Saturday, February 11, 2012

Bishop Election, Part Three

In the comments section of my post immediately previous to this one, someone made an astute observation. This person noted their discomfort with what they perceived as ageism in the church. This person draws an parallel between age discrimination and discrimination based on gender and sexuality and ethnicity.

You might agree with this person; you might disagree with their perspective. In some areas of our society, it certainly is true that there is discrimination based on age. In fact, through this recent economic downturn, I'm certain that some people I know had more trouble getting a job than they should have; and I'm certain the reason for this was their age.

However, it's also true that demographics are important. If we were to look around our congregations and see only women, we would recognize that we have a problem. And the truth is that we've been looking at ourselves for decades, recognizing the lack of ethnic diversity as problematic, and trying to address the white-ness of our congregations.

In the same way, it is necessary for the church to look around and see a dearth of young people. It is also necessary for the church to look around and not see young people in significant positions of leadership.

I don't see this as age discrimination. I see it as a problem that the church needs to address. I believe that people over 50 are vital to the vibrancy of the church. I also believe that no age group is more vital to the life of the church than any other.

The thing is, though, that when everyone in leadership is from the same generation, other age groups are necessarily alienated. In fact, this is one of the reasons that I've felt for years that younger leaders don't have a voice in this synod; the full-time ministry staff in the synod office are all demographically the same.

Because we don't have voices from a diversity of age groups in significant leadership positions, I'm afraid that the church is clinging to a way of existence that was life-giving in past decades, but that needs to be tweaked for our world today.

As we prepare for the upcoming election, I'm not asking that we ignore anyone over a certain age. What I'm asking for is that we consider the fact that many young adults are staying away from church, and what it would be like to seriously consider electing a 30-something- or 40-something-year-old bishop.


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