The Political season is now well under way and I am already having political fatigue. I don’t know if it’s because the Saints’ football season is over, or because of the writers’ strike or some other combination of factors but when I wanted to indulge in a little Sunday afternoon vegging in front of the TV the only thing remotely interesting I could find was cable news. Watching cable news when one wants to veg is like eating a salad at a steakhouse; You might feel better when you’re done but it’s a real drag in the moment. However, sometimes inspiration shows up in the most peculiar places.
Being that it’s political season every cable news channel is featuring an assortment of talking heads offering commentary on the various primary races. I noticed that on both Fox News and CNN there was a discussion on how voters in the country seem to be voting more for the persona of a candidate than on specific issues or experience. The two prime examples sighted by both networks were the recent surges in popularity of Barack Obama and Mike Huccabee. What these commentators noted is the perceived realness and authenticity that both Obama and Huckabee seem to exude and how these characteristics seem to resonate with voters in a way that trumps a lot of the conventional logic of how and why folks vote. Many of the commentators were just stunned by how bad Hilary Clinton is being beat by Obama, a freshman senator with a relatively small political career, and how Huckabee, one of the least funded of the republican nominees, is showing an impressive lead in many races against rivals who have much bigger war-chests. This trend, albeit early on in a volatile political season, says a lot to me about people.
One of the byproducts of the information age is skepticism. DVD special features have demystified the magic of film making while software programs like Photoshop have shown consumers how easy it is to doctor photos. When you add to that recent plagiarism scandals in newspapers, photo-journalism and broadcast news, there is a real skepticism that is permeating our society today. Is it any wonder then when everything is dissected by consultants, focus-group tested, Photo-shopped, digitally re-mastered, and packaged with a relevant slogan strategically designed to maximize results that it doesn’t in the end resonate with people. Folks simply want something, anything these days if it’s honest or authentic, to the point that they might even compromise some on issues to get it.
Recall all of the criticism aimed at George W. Bush eight years ago when he was first running for president.
“He’s not smart!”
“He’s too simple!”
“He’s not presidential enough!”
But for all of the things that he apparently wasn’t, he did at least come across as genuine. His what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude was a stark contrast to some of the more polished candidates in the field and in the end resonated with the public to win him the presidency. Now, I am by no means saying that Bush, Obama, and Huckabee are all models for authenticity because after all that could just be their way of faking it. However, recent voting trends indicate that folks don’t want to be looked at as focus groups simply being told what they want to here. They want a candidate that will at least appear to be authentic.
Several months ago there was quite a bit of talk in the Vineyard Movement (of which I am a part) concerning ethnic diversity or the lack thereof in Vineyard churches around the country. Before getting to the issue of diversity let me give a brief history of the Vineyard movement to give some context for the issues at hand.
The Vineyard movement began in Southern California in the late 70s. It was very much connected with the Jesus People movement of the same era when millions of hippies began converting to Christianity. Under the leadership of John Wimber what began with a handful of churches in Southern California has now grown to a network of over a thousand churches world-wide. Vineyard Churches that began in the United States were typically started in suburban middle class areas around the country opting more often than not for strip malls rather than steepled chapels. Vineyard Churches typically had a come-as-you-are philosophy, which intended to set folks at ease with casual attire and more of a coffee house vibe then that of traditional mainline denominations of the time. While the Vineyard Churches have definitely resonated with a segment of the population as evidenced by the growth of movement, thirty years after the movement began the majority of Vineyard churches in the U S are still made up largely of middle class white folks.
This demographic truth has been a cause of concern for many around the movement in recent years. I admit that this has concerned me for a while as well. How can our churches more effectively reflect the diversity in our communities rather than just the strata of white middle class folks? While I am glad that church leaders are asking this question I am a little concerned with the type of answers that so many are proposing.
The most popular answers I have come across seem to deal with the diversity issue from a point of style. The philosophy behind this is that if we want more African Americans in our churches, for example, then we need to incorporate more elements into our weekend services which will be appealing to blacks so they will want to be a part of our meetings. These ideas typically find expression in worship songs that might be more soulful or incorporate a black gospel choir sound to some current worship songs. But if one is to follow this mindset out it is not too unlike the focus-group testing by political campaigns which result in candidates making changes in their style to connect with certain segments of the population.
Eminem and Hendrix
Regardless of what you think of his message or personal life Emninem has mad skills when it comes to rapping. Now as a scrawny white kid he is a bit of an anomaly in the world of Hip Hop. That said, he has credibility with his black counterparts because that’s just who he is. Eminem is not rapping just to get black people to like him but because he identifies with the Hip Hop culture. In the same sense Jimi Hendrix was quite an anomaly in his day playing electric guitar in a genre overwhelmingly dominated by white musicians. However I can think of no other guitar player who carries the respect and credibility of Jimi Hendrix. But again he wasn’t playing rock to get white folks to like him. He felt it. He identified with it. It was who he was.
I read the results of a recent Gallup Pole which show that only 46 percent of Americans trust the church http://www.beliefnet.com/story/220/story_22078_1.html.
Like the politicians of our day the church in the United States is in a credibility crisis. Black people don’t just need a white version of black church any more than white people need a black version of white church. What folks need is love, authenticity, community, and genuine care. These things are not black or white or brown or yellow, they are transcendent and universal. The truth is that there is lifeless religion, hypocrisy, posturing and pretending in black churches and white churches alike. If we sincerely want the church to be a welcoming place to a diversity of different cultures then maybe we would be better suited by putting our efforts into authenticity, humility, and honesty.
My life is personally filled with more of a diversity of relationships than ever before but it has come not as I’ve sought to have more diverse relationships but as God has not let up on his work in my heart. You see my problem is not that I don’t love black people and brown people enough but that I simply don’t love. My problem is not that I need to try harder to be something else but that I need to stop being fake. My problem is that I am basically a selfish, self-centered and self-indulgent person. Yet when God’s kingdom overtakes these areas in my life the result is that I have a greater capacity for love and humility and authenticity in whatever situations I happen to find myself. I don’t disagree with the diagnoses that most churches in the US are not very diverse and I don’t disagree that this is a bad thing but the way out of this place cannot start on the surface but must begin in the heart.
Maybe we can start by simply asking God to help us to be honest and sincere in our relationships with one another, that he would give us the grace to stop pretending that we have all of the answers and that we have it all together. Maybe he could help us to become the very people we would like to hang around, or listen to, or vote for.