Some of you may have heard of Spiral Dynamics. It is a remarkable system of identifying developmental stages in the human psyche and in history. Without going into great detail, I want to talk about the stages that are impacting our life today. (The colors are assigned arbitrarily to aid conversation.) If you haven’t heard of this system there are good, brief descriptions that can be unearthed by a search engine.
Each stage develops to solve the problems of the previous one. There are two early stages relating mainly to primitive humanity. Then Red is the stage of warlords and retributive, tribal violence. It is balanced by the next stage, which is Blue, about order and conformity. Which in turn moves into Orange, having to do with freedom, entrepreneurialism, and exchange. Orange is balanced by the more communal and socially responsible Green. These stages constitute tier one. Tier two begins with Yellow. Yellow is the first one that looks at the whole spiral, all the colors and how they relate. Yellow is about competency and accomplishment.
That is a ridiculously inadequate summary of a small part of the system. But my point is that different people are at different stages of development, and addressing them in that context helps.
At this point, I think we have to say that no value judgment is implied by the idea of stages. It is not hierarchical in terms of power or goodness. People at Green are not “better” or even really “more advanced” than people at Red. They are simply at different places dealing with different issues in ways that work for them at that time. Yes, as people at a given stage run up against the weaknesses inherent in that stage, they begin to move into the next stage. But anyone who thinks being at a “higher” stage makes them more entitled to wield power over others has missed the point, and probably for that reason isn’t really as “evolved” as they think they are. This is especially true in the second tier of Yellow and then Turquoise, which are characterized by increasing humility, selflessness, and sharing.
In any case, I am using the system to analyze the current disintegration of the PCUSA. What is happening is that churches that relate best to Blue and Orange are finding it uncomfortable in a denomination that is relating increasingly to Green, and now to Yellow. This was made really clear when I was part of a delegation meeting with the session of a church seeking to leave the denomination. We went around the room and the elders spoke of their feelings, motivation, and the timing of this decision. And to a person what we heard were the values of Blue: conformity, order, a clear understanding of right-and-wrong, biblical authority, wanting definite answers, and absolute standards. The things they were complaining about in the PCUSA were the values of Green: openness, questioning authority, inclusion of other voices and opinions, the “big tent” approach, laxity in doctrine, and weak discipline. But they, being at Blue, did not even begin to comprehend Green at all; what they see in the denomination is weakness, disorder, relativism, and a regression to a kind of paganism. They see a regression back to Purple and Red. These Blue Christians do comprehend Orange because America, especially economically, is an Orange country. (Protestantism is pretty Orange as well.) So their world is the Blue discipline of traditional Christian morality moderating the potential excesses of Orange commercial capitalism. That is the world to them, and for them, it works very well. The idea of a communal, inclusive, justice-oriented Green mode as a positive balancing of the depredations of a restrictive Blue and an out-of-control Orange, is incomprehensible to them.
Until recently, as the gap was opening and widening between the Green majority and the Blue/Orange minority, there was almost unmitigated and increasing hostility. There is a self-righteousness to Green that, like the other preceding stages, consciously sees itself as better and more highly evolved. This comes across as superior and judgmental towards Blue/Orange. We don’t need to imagine how this goes over with them. The one thing that conservatives seem most bitter about is this nasty sneering at them because of their “bigotry” and “backwardness.” They see themselves upholding order, responsibility, civilization, and prosperity.
On top of all this, we have a polity that is rooted in the 16th century and is very Blue/Orange: it creates order by making winners and losers, it gives power to some over others, it demands conformity and compliance, and it values decision-making. So we have Green people managing a Blue/Orange system, and using it to further an agenda that inherently undermines the system itself. (Witness, in the battle over Gay inclusion, the Green flouting of the rules, culminating in the 2014 Authoritative Interpretation that basically decides that the words of the Book of Order mean the opposite of what they say. This drives Blue people nuts because even when they dutifully play by the rules and win, they still lose. But for Greens, “justice” can’t be deterred by some stupid rules.)
Lately, however, some elements of the denomination are experiencing Yellow. Yellow recognizes the weaknesses of Green as wooly-headed, romantic, sentimental, naïve, unrealistic, hypocritical, sanctimonious, and cruel. Green also makes cynical alliances with Red against Blue and Orange, meaning that they can excuse and rationalize manifestations of tribal violence in the name of respect for different cultures. (And nothing scares Blue and Orange than the disorder and chaos of a Red system that Blue grew out of… centuries ago.) Yellow looks at the whole spiral, and realizes that Blue and Orange have value, as well as Green, and we should build on the positive in each stage. Yellow does not reject the prior stages, but includes them and moves beyond them with their good energies.
So the Yellow-influenced approach in the church listens carefully to the concerns of Blue/Orange Presbyterians, and is willing to give them the room to work at that stage. Some people are at that stage and need it. Like all the stages, Blue and Orange need to work well for people, even as some come against the limitations and drawbacks, and emerge into Green themselves. Yellow recognizes that declaring a Blue/Orange vs. Green war over property in local presbyteries is counter-productive, debilitating, pointless, and incredibly and tragically short-sighted.
But, even though the denomination is Green moving into Yellow, its structure remains deep Blue and Orange. There is the hierarchical order of representative government, overlaid with the vestiges of the corporate model that dominated in the 1950’s. Which means that, even as the Blue people are departing, we still have structures and system that do not match the mostly Green values of the people, let alone reflect the emerging values of Yellow.
The new Form of Government is a start. But there are still orthodoxies in our polity that can be dispensed with, making the church more effective and authentic in its mission.