Thursday, July 7, 2011

Religion and the YMCA of the Rockies

That the YMCA of the Rockies (YMCA-R), where we are spending our vacation at the Snow Mountain Ranch, is Christian, is an obvious tautology; it is the YMCA. It is also overwhelmingly white. But the prominence of specifically Christian themes permeating the environment here is a bit surprising. The YMCA has evolved over the years (see Wikipedia reference) from an evangelical group doing social service solely as a vehicle for “saving souls” to a recognition that social action, social justice, and social responsibility are the cornerstones of demonstrating their religious values.

Clearly, the YMCA is not been anywhere near as strong and persistent in its opposition to social evils such as racism and the oppression of women as the Young Women’s Christian Association, which in 1970 adopted the statement that “The Association will thrust its collective power toward the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary”, and has annually reaffirmed this commitment since (statement of Lake County, IL YWCA). Indeed, the entire guiding principle of the YWCA in the US is impressive:
Our mission is to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism. The Young Women's Christian Association of the United States of America is a women's membership movement nourished by its roots in the Christian faith and sustained by the richness of many beliefs and values. Strengthened by diversity, the Association draws together members who strive to create opportunities for women's growth, leadership and power in order to attain a common vision: peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all people. The Association will thrust its collective power toward the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.

Nonetheless, in 1973 the 6th World Council of the YMCA met in Kampala, Uganda (for the first time in Africa), and developed the “Kampala Principles” emphasizing a global viewpoint and the need to take political positions on international questions; in 1985, the World Council took a strong stand against apartheid.  Later, in the 1990s, the YMCA adopted its four core principles: Caring, Respect, Honesty, and Responsibility (so color coded). The Salt Lake City YMCA, for example attaches a quotation to each of these:
Caring: To love others, to be sensitve to the well-being of others, to help others.
"Where there is love, there is life." Gandhi
Honesty: To tell the truth, to act in such a way that you are worthy of trust, to have integrity; making sure your choices match your values. "Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom." Thomas Jefferson
Respect: To treat others as you would have them treat you; to value the worth of every person, including yourself. "You don't have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone's different." Kim Peek
Responsibility: To do what is right, what you ought to do; to be accountable for your behavior and obligations. "The time is always right to do what is right." Martin Luther King, Jr.

The YMCA of the Rockies has added a fifth, Faith, in purple, and the quotations it uses for support of these values (on all tables in the dining hall) are all from the New Testament: Hebrews 13:18 (Honesty), Matthew (2 good ones, 25:40 for Caring, and 7:12 for Respect), and 2 Thessalonians (3:13b for Responsibility).  OK, it is Christian. All of the depictions of values at YMCA-R are about the individual, the individual’s relationship with God, stewardship for God’s creations (thus, the actual role of YMCA-R in maintaining this huge parcel of land) and finding communion with God.

Beyond the Bible verses above, the Mission Statement includes "the specific Christian principles:
  • appreciation of God's beauty; an understanding of Scriptures
  • meaningful relationships with family; character development particularly in youth; and
  • responsible stewardship of God's gifts.
Little or none of it, other than the emphasis on conferences and family reunions (their core business), has any social context, or sees its religious mission in bringing people together to make the world a better place. The only relationships described are with family (which is fine), but not with anyone else. This is somewhat disappointing, but then again I am not Christian, or even religious, so what do I know?

Only that some of the most important work being done in this country and around the world is being done by people motivated by their Christian beliefs, fundamentally from the New Testament. I am saddened to see that there is so little emphasis on those core values in evidence here at YMCA-R.

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