Thursday, November 15, 2012

The adaptation of the institution

In the past week, I have seen statements talking about how a certain group needs to change, to adapt to a new cultural mindset in order to continue to be relevant in the 2010s.  There are statements documenting the fact that fewer people are aligning themselves with this group, and, moreover, that people are leaving it. 

You might think you know exactly which group I mean.

You'd probably be right.  And you'd probably be wrong.

Obviously, in the past week, we've seen lots of hand-wringing and second-guessing about the Republican Party's defeat in the 2012 elections.  Everyone (with the possible exception, thus far, of sixth-rate bloggers with no spare time) has had an opinion regarding what the GOP did wrong, and what they need to change (which has led, yet again, to Democrat strategists offering advice to Republicans...hey, do I tell you how to run your party?) in order to reach people.

But I have also seen people discussing, in hopefully a much more respectful tone, the plight of my particular denomination with regard to reaching people.  Questions have been raised regarding what we have done wrong and what we might need to change as well.

(Aside:  no, I'm not going to say which denomination is mine.  If you know me, you most likely know which one it is.  If you don't know me, but you think this applies to your denomination, then it most likely does.)

Honestly, I think both of the groups in question (Republicans and Christians of my denomination) have the same problems:

1.  Both tend to value being ideologically pure over being welcoming to others.  For Republicans, this has meant that a candidate must support any number of things, be it a no-tax-increase-of-any-sort-ever-ever-ever-we-mean-it pledge, expressing an interest in one's state seceding from the United States, not being amenable to gay marriage, or whatever.*  For Christians of my denomination, that has meant a devotion to tradition over, in some cases, God.  It has also meant that we have tended to believe that we alone have and know the way to God.

2.  Both have done a poor job of late in getting their messages out.  For Republicans, simply look at the large groups of people who would never vote for you/us.  For Christians, look at the even larger groups of people who would never darken the door of a church building.  Enough said.

But I think the main reason neither group has increased its numbers in recent years is the following:

3.  Neither group has shown that it values people.  And what I mean by that is that Republicans and Christians of my denomination far too easily dismiss large groups of people as not being worth their time.**  For example, take Mitt Romney's infamous "47%" line.  A lot of people saw/heard that quote and thought that Mitt Romney didn't think they were worth his time or consideration, and so they decided the same about him. 

And as for Christians...well, it's been said that the 10:00am hour on Sunday mornings is the most segregated time in the country.  (If nothing else, I just said it.)  Is God's message only applicable to people who look like me, who are of the same social stature as I, who make similar amounts of money, and so on?  Did Jesus come to talk to people like me, people who could be considered the "haves" of society?  Or did he talk to people who were not valued by the culture of the time, the "have-nots"...and in doing so, show that he valued them as people?  So why don't I do that? 

Or, for that matter, did Jesus engage people who did not agree with what he said, with people who thought he was crazy?  Why am I not doing this?

Obviously, at this point, this portion of the discussion has become about what I should do with living the faith I claim to possess, so let's go back to the political side of this, and I will get with my Christian friends offline to discuss how we can live like this.

We need to adapt.  We need to be better, obviously, at talking to people who are not like us.  We can't dismiss people, or assume how they think about issues.  As I believe I've said on this blog recently (not counting two paragraphs ago), we have to engage people, which also means that we truly have to listen to their concerns and desires, and in doing so, be able to empathize with them, or at least sympathize with them.***

For far too long, we have dismissed lots of people offhand.  And now we're reaping the fruits of that in their dismissal of us.  Because if we don't care about them or their concerns, they're not going to care about our thoughts on politics, faith, or, really, anything.

* At this point, I don't think any of those is a good idea.  Streamlining the tax code, which is desperately needed, might just cause someone's taxes to go up.  Those presently advocating seceding deserve as much attention as Alec Baldwin did when he threatened to leave the country after George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004--namely, none.  And haven't I already said enough about the gay marriage debate?

** Yeah, I'm generalizing too, just as these groups do.  But I don't think I'm dismissing...rather, I'd like to think I'm offering a friendly suggestion.

*** Actually, I guess this could apply to both of the groups I mentioned, so this is not just the political side.  This is what happens when I write long screeds using the make-it-up-as-you-go method.