelevant position – and that reality is clearer at some times more than others – it’s still an important part of our denominational life together.

This year there are five candidates who have declared their intentions to “stand” for Moderator: Rev. Janet Edwards of Pittsburg Presbytery, Rev. Robert M. Austell Jr. of Charlotte Presbytery, Rev. Randy Branson of Palo Duro Presbytery; Rev. Sue Krummel of Great Rivers Presbytery; and Rev. Neal Presa of Elizabeth Presbytery. We do not “run” for the office, as this is not about a campaign for an individual to win, but a calling to for a community to discern. Part of that process is that the candidates answer questions before and during General Assembly from various organizations and entities. It will be completely up to them whether or not they respond and there is a general understanding that all candidates should be included in all public discussions.

This year I am going to pose a few questions to the  candidates as well as to those whom they have selected, should they be elected, to serve as vice-moderator. I will post their responses and links in the next few weeks.

This is where you come in.

One of the questions that I am going to ask them to answer is a wild card: “Answer one question that you would like to answer but have not been asked and/or select from any submitted on this blog post.” So if you have a question that you hope one/all might answer, please leave it in the comment section. It will be totally up to each candidate to choose which and whether they choose one from this pool of questions, but you never know. I will be sending the full slate of my questions to the candidates this weekend, so if you add your contribution soon the more likely it will be answered by one of the candidates.

DISCLAIMER: Just to be clear, I am doing this on my own and not as any official action of any General Assembly entity.


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