Many evangelical bloggers have just finished chiming in on Rob Bell’s new book. While there have been a couple nuanced positions, overall most have fallen into two camps; conservative modernist evangelicals (especially reformed conservatives) and postmodern missional evangelicals (especially emerging church leaders). What I and others realized was that this internet and blogosphere battle that was unfolding really was not about theological and doctrinal difference (even while those tensions do exist), but rather the real underlying issue was a matter of control, influence, and power.
Younger, fresher expressions of church are “emerging” and are winning over many from white America. Simultaneously, the old guard is losing relevance, and feels threatened. Rather than working together as as the Church, imperial and colonial instincts have kicked in as folks gaze upon all the religious authority that could be attained. Domination over American Christian theological direction has quietly been the real story & narrative when you stop and read between the lines.
A war is unfolding and the victor of the war will take over (or continue) as the theological overlords of American mainstream Christian thought. They will be the de facto referees, deciding whether any given theology is in or out of bounds. Therefore these two streams of American evangelical Christian tradition fight over which white male dominated group will inherit the reigns of 21st century Christendom. At the heart of all this hype is a thirst to reign over the Church, it is not primarily about Rob Bell and his views on heaven and hell.
John Piper jump started everything. He personally took on the role of theological referee, wanting everyone to know Rob Bell stepped out of bounds. That’s where his “farewell Rob Bell” comes in. To be able to pull off such a ballsy move like that, John Piper must convince American Christendom that he knows the fine line between theological curiosity and theological heresy. Repeatedly he and many of his conservative reformed entourage have basically claimed that their understanding of God, scripture, and overall theology is indeed truth. They have grasped the universal, neutral, objective, biblical, and fully truthful realities of God and the Bible. In essence, the conservative Christian tradition has arrived and know all there is to be known about truth and God (my assertion and words not theirs).
Piper does not only use his comprehensive understanding of (his) god to deem people as heretics, but he also uses his knowledge of his apparently small god (one that can be fully explained by finite humanity), to assert divine will over the horrific earthquake in Japan that killed thousands. He offers 5 reasons why God kills thousands of people. Yes in the midst of tragic human suffering, confusion, and pain, Piper decides to boldly assert that God caused the earthquake killing tens of thousands as a warning to repent and to show off his magnificence. This is a disturbing, ugly, and untimely depiction of God that vandalizes his Image in this world. Whatever happened to “good news” for those struggling?
I can understand why younger white evangelicals would want to break away from this brand of American Evangelicalism. While I can appreciate many of the theological nuances expressed by this zealous group of white 20 and 30 somethings, they have their own set of problems. Before we get too excited about this coming shift in influence over American religious life, we must acknowledge that the practice of hegemony and domination will still continue through these “emerging leaders”. Overall, I have been pleased with the theological shifts being expressed, because they express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church… wanting the Church to be ONE church, which we were called to be. However, it did not take very long for me to realize that the proclamations and the practices of this group were not lining up. Everything that is done is done to cater to white middle class suburbia. They cater to the priviliged despite affirming Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. As far as hegemony goes, Black and Latino pastors and theologians still continue to be uninvited to the infamous “table” Even these newly formed tables under banners of emergent or missional are starting off on the wrong foot, being almost completely homogeneous. Of course these Evangelical 3.0’s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events. Unfortunately the white control and supremacy over religious life in America is not going anywhere if left on track.
This leaves many black leaders who are open to partnership feeling skeptic about the actual intentions of these young leaders who have all good stuff to say, but no follow through. Many black christian leaders (fully missional minded) have told me that they have quit trying to join the white dominated table, and instead have determined to create their own table where all people groups are truly welcome. A table that finds solidarity with the oppressed before it does with Starbucks. A table made up of people that are tired of the colonial and imperial practices of Western European Christian Empire. Such anti-racist, post-colonial Christian communities will not be endorsed by Zondervan or the billion dollar Christian industry. Nope, this movement is taking place on the corners, porches, courts, homes, and church basements of America.
In the end, neither Piper and his peeps, nor Bell and the boys represent me, and billions of other Christians globally. We have absolutely no stake in this growing feud (that is just heating up in my opinion). No stake, because for many it still leaves us in the same place (except with fewer tokens) of not being heard or taken seriously, and not being treated with dignity as though we lacked the Imago Dei in us. It is now more than ever that we need to take our attention off of superstars like Rob Bell and John Piper… and begin learning from those who have been crying out from the margins with a very different gospel. A gospel that is good news to the poor and oppressed.
Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well.
Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance.
His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign.
Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today.
His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action.
Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo.
Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.
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53 thoughts on “Evangelical Split, Piper Imperialism, & a Search for Postcolonial Christian Expression”
Outstanding! Check out http://miraclesawake.wordpress.com
Freestyle faith indeed – following 🙂
I appreciate it and thanks for following! I’ll check out your blog!
Wow…..Drew you definitely went innnnn with this article. Awesome read!!! This catering to white suburbia is definitely something that I have noticed in the church. I’m glad you brought this to light. Keep it up!
Thanks for your perspective, Drew. It helps re-frame and re-focus the debate.
Please, this is just a Piper bashing rant. The underlying issue is not who ends up with the largest following, reformed or emergent, but biblical truth. People’s eternal destiny is at stake, not who’s books sell more. Mr. Hart, I see no biblical reference to support your positions in this blog. Why is that?
Thanks for this. First, the Piper thing is obscene (has he never read Job?). Second, this theological fad is much ado about nothing when there are bigger issues not really being discussed by the evangelical elites.
Thanks everyone for your thoughts and comments.
@Craig. I appreciate your opinion, but I have to disagree. I know some open minded reformed folks who continue to hold to traditional evangelical understandings of heaven and hell, and have found this schism that has taken place extremely problematic. They invite dialogue, without rushing to conclusions. Hence, at least reading the book before critiquing whole sale, and reserving judgment until they fully thought through what is “ACTUALLY BEING SAID”.
Now if you think I am here to defend Rob Bell and his perspective… sorry, you got me pegged wrong. But I saw how two camps quickly formed and aligned. I don’t need a biblical verse to explain social dynamics. (Again, I did not even chime in on the theological division, which I admit exists, but do not believe is the main reason so much hype stirred up).
Now, I do have problems with John Pipers proof texting methods to argue that God caused the earthquake and killed thousands intentionally to show his magnificence. If you would like I can do a whole post on that subject matter, looking at scripture, and why I think it argues otherwise. I actually did not expect that anyone would argue that Piper’s take on creation would be taken seriously! Let me know, I invite that conversation.
So yes I critique Piper, he needs to be critiqued for playing God and vandalizing His name through proof texting formulas rather than real exegesis. I would have gotten an F on almost any of my papers in undergrad or seminary with such ridiculous biblical interpretation methods. He can do better, he knows better, and people look to him as a leader. Shame on him for such ugly and irresponsible words at such a sensitive time when thousands upon thousands are dead and suffering.
Dru, I see the whole situation quite a bit differently. I believe the issue at hand is a theological/doctrinal one, and definitely not a power struggle over the influence of the Church.
What is at stake to those who have negatively responded to Rob Bell’s book feel strongly that his book crossed over the line when it comes to the essentials of the Christian faith. Likewise, my guess is the fact that publicity around Rob Bell’s book was so widespread is why many thought it required a direct response. The “big names” responding (at least the ones I’m hearing about) tend to come from reformed theological traditions (Piper, Chandler, Driscol). I’m no expert, but the reformed circle is actually a different crew from what traditionally has been known to be and represent the evangelical right powerhouse in the U.S. The reformed group has been known to respond critically to anything that sounds like false teaching and has the potential to mislead people by communicating a false Gospel. Likewise, the reformed folks have a bad reputation (which in so many cases unfortunately is warranted) of being unloving in their defense of what they strongly believe to be truth. I think it’s only been relatively recently that the reformed movement has been becoming more visible and attracting a more mainstream following. Really, I just think this is the first time they’ve actually made noise and people bothered to listen.
So, that’s all to say I don’t see this at all as a power struggle between white male conservatives and white liberals. I know quite a few black Christians that feel just as strongly as the rest – as a theological/doctrinal issue, not a power issue. For those who think it is that serious of an issue that threatens the true proclamation of the Gospel, they’ll def. understandably raise some noise. For those who think it’s not, I can imagine them thinking this is pointless or a power struggle. I can understand, though, that if someone thinks it really is a “power struggle,” that the outcome is ultimately pointless, as secular power struggles (even ones masquerading as Christian ones) don’t really have any eternal impact or value.
As far as your critique of John Piper, I think it was too harsh man. Is this the article you were looking at?
This is the one I found looking for what he said about Japan. I basically got that God is sovereign over everything, including natural disasters; he is good and just; and uses natural disasters for various purposes, including drawing people to repentance, demonstration of his power, and ultimately to draw people back to Himself. He starts by saying we should empathize and provide relief and ends by saying we should pray for Christians to repent of worldliness and for Christians in Japan and elsewhere to “step forward with extraordinary sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father’s judgment.” I would hardly say John Piper is playing God, vandalizing His name, and claims a comprehensive understanding of God.
Anyways, your thoughts on Piper shouldn’t have been in this post – it kind of clouds the issue at hand regarding Rob Bell vs. others. However, I would be interested in hearing more about them – you should create a new post to clarify your position.
Ok, that was too long.
Btw, this is your cuz Craig, not the same Craig from above hehe. I need to visit you soon fam – it’s not like you live more than 3 min away!
Yo Craig, thanks for chiming in. I think we are definitely looking at it a little differently. Initially when discussion first started, I briefly thought the issue was solely about theology. And I did mention that I do think there are some actual real theological differences that do exist. However, after noticing some of the discussion and actual dialogue that was taking place, who all was getting involved, as well as the degree of the hype, I quickly changed my mind. Since the fundamental and liberal divide of the 1900’s, there has been lively debate about salvation and universalism. The argument that is playing out is actually an old and ongoing conflict. At the same time, being a seminary student among missional leaders (some who would label themselves emerging) I have seen the polarization between postmodern missional/emerging leaders and the reformed circles. While socio-politically I agree the beef is with traditional conservative evangelicals, theologically however, the tension has acutely been between emerging leaders and conservative evangelical reformed leaders like Piper and Driscoll. (I have heard those two names brought up more than any other names). This is because I believe they have routinely made controversial statements. While I do think there are specific theological differences, that ought to be discussed and debated, I saw the lines draw quickly between reformed and emerging folks real quick. As you seem to be aware, several reformed theologians have practiced being theological referees in not just issues like salvation, but as far as insinuating people are heretics who do not line up with the Westminister confession. So when I see John Piper step in, I can’t but help but see him trying to impose his theology upon a group that challenges and threatens his western and modernist approach to Scripture. Even if Piper didn’t intentionally have this in mind initially, the hype that followed was evident that this debate was a turf war between these two groups who have been going at it for years now. I have no stake in the modernist-postmodernist debate, because I think they are both have something to say and yet both are flawed approaches. Nonetheless, each side is trying to win over the rest of the evangelical Christian community. And I promise if you don’t see it now, you will see it more and more in the years to come. As for Piper/Japan, I think I will do as you suggest and do a separate blog post to clarify my thoughts.
Incredibly insightful and refreshing. Much needed! Thanks!
The brewing feud sounds so depressingly familiar. Both sides make me nervous. As a “mere Christian” who worships in both Episcopal and Orthodox churches and for whom “orthodox” is a more important word than “evangelical,” perhaps I should quietly sit in the corner, but here are a few words. (I left “biblical” out as an option in the last sentence. Why? Because Scripture is a huge keyboard on which many different tunes can be played and chord combinations forms; it requires something “extra” to validate whatever pattern of notes one proposes. For me, that “something extra” is the regula fidei and the Nicene Creed.)
Piper’s “why we should praise and glorify God for wiping out huge numbers in Japan” deserves all the ridicule and scorn that David Bentley Hart provides (by implication) in his DOORS OF THE SEA, WHERE WAS GOD IN THE TSUNAMI? I wonder if Piper shares the view of some Medieval and Reformed theologians that hell will be visible from heaven, so that the “redeemed” can see what they were saved from and glorify God all the more. If so, perhaps Piper’s trying to reserve a seat on the fifty-yard line.
As for the “emergers,” they talk about the unfolding, “emerging” future, but they seem to me to be merely the latest chapter in the ongoing American “primitivist” quest. “Let’s get back to the way it used to be, in the Golden Age of the Acts of the Apostles.” I.e. Let’s start from scratch; let’s reinvent the wheel. Let’s “do it right” this time.
But shouldn’t we try to be “relevant”? Shouldn’t we “engage the culture”? Shouldn’t we address “emerging issues”? Of course! So why am I nervous? Why don’t I roll up my sleeves, pick the “best” side, and jump in.
Well, as a historical theologian, who also dabbles a good bit in the wider pastures of church history, I feel like I’ve been locked in a room and forced to watch re-runs over and over. The real movers and shakers in Christian history are (frequently) anonymous people who devote themselves to prayer and fasting and serving their neighbors, including (and especially) the “poor” (a category embracing all manner of troubles). Arey they “lone rangers,” practicing an individualist piety? Well, at best, no. They know the importance of groups and community. Their models are often the desert ascetics, the various Medieval orders, the contemporary exemplars like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa. They derive their strength and motivation from being embedded in a sacramental community, a community of prayer and worship. No constant agitation for everyone, once and for all, to “get it right” collectively. No big schemes and endless conferences and worshops and rallies.
Well, what’s going to be the real upshot, when the piper stops trying to call the tune for everyone and the bell stops ringing? Who knows? Predictably, we’ll find out some “heroes” have seriously clay feet and wonderful groups will split into a dozen factions. And then what? I’d guess the same old revivalistic pietism, with it’s utopian enthusiasms, will start up all over again. In the meantime, the “quiet ones” who seek intimacy with God and obedience to Christ where they are will keep plugging away out of the limelight.
Excellent reply Charles. Thanks for this.
Sigh… I can’t tell you how depressed and disheartened your post makes me feel Drew.
The thing is, you’re right that us emergents “express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church”… which means that we are on your side. We want what you want. But for many of us emerging out of white conservative evangelicalism, the learning curve is steep, and we’re just slowly figuring out the what, why, and how of these passions – often while facing the loss of jobs, friends, and influence in evangelical circles because of our views. So instead of throwing your potential friends and allies under the bus for not figuring it out fast enough, could you maybe just be patient with us and help us along as we try to understand what more we need to be doing that we haven’t been already?
Honestly, it hurts to be taking fire from all sides these days, including folks like yourself. We want to learn from people like you and we’ve been making progress. I don’t really know which “emerging leaders” you’ve been paying attention to, and who you have in mind when you talk about us this way, but in the circles I move in (primarily Emergent Village) we’ve really made an effort to expand the table in the ways you suggest. For the past two years the Emergent Village Council has been comprised of a majority of minorities. The only event we organized last year (the EV Theological Conversation) focused on post-colonial theology and was headlined by a Native American (Richard Twiss) and an East African post-colonial feminist (Musa Dube); and the event before that, Christianity 21, featured only women voices on stage (21 of them in fact). In large part because of these events, my own wife, Julie Clawson (who is an emergent speaker and author, is currently on the EV Council, and who herself falls into two minority categories – being a handicapped woman) was inspired to focus her Masters studies on post-colonial theology so she can learn more from those voices.
As you might also know, one of our leading influencers, Brian McLaren, has been spending increasing time in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, listening to and learning from the folks over there. In fact, Brian will tell you that some of his own views were most strongly formed by traveling extensively throughout Latin America with and learning from Latin American theologians like Rene Padilla and his daughters.
Even emerging “rockstars” like Bell are making efforts. For instance, his church works together with minority communities there in Grand Rapids, and they are also closely tied with Civil Rights leader John Perkins and have hosted CCDA conferences there at Mars Hill in the past. Emerging neo-monastic leaders like Shane Claiborne have even intentionally submitted themselves to the authority of Perkins because of their desire to be under and learn from black Christianity.
Anyhow, I don’t mean those examples as “tokenism” or to say that we’re already doing enough, but simply to demonstrate our desire to learn and continue to do better. Instead of writing us off even as we’re just starting to awaken to all of these sorts of issues, why not help us? What more can we do? Give us some advice. Don’t just give up on us.
BTW, on another note, if you’re right that this Rob Bell thing represents a power struggle within Evangelicalism, then it’s already pretty clear who has won. The other side has nearly all of the institutions: all the seminaries, all the colleges, all the publishers, all the magazines, all the big networks and conferences, all the denominations. Evangelicals aren’t publishing us emergents anymore, they’ve stopped inviting us to speak at their events, they already decided that we are outside of the camp. For instance, notice that Rob’s book was not published by an evangelical publishing agency. It was put out by Harper Collins, a secular publisher. And I can guarantee that Rob will have even less influence in the evangelical world now after putting out this book.
So yeah, if this is a struggle for control of evangelicalism, my side is already pretty much done. We’ve already been kicked out of the game. I guess that’s why it’s doubly disappointing that folks like you don’t seem to want us either.
“So yeah, if this is a struggle for control of evangelicalism, my side is already pretty much done. We’ve already been kicked out of the game. I guess that’s why it’s doubly disappointing that folks like you don’t seem to want us either.”
I cannot see where you see that in this post, the idea that racial minorities do not want emerging folks with us? This is a call for reconciliation, not segregation. I cant see where you got that idea; I see from Drew’s post a calling out both sides for their blindspots.
I didn’t have time to comment before I commend you for your honesty in this post.
I am so glad that you have stated this so fresh and articulately. I have often found myself in conference after conference as a new church start pastor asking myself the same question, “where the …. do I fit in?” A Latina bicultural, second generation, who has a passion for the oppressed, marginalized because I firmly believe that this is where the heart of God is hands down! I have started a congregation in an area of west philadelphia known as the mainline and it is frankly a wealthy area. However with the economic reality that we are living these days, urban issues of poverty are beginning to sprawl throughout communities that you would not suspect and so I am seeing a lot of similarities albeit hidden from full view.
The truth is that what started as a community of faith with a couple of white folks has turned into a multicultural faith community with people of all walks of life including undocumented folks. Our systems of church do not allow us to respond to these realities, and so we are forced to keep it on the down low, so to speak. And you are so right, as evangelicals and others continue to have arguments about hell or the lack thereof, the truth is that many of my folks have been living hell already, they face it just by the color of their skin or the language they speak.
Could it be that sometimes these issues are distractions, so that the church does not engage in the larger question — what do we do with the least of these? and what is our purpose? I’m left wondering and yet I’m hopeful!
Peace to you, my brother
from your new sister and fan
Rev. Lydia E. Muñoz
PlumbLine Fellowship at Narberth
Thanks for coming thru. And I am familiar with Narberth (well really I only was there once, looking for the Narberth movie theater). I live in the Ogontz/E. Germantown section of Philly. Keep plugging away Sis, we gotta keep making the kingdom of God a reality for those who are hopeless now. There was a reason Jesus often said “good news to the poor”, because that is exactly what it was. It was supposed to be an easy choice for those who are marginalized and rejected. Grace and Peace!
Thanks I appreciate it. Thanks for your comments and support.
What Rod says is true… while I don’t think the whole missional/emerging movement is on track, I am and continue to be open to discussion and partnering. After I wrote my post, the first thing I did was post it on John Franke’s FB, and he graciously responded by calling it “fantastic” and then reposted it. I also attended an Ecclessia Gathering, am enrolled at Biblical Seminary, and continue to “try” my best at having honest relationships with white missional leaders. You wouldn’t believe how many leaders have told me they would love to have me come share some time at their church. I always respond by saying “anytime”. You know how many have actually given me a real invitation 0. I am willing to come speak, I am willing to write blog posts, I am willing to sit and have lunch, I make myself available to others. I get actual invitations to come share at various black churches in the Philly area, and so that is where you can find me. I would actually love to be at the table and talk about how changes that could be implemented.
I lived in Harrisburg, PA for almost 4 years. While there I attended a mostly white yet multi-racial and multicultural Brethren in Christ congregation in the city. We had a racially diverse pastoral team, and I learned so much from that experience. I saw things that worked well, and areas that needed improving. I have spoken at conferences and on panels on this subject, because despite my strong critiques, I do want the Church to be the Church. But if I am truly honest, as things are headed now, it wouldn’t impact my life one bit if overnight missional or emerging church leaders became the most influential group. And yes, obviously they are not close to that yet… but you all do have power and privilege, whether you are the top dogs or not. Plus you are responsible for what goes on within camp.
You bring up good points in reference to Brian and Shane, but here is my concern alongside the fact that I see them both as exceptions rather than the rule. I would like to see black voices from America listened to. It is great to go across the world to hear from others (a great thing for all of us). But in my experience the more meaningful engagement is going to take place when white Christians are willing to reconcile and find solidarity among those they have direct historically oppressive relationships with. I think Shane is a genuine person, so I will say this carefully. There are concerns from local Philly leaders that 1) Simple Way is proving to be unsustainable 2) that all the leadership is white in a primarily non-white community 3)Maybe he should have waited on writing books until he had some real long-term experience 4)This attention on a white guy who moves into the city with no experience and gets National attention, shows that white Christians are not really interested in those who have been plugging away their whole lives. All that said, I think he is trying to do his best with what he knows. And it is great for him to sit under great folks like Perkins, I would love to do such. But how does that play out in terms of the relationships that he has in the Kensington section. Pastors I know personally who have churches right there don’t seem to think what is actually going on is as great as his book put off. I think many of them would have liked to see him partner with existing folks who have been in the trenches of urban ministry their whole life.
Anyway, I am doing exactly what I didn’t want to do, which is write a whole post as a comment. But Mike, I am would love to keep the conversation going. I think we have very different vantage points; you from within and me from outside. If you want to keep discussion going let me know, we can figure a way to do so.
FANTASTIC post. I find this polarizing debate distressing. While I will certainly engage Bell’s book as someone who works in the ‘burbs, the controversy and hype over it, especially as marked as though it is “new” drives me crazy. Thanks for your insight, especially as you remind us that while we may be asking “more” questions does not mean that we are always askign the right ones…thanks for challenging the left, right, and middle to ask different questions versus trying to change superfluous theological rules.
In terms of the missional table, I also agree that those conversations, including one’s that I appreciate reading around, are still overtly homogenous…that’s why my favorite conversations have been as one where you and your urban cohort are the primary voices and hosts, thanks for letting me eaves drop!
Thanks for your input. Likewise it has been good sharing space with you all as well. Every time we got together it was REAL conversation that took place. We won’t get anywhere unless that can happen. Thanks for always continuing on, even at points of disagreement. That’s what it takes! Gonna miss your cohort, yall were like our urban cohorts larger family!
Drew – thanks for your reply. I do appreciate all of your insights, because, as I said, I think a lot of us emergent folks are still very much in a process of discovery with this stuff. Depending on the individual you’re talking about someone who has just started to awaken to these sorts of issues in the past 3, 5, 10 years or so, and may still be figuring out what they can and should be doing about it. And, like I said, often this discovery is coming in the midst of drastic life changes in which we find ourselves kicked out, up-rooted, and scrambling to figure out what comes next and where we ourselves fit. Yes, a few emergent folks have a measure of privilege and influence (though I think that influence is rapidly diminishing, especially in evangelical circles), but then, those same folks are the ones who have been the most deliberate about trying to expand the table (and Brian and Shane are not exceptions – I could give you a long list of lesser known emerging church leaders who have chosen to locate their ministries in urban, multi-ethnic settings). But I help coordinate EV cohorts, so most of the emergents that I interact with are not authors or big name leaders, but just ordinary folks who are just sort of figuring it out as they go along and struggling with being rejected by everyone around them because of their questioning. I guess what I’m saying is that it might be a bit premature to start criticizing emergents for not doing more – a lot of us aren’t even sure we’re even welcome in the church anymore (or whether we even want to be there), much less being in a position to do anything about changing its patterns of racial inclusion/exclusion. And most of those who are in a position to do so, have been – in an imperfect way of course, but with a genuine desire to do more and better. But for the most part ordinary emergent folks are not operating from a position of personal or institutional strength. A lot of us are out of work, and even those lucky enough to be leading churches are often struggling to keep them afloat. We’re mostly a bunch of up/rooted, disinherited pilgrims still trying to figure out where the hell we’re going and what we’re trying to do. We can barely get our own shit together, so I’m not sure what you think we really have to offer to y’all. 🙂
I do completely agree with you too about the regrettable way white evangelicals like Shane end up getting all the attention while those who have been doing urban ministry for years go unnoticed – but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the fault of emergent folks. Like I said, we have largely been pushed out of evangelical circles and have almost no control over it’s systems of institutional inclusion. We are rarely the ones deciding which books to publish or who to invite to conferences or to speak at its schools, or any of that stuff. Nor do we have a lot of control over who buys what books or chooses to listen to which speaker. If you want someone to blame, I’d point the finger at the Evangelical Marketing Machine – not those of us who were ourselves only briefly given some attention by it, and then just as quickly cast out and rejected by it.
But seriously bro’, in the very few instances where we do have control over things, I think you’ll find there is a genuine desire to expand the table and do so in ways that go beyond tokenism. I think if you look at the last three or four years of events where emergent folks have actually had creative control (and there’s really only been a very small handful of them) you’ll find that most of them did try to mainstage voices from the margins. But of course there’s still a long ways to go and more we can do. That’s why we need the help of folks like you to show us how to do that.
Anyhow, thanks for the encouragement for us to keep being proactive about this stuff. I would love to stay in dialog about it, though to be honest, as a PhD student nearing the end of the semester, I am dangerously cutting into my available study time even by commenting here on your blog today, so I can’t promise anything.
But then, I’m just one of these no account, no job, no money, no influence, disinherited emergent types myself, so I’m not really the person you need to be talking to anyway… 😉
I think there was a miscommunication somewhere. When I say that you all have influence and power, I am not saying you have it within Mainstream evangelicalism. What I am saying is that you are not 200 people thin, spread over the whole nation either. Rather, you all are a fairly sizable group of your own, and quickly growing as well. So when I say emerging leaders should take responsibility, I mean within the influence you all have. Brian McClaren is a influential leader only because you all allow him to be, he is not imposing himself upon you. Likewise, you have the choice to give your ear, time, and energy to whomever you choose. You are not merely a bunch of individuals, but you are a collective community as well. One does not need to be paid by a Church or be famous to influence the group as a whole. Each does its part. Groups are just as much organic systems as they are individuals. How is the emerging community as a whole doing? And how does it look fleshed out in daily life? Those are my questions.
You say that many are doing it, I must be unaware, or finding myself intermixing in the wrong crowds. Either way, good for them. The only white emerging leaders I know about in the city are always in more expensive white neighborhoods, isolated from urban poverty and black and latino communities. I am no expert on emerging church leaders, I only base my opinions off of what I encounter and what I have seen online. But of course that can not capture the full totality of all that is going on. But if the larger thrust of the emerging leaders are indeed “doing it” then you guys need better online PR, and better representation in Philly! I’m surprised Franke seemed to agree with what i had to say though, isn’t he pretty well connected in EV? I have never gotten that sense from him.
See, that’s just it though. We’re NOT much of a collective community. We have failed to organize in any meaningful way over the past few years. There are no systems, no structure, no institutions. And while I think emerging ideas are spreading, “emergent” as a cohesive identity is not. We’re not a growing group, we’re a fragmented group from which new splinters keep hiving off almost daily. Most people these days, as far as I can tell, are more inclined to use “emergent” (and especially Emergent Village) as a whipping boy and a foil, than to join up and be considered part of any definable emergent community (this very post is a case in point). In other words, there’s no “there” there. Emergent ideas, insofar as they have any vitality left in them (and I very much think they do), are going to have to be instantiated through other networks and other already existing structures, because I have met very few self-identified emergent folks who have any time, resources, or interest in creating these themselves.
Anyhow, you and Franke aren’t wrong. There are plenty of emerging folks who aren’t in the cities and aren’t multicultural. Like I’ve been saying, we have a long way to go and a lot of room for improvement. But that doesn’t mean no one is doing anything. There are communities that are doing it, or attempting to. Troy Bronsink’s Neighbor’s Abbey in Atlanta comes to mind, as does Rich & Rose Swetman’s Vineyard Church in the Seattle area (and all the connections they have with Bakke Graduate School’s urban ministry program), or Andrew Draper’s Urban Light Church in Muncie IN, or Alyce Barrymore and James King’s African American emerging church in Chicago Heights. And I know of other communities that are already long established in the white suburbs, but are still reaching out to ethnic communities around them, both locally and globally (Fran Leeman’s LifeSpring Church in the Chicago suburbs is one in particular that I’m very familiar with). Anyhow, that’s just a representative sample. I could list more if I had the time to dig around and refresh my memory.
But I guess my point is that even for the folks who aren’t doing it yet, there is a desire to, but many don’t know how or where to start. I mean, suppose you’re a white suburban evangelical pastor who gradually begins to awaken to all these emergent issues (not just the justice and racial reconciliation stuff, but all the theology stuff too – all the stuff Brian and Rob and Tom Wright and all these folks are writing about). Where do you start? How do you start? And how do you do it without losing your job? Or, suppose you started talking about it openly and did lose your job (which is what happened to me). What then? How do you move forward and still make a difference? Where do you even turn for guidance? There’s no support networks. I mean, I try to help folks organize Emergent cohorts, but those are hard to get going and to sustain because emergent folks sometimes actually are very “thin” on the ground in a lot of places. So what do you do?
And we do often tell people to go and join urban churches and ethnic churches instead of just doing their own thing, but half the time we end up being too heretical for those folks too. After all, can you honestly say that every black urban church out there is just going to be okay with emergent folks who agree with Rob’s views on Hell? Or who don’t think its a sin to be gay? (I saw the looks Jay Bakker got when he told that black church he didn’t think homosexuality was a sin.) And Soong Chan Rah told us to go join Asian immigrant churches, but then didn’t know what to say when we asked whether most of them would be okay with our views on women in leadership. Of course, I’m not at all implying that there are no progressive ethnic churches out there, but at the same time, our emergent views haven’t always been any more welcome in some of those settings than they were in the white evangelical churches we got kicked out of. So again, we’re left without a home and not quite knowing where to turn.
So anyway, that’s where I’m coming from. That’s why I’m asking you not to just accuse us of not doing enough, when there’s so many of us who are still just trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing and could really use a little guidance and suggestions.
Mike, I understand, many emerging leaders have views that are way more liberal than most, and therefore feel they have no place to rest their head. I get it. And sorry to hear that you lost your job, that sucks. However, I think we still are having a misunderstanding with the term organic system, or at least what I am implying by it. I don’t mean a formal institution or organized group. I actually picked the term organic system to differ from any formally organized group. What I mean by that is not that there is some large group email, that is not my issue. The real issue is, who are the people who call themselves emerging (or emergent, missional, young evangelical, etc.,), listening to and paying attention to. A bunch of individuals make up a collective force, without having formal lines drawn of who is in or out. You admitted that Brian plays an important role for many, which is fine, but people could just as easily allow someone like J. Cameron Carter to be an important influence for themselves. It’s as easy as which books I decide to pick up. I have never bought a Rob Bell book, but I have bought several books from the late Tom Skinner. Those simple choices are huge.
As far as acceptance goes, I think some of the problem goes back to the root, which is that you guys walked this path alone for so long and now have all these differing views that were not being fleshed out in discussion with non-whites. Of course it is going to be hard to just now try to enter into community smoothly without causing a disturbance. And you mention the somewhat conservative views of many churches, which is a reality. There is a good chance that the average church you walk into will be way more conservative than you all (on certain issues). I guess the issue comes down to whether its about acceptance or agreeance. While I don’t take such liberal stands as you do on something like homosexuality, my theology is extremely radical for the Church I attend. Yet that did not stop me from being a part of the community. And even so my guess is that if people wanted to seek and find a black church with views somewhere in the ballpark of their own, they could do so. If you need a community where you must agree on every theological nuance you have, well there probably is no such black church (or very few). We must sacrifice much to create unity. And maybe its time for those who are used to leading to follow, whether they fully agree or not. Sometimes the whole is more important than the individual. I’m not telling you what to do, but I think Soong Chan Rah has some weight to what he is saying, despite whether Churches agree with you on your hot issues. Maybe after attending a church from a different race or ethnicity, you might change your priorities all together, feeling that some of your big concerns maybe were not as important as you once thought. I don’t know??
Anyway, I am not trying to be condescending, you are clearly a bright guy and working on your Phd as well (something I hope to do Fall 2012, fingers crossed), but I just gotta keep pushing back some. I’ll be extremely transparent by saying that I struggle with hearing young white men seeking sympathy from me, as though you were at the bottom rungs of society. Sometimes I wish people could be black for a year, I just wonder if their perspective would be the same. The reality is that white men run America, and likewise white men run emerging/missional discussion in America. At the same time, it seems there are some who are doing more than I realized. That’s great, I hope that equal partnership with racial minorities becomes the norm. Time will tell. I really can only speak from the vantage point I have, and the experiences I have had. Nonetheless, I feel your pain on being rejected. I know Franke has shared about the bullets he has taken. I am sure it is not fun. I myself am a theological mutt that really doesn’t fit in many places theologically.
But as for critique.. I don’t think there is any other way I will be heard. I critique because no one is just walking up to me asking me what I think. Honestly, I think there are only a very few who actually care. It is only when I get on my soapbox, that the young whites give an ear. So I push, critique, and engage where I can. I understand that many “are still just trying to figure out” things. But I guess that is the problem. It’s the year 2011. How long should black people wait quietly for white people to figure it out, before we start calling things out? I think it is unreasonable to ask us to be patient at this point. I can understand the tension you are in, but you must realize from my vantage point how absurd it would be for me to hold off any longer. When I am working with and alongside folks, seeing progress unfold, then I can hold off.
Thanks for continuing dialogue, whether or not you realize it, I did learn a couple things about what is going on.
By in large, I have avoided this Bell controversy deliberately as I barely know who he is … but do want to say one thing.
Imagine India… 1 billion ppl who are not Xtn. Of that ~2.5 million are Xtn. Then of that 2.5, a good % are Sunday morning ritual followers. Now… when Xtnty is so small in a nation… does it matter that there is a power play and people fighting for space at the table? Is there a Xtn empire in such a nation?
Now imagine the USA… I think its the same thing… We are not a Xtn nation. Lets face facts. Yes. I know we hear about the Xtns fighting over what books ought to be taken out of the library in Texas and stuff… and we hear this and that in the media and controversies rage over the net . . . as if there were a Xtn empire here … but honestly there is no Xtn empire in the US. There are just a lot of loud people. Thats all.
You hear a loud roar coming from the cave… and with some nervousness and curiosity you walk to it and peek in. Instead of seeing a lion, you see a cat.
We have all got our work cut out for us. A lot of work.
Some folks just don’t want to know that there is a struggle–too uncomfortable. Thanks for the post Drew. It was said already but I will reiterate–many Black leaders no longer want a seat at the proverbial “table”. Many White brethren don’t care if Black brethren join them at the table–that’s cool. It is good that there are those who still want to engage in a discussion around the struggle over empire. Keep posting.
Thanks Kyle, appreciate it. We got to keep these issues on the table. Glad many people were willing to engage the topic.
AMEN BROTHER!!! I haven’t read through the comments yet, but you know I’m down. I appreciate Rob Bell’s communication skills and mesh with many of his theological curiosities, but your post is on point man. As for Piper, some of the stuff he says does not sit well with me. I mean, it makes my stomach upset.
Great!!! I couldn’t agree more. Thank you.
Excellent thoughtful comments from an intelligent readership. I learned a great deal. Just gave u a tweet bump
There is some good dialogue taking place.. very insightful comments indeed!
Great post. As a suburban white woman ministering in a largely African American urban context, I don’t fit in at any of these tables. However, I hope the one you speak of will remember us ladies who are often completely marginalized by the powers that be.
I had not looked at the Bell debate from this angle but I can see how you arrived at this conclusion. After reading your post, I agree that the nasty way the debate is unfolding is a power struggle for control but also believe there is a very real theological difference that is hugely important to unpack if we are going to move forward in open and honest theological conversations. Thanks for raising this issue.
There are many of us who feel like my sister Lydia who wrote “Could it be that sometimes these issues are distractions, so that the church does not engage in the larger question — what do we do with the least of these?” Glad to see I am not the only female voice but I really wish there were more of us around all these tables. I think a conversation around social justice would likely be the most effective way of getting a diverse table. I am not likely to show up just to hear white men debate theology when I have people dieing in the streets of my community. Even if they did invite me.
I am however saddened by Mike’s comments and the realization that many who have tried to create a space for open and honest dialog about the Christian narrative have been cast out and ostracized. I guess being invisible has it’s privileges.
Hey Wendy, thanks for commenting. Hopefully we will get to sit around a table where all our voices are valuable. And I agree I think that conversation around practical implications of social justice and solidarity with poor and oppressed people is the best place to start. That focus keeps us from being self-absorbed and instead other-oriented like we ought to be. Good timely point!
My response to your post has so many layers. First it was “Wow, right on.” I told my wife, “you HAVE to read Drew’s post.” Your sociological view is quite insightful; to read of the issues of power at hand was like a kick in the forehead. This brought about another prominent layer, that of deep sadness. It is despairing to read that many African American leaders no longer even want a seat at the table. Oh my. We have carried on in a manner that has shut doors in this way. Lord, have mercy on us.
To think that, as a white male who has said such things as “a voice at the table”, etc., I may be more participatory in a struggle of white hegemony than a real voice of change. My perception of faithfulness is so bound by my culture, my lens. Not a bad thing, but when others outside that perception offer their insights, it can be a kick in the gut. Especially when its one that points out neglect, suppression, and oppression. Racism. Or classism (or both).
To be honest, as one whose epistemology/ecclesiology is more postmodern than modern, I felt some of the same feelings Mike (Clawson) mentioned: despair at not being recognized, efforts that have been made, etc. (I don’t know Mike personally, but I know he and his wife, Julie, are respected among the emerging conversation.) I’ve read and have great interest in post colonial studies, have read a bit of Cone and Kelly Brown Douglas (and Bell’s got nothing compared to the ruckus she could start), some of the history of the African American church from the AA perspective. But -and let me be clear that I’m speaking strictly for me here- its selfish of me to really cling to my rebuttals and their related affects.
I would challenge Mike in this place as well: for far too long I, as a representative white man, have been in power for too long. If you, Drew, as a Black man have stated your experience that reveals that white folk who say certain things -i.e., “open table”- are still not following through, that leaves me with little to stand on to challenge. Likewise, if the Rev. Lydia Munoz , a Latina, is further in agreement, the words of the emerging community fall into yet starker contrast in the power dynamic you’ve described, affirming the insight you’ve offered. We need to take caution not to cry fowl as white men when the African American and Latin communities are telling us otherwise, lest we continue to say as whites: “no, your wrong.” Are we then just practicing our hegemony? What we may *think* we’re doing as racially or culturally inclusive is apparently not being received that way. I doubt that Drew and Rev. Munoz are the exception; perhaps we’re not asking the right question/s, if we are.
Let me say here that I’m not very culturally integrated in my life; yet. Although I’ll be living in a neighborhood where I’m the minority starting next week, I certainly don’t have it altogether. And I don’t want to write as though I do, nor “throw anyone under the bus.” Evangelicalism, despite my distaste of it, is still both emergents heritage and my own. That being said, my real hope is that Church can develop beyond postmodernity. Or, despite of it, because as you said Drew, you’re not either modern/postmodern yourself. Nor do many non-white, westerners or not identify with those epistemologies. It would be foolish, as modern, postmodern, mainstream evangelical or emerging, etc. for our pursuit of Jesus, in asking the questions of “what is the Gospel? What is the church?” if we thought in our own cultural terms. What would it be like if folk actually took you up on those offered conversations? Further, perhaps if we read other theologians besides Moltmann or Bonhoeffer, we could begin to be pushed outside of our theological heritage into some other place. Maybe we should stop reading our own stuff, and pick up somebody else’s thoughts.
Alright, this went far longer than I meant it too. Sorry Drew, for eating up so much real estate. I haven’t blogged in awhile myself, so lately my comments get the mileage of my own pent up need to post.
Thanks again for this; we need it.
Thanks for sharing and for your honesty. As I said to Mike, there probably are things going on in the emerging circle that I am not familiar with. Glad to hear your commitment. But I think you nailed it on the head when you said..
“Further, perhaps if we read other theologians besides Moltmann or Bonhoeffer, we could begin to be pushed outside of our theological heritage into some other place. Maybe we should stop reading our own stuff, and pick up somebody else’s thoughts.”
That gets right at my point. There are so many other folks to be engaging. Whether it be as books we pick up as individuals, the people we decide to surround ourselves with, who we choose to speak at our gatherings, whose gatherings we attend other than our own. I say this humbly, but I think white Christians should give up white authors for a year, and only read from racial minorities. And especially read from racial minorities that you have complex historical/contextual relationships with, rather than heading straight for Latin America, Asia, or Africa. Black folk have stuff to say, even those without theological degrees. And I think people will be pleasantly surprised that even while many blacks have given up on working with white folk and see it as a waste of time, there are others who continue to make themselves available. And by the way, I don’t think black folk who have given up are crazy. They are the logical ones, its crazy to still be holding a hand out after its been hit over an over for hundreds of years. Just wanted to say that, I because i don’t want to make it look like they are the fault of all this. There are very real, historical, and concrete reasons why folks have given up on hope of such partnerships and alliances. Anyway, I am rambling. Just want to say thanks for commenting, and for really trying to hear what I am saying… its nice to be heard!
Re:Black preachers who have “given up”; no need to defend/explain. I can understand why. Well, not really, but at the surface level. Theirs great courage for those who held on as long as they did, and greater still for those who still hope…
Well said and Amen!
On another note, I am sorry that you and our other African and Latino/a – American brothers and sisters haven’t been invited more to this table. I think part of the problem is that they weren’t apart of it’s beginning, and so like has happened so often in the church, diversity becomes an after thought.
Nice work, sir! Solid, refreshing, Critical perspective.
I should probably just back off on my comments here, since I’m starting to feel like I’m coming across defensively, when really my point was to simply say “We’re with you, we’re trying, and we want to do more. Help us.”
I’m NOT trying to make you feel sorry for us, I’m not asking you to hold off on anything (except maybe on giving up on us prematurely), and by no means am I trying to compare our situation with that of blacks in America. Believe me – I’m getting my PhD in the history of American Christianity since WWII, and over the past year I’ve been reading A LOT about the history of blacks in America and the Civil Rights movement in particular (yes, I’ve read Cone, I’ve read Carter, I’ve read Raboteau, and a host of others I can’t even begin to list). I know that our experience doesn’t even come close to what your people have been through and continue to face. All I’m saying is to give us a chance, know that some of us are genuinely trying (despite our own set of life obstacles that keep complicating things), and please don’t just write us off as the proverbial “white liberals”. Not all of us fit that stereotype either.
Your recommendation about who we choose to read is a good one. I can’t speak for anyone else in the emerging movement, but I know that for myself and my wife, we have been choosing to read extensively from non-white, non-emerging authors over the past few years – both black leaders as well as Latin American theologians, liberationists (of all varieties), feminists and womanists, post-colonialists, etc. And I know we’re not alone. That’s exactly why Emergent Village decided to focus on post-colonial theology at its last event – to encourage others to do exactly what you said, to read more outside of our usual circles. Anyhow, it’s good advice and if you have any other specific authors to recommend, I’d love to hear them and pass them along to whomever I can.
As for what you said about acceptance, your words are well taken, and again, I can only speak to my own experience, but for Julie and I, it’s never been about whether or not we are willing to live with theological diversity in our church communities (we have repeatedly demonstrated our commitment to doing so in every context we’ve been in so far), but whether or not we ourselves will ultimately be accepted and not rejected for our own convictions. And it’s not about the “theology” in some abstract sense. It’s about justice – does being in fellowship with one type of minority community mean that I will therefore be required to exclude and marginalize other minorities? I’m not willing to ignore or downplay my commitment to justice for women, or gays and lesbians, or undocumented immigrants, etc. just so I can fit into a church that doesn’t share those convictions, no matter what color it is. It shouldn’t have to be that way. I shouldn’t have to choose which of my neighbors to love more or which of the oppressed “deserves” justice the most.
But now I’m starting to sound defensive again, and this is already too long. My apologies.
Oh, I really should have added Cornel West to my list of black authors I’ve been reading recently. LOVE his stuff! Really bummed that he turned down EV’s invitation to come headline our theological conference a few years ago, but I hope to hear him in person one of these days.
I actually didn’t take your last post as defensive, in fact I think you came across most clearly then, and I am hearing you and appreciate your insight as an insider of EV. As to giving up on that movement, I think I would like to nuance that phrase a bit. I don’t think the issue is whether folks like me are giving up on you guys, that is only so because there hasn’t been anything to give up on yet. There is no relationship formed from which we are walking away. And I probably have not communicated it well (getting defensive at times myself) but I think the heart of the problem for me now as I have learned about EV over the last couple years (nothing extensive) is that the whole thing was started with out us. We were not at the table, and were ultimately a second thought. It feels like we were just passed over, once again. And then when trajectory and identity were beginning to settle, then the issue of implementing racial diversity came into play. I think EV as a whole needs to think about the theological (and justice) implications of young white men starting the movement and then inviting the marginalized to join what they are doing, versus you all joining and finding solidarity with the oppressed. Those two things are very different. And I know for fact there are plenty of folks who would be more than open for such partnership. What’s done is done, I guess there is no going back, but there are now real tensions that exist because of the social dynamics that played out. And this really isn’t just a EV thing, but a larger young evangelicals and white missional thing as well.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I continue to be open to partnership, and have made myself available for conversation or basically anything asked of me by my white brothers and sisters. Very few have followed up on their initial interest in such things. I also do not see (at this time) any actual real life relevance that these new breed of white evangelicals will have for me or anyone in my neighborhood (Philly). In fact, my guess is that you could ask people in the hood what they think about missional or emerging and they won’t have a clue what you are talking about (same response in the church too). It’s so irrelevant for most, that it is not on their radar.
However, I am glad to hear about the intentionality that at least EV has recently had in engaging other resources. This is such a critical starting point. I am hoping that it leads to finding ways to be in solidarity with the oppressed in your own nation, which I see as the end goal of incarnation. Not just an issue of contextuality, but also the embodiment of an oppressed body alongside oppressed bodies. I love Cornel West as well, he is a beast. My favorite book of his has always been Democracy Matters. For whatever reason that one really resonated with me.
Last I just want to say that what you talk about in terms of justice, acceptance, and community is a tough one. There are no simple answers. I do however think that there is much that folks from the dominant culture could learn from sub-dominant Christian communities, and justice requires you all try to figure that one out. I have my personal opinions on that, but not sure if sharing them will be helpful at this time.
Again thanks for the conversation… hopefully it is helpful both ways.
Sorry for the delayed reply. Homework was piling up.
I think you’re exactly right about this, and I just want to offer a few words of explanation (NOT justification):
1) Part of the reason it happened this way (that the emerging conversation started among white evangelicals and only later moved to include others) is precisely because of the nature of the shift we have been undergoing. As I’m sure you’re aware, conservative evangelicalism (which is what most of us have been “emerging” from) itself has a horrible track record with racial issues. Because of that, most of us were not even aware that we should be caring about these issues at first. Where we came from, it wasn’t even on the radar. In fact, just speaking from my own personal background (VERY politically and theologically conservative), racial issues were sort of suspect to begin with. They were the sort of things only “liberals” cared about – not good conservative evangelical Republicans like I used to be. It took this shift to emergence Christianity for me to even become awakened to racial issues, and the need for listening to and joining those on the margins. I think the same is true for a lot of us white emergent folks. We had to first discover it, and then grow into it, as part of our emerging journey. That’s a big part of why I’m asking you to still be patient with us, and not to blame the emerging church for not doing it exactly right yet. It’s because of the emerging conversation that some of us are doing anything at all. If we had stayed where we were at, we probably still wouldn’t care much about any of this stuff.
2) That being said, I should clarify that it hasn’t exactly been that we formed our thing and then asked minorities to join us. Rather, about three years ago, after many of us white emergents had awakened to these issues, we realized that we needed to reboot entirely and start over from scratch. So that’s what we did. In 2008 Tony Jones stepped down as the National Coordinator of Emergent Village, and in early 2009, a wide diversity of emergent folks gathered to figure out how to reformulate EV from the ground up. That process was led by folks from a diversity of backgrounds, including from many marginalized groups, and what they decided on together was a Village Council. As I’ve said before, that Council is actually currently a majority minority group. In other words, since 2009, EV hasn’t been a white thing that minorities have merely joined, it’s been something that they’ve been on the ground floor of helping to create together with us. (Truth be told, some of the minority folks on the Village Council have mentioned how hurtful it is that this dynamic is so often overlooked by those who accuse EV of merely being a bunch of young white guys. Their response is “Well what are we, chopped liver? Do our presence and contributions not count?”)
3) On the other hand, the other current reality is that, EV hasn’t had the resources to do much as of late. We have no money, and those of us involved in leadership are so busy with our own lives and ministries (many of which are in urban and/or multi-ethnic settings) that we haven’t had much time left over to devote to EV. Because of that, I’m not sure it’s really an issue of inviting marginalized groups to come join us since there’s not much there for them to join at the moment anyway. Like I said before, there’s no “there” there. Nothing’s happening. We’re all too busy “doing it” in our own separate contexts that the whole connectional network of EV seems to be falling by the wayside at the moment. I find that regrettable, but then, I don’t have the time to devote to it either, so I don’t have much room to complain.
Hope that helps give you a better picture of what is currently going on with us. Thanks again for the conversation!
(P.S. I should also reiterate that EV is just one small part of the “emerging church movement” or what Phyllis Tickle calls emergence Christianity. So just because EV isn’t doing much, doesn’t mean nothing is happening. It has just devolved into wider variety of more localized or specialized projects and networks – which makes it even harder to talk about how the “emerging church” should do this or that. Which part do you mean?)
Good to hear from you again. I understand what you are saying about your 1st point, and I think that is a legitimate point, most have ‘emerged’ out of more traditional evangelical churches. I would say however to remember that some evangelical leaders have actually addressed racial reconciliation pretty frequently, just not with the same implied meaning that I have (in its relation to justice and oppression). I just mention that to say that not all corners of evangelicalism have completely ignored racial issues, from which folks had at least that to draw from. Anyway, I understand, folks are trying to get where they need to get in this area, and it doesn’t just happen overnight. Last thing I will say about that it, fine, but realize that I nonetheless will feel compelled to take more of a prophetic and critical stance until I see true reconciliation manifest itself in my own neighborhood.
I also want to encourage when appropriate as well, and I am actually glad to hear about some of those changes that have taken place. Folk’ stepping down to create space for others is huge! I think those types of sacrificial moves are needed to correct systemic and structural power imbalances. At the same time, do remember that those seats and titles in and of themselves do not necessarily mean that this is an organization that does not preference white males over all others. Mind you that I was at a Church for 4 years that had a racially diverse pastoral team, yet constantly wrestled and struggled with various cultural biases. Those things take years to work through, and a racially diverse leadership does not mean instantly equate a post-colonial, racially just community. I know you know that, I just think it needs to be stated. The reality is that most black folks have not even heard of emerging church, do not know what it is, and therefore won’t even have an opinion on its relevance for their day to day lives. It really is not a factor for most black folks. Let me and correct that and say that is how it is in Philly, however if it is different in other places to which I am not aware of, I would be shocked.
To answer your last question, I actually did not intend to target EV, I am not even sure if I mentioned them specifically in the post. Rather I think they came up specifically in our conversation. Rather, in my post my critique was towards a much larger group, emerging church leaders, missional leaders, and so called younger evangelicals. From what I have seen online (blogs, twitter, conferences, events, books, etc.) This movement (yes I am lumping you all together whether or not you would) has affirmed racial justice and diversity, yet I have seen the center of the whole movement continue to be dominated by white men. When someone asks who their leaders are, I imagine answers like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, Darrel Guder, etc. would be the answer. I have never heard anyone other than a white male be referred to as an actual culture shaping leader of these movements. This is not as much a concern with official leaders, as with the de facto leaders who have all eyes on them. Now as you have mentioned, some folks have decided that they no longer want to continue in that, and that is awesome. I am just not convinced that this movement as a whole really is trying to live up to their new creeds and convictions in the area of race and power. At the same time, I am hopeful given some of the examples that you have given that in some communities, changes are taking place. I guess time bears better truth than any of us could ever speculate at this moment.
linked to your post here http://miraclesawake.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/the-economics-of-jesus/ with a comment
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