The great thing about being on a church staff with someone, especially someone you get along with, is that you can talk about stuff. At Western, “stuff” is on the front burner almost all the time.
John Wimberly, the HOS (stands for official designation: Head of Staff. But Wimberly actually prefers the title my 6-year-old gave him: Poobah. C has a knack for nicknames. My husband, B, is Tater. And, I’m Bunny. If you know us, you know just how hilarious these names are…) Okay. Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah, on the front burner.
What’s cooking on there right now is inclusion and exclusion. But hold up. Before you surf away because you’re just so weary of hearing these words, this post isn’t going to have anything to do with the letters l, g, b, or t. Or even q.
For the HOS, it has to do with his interfaith marriage. His wife’s Jewish. And so he’s been teaching classes at Western and the synagogue on the joys and challenges that arise from the cultural and religious differences.
Sometimes couples compromise (have you heard this one? “My wife was Episcopalian, I was a Baptist, so we figured that Presbyterian was a good compromise.” I’m pretty sure you could put a variety of denominations into those slots…). Often that works, but then there are times, particularly with interfaith relationships, when it doesn’t. People have to give up way too much in the exchange.
I’m referring to a profound struggle: Communities of faith believe in things. The sentence is redundant, I know. Perhaps I’m expounding on the obvious, but in our churches, even in progressive churches, we believe in things, even as we’re called to spread the good news. And that leaves people out.
Robert Putnam writes about bridging social capital (inclusive) and bonding social capital (exclusive). Bridging social capital provides weak ties, while bonding social capital provides strong ties.
I’m inclined to think that “exclusive” is bad. I automatically imagine a Country Club: white, upper-class, elite, exclusive.
But could there be a place for bonding social capital? After all, it creates strong community. At Western, we think of ourselves as an inclusive church, because we’re intergenerational, multicultural, and affirming of LGBT persons (oops! It slipped). We believe that doubt is an important component of faith. But we take particular pride when a Republican joins the church, because it’s such a rare event. In that sense, that makes us pretty bonded. And dare I say it? Exclusive.
So, what’s a community of faith to do? We have the strong desire to spread the good news, to be bridges. Yet, the bonding’s important too. As people of God, that’s what builds strong communities, gives us purpose, and strengthens our identity.
I guess we just need to figure out what’s most important. We can identify the bonding quality of our faith communities. We can hinge our work and mission on what God has called us to do and to be. For Western, it’s clearly social justice outreach. For other churches, it will be something else.
And then, with the bond of God’s call in place, we can build as many bridges as we possibly can.
photo’s by char_lie