Tuesday, January 30, 2007

White Elephants

If we lived in Burma, a white elephant would be a symbol of power and good fortune. However, we Westerners have very little use for white elephants. As one resource defined it: “[a white elephant] is something that is more trouble than it is worth, or has outlived its usefulness to the person who has it. While the item may be useful to others, its current owner would usually be glad to be rid of it.”

I officiate high school basketball. Last night, I officiated at a contest that was girl’s teams only – what is affectionately know as a “Title IX game.”

Title IX is, of course, the educational amendment that states that no one in the educational system shall be discriminated against because of gender. What is ironic is that while we hear the most about Title IX where athletics is concerned, the original legislation made no reference to athletics. However, because of Title IX, you have to have some nights where only girls play, or nights where boys play first and then the girls play.

The intent cannot be argued against – women should have the same opportunities as men where education is concerned. However, because of Title IX’s continual reinterpretation, those opportunities are having the opposite effect. At the contest I officiated at last night, I doubt that the gate receipts covered the costs of three officials' fees at the game. On nights when there are two contests, there are of course more people in attendance, thus more gate receipts. So, having separate girls’ contests just for the sake of girls’ games “being treated just like guys games” is having the opposite effect – it’s proving a hardship on athletic programs in general.

More outlandish is this story from Whitney Point, NY (taken from the N.Y. Times):
Whitney Point is one of 14 high schools in the Binghamton area that began sending cheerleaders to girls’ games in late November, after the mother of a female basketball player in Johnson City, N.Y., filed a discrimination complaint with the United States Department of Education. She said the lack of official sideline support made the girls seem like second-string, and violated Title IX’s promise of equal playing fields for both sexes.

But the ruling has left many people here and across the New York region booing, as dozens of schools have chosen to stop sending cheerleaders to away games, as part of an effort to squeeze all the home girls’ games into the cheerleading schedule.

Title IX had great intentions… but it’s turned into a white elephant. The Western kind.

For those of you who are United Methodist… does this all sound familiar? Does it sound a little bit like UM Church polity?

The Book of Discipline gets larger and larger. I was a reserve delegate at General Conference 2004, and sat as an observer in the General/Judicial Administration Legislative Committee. I watched caucuses try to move their agendas, and draft legislation that would promote their causes. The Book of Discipline got bigger. We’re trying not to offend anyone, in the name of inclusivity. But the problem is, we haven’t become inclusive; we’ve become generic. Inclusive, in the truest sense of the word, is having the mind of Christ and walking as he walked. But in my opinion, the UMC’s attempts to be inclusive have moved us toward being generic, rather than inclusive. Generic is nothing. Rather than increasing the Kingdom, we’ve ended up taking away from it.

Try this: next time your church nominates church officers, be sure to give them their job descriptions as they are listed in the Book of Discipline and see if you can get anyone to bite. Or, if you want first-hand testimony, call the chairs of nurture, outreach, and witness at my church and listen to their reaction when I first read their job descriptions to them.

We’ve become a denomination that has dumbed down to mediocrity, majoring in the minors, promoting our causes, confusing political standings with religious values. We don’t want to make anyone upset or unhappy. It makes perfect sense that the UMC is losing membership and leadership – no one can articulate to new or growing Christians what we are asking them to join, nor have we defined what discipleship is and means!

A white elephant. Something that has outlived its usefulness. I know John Wesley didn’t mean to start a new church, and I’m fairly sure he would find today’s United Methodist Church right back where he started when the Methodists began at Oxford within Anglicanism.

So we’re trying to reinvent the wheel. But I think it’s a square one. Maybe we need to go back to the basics and realize that less may be more.


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