The following was written for the weekly newsletter of the church where I serve, Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ.
Yesterday was exciting around the CCCUCC building. Long lines snaked out the building and down the sidewalk as Brookside voters waited in line to vote in our social hall. This morning we are cleaning up election signs left behind and other Election Day detritus. As our nation cleans up after the whirlwind of the election, I’m wondering what there is to learn from it and more specifically what it means for our church.
As I think about the votes cast yesterday and more importantly who cast them, I will leave the declarations about America’s moral depravity to the fundamentalists. Instead, I’m interested in what the demographics of the voters showed about diversity. According to ABC News, the 2012 electorate is less white and less male than ever before. Non-white voters made up 21% of the electorate; in 1996 that number was 10%. CNN reports that since 1964, female voters have outnumbered male voters in every presidential election; last night was no exception. Indeed, in yesterday’s election white male voters made up 34% of voters; back in 1976 they were at 46%. In large part, President Obama won the election, because he targeted his campaign to female and non-white voters.
Setting aside partisan politics, I wish to cheer on these demographic changes. You may wonder why I, as a white male, would be in support of a culture where white men have less say. A very important reason for my feelings is that I have two bi-racial sons; both were adopted from African-American birthfathers and Caucasian birthmothers. I am excited that they will grow up in a culture that looks more like they do, and where people of various skin tones and cultural backgrounds share the power.
Another reason that I am glad that white males will have less say in political power is my theology. By the time I came through seminary, it was standard practice to read the writings of feminist, African-American and Latino theologians. Their views of God challenged centuries of theology written by and for white men. When I came to understand that God was not a white male, I came to understand the Church should be a community where all voices are heard, especially those who do not hold power. Rather than feeling threatened by my own loss of privilege, I was excited by the wonder of diversity. In political terms—both inside and outside of the Church—I am all for people who have historically not had power and privilege (for example women and non-whites) having their say in what the world should be like.
These demographic shifts say something to our particular church. The exit poll data from yesterday reveal religious voters who were white and male largely voted for the losing presidential candidate. Regardless of how one feels about who won or lost, what this means for the American Church is that if it chooses to remain largely a bastion of white male privilege then it will lose its ability to be a player in society. Positions against women’s reproductive rights and immigrants for example may be short-term winners, but they are long-term losers. Churches that fail to take into account the views of women and non-whites will find themselves less relevant than they already are. Indeed, recent polling data on finds that younger people are leaving Christianity in droves. It is no coincidence that this is happening among the generations who are more gender inclusive and culturally cosmopolitan than ever before.
These changes are huge, but I believe CCCUCC is well-positioned to not only survive but thrive as the culture changes around us. This congregation’s members fought for the rights of African-Americans during the Civil Rights era and stood up for women’s rights in the years that followed. CCCUCC chose to become Open and Affirming to LGBT people long before most other churches in Kansas City. This church has chosen to partner with other congregations of different economic and ethnic backgrounds in groups like MORE2. Yes, we have a lot of work to do in order to truly reflect the diversity of God’s reign, but I am optimistic on that score, because this church has already chosen repeatedly to view diversity not as a threat but as a blessing.
Our culture is changing, and the battles over those changes will at times be vicious as those with power are forced to share it. As a local church, however, we can model a different kind of community where power is voluntarily given up for the benefit of those who lack it. We can make choices to open our doors to the world in all its diversity rather than huddle behind them in fear of cultural changes. I believe the future of CCCUCC is bright as long as we remain open to a culture that is less homogenous and more blessedly diverse.
Grace and Peace,