"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, March 22, 2005 I've enjoyed the conversation about the House of Bishops' Covenant statement (the latest installment of "As the Anglican Communion Turns") on the Gen X clergy listserve I'm on ... mostly because it is markedly different in tenor from the unending debate about same on the House of Bishops and Deputies list. There is a gentleness to it that I really appreciate ... maybe we just haven't been at it long enough to break out the flamethrowers, but I also think there's something more there.
I taught a class in Generational Theory and Ministry at our diocese's school for congregational development last weekend. It's been a couple years since I'd really waded into the generational theory stuff so it was interesting in preparing to get back into it ... and I found it really interesting to look at the "late unpleasantness" (the phrase Haywood Spangler, a seminary classmate of mine from the deep South, used to describe the Civil War) in light of it.
Now, I don't worship at the altar of generational theory ... it paints in broad brushes and really only applies when you've got the foundational levels of Maslow's pyramid taken care of. That said, in those broad terms it is remarkably accurate and can be applicable globally.
So you look at Strauss and Howe and the like and what they say about the Boomer generation. It's stuff most of us know intuitively. They looked at the world they grew up in, thought it really sucked and were absolutely convinced that they were the generation who could fix it and turn it into the ideal world. They are a generation of passionate people, but also of people who tend to see the world in black and white without a whole lot of gray. That combination makes for Holy Wars when they line up on opposite sides of issues ... each side convinced they are right, each side refusing to see nuance or the possibility for the other being right, each side convinced that the issue in question is so central that compromise would be betrayal of their deepest values.
Hmmmm... this was starting to sound familiar. In the late 1990s, Strauss, Howe, and others wrote of the "impending scorched-earth culture wars" that were already starting and which would grow as Boomers lined up against each other. And, sure enough, we see it in our culture. You can certainly see it in the way the current presidential administration operates ... but you could also see it in the workings of President Clinton -- both, of course, are Boomers.
Then I started to check birthdates in the church. The silent generation, which is the one that is not the crusaders and are instead the architects of the therapeutic model of ministry the church grew into in the 60s and 70s, gave us Edmond Browning and also gave us Frank Griswold (late silent). But you look at the list of Boomers -- V. Gene Robinson, Peter Akinola, Robert Duncan, Rowan Williams, Michael Hopkins, Kendall Harmon, Justice Akrofi, Henry Orombi ... the list goes on. Sure, there are some silents like Ed Salmon and (can't think of one on the left off the top of my head) who are providing powerful backstage support in the battle ... but this is pretty much a war being waged by the Boomers against each other. And it has all the characteristics of a Boomer "scorched earth culture war".
So where does that leave us? Well, it's been interesting to gauge the reaction of Xers ... not even primarily on this list or primarily clergy, but everywhere (including those places). Some passionately take either side ... my experience of those Xers who take sides (and perhaps I'm biased here), is that they are still more willing to see nuance and gray and listen to and hang in their with their theological opponents than the Boomers. But many do not take sides. Many, even those who recognize that this is an important conversation and issue, just don't get why it has to mean EVERYTHING. Just don't get why this is worth blowing the whole place up. Many just want everyone to shut up so we can all get on with being the church. We want "them" to stop shouting.
If that view is accurate, then we are acting just like we should ... and just like we have. Think about what is happening. It's a Boomer screaming match where the main issue is divorce ... and they are fighting over who is leaving whom. How many of us have been THERE before in our lives? How many of us are already children of divorce ... perhaps several times over! And what do the children do in a divorce battle like this? Well, some take Dad's side passionately. Some take Mom's side passionately. But a huge number just want them to shut up and want their lives back, because this really sucks! Like the Everclear song: "Please don't tell me everything is wonderful now!"
The big question is ... what about the Millennial generation? Because the Millennials, not us, are the ones who are going to build and be the new church. Well, my experience with my students and other Millennials is that while they may care about issues such as GLBT rights (along with LOTS of other things), they are almost completely disengaged from the church battles over these things. After General Convention, I had a lot of students who were in favor of what we did ... and their reaction was pretty much "Well, duh!". I also had some students who were opposed and their reaction was "well, I don't agree with that, but it's not like I'm going to leave the church over it." Mostly, while I came back from convention expecting everyone to want to talk about it, pretty much they were pretty nonplussed the whole way around and kind of said "yeah, OK. Let's move on."
I actually think this is incredibly hopeful!
I also have been wondering what our generation has to contribute to it that isn't just picking up a gun and choosing a side. Maybe it's what (I think) we should be doing in a lot of other areas ... encouraging Millennials to claim their own unique voice, trying to get those in power in churches to give that power away to Millennials and let them start shaping the church, and continue to encourage them to live a Christian life in the way they are uniquely called and in so doing shape the church and the world.
Anyway, I realize that generational theory isn't perfect and that individuals can certainly fall outside generational definitions ... still, I thought it was really interesting how well what I see happening dovetails with it.
| Mike at 3/22/2005 04:49:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."