Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Food for Thought

Father Tim down in Sioux Falls posted a link here about a new political science work that I have read a bit about. Specifically, it has to do with Charles Murray's Belmont and Fishtown theories. The article explains that.

Of course, this article and its parent work are works of political science and analysis. As such, you have to take it with a grain of salt. I don't know if I buy it, particularly in its entirety, but it is interesting to think about.

My one major quibble with it is what I told Father Tim in my Facebook comment response:

"It is interesting what the author of that piece took from Putnam's book, Bowling Alone. The major blind spot in that analysis is that Putnam did not factor in the 4 Generational Cycle. You have your generations (in terms of their relationship to civic society) that tend to be either Joiners, Builders, Rebels/Questioners, and Dropouts. The Baby Boomers were the rebels, and the Generation X crowd were the dropouts. Putnam was doing his research right when the Gen X crowd was hitting their 30's (and therefore entering, or failing to enter as the case is) civic society.

I know of lot of this type of commentary either in this article or in the church (the: the Church must change or die! crowd) never tackle this aspect of group generational cycles. I know I ran into that a lot in seminary. If you factor in the civic society drop out X'er crowd, does this model of Belmont and Fishtown still really hold?"

Apart from the whole political or civil realm, I was specifically interested in this passage from the article as it pertains to religion:

"Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn’t have a college degree, never hunted or fished."

Therein, I think, is the basis for a lot of the conflict going on in many denominations right now. The Episcopal church has been sucked into issues about homosexuality and scriptural prominence and many other issues for well on a decade+ now. I firmly believe this is because of this Fishtown/Belmont divide within the Church. So many people I know in the hierarchy of the Episcopal church are the flaming Belmont crowd, such as the above paragraph describes. I can't tell you how many times in seminary (either at Seabury in Chicago or at Westcott House in England), I was virtually the only person (with the exception of perhaps one or two others) who actually came from a bona fide blue collar background.

I have worked on a factory floor; I have worked numerous jobs where a body part hurt at the end of the day;  I never went to a posh Upper Middle class school (declaimer: I did attend a Catholic high school but it was more blue collar at the time, though I am told that it is no longer such.) I have had plenty of conversations with Evangelicals, many of whom I count as close friends; I have many friends who don't have college degrees. I have been hunting and fishing many times. I've even milked a cow by hand. Virtually none of those things could be applied to hardly any of my seminary classmates. And these are now the ordained clergy leadership in parishes in several dioceses.

This is why I am convinced there has been such a kerfuffle between the elite in our denomination and some people in the pews. The people in the pews might actually be folks who hunt or have been in the military or who are blue collar, and the vast majority of our clergy are supposed to minister to these folks that they have nothing in common with by preaching a theology that doesn't preach in Fishtown.

I mean, case in point: the Episcopal Church just recently have a meeting of the Executive Council of the Church. The Executive council as part of the meeting business was handed a rather dire report on the state of the Episcopal church in terms of membership free fall and waning monetary resources: a report that if it had been given to a board of directors at a major corporation, the CEO and and President would likely have been asked to resign. And, yet, what comes out of that meeting? A renewed call for Evangelism? No. A realistic assessment of where was are and how we can change any of this bad news? No. We get into a snit over who was passing notes to whom. (Note: the blog I link to here is NOT from some conservative "I'm praying that the Episcopal Church will implode" crank but from a proudly liberal rector.)

In other words, Belmont board room politics and not Fishtown "Let's get our hands dirty and build something constructive" mentality.

Something to think about.

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