Monday, July 19, 2010

Get the Christian out

Guest Column by Cathy of Alex

Mitchell had a recent post about the Y taking the Christian out of it’s full name:Young Men’s Christian Association. How may of you knew the place with the great Olympic-sized pool was a Christian organization and used to pride itself upon that association?

In fact, the original YMCA logo featured the letters PX, the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, along with an open Bible and the words "John 17:21", in which Jesus says, "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." The organization even used to publish its own Bibles, which it started giving to Civil War soldiers as part of care packages.

When I grew up in South Minneapolis, my family (Catholics!) had a membership at the Blaisdell YMCA. The Blaisdell Y has an Olympic sized pool, diving board, sauna, workout room, aerobic classes, summer camps and other programs. I don’t ever recollect seeing overt Christianity there.In fact,it was years later that I even knew what the acronym meant and was surprised it was supposedly a faith-based organization.

To me, the Y was always a place to get fit or send your kids to a summer camp. In fact, my brother and I went to a summer camp run by thru the same Blaisdell Y. We never prayed at camp. There was no Bible reading. We were too busy taking horseback riding lessons. Of course, when I learned how to canter on that horse I felt like praying!

Many of you have heard of the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. However, did you know that the Y has not been spared that either?

In Minnesota, allegations of sexual abuse have surfaced involving Camp Warren, a Minneapolis Y camp, near Eveleth MN. The alleged abuser, William Allan Jacobs, had been repeatedly accused of molesting boys over an 18 –year period while he worked in 3 private schools and was a counselor at Camp Warren. All of his alleged abuses were known by administrators, including those at the Y. No one in a position to do so, reported him to the authorities.

Sound familiar?

These are the same scenerios we hear about with the Catholic Church these days. Alleged abuse occurred over a period of time, while people in charge supposedly knew and failed to report it to the authorities much less warn parents or keep kids away from the abuser.

Should the Y be held to the same standard as the Catholic Church? Some could argue the Y is not a Christian organization anyway; it ceased to be that so long ago, and the name change just confirmed that fact. It’s Christian in the same vague feel good amophous way that so much personal faith is these days.

Today, the Minneapolis Y mission is "to develop the total person - spirit, mind and body - through character development programs that build strong kids, strong families and strong communities." What principles? Defnied by whom, by what? Meanwhile, the mission of the St. Paul Y is "to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all." So the St. Paul Y mentions Christian “principles”, while the Minneapolis Y has no word of Christianity. Does this mean we should hold the St. Paul Y to higher standards because of their mission?

Some of us could argue that the Catholic Church has lost its way. Not trad enough, too trad, not always Catholic, etc. Whether an organization has Christian or Catholic in its name or not is meaningful to personal spiritual development; it's meaningless in matters of abuse. Abuse of trust, abuse of person is meaningful regardless of whether it’s the Catholic Church or the Y.

Both the Y and the Catholic Church were entrusted with the care and development of children; our children, and, in some cases, they failed that trust.

However, when is the last time you heard the press blasting the local Y and demanding leadership change at the top as a “solution” to the abuse problem? Especially when that leade has a salary in the six figures, as the CEO of the Minneapolis YMCA does? Never.

If we as a society are going to demand accountability then we need to apply the requirement equally.


  1. Ironic, considering the local Y employees were talking about being at their Bible study the previous night when I checked in recently.

  2. Bobby: I'd be surprised if we ever heard that here in MN!

  3. Cathy, my friend who used to work at the Y told me once that they weren't even allowed to send out Christmas cards - they had to be the generic "Holiday" cards. Can you believe that?

    Wait a minute - yes, I'm sure you can.

  4. O! MY! GOSH!!! In the '80's I used to belong to the Blaisdel Y too! You probably were there at that time. Wow! Remember that German woman in the micro bikini who sat in the sauna alongside the pool all the time? I know! Oh I have stories about the Y...

  5. I'm reading about Father Michael McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus during a time when Catholics were discriminated against.

  6. Nan, you're quite right. In fact, through the 1950s the perception was widespread that the YMCA was an anti-Catholic organization, witness this statement in 1954 from the bishops of the Philippines:

    "WHEREFORE, WE, the members of the Hierarchy of the Philippines, hereby declare that the YMCA is a Protestant organization and, as such, should be avoided by Catholics, that is, no Catholic may be a member of this organization or contribute to its suppport or lend his name for propaganda purposes, or make use of its facilities."

    Needless to say, at least in the secular Ys, the only thing Catholics have to fear is the very secularization of the organization. As for the more religious Ys in the South, I don't know.

  7. In grade school - in the olden days - the nuns told us we could not join the YMCA.

  8. Oh Wait - I forgot to add - that is why CYC was formed BTW.

  9. This was the controversy over the local Y opening in May (from the local newspaper).


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