The organization formerly known as the YMCA, for “Young Men’s Christian Association,” is rebranding itself as simply “the Y.” Even after reading their press release about it, I’m not completely clear on the motivation for the change. One big part appears to be that many people refer to the organization by this even shorter version of the already-abbreviated name. I can’t discern the extent to which this is an active removal of the words “Men” and “Christian” in order to either appear more inclusive or reflect a more genuinely inclusive mission.
Obviously YMCA branches won’t kick you out if you’re not a man or if you’re not Christian, and that’s been true for quite some time. (Exactly how inclusive they’ve been through history, I’m honestly not sure. There must be some reason that the YWCA was formed as a distinct organization, and even that still has the “C.”) But even though the organizational profile doesn’t say anything about Christianity, in the “fine print” in light grey letters at the very bottom of the Y’s website pages it says: “The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”
When the Y was founded (as the YMCA) in London in 1844, it was as “a refuge of Bible study and prayer for young men seeking escape from the hazards of life on the streets.” Today, they define their areas of focus to be “youth development,” “healthy living,” and “social responsibility” — all of which seem to be interpreted along secular rather than religious lines. If it weren’t for the fine print at the bottom of the page, I would think the Christian influence was just a historical relic.
Now, the Y isn’t eliminating the C altogether. The press release says that “the Y” is the name for the organization as a whole, while one single branch should still be called “the YMCA of” whatever location it’s in. The “national resource office” (essentially, headquarters) is still called YMCA of the USA.
In light of our recent conversations here about atheists donating to religious charities — how do you feel about the Y after this rebranding? If in general you refuse to donate to explicitly religious charities, does the Y now meet your standard for secularity? I’m inclined to say that we’re witnessing a transition, and the Y is currently somewhere in between religious and secular — perhaps, if I may geek out a bit, in a superposition of states. Maybe in a few years, they’ll shake off the last remnants of Christianity in their official practices and documents, and I’ll be able to call them a secular charity with confidence… but not quite yet. What do you think?