Monday, January 28, 2013

Women in the Military

It was announced this week that the changes are being made that eventually should make it possible for women to serve in all or virtually all roles in the military.  My regrets on this are probably different than most people.  I regret all war and so opening up more people to the violence and harm that I believe combat is unfortunate.  That being said I think that denying someone a position solely because of their gender is a foolish thing to do.  Especially for the military where effectiveness should be the number one guiding influence, not what chromosomes they were born with.

My greatest hope for this is that it will help shift some age-old stereotypes about the differences between men and women.  There are obvious physical differences including how big and strong the different genders tend to be, but many of those differences can easily be overcome.  I have been beaten by enough female fencers to tell you that being bigger and stronger does not always help.  What cannot be so easily overcome is how we view, and thus treat the different genders.  Numerous comments were made in reaction to this move about the negative effects this would have.  While some people seemed convinced that women simply could not DO the work required and that the military would have to reduce standards, many more centered around two fears.  One was that men would be distracted by protecting the women and that the loss of female lives would be a larger emotional blow.  The second fear was that women POWs would be subjected to rape and sexual violence and that this would create its own problems (beyond the harm to the women).

What worries me about such fears is that it seems to place a greater value on women than men, which is probably rooted in the notion that women are to be protected like property, and not capable of their own care.  There is also an underlying assumption around issues of sexual violence that this is NOT happening to men (despite evidence to the contrary, even in US POW camps) and that it is NOT happening already to women who serve in the armed forces by our own side.  Sexual violence to POWs is a horrible thing and something that is very concerning, but not just because it might happen to women.  It feels like a horrible double standard to say that we should be worried about the rape that might occur women at the hands of our obviously unscrupulous enemy while ignoring the violence that occurs already.

Just as fighting and dying together helped the cause of integration between races, maybe the same will occur with regards to genders.  Maybe we will stop seeing men as strong and women as weak as more and more women are given the chance to step into the same roles as men.  I wish equality could come in a less violent way, but I am glad that in one more area everyone is being given an equal chance regardless of gender.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rooney Rule, MLK, and the Nominations Committee

There is a rule in the NFL called the Rooney Rule that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any open head coaching position.  The rule was instituted years ago in an effort to break up the virtual monopoly of head coaching positions by white candidates.  There is renewed conversation about the need for the rule, and maybe reinforcing it this year after all the vacant head coach and general manager positions were filled by white men.  The conversation tends to center around the tension of not hiring someone based on their skin color, but still finding ways to make sure people of all skin colors have the same opportunities.

Often cited by both sides in such arguments is the quote by Martin Luther King, that people "will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."  While it clearly seems to speak against such quotas as the Rooney Rule requires, I am not sure that King would have been opposed to such rules.  Maybe fifty years ago the rule would have been needed to prevent owners from making racial motivated decisions for hiring.  I am not sure that the problem today is that candidates are being excluded because of skin color.  More likely it is a combination of two things, coincidence (it is a relatively small sample size after all), and the fact that people tend to trust what they know, and in a society that tends to still clump around lines like race and class, white people are going to tend to know white people, and black people are going to tend to know black people, and so subtly you tend to hire around those same lines, not because of racial motivations but more along the lines of habit.

A great example of this for me is the nominations process that has been going on at churches everywhere as we set our committees and leadership teams for 2013.  My experience of the nominations process is this, we either tend to look for the most obscure people (who is a new person we can get involved), or we tend to think about the people already in leadership positions, Mr Darcy is rotating off the trustees, with his fortune I bet he would a good person for the finance committee.  We don't mean to exclude people, but we tend to think about the people we know, the people we like, the people we are like.  The hardest part about nominations is thinking about the people you don't really know, and finding a good fit for them.

The really hard part is realizing the people you are missing ... because if you knew you were missing them you wouldn't be missing them.  One of my goals in college was to sit at different tables at dinner. There were a number of people who sat at the same table every night and in turn sat with the same friends.  By switching tables I would sit with different groups of people and thus broaden who I was connecting to and staying in touch with.  In turn the people who sat with me would experience a similar mixing as different groups of friends merged at this new location.

Sadly now that my college days are done it is harder to intentionally sit at a new table and meet new people. So maybe we do need "Rooney Rules" in our lives.  Not because we are racist, or sexist, or classist, but because without forced effort on our parts we will not live out the full meaning of Dr. King's dream, which is not just an end to racism, but an end to segregation, a dream of place where we all mix and mingle as children of God.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wisdom of Downton Abbey

So like many others I am a fan of Downton Abbey and just watched the first episode of the third season when it aired last night on PBS.  In it the family that owns Downton Abbey learns that a substantial portion of its financial investments have been lost.  Suddenly the money that was meant to secure the future of Downton into perpetuity have vanished and we are left wondering what will happen.  The family is left to contemplate what it will be like to have to move from their stately home to a slightly less stately home.  Can the Earl of Grantham exist without Downton Abbey.

The parallels to the church seem striking to me.  First there is the existential question of separating ones identity and existence from the building that traditionally defines it.  What strikes me more however is the challenge around the financial problems.  The money was lost because it was invested poorly.  The investment was meant to make lots of money and secure a future for the great estate and instead it caused its ruin.  Certainly there is a tragedy in the loss that occurred, but maybe it was better that it was spent to try and secure a future instead of being squandered just plugging the financial holes to keep things afloat for the short term.  This is the real problem I think we face in the church.

Most churches have a great wealth of resources and a very uncertain future.  No matter how solid our financial situation might be this month, most churches would be faced with ruin if they saw a rapid drop in membership and giving.  Many churches are already feeling a pinch as shrinking numbers have forced tighter budgets and reductions in what the church can do to function.  The real wealth of resources comes not from the budget balance sheet, but from the members of the church.  Here are the real resources with which we do ministry.  Here too are the resources I worry we are squandering.  We worry too much about sustaining our budgets and sustaining our buildings (which are important) that we forget about making full use of our members.  Dollars and buildings are a means to an end, which is the mission of Christ to spread a gospel of love to all the world.

In Downton Abbey the Earl took a risk and tried to use the assets he had to build for the future.  I think we in the church need to do the same.  There are countless studies that point to aging membership of churches and the implied decline in membership that will happen as members die.  We are going to lose these great resources one way or another.  Maybe it would be better as a church if we took some risks and engaged our members in new ways to make use of their many gifts and talents for mission.  Instead of worrying about what the church will look like when they pass away and how we can sustain ourselves at that point, maybe we should be looking at how we fully engage our members now, which might actually take care of the second problem all together.  Even if it doesn't our churches will dwindle while living out the mission of Christ instead of dwindling while paying the heating bill.