A critical issue left unaddressed in Bass’s response to Douthat is the state of power relations within mainline Protestant denominations. In her well-intentioned attempt to counteract the corrosive and controlling ‘narrative of decline’ that plagues mainline Protestant communities, she inadvertently diverts attention away from the reality that the majority of their leadership positions and financial resources are firmly in the control of the Baby Boomer generation….
The conservatives did what they had to do to win. They ran out the clock, wore people down, kept their troops in line, and ultimately prevailed thereby. Not letting the Assembly debate the issue of the Authoritative Interpretation, however, is going to be a costly mistake. My sense is that commissioners thought that this is something like the ordination question that we debated for so many years. People could get only so far in one Assembly on that issue, but would reach an impasse, whereupon folks would realize that it would just have to wait until the next Assembly to get to the next step. But marriage is very different from ordination. Councils of the church perform ordinations, so you have to get a group of people to agree to move forward. Marriages, however, are performed by individual pastors. And the emotion surrounding a marriage is way higher than any ordination.
When the Committee on Middle East Peace finally made its motion to divest–you guessed it– a substitute motion was made, not divest but rather to invest in the Occupied West Bank. This was a masterstroke of polity, but a completely ridiculous proposal of policy. Presbyterians suffer from congenital niceness, which is the main reason that it had taken us eight years even to get to the point where we could make the least confrontational action possible on the issue, selling our own stocks and bonds.
As the golden calf gave the ancients a false sense of security, many twenty-first century Americans look for security in weapons. When our leaders are absent or fail us; when our God is invisible and from all appearances is absent from our lives; when we don’t know how we can keep going; when we are consumed by our fears and feel threatened by those who are not like us, those are the moments when new idols are imagined and fashioned and desperate people give them their ultimate concerns, devotion, and focused attention.
Although often lost in a generic celebration of the giving of the Spirit, this text is one that is filled with questions of ethnicity, language, and diversity. It speaks to the American debate of whether this nation can or should be a melting pot that blends and ignores culture and ethnicity or a mosaic and celebration of the diversity that exists in our midst. But first, some background:
The attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon threw the debates over the definition of “religion” into a stir. Though religion was obviously a central factor in the events of 9/11, overly phenomenological and essentialist construals of religion were suddenly and starkly at a loss in making sense of how and why.