General Board of Church and Society, delivered one of the clearest and most
cogent addresses at the Network for Spiritual Progressives. Among his points
was one that received precious little notice by other speakers, that the
progressive agenda must be owned by more than middle class white
In one of the clearest and most cogent addresses at the Network for Spiritual Progressives, James Winkler, General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church delivered a prophetic message to the group that must be heard if this movement is to get legs.
Winkler expressed appreciation for the quality of the experience the planners had put into this conference. It was a remarkable event that exceeded all expectations. Expecting 500 attendees, the actual number of registrants had to be capped at 1,300 due to limitations of space and availability of break-out rooms for discussion groups.
But as he assessed the future, Winkler noted that the movement must be more inclusive than the Berkeley event. The participants were predominantly white and from the Boomer generation. A small caucus of 18 to 30-year-old participants convened to discuss outreach to youth, but the issue of engaging a wider group of ethnic persons was left to Winkler raise. And he did so with sensitivity and grace, but also with clarity and urgency.
It’s a word that must be heard today if we are to overcome the politics of division and fear that the political right has practiced with such skill. It’s also necessary if we are to address another critical need, the inclusion of a wider number of participants in the national dialogue.
Winkler made a key point when he told the group that inclusiveness must be a foundation for bringing the U.S. into a more fruitful and compassionate dialogue about the future. The voices that are left out of the conversation today are not only white progressives, but also African-American, Native American, Asian and poor white folks, among others. These voices offer more than diversity, they offer life experiences and creative problem-solving that could inform the conversation and help create new solutions to social problems that are growing as a result of current policies.
He reported an interesting observation that bears further analysis. He said much of the opposition he hears in reaction to some actions of his board appears to come from middle-age and older white males. It would seem that the social dynamics that leave out the poor and vulnerable also contribute to a feeling of anger and alienation among those who have had more access to power but who are feeling left out of the conversation today as well.
I’ve heard others in completely different settings make similar observations about an underlying frustration that sometimes erupts into angry comments from this group. Likewise, I’ve heard the staff of the Commission for United Methodist Men speak of the need for particular attention to ministry with men because men are experiencing a sense of disconnection and isolation that is corrosive and harmful. This leads to frustration and anger of the type described by Jim Winkler.
It’s a changing world and the structures and actions that have worked in the past are under great stress today. This contributes to isolation and anger. What worked before doesn’t work so well now. What was valued in the past doesn’t command the same respect today. Voices that had influence often meet with distrust or are ignored today. This leaves us ripe for conflict, and for name-calling and blaming.
We really do need a wider, calmer dialogue. When so many feel so angry and isolated we must ask why. And we must seek new ways to create conversation to change the national conversation. Our national political leaders have demonstrated their incapacity to do this. If we can’t do it in the church, where will such a dialogue occur?
Jim Winkler called us to inclusiveness. He called us to address this loss of voice, not for one group but for all who feel left out. Among many good points he made, this was one that seemed to me to be a key to moving forward. If we are to create a movement of people who care for the earth and other human beings, and who look for fresh, new ways to express this concern we must be able to talk to each other. All of us. It’s a message we need to hear and to heed.