2000 — Series X
Class Matters: Mission Across Unseen Divides
Karen Bloomquist and Tex Sample, lecturers
What does it mean to be a church in mission in a society and world divided along class lines? What happens when the dynamic of the gospel meets the dynamic of class?
Class has a foreign and arcane ring to North American ears. We typically take it to describe an Old World phenomenon, something the immigrants deliberately left behind. Class structure is not part of our national self-understanding. While divisions according to race and gender have been openly celebrated and openly attacked, divisions according to class have only rarely been discussed. Elitist rhetoric and talk of class struggle seem equally un-American. Especially during the long post-WWII economic expansion, the vast majority of Americans have understood themselves to be middle-class citizens of a nation properly dominated by a large, expanding — and ideally all-embracing — middle class.
But while class dynamics and structure have tended to be invisible and unspoken in North America, they have never been absent. And in our time, class lines show signs of growing sharper and stronger, not only within our society but throughout the world. Recent economic gains have heavily favored the already wealthy and technological change has largely benefited those fortunate enough to have been educated at "better" schools in "better" neighborhoods. Physical isolation of the classes from each other has proceeded with the development of suburbs and gated communities; cultural isolation may be increasing with the multiplication of media, the loss of common stories and the rise of segmented marketing.
How do the powerful yet often hidden realities of class shape and misshape the church? How do they interact with divisions of class and gender? How do they compromise our mission as congregations? As the ELCA? As the whole people of God? Does the ELCA have a class location? Are aspects of its teaching and practice "classist" If so, what would it mean to repent of classism?
The 2000 Hein-Fry Lecture Series sought to create an opportunity for clear thinking and honest discussion about the reality of contemporary class dynamics and their relation to the life of the church. Even more it was an occasion to explore the power of the gospel which exposes — and crosses — dividing walls and hostile borders.