Friday, December 24, 2004

GISS and Classism

Reader gordbrown writes in a comment below:
One of the things I learned from reading Karen Armstrong's "Battle for God" was how much fundamentalism is rooted in populism. Mainline churches are the religion of the elite, evangelical churches are the religion of the street. So, while I am incapable of checking my brains at the door in order to go to church, I am also more aware that my disdain for emotional responses to God's word is rooted in classism.

I think gord's onto something here. My own reaction is part agreement, part not.

It's not necessarily classism that runs differing tastes in worship style. As someone once said, culture is the vessel for all religion. And given the cultural diversity to be found in the United States, it's only logical to assume that our religious practice will adapt to meet the needs of various groups within the larger society. Different strokes for different folks. There is no one right way to worship God.

That being said, yes, there probably is an element of mistrust and even disdain for evangelical worship among sissified elites such as myself. Doesn't have to be so; for example: many Catholics, elite or not, would turn up their nose at "contemporary worship." And John Ashcroft, who is by any measure a member of the elite, is famously a member of the Assemblies of God.

But yeah, education and middle class status tend to form a particular sort of cultural taste, and that in turn influences our worship preferences. And yeah, progressive Christians need to be careful not to let our natural cultural biases turn into snobbism against the "intolerant" rabble. gord doesn't note it in his comment, but that's particularly true as we talk about black and Latino churches. They tend to more evangelical worship, but often also to political agendas more in sync with progressives than their white counterparts.

So there's the agreement. The disagreement is this. The UCC, for all its elite leanings, at least challenges itself on matters of inclusivity. I might be mistaken on this, but when was the last time you heard of the Southern Baptists or the Assemblies of God actually commit themselves to a program of being intentionally welcoming to people of color or the disabled? When was the last time you heard of an evangelical church that challenged itself to root out subconscious racism, or to practice love for gays and lesbians, whether or not they agreed with their "lifestyles"?

More important, I suppose, I'm not content to let this issue slide into just another episode in the culture war. I don't believe there is such a thing, in the first place. The supposed war is nothing more than a bunch of relatively small disagreements tricked up to build the careers of elites on both sides of the divide. Most Americans are in agreement on cultural issues, converging on a messy middle ground that some folks describe as a "tolerant traditionalism."

The message of the GISS ads speaks to exactly that middle ground by emphasizing the "tolerant" side of the equation. I've spoken to some very traditional people in my own congregation who are wholeheartedly on the side of the UCC on this issue. They're tired of having their society hijacked by those who may agree with them on the issues, but who are not willing to entertain different paths for other people.

In the end, I come out at the same place as gord: that God is still speaking ought to be a challenge to us all, across social and economic strata, and let us pray that we can live up to that challenge.

At 8:21 PM, Blogger gordbrown48 said...

Thanks for your feedback. It was just something that I have been carrying.

One other note. I was very worried that Bush would get some traction with Black evangelicals by using discrimination against Gays as a wedge issue. The fact that this had no discernable effect was and is a cause for celebration.

I want to wish all fellow Christians reading this a joyful, safe and spiritual Christmastide. And everyone out there, a reminder that this is the season to celebrate the light of the cosmos. Let the light dance "with more colours than the world can contain" Bruce Cockburn.

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush did make inroads in the black community: 2% nationwide, and a critical doubling of his share in Ohio: 17%, and in Florida, 13%. there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fundamentalist tilt of black evangelicals was exploited keenly by the Bush campaign and many unfortunately fell for it and the Dem party as a whole keeps failing miserably at its outreach efforts.

this is a fascinating post as a person of color, i am of course at home with black worship styles. as an Ivy League elitist, my inclinations are towards the mainline New England-rooted denominations. and yet my friends and i know those are the denominations most losing people as we get swallowed by the evangelical mega-churches, who's theology is obviously touching more of mainstream America. your post helped point the way as to why this may be...


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