I've been going to church for about 12 years now. Originally, I told enlightened friends that in order to be a non-believer, you need to know what it is that you don't believe in. I'm not sure my underlying faith has changed much, but church gives me interesting things to think about.
We joined a obstensibly liberal, beautiful downtown historic church. It's clear that there's been a generational shift since I joined. And the replacements, while mostly my age, are wholly unfamiliar to me.
Demographically, I would describe them as moderate conservatives. To further describe them, they mostly drive in from out-of-town or affluent subdivisions on our outskirts. They are professionals, which is a term I use to describe people who think in one dimension. And their religious beliefs, their purpose driven lives, if you will, seem to be focused entirely on conformity.
This is more of a tech support question, I suppose. I can't figure out how to make it work. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.
The governance is peculiar to me. The church leaders appoint a nominating committee, the nominating committee selects candidates, and those candidates are unanimously approved as a slate. It's democratic in that there's a vote. But in that I consider democracy to be synonymous with inclusive, there's none of that.
Our leaders are friendly and energetic. But politically, the most conservative members of the congregation. Here's where my cognitive dissonance sets in. There's nothing political about our church. Except for our worship, which is as beige as beige gets, the best way to describe our church is a liberal charity, leading support for the community homeless and advocating for social justice and economic equality.
So why does a liberal organization systemically exclude its liberal members?
So far, trying to work this out, I've come up with three explanations:
1. It's a church, after all.
What I know of history is that Constantine established the Christian Church in response to the democratic impulses in his empire. And from Calvin to the Inquisition, orthodoxy seems to be one of the defining characteristics of Christianity.
In my more enthusiastic moments I've claimed that religion is the basis and last bastion of civilization. And it stands to reason that civilization requires some sacrifice of individual autonomy.
But defining religion in terms of conformity seems too simple. And at any rate, doesn't completely explain the discrete shifts in our church.
2. One Dimensional Professionals
I've been pursuing my theory of One Dimensional Professionals that I hope to pursue with like minded Kossacks. More and more professionals I meet are apparently quite capable performers where they work. But when I talk to them, something seems to be missing. Politically, they really do think in one dimension: What's familiar is good and unfamiliar is bad. This leads to all sorts of contradictions that are common but otherwise paradoxical: People who support social justice but vote Republican; support racial equality but move to all-white subdivisions, etc.
Is this a new phenomenon? Where I live, the most prosperous professionals seem like Stepford Wives automatons. It makes sense that this type of person is more desirable and better compensated in this Post-Reagan America where Corporations are not only people, but the elite class. Maybe this dominance is a historical constant, but it seems to have a growing impact on American politics and culture.
3. Conformity as a Political Force
In this terrain, I am totally lost. But it seems most relevant to my recent experience. Possibly, the political conservatism of our church leadership is somewhat co-incidental, and the defining characteristic is an instinct for conformity politics. I concede that there's at least one appeal of conformity: It seems like a low-risk approach to life.
But what I saw at our annual church meeting yesterday went way beyond that. The leadership pushed several constitutional amendments to limit participation and consolidate power within the church. No rational was ever given for these amendments, which are completely at odds with a stated goal of increasing member participation. Very little ever changes in this church and leaders seldom, if ever, make consequential decisions. I am confounded why anyone would bother pushing such a distasteful agenda.
Apparently, out of 60 members (hardly a significant participation, mind you), no one else had similar questions. Each amendment was passed unanimously, except for my own dissenting votes.
One obvious affect of these amendments is to marginalize non-conformists. In this model, there's a distinct line between the conformists and non-conformists that only the conformists can see. I experienced a discomforting amount of ostracism and name-calling for my dissent. I've done enough political activism to remain confident under the circumstances. But bad enough that I'm still brooding about it.
Do others have any similar experiences?