Monday, July 23, 2007

Whatever Happened To The C?

The YMCA is such a ubiquitous institution in civilized nations such as the United States that one would be hard pressed to find someone who had never heard of the Y. Most people could even tell you that the organization's initials stand for Young Men's Christian Association.

But it's probably more appropriate these days to just call it "the Y", because the full name has become almost completely meaningless.

"Young"? Sure, there are young men who participate in the activities at the Y, but there are also old, old men who are equally involved in the work of the institution in various ways. That's somewhat understandable. People don't stop needing the important services offered by the Y when they reach some arbitrary age. Young men eventually become old men. So the "Y" in YMCA is just a letter that really doesn't stand for anything real, even though it may have been meaningful at one time.

The "M", of course, stands for "men". But it's been my observation that even though there are more men than women at a typical YMCA, women aren't exactly scarce, either. In fact, almost all of the administrative staff members here at the Lawson House YMCA in Chicago are women. And while there are more male residents than female residents here, there are a lot of female residents here, too.

The "A" in "YMCA" is indisputably correct even to this day, but that's only because "association" is such a loose term that it's practically meaningless. On some level, any group of people organized for any purpose whatsoever is an "association", since the employees of such an organization obviously cannot even go to work in a shared office if they do not associate with one another.

Lastly there's that "C". That's right, it stands for "Christian".

What a joke! These days, if you query the staff members at a local YMCA, you're just as likely to find that they are atheists or Buddhists or Muslims or believers in any number of other religions. Wikipedia acknowledges that the name is now "something of an anachronism".

How sad! In the early days of the YMCA, things were far different.

In 1855, at the Paris World Exposition, a document known as the Paris Basis was created, both in English and in French. It stated:
The Young Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.
In 1869, a pastor named Samuel Wolcott wrote a hymn entitled, "Christ For The World We Sing". The hymn was inspired by a visit from the YMCA of Ohio. Their motto at the time was "Christ For The World and The World for Christ".

In the late 90's, while I was employed as a database specialist for YMCA Child Welfare (a division entrusted with the case management for about 950 foster children), I dared to tell a co-worker that I believed that the Bible was the authoritative Word of God. In response, I was ridiculed for my alleged naivete.

The YMCA now loves to talk about "diversity" and "inclusiveness". To some extent, that is admirable. Christ loves all people, and it is therefore our duty as Christians to extend the hand of friendship to all people, whether they are currently Christians or not.

However, there is a point at which the original identity of an organization is lost forever if it does not steadfastly maintain that there are certain nonnegotiable distinctives which give the organization its identity. I personally find it appalling that an organization which once defined itself as a Christian organization now shows no particular preference for Christianity.

Sadly, the same thing could be said of some of America's so-called churches, particularly among those traditional denominations which have succumbed to theological liberalism. The loss of membership which such churches have often experienced has been attributable, in large part, to their inability to persuade people that they are anything other than pseudo-religious social clubs.

The YMCA remains a valuable institution in the communities where it exists, but I would be lying if I did not say that I wished that it could return to its historic roots in biblical Christianity. The secular humanism which has replaced Christianity as the foundation of the YMCA is a poor basis upon which to build the type of society envisioned by the founders of the organization.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Thanks for reminding folks what the "C" in YMCA originally stood for. This seems to follow an all-too-common downward trend for institutions. A number of fine schools of higher learning began as Christian colleges. They have long since departed from their roots.

It was your reference to Samuel Wolcott and his hymn that caught my eye this morning. (Today is the 124th anniversary of his death.) if you enjoy reading about our traditional hymns and their authors, I invite you to check out my daily blog on the subject, Wordwise Hymns