Over the last few weeks of all the words that have landed on my desk, the word “PERFORMATIVE” lands like an indictment. No, that’s not quite right. The indictment part is right, but the landing strip for these words isn’t my desk. It’s my heart. It’s my gut. In conversations with others, I know I’m not alone.
PERFORMATIVE [ per-fawr-muh-tiv ]
(of an expression or statement) performing an act by the very fact of being uttered, as with the expression “I promise,” that performs the act of promising. (See also, “slacktavism” or “ally theater”)
It pertains to me specifically in several areas – at times including my own faith.
Performative allyship occurs whenever we say we’re in support of a marginalized group in a way that either isn’t helpful (or is actually harmful!) or that draws attention away from the group we state we support. It’s where we talk a lot… an awful lot… and we pass overtures and policies and form committees that have no chance of actually changing anything, but they make us feel good about what we’ve done (and that’s what is really important, right?).
Again. It lands like an indictment. It is an indictment.
How we respond to this charge complicates things further. My immediate reaction is always defensive. All the good things I’ve done line up like little toy soldiers ready to spring to my defense. I’m a good person. I’m trying. Look at me trying! You may get angry. Others might turn away entirely. Some of us make the choice to not say anything. We are really good at not taking risks – and I know that there are times when the fear of doing the wrong thing is paralyzing. The problem there is that, again, that is all about us.
We’re conflict-avoidant, peace-loving (where the peace we’re talking about is that sort we feel comfortable) chaos-fearing Presbyterians, and we all have our own preferred method of avoidance. As a dear friend often said, “Your mileage may vary”.
Thing is, church? We’re really good at all of the above. I’m really good at all of the above. Church folk know all too well how to talk the talk while walking in a completely different direction.
We have a name for it. It’s called sin. We also know that sin requires us to lament and confess even as we work to repair. It’s not work we can dole out to another; it’s our work to do. It’s not the work of the Leadership Team, the COM or the Presbytery. It’s the work of all of us.