A Black Missional Critique of the Missional Movement (Guest Post by D. Kyle Canty)

(This post is written from a friend and old seminary peer of mine, Kyle Canty. As one of the pastors of a black, missional Church in Philly, I thought his perspective would be especially helpful for my readers in considering the larger missional movement’s homogeneity. Please join the conversation and let us know what you think.)

There’s a complex question that gnaws at my heart as I observe evangelical culture; “Does the broader evangelical church in America recognize that there is something that they can learn from the African American church?” I follow conferences and as of late, I’ve kept up with the missional movement. I love listening to those who have mined the themes associated with everything missional and topics around justice and mercy for the marginalized. I frequent blogs, YouTube videos and the major declarations put out by the evangelical machine. During the past couple of years I’ve recognized the homogeneity of these circles—most of the speakers are white. Interesting enough, many of the topics that are being written about and presented at these events are topics that I’ve heard about throughout my life. (e.g., justice, mercy, meeting felt needs, etc.)  Well before these were popular topics within evangelicalism, these were important issues among black pastors, preachers and theologians. The black church finds its uniqueness in the soil where it is cultivated—usually within marginalized and oppressed communities.

 

I was originally introduced to the missional conversation by my pastor; who is one of very few African American professors teaching within evangelical seminaries. We engaged in doing contextual ministry within Philadelphia with limited resources and tremendous opposition. One of the things that missional theology taught me was to question the things that contradicted God’s kingdom agenda. The thing that was missing for me as I viewed the movement was color. I wondered to myself, ‘Does a black pastor of an inner city church have anything to teach a white suburban pastor?’ This question gets me thinking through power structures. The question is loaded with complications. Although loosely associated, the decisions regarding the broader missional movement rest in the hands of the few.  The answer to my question gets to the heart of a problem.

 

The missional movement is relatively new within evangelical circles. In fact, the missional movement is still fighting back accusations that the overall movement is a sinister break from ‘traditional conservative Judeo-Christian principles and values’. There is a rapid delivery of books, blogs, conferences, fashion, tweets, FB pages and posts about this Biblical theme that’s been missed for so long by so many. Although there is this rediscovery of mission Dei and what it means to be sent, there is also a danger that the voices are predominantly white and suburban. If the voices of the missional movement remain largely those of the dominant culture, then there is the possibility that the movement will begin to speak with a privileged accent. Call it what you want—whether it is in a suit, tie and comb over or in skinny jeans, fashion rims, tatted up, it is still coming from a place of access, comfort and homogeneity.

 

Although we are in the age of post-Christendom, the existing structure of evangelicalism still wields a significant amount of power. The presence of Christian publishers, magazines, academic institutions, conferences, conference centers, radio programs and mission organizations are all part of a construct designed to win the battle.  The proverbial ‘table’ that is so often talked about is actually nestled inside evangelicalism’s board room. So it is often said that Blacks need a seat at this ‘table’ in order to influence what goes on as the movement becomes more mainstream. Why is it so hard to sit down at this table called the Missional Movement? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the missional movement is nestled inside of evangelicalism and this movement has not properly dealt with race. Different clothes and music, but the same homogeneity exists.

 

The movement that sought to deconstruct Christendom needs deconstructing. The task of addressing inconsistencies within the movement is best handled by those who can view omissions and pathology from the outside. As the black church gets used to hearing about missional theology and the movement, it will recognize and embrace and add its unique accent to the conversation. However, I wonder if many will simply bristle at yet another predominantly white movement talking about Christians opening up coffee shops to engage in post-modern conversations when the national unemployment rate is 6.7% for whites and 13.3% for blacks.

 

In conclusion, yes, the black church is not without blemishes and the need to transform.  We are not perfect, but who is able to speak to the ills of White Evangelicalism like the Black church?  Additionally, one black conference speaker, professor or friend is not diversity, but could be construed as tokenism. It was brought to my attention recently by a friend and mentor that most Blacks can sniff out tokenism and so the Missional Movement needs to know that many of us know that a black woman on a panel covers two categories on the diversity checklist.  I guess one of the things that I need to say is that there are many things that the movement can learn from the Black church outside of gospel music and our unique preaching style. The Black church and those it has produced are not novelties to be observed from afar—instead the body was meant to benefit from parts. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

 

Let me make this clear—preachers, pastors, Bible believing black folk have been busting their tail ministering to people in the worst conditions for a very long time. Suburban White academics are ‘probably’ not the best folk to reference when you need to figure out how to minister to oppressed people groups. If the missional movement is concerned with reaching the kind of folk that Jesus reached, then perhaps they may want to diversify their think tank to include inner city, bi-vocational Black pastors who serve within extreme conditions.

 

Bio

Married to my lovely wife Pam for over 13 years. I love my children, 10 year old Micah, 8 year old Karis and my new born Shiloh Elyse, born May 4, 2013. I enjoy the challenge of seeing how the Biblical text interacts and speaks to culture. I love the city and reading about God’s heart for the marginalized of society. I love Jesus, His church and the city. I am an assistant pastor at Great Commission Church in West Oak Lane, Philadelphia, where I presently live. My love for urban culture springs from growing up in North Philly–those that know can understand why your heart never really leaves this place.

Graduate of Cairn University (formerly Philadelphia Biblical University) with a B.S. in Bible/Pre-Seminary and an M.S. in Christian Counseling. I also have a Master of Divinity Degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. I’m currently pursuing a DMin in Urban Missiology at Biblical Theological Seminary.

 

You can engage more with Kyle Canty over at his blog http://thecityrooftop.com/ and can follow him on twitter @kcanman.

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34 thoughts on “A Black Missional Critique of the Missional Movement (Guest Post by D. Kyle Canty)

  1. An excellent and timely critique. You are correct, white academians need to sit and listen to those doing ministry among people of other color and culture (expanding it beyond just black).

    This is one of the reasons why my lead pastor at New Eden Fellowship, Franklin Gilliam (a black man) has been leading a group of us in the congregation on a series of studies exploring multiple cultures and religions. And he, himself, comes from a pluralistic background (Muslim and Hindu both with a good mix of Trinidad).

    On another note, while they are white academians, I believe it was signpost 10 in David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s book “Prodigal Christianity” that expressed the need for the church to understand the pluralistic culture in which we live, including a pluralism of race and cultures. This is, I believe, a starting point… we need to recognize that not everyone is “like us” and that theology is about answering questions… and folks from non-white cultures may actually be asking different questions from those of us from European descent.

    We are seeking to learn… we just need someone patient enough to teach. :-)

    BTW… I am also a graduate of Biblical Seminary, took “Theology, Ethnicity, and Gender” and learned QUITE a bit sitting at the feet of people outside of my white suburban culture… and enjoyed every minute of it. :-)

    • I believe the recognition that those outside of majority culture have a valuable perspective is critical. I have sat at the feet of those I critique in the post for a long time and I have a great deal of respect for many of them but over time inside these institutions I have come to recognize that its so easy to believe that the only perspectives worth considering are those originating from ‘my tribe’. I think the larger question is related to genuine reconciliation and how to achieve this goal. Its always good to meet another Biblical grad. The unique church environment where an African American can lead a white congregation is amazing.

      • You ought to come out of the city and visit our little church…Franklin would love to have city visitors, being a city person himself (grew up in NYC).

        And yes, genuine reconciliation is the goal…without trying to necessarily homogeonize the church…

        Glad to make your aquaintance, Kyle…

    • Hey Robert, thanks for the reply. That is pretty cool what your pastor is doing, it is very needed in American Christian communities, there is so much ignorance and misunderstanding about ‘the other’ that needs addressing.

      In response to the conversation on pluralism, I agree with you as well, we need to learn to live in a pluralistic society. However, I sometimes don’t think that pluralism as a lens is sufficient enough to address particular historical realities of racism in America. What I mean is that White/Native American history and White/Black history are intimate and ugly narratives that need direct response beyond recognizing them as part of the larger pluralistic society. If the land stealing and near genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement, dehumanizing, and systematic discrimination of Black people are the great and original sins of America, then I tend to see the need for the White Church, which has historically ignored these realities and washed its hands of the current ongoing conditions of both Native Americans and African Americans, to make right these scars through explicit attention. All that said, I don’t think it should be done at the expense of reconciling with all people groups. What I am saying is, I agree with your position on pluralism, but as an African American, I just want to make sure the history of slavery, jim crow, black codes, lynching, terror, and discrimination up through the present doesn’t get ignored. Hope that makes sense. Thanks for commenting.

      • I agree that we have to talk about”race” and racial inequalities, not just “difference” in general. And I understand that people want to get away from the black/white binary, but in reality, that’s where we began, and everything else is racialized along a black and white spectrum.

  2. Appreciated this article a good deal Kyle, thanks!

    As for the question, “Does the broader evangelical church in America recognize that there is something that they can learn from the African American church?” I don’t know that I can speak for “the broader evangelical church,” but as one of the directors of Missio Alliance (missioalliance.org), I can say that our answer is a resounding yes! It’s one of the main reasons we partnered with a historic African-American church to host our inaugural gathering, and if I might expand the AA part of the question to “minority communities,” it’s also why we deliberately sought out (along exclusively relational lines) minority voices that could speak meaningfully into theological issues and cultural challenges posed (in different forms and to greater degrees) to the entire North American for mission given the growing marginalization of Christianity and the Church. So important was this in fact, that over 1/2 of our presenters were not white males.

    None of this is to say, “hey, look how great we are.” Far from it! Rather, I/we see this as only a small step toward the kind of multi-ethnic/cultural kind of “work” that we would hope to see God bring about.

    At the great risk of being misunderstood, or falling prey to one or more of the “Privilege says…” inclinations that our friend Christina has so helpfully elucidated (http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/06/privilege-says/), I do want to suggest that this article could perhaps be accused of being slightly myopic. Here’s what I mean…

    The mission of God is no one group’s prevue. One need not be a minority, oppressed, or marginalized to develop a conviction for the missionary nature of God or God’s church. Easier to see and appreciate from these vantage points – probably, but it’s no guarantee (as history has often shown). It seems to me that it would be a better posture to grant that, irrespective of one’s heritage, social location, or situation, it is possible for God to reveal Godself to any and all of his people in deeply transformative ways. Thus, I’m just not sure how fair it is to dismiss the work of God in and through a people group because of the color of their skin (in this case, white), their economic status (in this case, affluent) or the place where they live (in this case, suburbs).

    So here’s what I am saying… as I (and my majority culture brothers and sisters) grapple with the theological and cultural reality of the increasing marginality of the Church in Western culture, there are plenty of us who (even repentantly) want to connect with those whose dominant experience has always been that of being marginalized and/or oppressed (hence the growing interest in the theological vision of Anabaptism, right Drew?). Do we remain blind to aspects of power dynamics, I’m sure. Might we struggle with cross-cultural communication in the process, almost certainly. But man, I’ll tell you, if we let those hindrances stop us from connecting and working together, I think we’l all have missed something important that the Spirit of God is up to in our day.

    So come back at me. I write all of this in a posture of submission – asking, wondering, provoking… looking for some dialogue, understanding, and connection under the Lordship of Christ.

    • Thanks for the constructive critique. I believe that big issue is reconciliation and I think you would agree that this is not an overnight process but one that must take place over time for the purpose of bearing witness of the gospel to the ‘nations’. You are correct, ‘One need not be a minority, oppressed, or marginalized to develop a conviction for the missionary nature of God or God’s church.” It just seems that the opposite is true. You see my experience with the very group you defend is that ‘they’ have struggled with the voice of the ‘other’ (urban, black and poor). I just have a hard time believing that white, affluent and suburban evangelicals have been underrepresented. The voice that we generally hear is of the dominant group unless there are those who sacrifice to listen to the prophetic ministry of those from the sub dominant group. I would add that listening to the prophetic voice from a sub-dominant group is a choice. Sadly, many walk out during the message.

      It is great to hear of these changes being made in this organization and I genuinely hope that the changes are genuine but without the ongoing process of confrontation, confession and reconciliation then I wonder if tokenism will ultimately be the result. I know this stuff is hard but its necessary. To believe that we have no cultural, class and ethnic differences and that color does not exist is myopic and I might add dangerous. Although our narratives have a unifying connection in Christ there still remains a unique cultural thread that should not be ignored. I don’t wish to nullify the work of white, suburban, affluent evangelicals – they (you) are my brothers and sisters. I know all too well what this group has accomplished, I’m reminded frequently. My point in the post is that the contributions of the Black church in the missional conversation has largely been missed and that is a weakness. While you mention, ” I’m just not sure how fair it is to dismiss the work of God in and through a people group because of the color of their skin…”I propose that this is the problem–the broader missional movement, or if you will evangelicalism, has missed the rich contribution of blacks simply because its optional or a ‘nice to have’ but not necessary.

      I commend your work with the African American church within your given context but I must add that this is only a beginning.

      • Kyle, a hearty AMEN to everything you wrote. But especially to this…

        “To believe that we have no cultural, class and ethnic differences and that color does not exist is myopic and I might add dangerous. Although our narratives have a unifying connection in Christ there still remains a unique cultural thread that should not be ignored.”

        And to this…

        “My point in the post is that the contributions of the Black church in the missional conversation has largely been missed and that is a weakness.”

        With regard to the first quote, I hope you didn’t take me as suggesting this. I tried to clear this up w/ Drew below. Bottom line, we need each other, and in Christ, it’s imperative to remember that those who are “weaker” (in this case, minority people, and those who have been marginalized and/or oppressed) are to be treated with “special honor!”

        And to the second quote, I lament that our experiences have been so different. I travel in circles of (predominantly white) church leaders who are desirous (if not desperate!) to listen to and learn from African-American and other minority leaders on issues related to the missional identity and life of the Church. May God add to your number my friend!

    • J.R., thanks for posting. I have a couple thoughts to add as well, so I will just pick a couple and see where we go. You mentioned that half of the presenters were not white males, which is amazing in comparison to the normal track record of National Missional gatherings up to this point. However, I would remind you that White Males make up approximately only 30% of the national population. I guess my point in that is that even what is drastically better than the past is still actually overrepresentation based on national demographics. This is not to dismiss what you all have done, I think it was a concrete first step in the right direction, trying to decentralize White Males who had the mic. Hopefully on that front you all will keep pushing.

      However, an actual concern I hear is similar to what Kyle touched on. I am not sure if you meant what you said or if it just wan’t clear??? Do you really believe that social location doesn’t matter? Do you think that the concrete and specific social status of the slaveholders and black slaves didn’t matter either? Isn’t the Anabaptist vision, when taken seriously, a deep concern about power, coercion, social status and Constantinian logic and their inherently anti-Christ posture?

      Secondly, is their a unique, intimate, yet ugly past and present that White Christians still need to come to terms with in relationship to their darker skinned brothers and sisters? In your response, it could almost seem as if you felt like White Christians were the one’s who had been historically marginalized. I know you know better than that, but the very tone and posture is confusing to me. From my vantage point, there is much my white brothers and sisters could learn from while under the tutelage of those who have been systematically oppressed by the white Church. The Black Church has learned to know, love, and follow Christ within the crucible of slavery and suffering. Curious if you think that the 400 years of racial slavery, degradation, and loss should be forgotten for the sake of reconciliation or if it is something to be dealt with? Thoughts? Please correct me if I am mistaking any position you made.

      • Just finished the final episode of LOST, so we’ll see if anything I say here makes any sense:

        I appreciate what you are saying in the 1st paragraph, but are national demographics the best benchmark to gauge the appropriate diversity at a North American gathering of Protestant church leaders who have a personal interest in conversations about missiological perspectives on theology and ecclesial practice? That’s not for a moment to suggest that we ought not vie for an increasing amount of diversity in terms of both presenters and attendees, but I think it might be fair (or at least more realistic) to select a different (ecclesial) benchmark.

        On your second concern, about social location, you jumped WAY over to some line of thinking that has nothing to do with what I said. Of course “social location” (and other subjectivizing factors) matters and has influence on our thinking, etc. What I said was that these factors don’t limit God’s power to speak and act in our lives. One is not cut off from the revelation and work of God simply because they are white or affluent anymore than because they are black or live in poverty. Such a posture means that we don’t dismiss anyone out of hand, but always approach one another with an expectation that God has something for us to receive from them.

        On your last note, gotta confess (after re-reading my comment several times), I am at a total loss for how what I wrote could come across as supposing that white Christians had been historically marginalized. Rather, I was making the point that Christianity as a religion (an thus the Christian Church as its social embodiment) is being decentralized (thus marginalized) in North America and this bears implications for all believers, no matter their race or background.

        Of course we should not ignore or forget the horrible history racial slavery in our country. It’s an inescapable part of our common historical narrative, the effects of which we are obviously still grappling with and trying to recover from. What I am FOR is trying to bring this grappling and recovery into the context of the Church and common labors for the sake of the gospel.

        Hope that’s a helpful reply. If not, let’s blame it on JJ Abrams and see if we can’t do better tomorrow ;)

      • JR, thanks for the clarification, I was hoping that I was misunderstanding you and your response helped elucidate your actual position.

        Pushing back one more time, though much softer, I raised the national demographic percentage not as a legalistic magic number or benchmark, but solely to demonstrate that it is still white male overrepresentation. Certainly all christian communities can participate in theological conversation around mission and the church, and not just those who formerly label themselves missionary. Probably an actual kingdom benchmark would make the underrepresented the overrepresented around the table. But that wasn’t my initial point, it simply was to help demonstrate that 50% isn’t itself a particularly helpful benchmark.

        As for how I interpreted your tone as postured in marginalization, it was because you were arguing for why white folk should not be dismissed because of their skin, status, and suburban context. However, I guess I was unfamiliar with the ways white people were being systematically dismissed to warrant that specific caution.

        Lastly, I agree, nothing can limit God’s power or God’s ability to reveal himself. However, that doesn’t mean that our lifestyles can’t also make it harder to accept and experience God in our lives. So yes, I agree we don’t dismiss anyone out of hand, but I don’t think Kyle at any point suggested doing any such thing.

        But mostly, I am glad you are not dismissing social location and history. I really believe that some of the White churches redemption will come through its making solidarity with the black church and learning about Jesus through that lens as followers that have opted out of dominant society.

        Sorry for the earlier misread, thanks for hanging in and clarifying. Sometimes these conversations are much more helpful in person, but its better than nothing.

  3. Pingback: A Half Puerto Rican’s Critique of A Black Missional Critique of the Missional Movement | Pathways International

  4. There are several poignant questions which the author asks in the article:

    “Does the broader evangelical church in America recognize that there is something that they can learn from the African American church?”

    I almost don’t like this question. Almost… I’d rather phrase it this way; “Do believers understand that they can learn from other believers?” When a question starts off with “don’t you recognize?” or “can’t you see?” it presupposes and accepts into evidence an ignorance not established. It’s almost like starting off the conversation from a position of superiority and assumes the very posture that the author is trying to point out. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s because I’ve been working in a poverty-stricken part of the world for over 7 years, maybe it’s because I’m part Latino and the same points that the author addresses concerning blacks may be equally applied for latin churches. I don’t know. Being Missional transcends color, context, and culture. God is a missionary God. He is the “Sent and the Sending One.” Being Missional or missionary-ish, embracing an attitude of sent-ness has absolutely nothing to do with race until we force it to be racial. Making Disciples, the essence and driving force of missionality, is a multi-dimensional command of Christ which transcends ethnicities. When Christ said to Make Disciples of the nations (all ethnic groups), he tore the curtain of any temple guarded philosophy of mission. While this question is important and must be considered, I fear it will ultimately detract from the missional conversation. Every believer can learn from, be encouraged by, be equipped, and strengthen any other believer.

    ‘Does a black pastor of an inner city church have anything to teach a white suburban pastor?’

    Two things are to be considered here. The missional movement, in my opinion, is still trying to get to the core meaning of what a “pastor” is, and what a church is. Missional folks say that Christology informs Missiology, Missiology informs Ecclesiology. So, before we can ever get to answering this question from a missional perspective, we have to establish a common farm of reference. Again, I would rephrase the question in this way; “Are those that are pastoral disposed to learn from and teach others with the same gifting?” The missional DNA is rooted in the full functioning of the Ephesians 4 gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Evangelists, and Pastors. The single “head” pastor of a local “church” as commonly thought of outside of missional circles doesn’t necessarily speak to where the missional movement is going. All traditional views of pastors, preaching, and church are being turned on their edge and examined again.

    Why is it so hard to sit down at this table called the Missional Movement?

    This is an excellent question! I’ve felt the same frustration. I’ll be addressing this in part two of the above mentioned series, but I wanted to say that the author has a point here. The term “missional” has been co-opted by many who are trying to take over the navigation of the missional ship. Despite it’s best efforts, some missional thinkers have adopted a missional apologetic, a missional hermeneutic, and a tendency to mark their missional territories. It’s vocabulary, if we’re not careful can separate. One almost feels forced to embrace what the author calls a theological accent in order to fit in to the movement. We need to remind ourselves that we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Even our non-missional ones.

    Who is able to speak to the ills of White Evangelicalism like the Black church?

    Again, I love this question, but would rephrase it so as not to cloud the issue. “Who is able to speak to the ills of a poorly functioning part the church than its more healthy one?” There’s no need for one-upmanship on anyone’s part here. There’s no need to say that “we’re better than you, because we’ve been doing it longer and better than you.” That kind of language only separates one from another instead of serving one another, esteeming others higher than ourselves, and loving one another.

    In spite of these critiques on the questions the author asks, I think the following statements are spot on:

    “Although loosely associated, the decisions regarding the broader missional movement rest in the hands of the few. “

    “Although there is this rediscovery of mission Dei and what it means to be sent, there is also a danger that the voices are predominantly white and suburban.”

    “If the voices of the missional movement remain largely those of the dominant culture, then there is the possibility that the movement will begin to speak with a privileged accent.”

    “The proverbial ‘table’ that is so often talked about is actually nestled inside evangelicalism’s board room.”

    • It sounds like you are just dodging the question with colorblind rhetoric. “Race” absolutely matters, and has to be discussed before we can begin to work towards justice.

    • Thanks Miguel for the suggestions on the questions and your constructive response. I framed my questions to be contextual rather than universal and benign. The presenting issue is between groups (e.g., race, class, location, etc.), clearly understood identifiers that continues a specific narrative. A big part of what I understand about being missional is framed within a need to be contextual. – there is no one coming into this conversation with a clean hard drive.

      My presupposition is that the vast majority of evangelicalism undervalues the contribution of those from marginalized people groups. There usually isn’t a problem when those in the dominant group helps those from marginalized groups but I wonder when it’s time to receive from these same groups whether those with resources/privilege are willing to do so.

      Respectfully disagree that the acknowledgement that there is something to learn from another group suggest a position of superiority. Also, I stayed away from using words like, “better”. I prefer to characterize the whole process as ‘mutual discipleship’. My point is that the value of learning from outside the borders of comfort/privilege can be very valuable. I find that whenever issues of race or class creep to the surface within Christian circles that there’s a rush to reaffirm oneness in Christ without dealing with the issues that separates. I agree with the affirmation that we are one in Christ but being one in Christ forces us to deal with the pathology behind why we are separated. The implications of Ephesians 2:11-22 are firm but in another sense we are still learning what this means in everyday life.

      While your response is helpful I wonder if there are some things that could be handled in another post (e.g., use of “pastor” versus the other leadership roles/gifts outlined in Eph 4, etc.) I am not dismissing what you are saying but I think it sidetracks the point. I understand your point about language and establishing a vocabulary but my original question seems clear enough to at least start the conversation about a very specific issue. I agree that missional will turn our traditional understanding of things on its head but then I ask the question, ‘who decides what gets thrown out and what remains?’ Again, thanks for your fruitful response.

  5. Please keep in preaching this. White culture is deficient, in that it has never had to grapple with any other standpoint than that of privilege. The cost of white racism has taken a piece of our soul, and we need the help and the perspective of those who have lived through oppression to learn how to love again.

    • Thanks for reading and responding. It is vitally important that we keep in mind that we need each other and no system or movement is as effective as it can be if it does not have a diverse group at the table discussing kingdom issues. I am sad this morning – the Trayvon Martin verdict only reinforces the need for these kinds of discussions within evangelicalism.

  6. Thanks Kyle, thanks Drew, for the good word. This is a gnawing persistent issue within the so-called “missional” church movement.
    To the extent I’m in it (the missional church movement) I ask you all for as much grace as possible as we continue to seek together spaces where we people in privilege can enter into submission, learn and listen. We’re all learning and carry baggage and crap that we’re all learning how to repent of. I’m nonetheless encouraged that people like Drew, Kyle, Christena are willing to write posts like this and kindly enter this conversation. I pledge to seek places/opportunities to make listening,learning in submission … possible …
    I think the fact that the missional conversation ( and it’s distant cousin the Emergent conversation) is largely white has some historical reasons behind it. It was largely made up of sons and daughters of white evangelical mega churches, places where wealth, consumerism, individualism came together in suburbia to form an unhappy cultural blend. We were all reacting to how affluence and American dream were being confluenced with Christianity. We were reacting against that. To some extent, the experience of affluence and the negative reaction that grew out of that, created a disconnect with our brothers and sisters from minority cultures in U.S. that had largely not experienced that affluence. Missional conferences arose to address these issues that bypassed entirely the issues of a different context, those who have lived grown up in poverty and oppression who have never experienced what we had experienced. So whereas the black church (for instance) had so much to teach us, practicing so many of the things we were discovering anew (like community, sharing of resources, commitments to justice as a way of life), we were too busy ripping on the established white church on issues. I wonder, whether this created a cultural disconnect early on which has made the conversations talk past one another? It no doubt only a very small part of it … as the larger historical determinants of a history of oppression and privilige continue to play out. All of this creates the disparity we have now and need to join together in local conversations to allow God to reconcile and renew.
    Thanks to Drew, to Kyle and Christena … for provoking here and other places …

    • Thanks David for understanding and seeking to further understand how this movement can benefit from the ministry of those from the African American church. I would love to continue the dialogue around this topic as I know these are questions that you’ve had to interact with as of late.The road to reconciliation and solidarity can be painful but I think God will be glorified through the struggle.

  7. Thanks for writing this piece, Kyle. And thanks to everyone for commenting.

    I understand as Fitch explained that there are historical reasons the movement began as a “white church” movement–as young evangelicals began to grow frustrated with the predominantly white, privilege mega-church experience. And in my limited time within this movement, I have observed an earnest desire from many of the white male leaders to have more “voices at the table.” But I do admit that I have been disappointed with how intense this desire seems at times (meaning, it’s not as intense as I hope it would be). The African-American Christian community, Asian-American community, and Hispanic community have endured what it means to be alienated and oppressed, and have had to struggle through what faithfulness to Christ looks like within that context. It makes sense to me that as white evangelicals begin to experience what that feels like (as the American culture shifts away from Christendom and Christians are increasingly misunderstood), that they would be running towards their ethnic minority brothers and sisters to gain some wisdom.

    My impression–and it is only an impression–is that my white brothers and sisters in Christ speak about a desire for unity and more diversity, and yet they desire to accomplish this without actually talking about race and the historical realities whose consequences are still at work today. I would love to see more of an attitude from these brothers and sisters of “I might not understand your experience, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and listen, and I will stand with you in your experience of oppression, and I will wade through the discomfort I feel so that we can reach true reconciliation rather than just pretending that everything is okay so we can just move on.” Sadly, even from close friends whom I respect and love, I feel the reaction when race is brought up is, “I’m tired of ethnic minorities always complaining and getting on their high horses. I don’t think I am privileged as a white person. I have experienced oppression too! We all just need to get over it. And if ethnic minorities can’t get over it, then THEY are the ones standing in the way of unity.” Or “racial reconciliation is nice….IF it happens. But if it’s not going to just happen on its own, then let’s not waste too much of our time and energy pursuing it.”

    I feel that many American Christians–both European American Christians AND ethnic minority Christians–have given up on the church ever truly being multicultural in this day and are okay with that. And I grieve that the American church seems to be missing the Christ-like character it takes to live out these lives of true reconciliation in Christ, AND missing a vital part of our witness to the surrounding world. Can we really separate God’s mission from the topic of race relations and multiculturalism? I feel that Scripture answers with a resounding NO! At the center of what God is doing throughout history is bringing a New Family together under His reign.

    • Juliet – great words! Thank you for highlighting the response that many of ‘us’ in the sub dominant culture feel as we attempt to bring up race in many circles. There is this push back and a desire to dismiss race talk all together as something that ‘sensitive’ minority deal with. I generally hear that ‘we’ really just need to get over it. We are not going away and will not be dismissed. Christendom is gone (or going away) and the old guard is vanishing and my hope is that the church will not usher in a Christendom 2.0.

  8. Thans, Drew, for writing this article. And thanks to all who have commented! Learning a lot here as I follow…

    I understand as Fitch explained that there are historical reasons the movement began as a “white church” movement–as young evangelicals began to grow frustrated with the predominantly white, privilege mega-church experience. And in my limited time within this movement, I have observed an earnest desire from many of the white male leaders to have more “voices at the table.” But I do admit that I have been disappointed with how intense this desire seems at times (meaning, it’s not as intense as I hope it would be). The African-American Christian community, Asian-American community, and Hispanic community have endured what it means to be alienated and oppressed, and have had to struggle through what faithfulness to Christ looks like within that context. It makes sense to me that as white evangelicals begin to experience what that feels like (as the American culture shifts away from Christendom and Christians are increasingly misunderstood), that they would be running towards their ethnic minority brothers and sisters to gain some wisdom.

    My impression–and it is only an impression–is that my white brothers and sisters in Christ speak about a desire for unity and more diversity, and yet they desire to accomplish this without actually talking about race and the historical realities whose consequences are still at work today. I would love to see more of an attitude from these brothers and sisters of “I might not understand your experience, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and listen, and I will stand with you in your experience of oppression, and I will wade through the discomfort I feel so that we can reach true reconciliation rather than just pretending that everything is okay so we can just move on.” Sadly, even from close friends whom I respect and love, I feel the reaction when race is brought up is, “I’m tired of ethnic minorities always complaining and getting on their high horses. I don’t think I am privileged as a white person. I have experienced oppression too! We all just need to get over it. And if ethnic minorities can’t get over it, then THEY are the ones standing in the way of unity.” Or “racial reconciliation is nice….IF it happens. But if it’s not going to just happen on its own, then let’s not waste too much of our time and energy pursuing it.”

    I feel that many American Christians–both European American Christians AND ethnic minority Christians–have given up on the church ever truly being multicultural in this day and are okay with that. And I grieve that the American church seems to be missing the Christ-like character it takes to live out these lives of true reconciliation in Christ, and missing a vital part of our witness to the surrounding world.

    At the center of God’s Mission throughout Scripture is His creation of a New Family from all the families/nations/cultures of the earth. Can the missional church really claim to be recovering the Missio Dei if we are not entirely committed to this issue?

  9. Pingback: Weekly Meanderings, 27 July 2013

  10. Hi Dr. Kyle, I found this article from Dr. Anthony Bradley’s FB page. Thanks for contributing this!

    I think one of the roadblocks is for whites to access some of the collective knowledge of the black church. For instance, I’d have probably never come across this article except through your FB page. The Reformed African American Network is helpful too, but I think that you should promote voices and knowledge more. Look at all the publishers that are dedicated to strictly publishing Puritans, just because they think it’s that important. Some folks within the black church could do the same: a publishing wing devoted to ministering to the poor (based on a wealth of God granted fruit and experience). I honestly think that a lot of white evangelicals would thank God for that, and eagerly consume the information. Perhaps a Kickstarter project like this one (it’s not an advert, as the project is already expired): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lukewilson/500-old-christian-books-republished

    • Hello Zach…thanks but don’t have a doctorate…yet. hopefully in the next couple of years. Thanks for reading the post. I agree that accessing information might be an issue for many of my white brothers but there has been a number of great books put out recently by African American authors (e.g., Ellis, Bradley, Carter, Jennings & Cone, etc.) There are many more but my point is that resources are out there and I could assist with anyone looking to search for material that will assist in the exploration of theology that considers the black experienced in North America. I personally look forward to writing and hopefully publishing things around this very topic. I believe its important and will benefit the body of Christ as a whole.

      • Kyle,

        Sorry about that! I misread D. Kyle as Dr. Kyle. Thank you for the response, and I hope you’ll be able to respond to this Comment as well.

        We’re in complete agreement that the Body of Christ is lacking without the input of the Black Church on countless issues. That’s why I liked your article so much. It’s not that the collective wisdom of the black churches would be helpful, but rather that it’s absolutely necessary!

        I agree that there are many known young AA authors, but I was trying to point out that a publishing movement based around some particular topics related to the black experience and ministry may be a very effective way to share these resources. Take for example the recent growth of the Reformed movement. I think anyone in that movement would agree that exposition of every aspect of Scripture is critical, however, the movement is known because it collectively makes a big deal about the Sovereignty of God in Salvation. Likewise, I assume that the Black Church has exposited the Word of God across every aspect of Scripture too, yet, they’ve been granted some particular insights into the areas of justice, poverty, love, race, culture, etc… So I am advocating the highlighting of those topics in such a way that Christians understand that to study poverty is incomplete without the resources from this movement.

        My wife and I work in Mexico, and we serve a poor community of indigineous, migrant farm workers. There is still a lot of discrimination here against the various indigineous people groups. We want them to be excited about Christ, but also about their heritage, their music, their language, etc… I mention this, because I believe that we need the resources from the black experience in the US. Resources teaching us how to reclaim God-given heritage and culture. But I have absolutely no idea how or where to begin to find those resources (other than responding to this blog post ;-)

      • Zach – thanks for clarifying. My heart desire is that more African Americans would write and not simply rehash certain topics.(e.g., Jonathan Edwards, The Sovereignty of God, etc.) I genuinely believe that we (Blacks) can contribute a great deal to the ongoing missional movement in the States.

        There is a wealth of knowledge available in cities like Philly – simply sitting down and talking with some of these pastors who have been at this thing for decades you will see how they reach their community for Christ using very little resources. The discrimination piece is sad but again black pulpits must address discrimination and racism whereas most within dominant evangelical circles have the privilege of ignoring it and dealing with everything very ‘devotionally’. I am working on some stuff that I would love to put in book form that give a voice to the black church on topics that have been co-opted by the popular/broader evangelicalism.

        I have some friends who are also working on some stuff–I think the primary venue will be electronic for now. My brother Drew Hart has some great stuff on his blog http://www.drewgihart.com Please check him out.

        I have been exploring some possibilities but my access has been limited. thanks for further probing.

  11. I really appreciate this post. I grew up in inner city Chicago, in a primarily latino community. I currently attend and work for a young missional Church in the community neighboring my childhood community.

    My church is full of young, sincere, well educated adults who are not from Chicago, much less the inner city. So I constantly struggle with how the missional movement is predominately driven by “privileged outsiders”, many of whom avoid partnership or disregard consultation with those who have lived in the community and know it inside out.
    I feel that while we carry on being “missional” in our own polished way, the local churches that have been in place serving our community for decades are ignored or treated as insignificant neighborhood novelties.

    There are those of us who have been missional, not because it was something we set out to do, but because it is what Church meant. We didn’t have to set aside a time to look for the “least of these” and pour grace out onto them, we were already among them, we were them. There are churches that may have never used the word “missional”, yet they have naturally been doing the things that “missional” churches have only been meeting to discuss strategies about.

    When a Church is not in a position or community of privilege, there is little choice but to be missional. While I appreciate the fact that so many well educated, non urban, professional folks CHOOSE to be missional in my city, the very fact that one gets to choose whether or not they will be missional suggests a likely disconnect from the objects of their mission.

    I really would like to see leaders in the missional movement make it a priority to first learn from and partner with those who are already there, rather than setting out on their own well educated mission and occasionally inviting “insiders” to share some brief anecdotes with the “outsiders” as inspiration.

    You are right, this requires a ton of work in racial reconciliation. If the missional movement were to invite blacks, latinos, the working poor, and other non-privileged folks to be a significant presence at “the table” of the missional movement, all the cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic differences would have to wrestle with each other quite a bit. Those of privilege might get their bubbles burst, they might have their plans unpleasantly critiqued, and many will be forced to reexamine their motives.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Dave V…thank you for being upfront about your experience–it is refreshing to hear it raw like that. You are absolutely right–marginalized groups have been missional long before it became popular. There was no choice but to reach outside of our comfort zone and sacrificially minister to those in need. When it came to reaching the least of these because they were your next door neighbor or family. I think there are folks from the dominant culture who are ready to listen and there are others who will walk away from this post and continue on as if everything is fine. My hope is that many will seek to make some real changes.

  12. Pingback: The Missional Movement is Mostly White and What We Should Do About it. Warning: Blog Post by A White Male | Reclaiming the Mission/ David Fitch

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