Monday, September 8, 2008

Consumers of Democracy/Producers of Democracy

I've been reading this book called The Citizen Solution lately. I bought it in part because the organiziation I am involved in, Isaiah, got a whole chapter in it. Several of my friends were even quoted, so I suspended my "no new books" rule temporarily and bought a copy.

The book is a call for citizen participation in our democracy, and its general rules and insights apply to all of us, I think. But it's published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, so all of the examples of different kinds of citizen participation are local.

I was intrigued by a table early in the book, developed by Marie Strom of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. The table contrasts two ways of looking at Democracy: Public Participation and Citizen Agency. Here are just a couple of examples:

Definition of Democracy in Public Participation: Democratic state with free elections
Definition of Democracy in Citizen Agency: Democratic society created by citizens' ongoing work

Outcomes in Public Participation: Customer Service:
People consulted/Government takes note/Services delivered.

Outcomes in Citizen Agency: Creation of the Commonwealth:
Public problems solved/Public wealth created/Civic capacity and democratic culture developed.

Attitudes in Public Participation: Condescension by government and dependency by citizenry
Attitudes in Citizen Agency: Respect for the capacities and resourcefulness of citizens

What are elections about (Public Participation)? Which candidate can fix things
What are elections about (Citizen Agency)? What leader works best with citizens

I have two thoughts going on in my mind right now:
One is that community organizing is deeply democratic; it empowers and relys on citizens to create the commonwealth; it is not only about voting, but about the ongoing work of making a better community together. The author (Harry Boyte) also names the "Citizen Agency" model of democracy as connected with the populist tradition in American politics.

The other thought is about the church and its leadership: there are times when I think we have a "public participation" mindset in the church as well, which fosters a "which pastor can fix things" attitude, condescending clergy and a dependent laity, and "church" as a service to be consumed rather than worship that we produce together as the body of Christ.

But, what do you think?

16 comments:

Rev SS said...

I think you got it right.

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

I'm not sure of the terminology you've used (from the book) but I sure see a change in the churches (that I've attended) during my life time. Certainly the pastors of old did everything. Maybe some still do. Apparently in other branches of Lutheranism they still do. In some of our churches which have an "We've always done it this way" mindset, the pastors are still expected to do everything.

Changing gears a bit: Some of the initial coverage about Palin I think did have "ism" involved, but not so much sexism, but small town-ism, ie if someone is from a small town, then they can't be as good as if they are from a city.

As someone who grew up in a city and large school then moved to a tiny town, I have found that the small town/school is much more empowering, and there are actually more daily opportunities to develop talents. A high school counselor once told me that college recruiters really like to recruit small town kids for this reason.

I would speculate that in a large church, the percentage of people who don't participate in leadership, groups, or service is larger than in a small church, although there is a "season" for just attending the worship service. How many times do lay people ever preach in a large church, for example? My church has about a dozen people who have preached well and probably about 3 dozen who are very good lectors.

Diane said...

PS - I don't disagree with anything you say, and have even been thinking about a post re: small towns. As regards pastors of all, you are right, but I think what was expected of pastors was much different than today. I remember once my mom saying, it wasn't her expectation that a pastor's job is to "take care of people" -- a pastor's job is to "run the church." (aside: does that count as "executive experience?"

Diane said...

oops I mean pastors of old...

ProclaimingSoftly (PSanafter-thought) said...

Yes, pastors were expected to run the church and fix the furnace. Maybe type the bulletin and mow the grass (city church where I grew up. Though he was at fault for not asking for help.) No they didn't just work on Sundays.

But now days, pastors are expected to be "community organizers" as well as preachers.

At my daughter's church, there are no other employees.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I think this is very good, and I would like to see more of this approach emphasized in citizen education. (Alas, course content is all mandated by state standards, and they are notoriously slow to give up the old academic models.)

Diane said...

PS - :) on community organizing. I was thinking of, as well, the higher levels of programs and not just pastoral care, but counseling as well. pre-marriage classes (which I enjoy, by the way). Not just confirmation, but other classes....

I'm with you on community organizing, except that I will say, as a pastor, that you do learn some good leadership skills from organizing: how to pull together a group of people, how to get people involved in things based on their gifts and interests, not just "filling a slot," how to develop other leaders, how to hold people accountable, etc....

Diane said...

Ruth -- I have also heard that, in some school districts, there is no longer any "citizenship education." (I guess we called it "civics.") that would be sad.

afeatheradrift said...

I think we are poorly served when we forget in either our churches and our government that we cannot afford to leave it to the Professionals. Our participation is important and necessary to keep things on fair basis and one that doesn't stray from the path.

Border Explorer said...

Very insightful! When we list what that has succumbed to the values of rampant consumerism that prevails, we must include democracy. You've given me a new paradigm with which to view our democratic process: as something we must produce. This is very helpful!

LawAndGospel said...

Here in seminary land we were taling today about the true meaning of the word "koinonia"- it is not just community or fellowship, but a participatory partnership. Whether we are talking about church or our culture generally, somehow this concept has gone missing I think

Barbara B. said...

yes, insightful -- good stuff!!!

Lindy said...

I think clergy encourage the public participation model because it's easier for them and also because they can blame it for their own failures.

Diane said...

thanks for the vote of confidence, Lindy.

although right now, neither model seems incredibly easy to me....

Crimson Rambler said...

boy does this give me a lot to think about...much of it unwelcome!!!
I think there are very tight boundaries to my "faith in democracy"...I have seen parishes with "empowered lay leaddership" which amounted only to the caucus of the loudest and meanest and least informed, bullying everything and everyone in the service of the people THEY thought were most crucial, i.e. the richest. Truly. And the heck with the gospel.

Diane said...

CR -- you are right that it's not JUST about being democratic, but we are all in service to the gospel. But ideally, as the pastor often is the one to call people to that mission, it is also sometimes another member of the body who calls us back to that mission and vision.

we are accountable to one another.