What if I don’t buy into the captive church?

Big Signage For about a month now, there has been a blog post brewing in my brain. Every time I set down to write it, nothing really comes out. But the post is there, lurking. I find myself walking my dog and thinking about it. Every once in awhile, my thoughts return to it. And when I’m standing in worship at my field site, my home church, or my seminary, the post comes back to life.

But I still haven’t figured out what to say about it.

The thoughts started bubbling after reading about the white middle class captivity of the ELCA. I buy a lot of what Rev. Clint said – whenever I leave New York City and enter an ELCA church, I’m always aware of how brown I am. That doesn’t surprise me nor shock me. I honestly think that you could probably argue that the ELCA is still heavily tied to its immigrant roots, still heavily American but not entirely (or what not). My not being a cradle Lutheran and spending most of my time experiencing the urban version of Lutheranism probably taints my view quite a bit. And it probably doesn’t help that I’m Hispanic.

My issue with this kind of thinking isn’t that it’s false. I think its very valid. Asking the question why the ELCA is middle class & white and asking the question how to get that to change – those are good questions. And being honest with our own personal stake in the ELCA being the way it is, that’s great too. In fact, wherever I end up is probably not going to look a lot like me. And I’m use to that. But I’ve been wondering – if we keep saying that the church is too white, too middle class, too this or too that – what does that say about the members of our church who aren’t white and who are poor? And what do we do about the members of our denomination who claim that identity and say “hey, I don’t buy into that?”

I don’t know – maybe no one will say that. But I’ve been thinking about it. There’s something very good about the corporate body saying “oh hey, we’re too much like this. We need to change.” I’m down with that. But there is a part of me that doesn’t mind thinking “well, that’s not me.” So what’s the trick then? To be honest about who we are as an organization but also be open enough so that all minority groups can lay a claim to it, own it, and say that the ELCA is me and then some? Or is this a tad too personal and I’m trying too hard to stick out? I don’t know.

But if we’re really trying to get all sorts of groups to buy into what it means to be in the ELCA (or the Church, church, Christianity, etc) – how do we mean it? That I haven’t figured out.

I know what the Metro-New York Synod has been doing to try and change that feeling. I know we have lots of assistants to the bishops that are minorities. That’s good, to a degree. And I think there’s something valuable of having someone that “looks like me” in a position of hierarchical power. But if you’re part of a synod that also says its going to close 50 churches..well….

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But I’m slowly drawing into it the question I’ve had about what it means to buy into the ELCA. In fact, that term, “buy in,” is probably becoming some sort of rallying point for my thoughts and there’s probably some dangerous theological problems with just using the term “buy in.” But well, hey, I’ve never been a fan of using the term “loyalty” (as in, there is no denominational loyalty anymore) that I keep hearing too.

I wonder if any of this kind of thinking will lead anywhere.

2 thoughts on “What if I don’t buy into the captive church?”

  1. I think we all struggle with this, to varying degrees — “we” here meaning members of churches with roots in Europe, especially northern Europe — Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.

    Two thoughts always catch me off guard. The first is that of all the mainline Protestant churches, the one to make the most dramatic change in its ethnic makeup has been the Southern Baptist Convention. This alone is a rebuttal to much of the thinking that has quietly shaped the ELCA’s practice of multicultural ministry (and a lot of other ministry as well).

    The second, to which I admit only with caution, is that maybe we shouldn’t be ashamed of being who we are. The historically black denominations certainly aren’t — they have the occasional white member, but they don’t try to change who they are to bring in a few more.

    I worry that we have been so eager to show that we have gifts to offer people whose ancestors didn’t come from, say Denmark that we have inadvertently lost sight of what those gifts are.

  2. I’m down with the ELCA embracing who it is and not being ashamed with it. I’ve had a similar kind of thought when it comes to ministry towards young adults because, in my thinking, not owning who you are and where you come from is an inauthentic expression of community. And if one is not entirely sure of who they are, how welcoming can they be to another person who enters the doors? Will they be able to embrace the other fully? Probably not.

    In NYC, at least, the large, growing, and heavily mission oriented congregations actually do embrace who they are, where they come from, and what they’re trying to do (though they might pretend otherwise – Redeemer, I’m looking at you). And I’m not saying that change is bad – far from it. But throwing things around to see if it sticks, or worse, trying to focus on whims of others or even individuals, just doesn’t work .

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