Democratic institutions require constant tending. The genius of democracy is its root in the "people." A people's movement changes with the people.
So it is the health (or deterioration) of this or that democratic institution depends on its ability to book passage on the most sea worthy vessel. Choose wisely and enjoy the cruise. Choose poorly and find yourself in steerage on a cattle barge out of Galveston, headed for Vera Cruz.
You who still play in the Old Establishment Religious Institutional field have a series of problems no longer incumbent on the revolutionaries. We have our own problems. Your issues include, but are not limited to the coming demise of your institutional force by dint of:
- Generational shift. The current socialized medicine debacle will resolve itself in part by the passing of the Boomers. The legacy we leave our posterity will be immense national debts, pushing the national leadership to formally declare its socialist tendencies, declare fully for a managed economy and end in a one-world currency. Hilarity ensues. The generational shift in religious life includes problems other than deficit spending; higher expectations of services relationally tied to the culture, with the entitlement expectation of subsidized "independent living;" you know, the same kind of thinking that has thirty year old men living at home with Mom. Good luck with that one.
- Long term appeals (since 1979, at least) to baser instincts in religious packaging in the Free Church. Your programs are defined and identified by the lowest elements of your clientele. Not only must you accept their belief in the unbelievable but you must also tie yourself to this sinking barge, zealously and repetitively. A wise old man told me, "In the last fifty years in baptist life, every major call for reform has been met and repulsed by powerful forces. It is our death."
- Major philosophical shifts occur as local groups decide the larger vessel has slipped its moorings. Philosophical shifts are expressed in policy changes; resources streams change, well attended events become empty halls, materials from the larger group go in the recycle box rather than the round file. Policies, however, are only the symptoms of the disease. Institutional fatigue is not the correct diagnosis here, either. The larger body ceases to be a trusted repository for resources slowly after it loses its outward vision.
If, as I think, such a formidable armada arrays itself against the creaky old canvas navy mustered as the Religious Institutions, why does the old navy continue to exist at all? Monday, I will answer that question for you. Sail on calm waters until then.