The Emergent Church: Sidetracked?

Hey friends,

By no means do I pass myself off as an expert in the Emergent movement, or Emergent Theology, or whatever you might call it. But I do have a passing interest in the emergent conversation, and so when I saw a few articles today that caught my attention, I thought I'd pass along some thoughts on my very-seldom read blog.

First, Sojourners had an article in it's magazine titled Is the Emerging Church for Whites Only? Frankly, this isn't a bad question, but it might be limited in it's scope. As I read I realized they were correct on a number of points, that most of the "leadership" (we'll address this later...) are white men. Even if you don't want to label a "leadership" group for the emergent movement, certainly most of the authors and vocal proponents of emergent are white dudes. I haven't frequented many emergent congregations, but my take on the ones I have visited is that it's mostly white people. Sure, this is an issue, and it certainly should be looked into. But I would argue that the problem extends well beyond the walls of the Emergent Church. I work at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper Saint Clair, which is about as Emergent as a five point theology lecture. We're also incredibly single sided when it comes to race. We are predominately white. By no means am I celebrating that fact, or making excuses for the Emergent Church. I'm simply saying that the problem extends well beyond the walls of that particular group. I agree that we need to take action on this, but I think first we're going to have to examine our hearts and figure out what the best action would be.

But then, Tony Jones through his blog wrote a couple of responses to the original article. Now, I think Tony is an amazing thinker, and an incredible theologian. However, I think he may have overstepped himself a little bit in these articles. A few thoughts just in case Tony's reading along with us:

  1. Responding to Sojourner's questions about race in the Emergent Church by attacking their issues with the GLBT community is about as blatant an example of trying to remove a person's speck in the eye with a plank in your own as I've ever seen. Ok, maybe they're both planks, but still. That wasn't the point of the original article, and it shouldn't have been the point of the response. Right from the title of Tony's response, I get the feeling that he's just calling Sojo stupid and that there won't be any good points in the article. That's silly, because there were some pretty solid points in Tony's first post, but they were tainted by what I perceived to be a pretty childish stance on the issue. If we're going to have open and honest debate (which, I hope happens on this blog as much as anywhere) then we need to make sure that we stay focused on the issue at hand rather than pointing out someone else's issues to take the heat out of our hot kitchen.
  2. In a couple of places in a couple of different articles, I've been hearing whispers that the Emergent Church movement is dead or dying. I sure hope not! I honestly think that the Emergent conversation is one of the best things to happen to the Church since Matin Luther picked up a hammer and nails and went to town. I agree with the Sojo article that the hype has died down, but we're still needed to ask questions. We still need to make sure that the direction we're taking the church is the absolute right direction. We still need to challenge each other in love and respect. I certainly hope that the Emergent conversation isn't dying out, and I certainly don't think it is. We have a long way to go...
  3. That said, again and again and again in his response to the Sojo article, Tony reminds readers that there is no leadership structure to the Emergent movement. Of course I get the thought process behind that. If a single leader takes charge of the thing (or a group of leaders for that matter), then the Emergent conversation will be less like a conversation and more like a denomination or an organization, which doesn't sit well with typical emergents. That's all well and good, but I feel like lately we've lost our sense of direction in the conversation. Perhaps the Emergent conversation hasn't died out, but rather has finally hit that awkward silence that occurs on nearly every first date. We forgot what we were talking about. I don't know that the Emergent movement needs a specific leader, but I think it for sure needs those of us who are passionate about the movement to stand up and start asking questions again. Questions are what fueled this thing in the past, and questions are what will fuel it again in the future.
So these are just a few of my thoughts on the emergent movement. I'd love to hear some of yours in the comments!

Grace and Peace,



ed said...

Thanks for this Jason. I've been avoiding the flap on this, so I appreciate the summary. Here's my $.02.

I think you're right in saying that Tony kind of clouded the main issues. In the larger scheme, it feels like acceptance of GLBT folks has become a central issues for Tony and those like him much like condemnation of GLBT folks is a central issue for conservatives. It feels like many emerging folks are trying to beat conservatives at their own game, when the game in the first place is quite flawed and off balance. I don't want to take over your comment form on this issue, but I feel that some emerging folks have elevated this issue too high in some of our conversations.

I think you're absolutely right about the place of emergent in asking good questions. The hard part is that some folks are getting restless for answers. McLaren is offering some of his own answers which aren't satisfying for many. So I wonder if agreeing on the questions will be enough to keep this discussion going, or if the quest for answers will drive things apart. Perhaps the bigger question is whether we can learn to arrive at diverse answers and continue speaking with one another.

Along similar lines, I submitted an article recently to a magazine titled, "I Deconstructed My Theology and All I Got Was This Lousy Blog." I think a lot of emerging folks are feeling that tension as they seek answers.