I was leaving for England when the election results were published. I thus spent three weeks away from the fray, although the BBC kept me up to date about affairs in the USA. It was fascinating to receive a preview of “Government by Twitter”.
In England progressives are still in shock about Brexit and its aftermath. On both sides of the Atlantic daily blog posts attempt to explain and analyze how the very people “liberals” claimed to support turned against the Left, the Labour Party in England and the Democrats in America. I grew up in post World War 2 England. The workers had rejected Winston Churchill for Clement Attlee and his socialists companions. Seventy years later the working class rejected the Establishment leaders of both major parties and opted out of Europe. Many supported Ukip, a party which makes Churchill look very liberal indeed. In America, the workers rejected both party Establishments and voted in an apolitical building magnate who promises to put the clock back and restore lost jobs.
These “working class” voters were convinced that the political elite had forgotten them, or, worse still, were contemptuous of their lifestyles and beliefs. Whether true or not, contempt works both ways. Goodness knows what happens if an independent Britain, or the paradise offered in America fails to help those whose incomes have decreased, life expectancy has decreased, jobs evaporated and in America, medical care has been denied.
My purpose in writing this is not to advance one political ideology against another. I write to raise the question, have the mainstream churches in America similarly failed the working class? Yes, there are many projects aimed at alleviating poverty and championing the underclass. However these worthy projects emanate in those parish churches and diocesan and denominational offices, far from the places where the “underclass” actually live. The Episcopal Church, for instance, is retreating from rural America. In urban areas, those churches which remain, are often venues to which the well-off, or at least not poor drive to make common cause with those of their own religious flavor or social beliefs.
In the 19th Century slum priests, mostly Anglo Catholics, went into places of enormous poverty, built churches, and lived among the under class. True many of these priests had independent wealth and could support themselves. Today “starter churches” survive if enough people are drawn in to pay the bills. No one even contemplates recruiting clergy and lay leaders who will support themselves by one means or another. The way we recruit ordinands often excludes pioneers and favors safe, bland men and women, who are capable of sustaining established congregations, often with skill and quiet heroism. But where are people of holy zeal, ready to move themselves and their families into deprived areas, places where violence may be normal, and the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse endemic? Where are the “denominations” (I hate that word) that would contemplate sending consecrated priests, deacons and lay leaders to live with and evangelize the workers?
And, anyway, working class people nowadays are rarely progressive.They have their own sort of denominations. Who needs them? Meanwhile we will continue to offer free meals once a week to the homeless and the poor, and champion them with resolution and check book.