A while back, I asked readers to pose questions to Mike Clawson, a Christian pastor who frequently comments on this site. There were a lot of great questions, and today, I’ll begin posting Mike’s responses.
Several of the questions put to me were very similar. A few of you (Dan Harlow, Robert, writerdd, and Richard Wade) especially wanted to know more about the emerging church, how prevalent my views are and how I interact with fundamentalist Christians.
As for the prevalence of emerging church views, I really can’t say. It’s a very new movement and the boundaries are hard to define. George Barna has estimated there is somewhere between 5-20 million of us, but in terms of people directly engaged in the emerging church conversation, reading the books, etc. the numbers are probably more in the thousands and tens of thousands. We’ve only been around for less than a decade and it’s still more of a conversation than a movement. A lot of it is Christians from more conservative backgrounds starting to feel discontented with that brand of Christianity and looking for a new way to be a Christian, a way that has more to do with following what Jesus actually taught rather than merely trusting Jesus as a ticket to heaven when we die. (If you want to know more about the EC I’d recommend my blog post “What is the Emerging Church?” though be forewarned that it’s written primarily for Christians already familiar with a lot of the religious jargon.)
However, I should also add that it is a mistake to think that fundamentalists are the mainstream of Christianity and that more progressive Christians like me are outside the norm. For instance, some of the largest denominations in the United States representing tens of millions of Christians (e.g. United Methodists, American Baptists, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, Episcopalians, etc.) are also very liberal and progressive in their views. Though the Emerging Church is somewhat different in their approach than these liberal denominations, we share a lot of their theological openess and progressive social values. (To answer macht’s question: no I don’t typically describe myself as a “liberal Christian” since liberalism in Christianity refers to a rather specific theological movement of the past century which I don’t entirely identify with – their concerns are generally not my concerns. To avoid confusion then, I tend to prefer terms like “progressive” and “emerging” to “liberal.”)
Anyhow, in regards to how we progressive Christians go about confronting our fundamentalist kin, I think you’ll find that many of us (to paraphrase Gandhi) want to be the change we wish to see in the church – not just complain about and argue with the fundamentalists. However, we are starting to become more vocal and learn how to get our message out there. There is a strong grassroots movement of social justice Christians starting to form with the help of people like Jim Wallis and his Sojourners network, and it is increasingly getting the attention of the media as the “Christian Left.” These are Christians who think that issues of poverty, exploitation, peacemaking, environmental sustainability, race and gender equality, etc. are far more important than trying to act as the moral police in society or turning America into a “Christian Nation”. We speak out on blogs and in the media, equip churches with resources to promote social justice issues, sponsor rallys and conferences, host Presidential candidate forums, challenge fundamentalists to debates, and especially try to put feet to our passions through ministries of compassion and justice. Rather than just criticizing the Religious Right, we’re trying to present a positive, alternative way of being a Christian in the World.
However, I know that many of us, myself included, are trying to take an even more subversive approach. I don’t want to make conservative Christians my enemies. I want to remain in dialogue and fellowship with them, and try to work for change from within. I want to subvert people from their camp one relationship, one conversation at a time. I don’t see the good of acting like a fundamentalist towards fundamentalists. The only way the world will ever change is if we respond to their hatred with love. How can atheists help counter fundamentalism? Not by getting angry and returning fire, but by inviting them to real conversations where they can get to know you as real human beings. It’s a lot harder to hate and demonize someone (from either side) when you know their story, have heard their questions and can call them a friend. It’s hard (and I don’t always do it well myself) but the alternative, I think, is just more of the same – just replacing one fundamentalism with that of another kind.
Part 2 will come tomorrow.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Mike Clawson, Christian, pastor, fundamentalist, emerging church, George Barna, Christianity, Jesus, United Methodists, American Baptists, Presbyterian Church, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Jim Wallis, Sojourners, Christian Nation, Religious Right[/tags]