What's Tony Thinking

At Week’s End: Language, Doubling Down and Where Have All the Clergy Gone?


Language School. George Packer has a piece in the April Atlantic titled, “The Moral Case Against Euphemism: Banning Words Won’t Make the World More Just.” Packer takes a look at the now ubiquitous “language guides” adopted by organizations like The Sierra Club, Columbia University, The National Recreation and Park Association and the American Cancer Society.

The Sierra Club x’s out such words as “stand,” “American,” “blind” and “crazy.” “The first two fail at inclusion because not everyone can stand and not everyone living in this country is a citizen. The third and fourth, even as figures of speech, are insulting to the disabled.” “Felon” gives way to “person experiencing the criminal justice system” (though I heard no one refer to Trump that way when he was recently indicted on 34 felony charges).

Packer argues these language changes do not bubble up from popular usage. They trickle down from elites. “Like any prescribed usage, equity language has a willed, unnatural quality.” He adds that “equity language” tends “to blur the contours of hard, often unpleasant facts.” As in eliminating “poor” in favor of “persons with limited financial resources.” Finally, Packer wonders if the language re-writes are a sign of “a fractured culture where symbolic gestures are preferable to concrete actions.”

I would add that it creates an anxious environment where people are walking on egg shells lest they say the wrong thing. And of course there’s no grace or forgiveness if you do. As Ann Kasparian, a left-leaning media person and host of Young Turks, found out. According to The Free Press, when Kasparian tweeted that she preferred to be referred to as a “woman,” and not “a birthing person,” she was attacked and accused of “literal violence.” Have these people never read Orwell?

Republicans and Democrats Double Down. Both parties, instead of moderating their extremes, seem tone deaf. For Republicans, having won the reversal of Roe v. Wade, they can’t quit it. The Texas judge missed the memo about “staying in your lane,” deciding that drug safety was now his bailiwick. Not to be outdone, Ron DeSantis signed off on Florida legislation making it a crime to have an abortion after six weeks. Have the Republicans not noticed the results of the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election?

Meanwhile, the Democrats have selected Chicago as the site of their national convention in 2024, even though crime rates in Chicago are awful and their new Mayor is on record in favor of “defunding the police.” In Chicago only 1% of thefts of over $500 are now prosecuted. That was “over” not “under” $500. So, if your vulnerable point is slogans like “defund the police” or accusations of being soft on crime, why would the Dem’s book into Chicago? Well, they didn’t ask my opinion.

I am really enjoying theologian Andrew Root’s newest book, Churches and the Crisis of Decline: A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age. Root brings philosopher Charles Taylor and author of A Secular Age, into dialogue with Karl Barth, blending it all with a case study of a pretty typical dying mainline congregation. Root gives a non-abstract and theologically sound treatment of the issue of congregations floundering in the world/ culture that has defined a living God out of existence.

Speaking of “dying mainline congregations,” I get a steady stream of calls from congregations looking for help finding a pastor. I am no help. Why? I just don’t know very many potential pastors. That may be because I am less in the thick of things, or it may be, as I tell those desperately seeking clergy, “the pool is shallow.”

But that raises another question, “Why is the pool shallow?” Partly it is stuff like most partners in a couple both have jobs and the non-clergy partner is the one making actual money. Which means picking up and moving is less likely. Also increasing numbers of seminary students aren’t interested in pastoral ministry. They’ve read the writing on the wall and heard the horror stories of conflicted churches. They want to do things that are “innovative” and “experimental” and, well, fun.

I have one more theory about all this. We don’t live in times that encourage people to go into what one might call “sacrificial vocations,” like ministry, teaching, rural medicine, politics, serving the poor, military service or being a cop. I’d also add being a parent, which I consider a sacrificial vocation. There never was a lot of money to be made in most (not all) of these endeavors. Some, like cops and military, suffer from bad press and social opprobrium. Others suffer from being on the front-lines with a public that has lost its manners, to put it in the mildest possible way.

Hope you have a happy weekend!


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