Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Power of "They"

This evening, delegates and visitors to General Conference were invited to receive a presentation on what’s called the Call to Action.

The Call to Action is a group of proposals initially called for by the Council of Bishops that seeks to reverse numerical decline in the United States (and with it financial decline). Well, that’s not how they would say it, but it’s pretty accurate. A variety of proposals and resolutions are included in the Call to Action, but I want to focus on the call for reaching out to young people and training more young clergy.

Now, this is one part of the Call to Action that I should support. I’m a young person. I’m training for the clergy. Surely this area of the Call to Action is for me.

But when Rev. Adam Hamilton—the pastor of the largest United Methodist in the United States—presented this area of proposals, he chose a word to  describe me which turned me, once and for all, against the Call to Action.

The word he used to describe me was “they.”

Why aren’t we reaching out to young people? Because “they” speak a different language. Because “they” have never used a rotary phone. Because “they” see the church as irrelevant.

I wanted to yell, “WE’RE RIGHT HERE!!!”

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that the UMC has to change the way it works to listen to the voices of young people. But treating us as a faceless “they” who can be summed up by Twitter and Facebook isn’t the way to go about this. Supporting young seminarians sounds like a good idea to me. But how are we going to be doing it? By churning out faceless “theys” who are supposed to be good at reaching out to young people because we are also young? By teaching us all about “them,” a monolithic organism under the age of 35? Or by listening to the voices of actual young people, our hopes and our fears and our dreams? By matching actions to words? By acting, not just speaking, for justice and extravagant love?

I am part of the church. Many of my friends are not. Treating us like an undifferentiated mass of “they” just marginalizes us all, and avoids the real question: Will the church be the church?

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