Sunday, February 17, 2008

Diversity with an asterisk

The Washington Post published a story entitled “Southern Baptists Diversifying to Survive”. The third paragraph read:

Faced with a crisis of aging and departing members, the nation's largest non-Catholic Christian bodies—Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians—are reaching out to minorities in ways they never have before.

As you might expect, by “minorities” the WaPo’s reporter, Jacqueline L. Salmon, meant only racial minorities, African-Americans in particular. The bulk of the article deals with the supposed increase in participation by African Americans in the US’ Southern Baptist Convention, a church that, whatever it may be now, began life as a church for pro-slavery and racist Southerners.

All of the churches listed have kept their distance from—or openly expressed their contempt for—gay and lesbian members. Clearly the “diversity” the “largest non-Catholic Christian bodies” are seeking has limits.

My own journey away from Christianity began when the denomination of my childhood—the Lutheran Church—took measures to exclude lesbian and gay clergy. That told me that the church didn’t want or need me as a member, and in time I realised that I didn’t need them.

Nothing much has improved in the years since. This supposed “reaching out to minorities,” since it excludes GLBT people, sounds not only hollow but also pretty self-serving as the churches struggle to survive.

Personally, I think that some real diversity—inclusive diversity—could help the old churches to grow, not just stop their decline. But maybe that’s one prayer than can’t be answered.

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