Regret

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It may sound strange, but I’m just now learning about WASP culture. I am a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and I would often hear the term batted about. But, either because I was in the midst of it and could not identify it or because it had been so diluted by the time I was growing up in the 70s, I didn’t understand its significance.

In my lifetime, if you said WASP to me, immediately, Polo Ralph Lauren ads would flash in my mind. And I would have a nauseated feeling of being somewhere elite, a country club, where the only people of color were serving the WASPs. If I were to place myself in the scene, I would be one of the servants.

Why? Well, maybe it’s because I was from a largely uneducated Southern family.

Or because most of my time that I’ve spent in elite scenes, that’s where I’ve been: a coat-checker, a caterer, etc. I was the woman in the “tuxedo,” making sure that all of the napkins were in a straight line. I was the woman trying to make sure that the drunk man was not making a scene when his glass was not refilled quickly enough.

Or maybe it’s because I felt so terribly out of place among the New England elite, where people spent their time among the DAR, tracing their ancestry back to the “original settlers.” Where people talked about their John Updike sightings years after the fact.

I’ve been reading Bobo’s in Paradise (BRC’s recommended reading), which has been fascinating. Bobo’s are the Bohemian Bourgeois, the new elite. And, yes, I feel much more at home in this description. But it also explained how important and central WASP culture was. Other things have led me to this strange exploration: rereading Fitzgerald and understanding him on another level (I missed so much in high school), and last month’s Atlantic Monthly.

All of this makes me see the demise of the mainline in a different light. We have (of course) a lot of difficulty with it. It’s hard to adjust to decades of diminishing attendance and power in a society. But I’m also beginning to have some uncomfortable self-awareness as well. Our denominations often long for the fifties, and our congregations were often formed in the mid-twentieth century culture. So, we often yearn to go back to a time when our churches were growing, in the center of town.

I have often been annoyed with this. But now I’m wondering if we need to be more than annoyed. WASP culture was oppressive to minorities of all sorts. What does it mean for a church that grew up in the midst of that? What does it mean for a church that gained great power and influence in and through WASP culture? What does it mean for a church that was a central part of it? We look at that time with longing, but have we done enough to confess our sins? To grieve the harm that was done? Was the repentance also something I missed? 

(I can almost feel my Boomer readers rolling their eyes. I know. Many of you had first-hand knowledge of the cultural shift, and I’m sure you’re way beyond this… and we have been talking about it rigorously in our academies. But what about in the church? I still can’t help but think we have more work to do…)

And, the most important question, can we find relevance now that WASP culture is dead?

Photo by h.andras_xms