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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Putting the "C" back in the YMCA

It stands for Christian, in case you forgot...

Here's an interesting piece from the L. A. Times about a movement to put Christianity back into the Y. Says the Times:

About 13% of the more than 2,600 YMCA branches across the country have set up special committees to promote Christianity. Hundreds of Y leaders convene each year to swap ideas on how to "lift up the C in the YMCA."

Some Ys in Georgia now display pictures of Jesus and post the Ten Commandments. In North Carolina, YMCAs post Bible verses on their websites; in Tennessee, some play Christian rock in the workout rooms. In Alabama, Florida and Washington, YMCAs have hired full-time chaplains to provide pastoral care for staff and members: weddings, marriage counseling, hospital visits, Bible studies.

"People are beginning to rediscover the meaning of salvation," said Leonard Sweet, professor of evangelism at Drew University in New Jersey. "They are awakening to the idea that the body is part of spiritual life, that you can't separate the mind, the body and the spirit."

But the blending of faith and fitness unsettles some members who have grown accustomed to thinking of the Y as a purely secular gym.

"It seems a little bit squirrelly to me," said Tom Brittingham, a 49-year-old physician sweating on a Nautilus machine here. "There's already too much Christian stuff in the news. I don't really want to think about it when I work out."

I'm curious to know - has anyone experienced this trend in the Northeast?

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Anonymous said...

I've worked at YMCA's in both New York and now in VA. In NY the C stands for cash, and its all about fundraising and making things happen for programs. Now that I'm in VA the christian emphasis is so overwhelming and unexpected (prayers before staff meetings, bible studies) that I am searching for a new job. It's definitely being pushed down here.

Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, what with the Y's supposed desire to increase diversity among it's members and it's staff. Seems to me like diversity means more than just hiring more black and hispanic people to work at the YMCA, it means accepting ALL people, and really standing behind the tagline, "We build strong kids, strong families, strong communities."

With the current state of things, it reads more like "we build strong Christians." After I'm out of this job, I won't be back at the YMCA, after working with them for 8 years I can no longer feel good about where the organization is headed.

Nick said...

Hi Anonymous,

I appreciate the gracious tone. But let's bear in mind that the while it may stand for Cash in NY, other places never wanted to drop the Christianity out of the Y. The ideals of the Y, however murkily expressed in some places, remain explicitly Christian. I'm loath to refer people to Wikipedia anymore, but here:


you can find the principles adopted in 1998.

As a larger issue, I ask you in the light of your experience to consider and appreciate what Evangelicals deal with on a daily basis. Many organizations (and even churches) have undergone such dramatic change that we "can no longer feel good about where they are headed." Yet, whenever we say anything about these changes, not even to mention when we try to stop them, we are universally attacked.

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying, and I guess the problem we hit at the end of the road here is the difference between how we respond to the word "evangelical." I'm not prone to pity or support those who think it is their right, nay, duty to tell others about Jesus.

The best thing about the YMCA for me when I was growing up was the diverse amount of people that I met there, black, white, asian, christian, jewish, muslim, all forming a community.

I understand the origins of the YMCA, but we need to not only consider the past, but also the present and future. In a country where we are "free to be you and me," we have cultivated a huge and diverse population. If we go back to being a "christian club" the YMCA will not only drive away those members and employees, but they will also not fulfill their goal to be more diverse.

Faith can grow in churches, the YMCA has become a place where communities grow, and why change something that is doing so much good?

Nick said...

I understand your point, but what do we do with people who never wanted to move the Y away from its Christian underpinnings in the first place? Tell them it's too bad?

I'd also suggest that tolerance and diversity (properly understood) come out of a Christian world view which obeys Christ's command to evangelize but tolerates those who do not respond to that message.

There is a reason why the Y could exist and even flourish in Britain and America. Tolerance as it was once understood meant (at least in concept) that people of all backgrounds could participate equally in American life.

We can easily see the exclusivity of cultures which do not possess such an ethic, or what happens when societies lose or deform this ethic. (The examples of Islamic states come to mind, of course.)

Where the support of traditional Christian morality is eroded, some will rejoice - typically those who advocate greater "sexual freedom."
In America as in other places, moral innovations did not at first enjoy the broad support of the populace and so were typically promulgated by non-democratic means such as judicial decisions, administrative decisions and executive orders which are usually outside the direct review of the people.

However, as new, post-Christian moralities emerge within a society, the definition of tolerance within that society also evolves. A new "party line" and a new orthodoxy arise, which typically are far more brutal in suppressing dissent. Examples of this abound: Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Communist China. We can see these same transformations taking place today, albeit in slow motion, in the US, Canada and Western Europe.

New categories of crimes are created to reflect the new orthodoxy. New stigmas are created, etc. We are two-thirds of the way through the process in this country of creating this new orthodoxy. Religious leaders in other historically Christian nations are already being sued for the hate crimes of speaking against acceptance of homosexuality or "defaming Islam."

In one century we went from Bible-believing Christians being called to love and serve others, to seeing society being asked to embrace every group except Bible-believing Christians.

Attempts to put the C back in the YMCA may not be welcomed everywhere within the US, but perhaps we should question what makes people nervous about that. It's the Jewish and Christian conscience that have worked against the social injustices in our country. Humanistic and non-Christian thought systems can only elevate one group of people by oppressing another. The continued slide into the new orthodoxy should make us fear for our nation.

Anonymous said...

I can respond no further without fear of losing my "gracious tone" which you thanked me for earlier. That being said, I disagree with all of your fundementals, so this argument cannot continue anyhow.

Anonymous said...

But just to be fair (and because I can't NOT say it,) it is ludicrous to think that Christians have rights to claim the definition of "tolerance" and "diversity" and make them religious vocabulary.


Nick said...

You're missing the point entirely. In essence: historically there has been precious little "tolerance" outside of societies that are work on a biblical ethic.

Does this mean that all who profess to be Christian are tolerant or that those who are not religious cannot be ethical? No. However, the values of tolerance stems from Judaism and Christianity.

Remove this influence from society and see what happens.

Or, try to build a church in Saudi Arabia and see what happens.