Last night, I visited a church in Rochester, Minnesota. Apart from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is small town America. But, because of Mayo, it’s also growing.
As is to be expected, the large and evangelical church, First Baptist, sold its plot in the city and moved to the “suburbs” of Rochester — a host of new subdivisions, surely inhabited by well-heeled docs. There they built a state-of-the-art mega-church facility. They changed their name to Autumn Ridge Church. And you can find nary a word of their denominational affiliation on their website or in their literature.
This is the very kind of church that liberal Christians bewail. They’re all Republicans, right? And they care only about saving souls. Or maybe they are involved in the Big Two social issues: ending abortion and a gay marriage ban.
Last weekend, they spent three days raising awareness about and mobilizing people to end the genocide in Dafur. They hosted (friend of Emergent Village) Celestin Musekura, the president and founder of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) and survivor of the Rwandan genocide. He was on a panel discussion on Friday night and preached on Sunday. And he was there last night when the church screened The Devil Came on Horseback — a new film about Darfur. And the worship center was packed.
There was nary a word about salvation. Only a call to get involved with stopping the genocide, writing congressional members, even joining a relief trip to Darfur early next year. I then spoke to the college group about the meaning of “the gospel” after viewing a film like that. They were a sharp and articulate bunch.
Honestly, it’s encounters like that that keep me grounded in this truth: there is little truth in stereotypes. Had Marcus Borg been there last night, he wouldn’t have been able to caricature evangelicals like I heard him do in May at the National Cathedral. The fact is, mega-church evangelicals are just as complex and paradoxical as inner-city Episcopalians. They all come by their beliefs and convictions honestly, and with integrity. Too often, it’s their national spokespersons who fulfill the stereotypes.
(Now, the trick will be not caricaturing anyone in my forthcoming book on the emergent phenomenon. I’m sure I’ll fall short. And I’m sure that the blogosphere will let me know where.)
P.S. Another friend of Emergent, Bob Pyne, recently joined the staff at ALARM.
P.P.S. I was in a carpool to 9th Grade Confirmation class with writer/producer/director of The Devil Came on Horseback, Annie Sundberg. We were also classmates at Dartmouth.
P.P.P.S. Celestin recently completed his Ph.D. at Dallas Seminary, and Miroslav Volf was one of his readers. Congrats, Celestin!