Mid-summer is the time for church conventions and I love it, even if I don’t attend any of them. Of course, the UUA had just finished up General Assembly in the last newsletter. The United Church of Christ has since held its biennial General Synod in Baltimore, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in the middle of its biennial General Assembly in Indianapolis. The Swedenborgian Church of North America (the more-liberal “General Convention”) will meet later this month in Pennsylvania, celebrating its bicentennial this year. While church conventions are often the stuff of celebration and good feeling over substantive deliberation, they are also the scene for religious groups working out their own identity. Consider the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention. In the last two generations it went from being all-white and regional denomination to being, well, more ethnically inclusive than the Unitarian Universalists. Their meeting made headlines about “will they?” or “won’t they?” adopt a white racism resolution, perhaps stoked by a feeling that the SBC would necessarily be racist In the end, they adopted a resolution that in part “decr[ies] every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy”. The Mennonite Church USA, quickly shedding members and whole regional conferences over LGBT inclusion, will meet in Orlando later this month; reporters will keep an eye on what happens there.
These different religious bodies – if you ask their members anyway – have enough differences and distinctives that justify their particular mission. But remarkably, each operates on a democratic basis, even if that’s not always expressed in the same way as democracy found in politics of state governance.
When you admit a form of democracy, you have to concede that being in the minority does not make you necessarily wrong. That’s important because since the United States elected Donald Trump to be president, the country – so far as I can see – has been on edge, and it is not clear that we can return to a collaborative, cross-party mode of national governance. If we have come to winner-takes-all, the rest-be-damned politics at the federal level, we shall surely suffer. If it spreads to our states and cities, we’ll have real problems. If it takes our churches and membership institutions, too, there won’t be much hope for pluralistic, representational governance.
How we govern our churches matters.