Why I am Emergent, Part 2: Multivocality

As an addendum to last weeks post on the conversational element of Emergent, I want to assert my belief that when it comes to voices in the conversation, more is better.

In one of our Twin Cities Emergent Cohort meetings several years ago I remember

Tony Jones saying that the fear of many concerning open discussion in biblical or theological small groups is that heresy will rule the day.  “If everyone has a say,” the argument goes, “there will be no truth.”  Tony rightly argued that it is actually the opposite that is correct.  When you think of the heresy and abuse that does rise up in the name of God, it does not typically come from open dialogue, but from a single mouthpiece.  Jim Jones was certainly not famous for ending a speech by asking, “What does everyone think about that?” (This was, in fact Tony’s example at the cohort meeting).

Instead, when multiple voices are allowed in the conversation (multivocality), the heresy tends to get weeded out.  The saner majority prevails.  (The downside of this is of course that the majority is not always right.  At times, none of us is as dumb as all of us.  But, this is a tangent.  Back to the main point.)

Though it is not my story, I know of many people who identify with the emergent movement who have had bad experiences with the church in the past concerning this issue.  I have met and worked with people who were “muscled out” because they began to speak up and ask questions that others did not have answers to or were not comfortable with, or that they were unaware of certain unspoken rules of what you were allowed to say, or question, or who was allowed to do the saying or questioning.  Usually the path of least resistance is to silence the lone divergent voice than to engage it and risk dissention or change or loss of leadership or embarrassment etc.  It seems that compliance and engagement often have an inverse relationship.

(I do not want to be a curmudgeon.  I know there are places where conversation is embraced and these descriptions are not representative of everything outside Emergent.  I’m trying to be gracious, while I compliment my own steam at the same time, which may require a delicate balance.  🙂 )

Back to multivocality.

The more voices we can have in the conversation, the better.  Diversity is a beautiful thing and assuredly, it is a gift from God.  Diversity of thought.  Diversity of race and gender.  Diversity of culture and practice.  All of these allow for greater understanding.   And certainly we in the West have had long periods where the only accepted voices were those of white males (like me).  In fact, the worst periods of our human existence come from times where only a certain kind of people are allowed to speak (slavery, holocaust, ad nauseam).

In conclusion, we all have blind spots.  That should be easy enough to see, shouldn’t it?  And the thing is, I’m better at seeing your blind spots than you are, and you are better at seeing my blind spots than I am.  That is the beauty of having many voices involved in the conversation.  And while I continue to sound like a ridiculous “homer,” that is the beauty of this blog (and all blogs, for that matter).

PS I am merely scratching the surface of this robust topic.  For more on the multivocality of the Emergent movement, the church, and of our culture, see Church in the Inventive Age and Preaching Re-Imagined, both by Doug Pagitt, and The New Christians by Tony Jones.


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