I have had an idea for some time. It’s a big idea, literally world changing. There have been many nights I’ve lain awake thinking that this is what I’m here for, what I’m supposed to be doing for myself and for the world. It’s a big deal… And I want to get it right. Which has led to overthinking: where to start?
I want to change the way we think about religion and politics, and how the two have to live together to get the most out of either of them. Sounds obvious and necessary, but do you start by examining what is broken, or reestablishing a religious basis, or a political movement? How do you even start a religion or a political party? I’ve felt as though I need to write at least three books just to get this thing going.
So as much to lay the starting brick for myself as for those I hope to follow, I am starting with a declaration of intent, including why I feel something must change, and the foundation upon which that change must be built.
The very first part is the why, and to get into that, we have to get into story time. My story, how I got to where I felt I had to change something. In particular, my religious and political history.
I still have the bible I was given from Northside Methodist Church in 1975. I don’t remember receiving it, nor any particular events at the church in those days: we were a Christmas and Easter family, at our best, and we weren’t at our best very often. By high school, I wouldn’t be able to recognize anyone from the church, and they wouldn’t have been able to recognize me. I lived much of my adult life this way. It was only after years of working through depression and ADHD that Suzy and I decided to make the church a part of our lives again. Suzy still has her bible from Northside circa 1977, and several of her family members were and are still church pillars there, so that’s where we went. We were in the choir, and the bell choir, I played guitar for outdoor summer services; Suzy became the head of children’s ministries, I became president of United Methodist Men at Northside; I took lay speaking courses, became certified, taught Sunday School classes, and even preached from the pulpit on more than one occasion (yes, that means precisely twice).
As we got more and more involved in the church, and became more a part of decision making and leadership, it became more obvious that the UMC, the organization, was operating primarily as a business. And although I can’t say I am so naive to believe that’s not going to be the case in the US, even worse, it was being run as a bad business. Large, successful churches had a lot a “small groups,” for instance… so our tiny, older congregation was tasked with creating such groups. This led to all the groups being the same people; I was over fifty when they needed Suzy and I to be a part of the “Young Adults” small group. Instead of looking at the strengths and need of the individual churches, leadership was pushing to generate what amounted to fake numbers that looked like what they themselves defined as being successful. There was also a pastor that did not get along with a significant portion of the congregation: he was directly responsible for the only couple actually younger than Suzy and I in the Young Adults group leaving the church. Even Suzy’s grandmother, who’d been with Northside since it was people knocking on doors saying “we should start a church ’round here,” had taken to pointing out “it’s not his church, it’s our church” on matters involving this pastor. When Suzy’s grandmother passed, she did not want the pastor in question to preside over the ceremony, and we contacted the previous pastor. We were told that she would not be comfortable doing it, because, and I quote “that’s his flock now.” That’s when I realized that the organized church is not working for its congregations, but rather operates believing that its congregations work for it.
Religion, as practiced by the organized church in the US, is broken.
I was brought up Republican, which is to say that I was aware of my parents and grandparents voting Republican in the seventies and eighties. In high school, I was already getting the idea that both major parties had more in common with the actors in the other party than either of them had with the citizens they supposed to be representing, and I was sporting the “withdrawal in disgust is not apathy” banner to remove myself from political conversations. As I grew older, it occurred to me that the political conversation ended up affecting me whether I took part in it or not, and I have been an advocate for third parties ever since.
Over the past couple of decades we have seen the worst gridlock and political obstruction in our history… and our government is currently shutdown, despite bipartisan congressional agreement, at the childish whim of someone who can’t get us to pay something he told us someone else would pay for.
Politics, as practiced by the major parties in the US, is broken.
When we think about who we are, what we are for, what is our greatest good… we all too often compartmentalize a vast array of moral and social values into lumps we call politics and religion. Because of the peculiar brokenness of politics and religion in the US, we largely define ourselves within structures hundreds, even thousands of years old, that we did not build and to a great extent don’t even understand.
We have to start over. The structures we have are broken. My task as I see it is to create new structures, which both acknowledge the reality of the existing structures and plan for their eventual replacement. The next step is defining exactly what they are and what they do.
I’m not looking to replace religion or politics themselves, but rather the structures we use to define them: basically, a new church and a new political party. For now, they’re called the jj church and the jj party. Part of the foundation of these new structures is that they are not intended to completely replace existing structures: I can foresee someone meaningfully calling themselves a “jj Republican” or a “jj Methodist.” One ideal of these structures will be to focus on common ground and working together to move forward, to make sure our differences don’t stand in the way of our similarities.
The very first thing we have to agree on, that has to be similar, is what we are trying to do with these structures. We toss around terms like “politics” and “religion” as though we all know exactly what we are talking about and to what extent. But we need to know why the structures exist in the first place… we don’t seek out a religion or political party because we like the colors of the building (or at least we shouldn’t), we seek them out to fill needs within and outside ourself. At its most basic level, religion is an attempt to understand where we as individuals fit in the “grander scheme” of things. At its most basic level, politics is an attempt to understand where we as a society can move forward the “grander scheme” of things. The insistence of separating church and state has always seemed odd to me when clearly the one was little more than an outward, societal take on the other.
To summarize: with the intent of offering a better version of objectively broken modern US politics and religion, I am starting a new church and a new political party. These new structures will be intentionally built to focus on first working around, then eliminating these problems.