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Switch to Forum Live View Institutional Tone-Deafness Toward the American Working Class
7 years ago  ::  Jul 15, 2011 - 8:16PM #1
Posts: 4,367
On the ELCA's Facebook page I notice that whenever a spokesperson for the church encourages donations on behalf of overseas aid/mission, there's usually a sprinkling of rather defensive/irritated lay responses, "I prefer to give money to charities here at home."

I suspect that some of this is rooted in a combination of populist jingoism and "professional" whining by a few people who always need to be whining about something.

But my perception is that, in an effort to help laypeople understand that they're a part of a world community that needs compassion and help, church bodies (I think not just the ELCA) tend to ignore the diminishment of American quality of life that tends to create resentment and apathy toward what's going on in the rest of the world.

I'm thinking of the ongoing economic assaults by the "powers and principalities" on the middle class, on seniors, on rural Americans, and the feeling of disempowerment and loss that that creates.

If you're a Midwestern  blue-collar family whose fortunes have fallen from comfortable middle-class to financial water treading  -- loss of income, benefits, even one's job altogether -- and with bleak local prospects for starting over again -- it may indeed ring hollow to hear about church aid agencies' attempts to create sustainable economic development in villages in Peru or Senegal. "What about us?" And these people may even be thumped, inadvertently or otherwise, by the kind of institutional rhetoric that can seem to paint all Americans as overpaid, overprivileged oppressors of the world's poor who need to feel ashamed for whatever higher standard of living they may enjoy than someone living in the developing world.

With the understanding that many denominations advocate for working/economically vulnerable Americans in ways that aren't always advertised throughout the you think that Lutheran church bodies, and indeed church bodies in general, are doing enough to communicate to the laity in this country that their economic struggles matter, that they're taken seriously by church leadership, that what happens to a farmer or factory worker or displaced worker in Indiana is considered as important as what happens to their counterparts in the developing world?
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7 years ago  ::  Jul 16, 2011 - 10:38AM #2
Posts: 3

Excuse me for wandering into this thread but your post caught my attention because I do feel there is tone deafness in charitable appeals in this brave new economic world.

Since December 2008, my wife and I have gone from having a comfortable $100,000 annual income to having maybe $17,000 to live on this year. When we had money we gave to religious organizations and more secular groups like the Sierra Club. Now, we still get appeals for money from all these good folks we used to give to, but when you are struggling to buy food, you can't check the box for a "minimum donation of $35," which seems to be the least any "spiritual" organization expects. And the feeling I get is if I can't give the "minimum," don't bother. "We don't want you to Scotchtape a dime to the card and mail it back" as people did in the 1950s when polio and the March of Dimes were real.

I guess what I'm saying is I don't see churches or other charities grasping or responding to a new economic reality that is plunging the post-2008 unemployed into near poverty. And the response feels like a sad old song: "Nobody loves you when you're down and out." 

It seems like churches are joining with the Wall Street business people and the politicians in tone deafness and denial.

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7 years ago  ::  Jul 16, 2011 - 12:38PM #3
Posts: 4,367

That's my feeling, too, LiPo.

I don't think that it's intentional or malicious -- just clueless.

How do you think that we can raise the consciousness of our church bodies to be more sensitive to the real economic upheavals in this country? What are some barriers to doing so?

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7 years ago  ::  Jul 16, 2011 - 4:39PM #4
Posts: 3

Thank you for starting this thread, Tawonda. This is part of the solution.

I think it begins with communicating that the working class and a fair share of the middle class is in trouble in this new global information age economy.

Because the U.S. has had decades of prosperity following World War II, the focus was on helping those in serious poverty. The working class was percieved to be doing just fine, working at the factory and buying homes and cars.

So the church programs I was familiar with focused on feeding the homeless in their neighborhoods and helping villagers in the Third World i.e. people who were in obvious bad trouble.

But in the past decade, the working class and part of the middle class in the U.S. fell off the prosperity bandwagon and are now more or less permanently unemployed or under-employed with little hope of things getting better.

The reason that churches and other institutions appear clueless is the long-term unemployed are more of less invisible to them. It may not be apparent that the stone mason or carpenter, who has been out of work since the housing boom busted, is living on rice and beans.

I went to renew my driver's license this month and the examiner told me his children are graduating from college with no hope of finding jobs. I see this with my nephew and niece and with the adult children of my friends. People in their 20s do not have the opportunities I had at their age. The examiner said these kids are giving up hope. They just live at home with their parents and are invisible to outsiders.

Then there are people in my age group, who discover the answer to The Beatles question: nobody needs you when you're 64. Laid off and unemployed for years, we opt for Social Security as the only safety net left.

Granted none of this is abject poverty. But 20-year-olds who feel hopeless and 60-year-olds who feel worthless are not signs of a healthy society.

I'm not sure what churches can do. But government seems to have run out of resources and ideas. This problem is crying out to be solved at the local level and if pastors and congregations realized what was going on it seems possible the solutions might emerge.

In this way it is sort of like addiction, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem.

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7 years ago  ::  Jul 19, 2011 - 8:58AM #5
Posts: 53,304

The Prosperity enjoyed by American Working Families was an Historic-Economic "Bubble" that came about as Part of the postWWII Global Economic Boom, expanded American Imperial Hegemony, certain Techno-Industrial Advances, Demographic Changes, and an ongoing Mining of easily available huge Stocks of Natural Resources ... That was "then," this is NOW ...

The New Global "Flat" Economy is nobody's "Fault" ... It's just The New Reality ...

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7 years ago  ::  Jul 19, 2011 - 9:38AM #6
Posts: 3

I agree that this new economic reality is probably permanent and nobody's fault.

The issue is how we are going to respond to it.

Maybe I'm missing something but I don't see much recognition of it in the institutions that people have traditionally relied upon, which includes their churches. The political and business elites appear to have their heads in the sand waiting for this "downturn" to come to an end. It may be years or even decades before politicans and Wall Streeters realize they are in a new reality.

But most working (and increasingly non-working) people have very little contact with those institutions.

Working class people do still have contact with their church and so the hope would be that the church would not be as tone deaf as other institutions.

Help might come in just basic teachings.

Are the newly poor having good news preached to them?

How can people be helped to move beyond the materialism and consumerism that characterized post-World War II America?

Is there a no-more-prosperity gospel?



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7 years ago  ::  Jul 19, 2011 - 8:33PM #7
Posts: 352

How do we respond to the new economic reality?

I agree the church has been a little slow in addressing this, but who is it that speaks for the Church in the USA?  Lutherans?  Baptists don't think so.  Methodists?  Catholics may wonder.  Pentecostals?  I think some Episcopalians would object.

My point is there is no unified voice in this babble.  Would that the Lord would raise up a prophet like Martin Luther King was a prophet in his day.

Barring that I think we do need to petition our church bodies to address the struggles of the middle class.  In all Lutheran bodies there is a memorial process in which congregations can memorialize their local synods and districts.  Those memorials can then be passed on to the national bodies.  But I would agree we don't need another three or four or more years of study on this.

We also need to press our elected officials to be more equitable in sharing the burden.  Ever since the Reagan tax cuts the middle class income adjusted for inflation has stayed relatively flat, but the incomes of the upper class has risen 246%.  Their tax burden was only 18%.  Many American coorperations did not pay taxes at all this last year.  The claim is that the Upper Class already pay half the taxes, but it seems to me if they control 80% of the wealth they should pay 80% of the taxes.

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7 years ago  ::  Jul 24, 2011 - 11:47PM #8
Posts: 70

The seminaries are responding to inner city problems, multicultural issues, and rural America. But I'm not aware of any direct approach to the American middle class worker. Interestingly some Brits are thinking about this: James Riches, "Ephesians," Global Bible Commentary, ed. Daniel Patte (Nashville: Abingdon, 2004) 473-481. The author analyzes the message of Ephesians in light of the Scottish context of high unemployment.


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