Is Sojourners for Straights Only?

That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw an advertisement for the new issues of Sojourners Magazine:

Actually, the first thing I thought was, Is this really the time for us to be criticizing other Christians who are on the same team as us? Really, with everything that’s going on in the world, a critique of the emerging church is worthy of a cover article?

The second thing I thought was that since the author is Soong-Chan Rah, the article will not likely be fair.  Every person I know who claims the “emerging church” label and has read the section in Rah’s book in which he excoriates the emerging church thinks that he trafficked in caricature and stereotype well beneath the scholarly acumen of the rest of the book.  In fact, I know several persons who have approached him privately and publicly to tell him so, and from what I’ve heard, he has admitted that he wasn’t as thorough in his assessment of the EC as he could have been.  But he’s made hay with his analysis anyway.

[UPDATE: I have now read the article, and it is more fair that I assumed it would be.  I stand by my assessment of Rah's book, but I have apologized to him for assuming the worst about the article.]

And the third thing I thought was, Is Sojourners for Straights Only? I thought this because Sojo in general and Jim Wallis in particular have made a point not to take a stance on the inclusion of GLBT persons in church and society, neither for nor against same sex marriage or civil unions, etc.  Jim — fairly, I think — has said that Sojo’s core issues are poverty and racial equality.  To delve into other issues would cause Sojo to lose focus.

However, many GLBT Christians and their straight allies consider this a real weakness of Sojo, since GLBT rights are as much a social justice issue as poverty and racial equality.  And some of us also know that when Martin Luther King, Jr. started speaking out against the Vietnam War, many accused him of “losing focus,” and he lost many followers.  But he was right — Vietnam was an issue of justice that Christians needed to speak out about.

In any case, if Sojo has the freedom to focus on a limited number of issues, does not the emerging church have the freedom to provoke ecclesial conversations that are primarily of interest to certain people?  When I’m asked — as I often am — why the EC is so white, I have a threefold answer:

  1. Five years ago everyone was saying that we were too male, but people aren’t saying that anymore because women are now leading the movement.  So be patient.
  2. There’s probably a lot more racial diversity in the movement than you think; you’d better look beyond the skin color of the best-selling authors to make your assessment.
  3. The EC is not an evangelistic movement.  I don’t mean that in reference to the gospel, but to the movement itself.  The EC is not about growing the EC.  It’s about catalyzing an ecclesial and theological conversation and about building a network of friendship in which these conversations can safely take place.

Look, I’m not being overly sensitive about criticism of the emerging church.  Criticize all you want.  But I do expect our friends (or at least our theological allies) to develop critiques that are fair — or to be prepared that the same measure by which they judge us will be used on them (didn’t someone say that?).

  • carla jo

    Andrew Jones made a good point in his gracious rebuttal of John Piper’s assessment that the EC hasn’t really taken hold in non-white churches. If I may paraphrase, he pointed out that many non-white churches are, partly because they are already made up of people who have been pushed to the outside of mainstream culture because of their skin color, tend to be less dogmatic about some of the issues of inclusion and orthodoxy than the white evangelical churches from which so many people in the EC conversation have come. In other words, there has been less to push against and perhaps more of an invitation for the people asking EC kinds of questions to stick around instead of breaking off into new ventures.

  • Dan Ra

    Hey brother,

    I know you and I talked about this some in Atlanta (racial diversity in EC, Soong-Chan Rah) . But I think it’s only fair to see what the article says first…

    I can confidently say that Soong-Chan knows the criticisms against the chapter and, for all one knows, this upcoming article could be an encouragement for the E.C.

    But I do have to say that demanding patience to the Asian American Christian community is a bit harsh. Was this same tone manifested when white American female emergent Christians complained?

  • tony


    I’m not asking Asians to be patient. I’m asking all critics to be patient. This is a young movement. And help from the inside is more valuable than criticism from the outside.

    And you’re right, I’m not reacting to the article. I’m reacting to the cover — which is, of course, meant to sell magazines.

    • Andy

      You ARE over sensitive over criticism to the emerging church, this is why you wisely apologized. Hear the criticism as you expect others to hear it. What Dan Ra or John Piper have said is objectively true.

  • Greg McCaw

    Tony, I get what you’re saying. I wait expectantly for this issue of Sojourners to arrive so that I can see what this article has to say. Dan may be correct, and, I hope he is.

    But, you do raise a larger concern in which I have great interest. I’ve been a Sojourners supporter for several years now. I read the magazine and take part in the actions encouraged regularly. I really believe in what Sojourners and Jim Wallis are all about, because, of course, I believe the Gospel.

    However, as a gay faith leader with ties to both the MCC and the organization I started, Emergent Wilmington, in Wilmington, NC, I get more and more impatient with what I see as a failure to commit to the greater cause on the part of Sojourners.

    I would agree that poverty and hunger and homelessness and disease, “the poor,” are undoubtedly the highest priority issue of social concern. I agree that working for peace and opposing war and violence of any kind is perhaps the second greatest social concern. I agree that creation care is perhaps the third greatest social concern. I agree that health care for all citizens is probably the fourth greatest social concern. And, I even agree that racial/ethnic discrimination is the fifth. I accept that the social concerns of equal rights and treatment under the law for my LGBT community is “down the rung” some in overall priority.

    So, I’ve waited for years for my turn to be better represented in the “focus” of Sojourners and Jim Wallis. I’m still waiting. Actually, I have to give some kudos for more recent articles appearing in Sojourners by various authors who seem to be including LGBT issues more and more, albeit, somewhat as an “oh yeah, and also gay people” kind of manner. Hey, it’s a start. And, I see Jim Wallis also beginning to slowly “mention” LGBT issues, also in the same manner. Very, very safely.

    What I have so dearly appreciated about my experience with the EC conversation is that I feel that my issues of social concern are welcomed as a full part of all other social concerns. So, perhaps we’re yet a tad anglo in hue, however, we’re by no means mono-cultural! And, I agree with you, this is but a matter of time and maturity.

    In the case of Sojourners, however, hasn’t enough time and maturity come for them? sorry, us? And, after all, aren’t all of these social issues together part of Christ’s mission to reconcile ALL? There is but one reason that I see for Jim Wallis to be keeping his focus on “certain” issues and not the LGBT issues, and, I hate to point it out, but that would be purely about fear of alienating his monetary support base. I know that is a very difficult position to be in and I actually sympathize to some degree. But, isn’t that similar to how James Dobson and other religious fear-mongers do things?

    I have no desire whatever to lose momentum on the great gains the progressive faith movements have made in all other social causes. However, to work for some and not all seems empty to me. Am I all wet here? I’m also all on-board for immigration reform, the current “focus.” This is also highly important. But, really, are millions of undocumented immigrants any more important that millions of LGBT “citizens” who are still not treated as full citizens? As long as any human being anywhere is experiencing oppression, we all experience oppression.

  • Michael


    I have to repeat myself again.

    Here is how you gain credibility as someone who REALLY GETS IT.

    Just throw “Emergent” under a bus and suddenly you are in. The beauty is, this works equally well if you are progressive or conservative. Toss us under the bus and suddenly there are people all around you cheering.

    We who still identify as emergent are happy to offer ourselves in this role to the church at large. We are glad you find this helpful. We are glad that we could unite these two streams of the church by providing a common enemy. We are also sad, we had hopes that there was something more positive we could bring to the table.

  • Matthew L. Kelley

    I haven’t read the SoJo article, so I can’t say whether it’s fair or not, but I don’t think the “we’re on the same team, therefore you shouldn’t criticize me/us” is a good argument. That’s the tactic many evangelicals use to attack emergents, and it’s not helpful, because constructive criticism from those who are on our team is often the most helpful feedback we can get.

    I don’t think the EC is only for whites, but I do worry that we deal so much in theological elitism that we’re not inclusive for those without MDivs as we can and should be. I’m as guilty as anyone on that count.

  • Brian Ammons

    “you’d better look beyond the skin color of the best-selling authors to make your assessment”

    I wonder how much the EC can be separated out from that list of bestselling authors. Despite best intentions, the figureheads and spokespersons of the movement are drawn from that list. And, I wonder how much who makes it on that list is determined by the capitalist investments of the publishing houses. If Zondervan and Baker Books are calling the shots (and cashing in) on the public perception of EC, then I’m thinking we shouldn’t be very surprised that it’s both looking pretty white and mighty straight.

    Sojourner’s lack of engagement with the concerns of queer people is frustrating to say the least. But if we’re gonna go there, and then gonna say EC is more than the bestseller list, seems only fair that we levy a similar critique on the publishers behind those bestsellers.

  • The Misfit Toy

    I would like to offer this less snarky statement, which I was able to craft with help of people commenting on this issue on FB:

    There is an “emergent” that nobody owns, that is people responding to the voice of God in this age, that isn’t any color or age or class. However, among those people, there is also a smaller “emergent” that has access to power and resources. It should not be a shock that this “emergent” looks more like the color, age, gender, and class of power and money in the USA.

    Critics are welcome, what “emergent” people do with the power they have is worthy of scrutiny.

    Saying that “emergent is too white” is perhaps a less helpful way of starting the conversation.. It probably will sell a lot of magazines, and I like Sojourners so I guess I am happy for them. I fear though that taking an issue that does deserve some attention, and wrapping it in the language they chose, will be more polarizing and make the discussion less likely to focus on the right issues.

  • Brian Merritt

    I think these are valid criticisms of both. I only consider EC a movement and not Sojourners. Sojourners is a para-church organization that solicits funding public funding as a non-profit. When Jim Wallis and Sojourners uses the term “social justice” and current controversies Glen Beck in a way that also explicitly raises funds progressives have the right to question “why doesn’t this include LGBT concerns.” Yet, I think that EC also needs to be pushed by its friends to be a more racially diverse, inclusive, denominational accepting and less culturally evangelical movement. My bet is that EC, as a movement, has a much greater chance of reaching beyond their limitations than an a non profit, para-church.

  • Julie Clawson

    For what it’s worth, I’ve read the article, and the Emerging Church as presented in the article has zero resemblance to what I’ve experience in the EC.

    • tony

      Dan, Julie is what you’re looking for. What she did to address the maleness of EC leadership was to proactively build a coalition of women who met together regularly (at their own cost) and worked on taking leadership roles (writing books, organizing events, planting churches, etc.). That seemed a lot more productive route than writing magazine articles while not even being part of the movement.

  • Annie

    I’m not exactly sure why you’d better look beyond the skin colors of the best selling authors to make a critique of the preponderance of white–and I would argue still heavily male–voices. I think it’s worth noting if the best sellers are predominantly a single race and/or gender. And honestly, they seem to be.

  • Warren

    Hey Tony, we talked about this last summer. Based on your response and your frequent appeal to ‘this is not an evangelistic movement’, the emergent church will eventually have to address what I consider its greatest weakness – it’s misunderstanding and mishandling of race. I really do wish you the best, but I honestly don’t know why you so often seem blindsided by this accusation. The latent ethnocentricism is evident in the EC literature, in its demographics, and in its ‘outreach’. Any change or adaptation to culture is evangelistic, an attempt to speak the same language to communicate. Neglecting the racial blindness of the EC will only lead to more front covers on something that, by all means, is a simple enough thing to correct/address.

    You’re doing good work (I read and support it), and I wish you the best. But one day Emergent/Emerging Churches/Theologians will realize that they’re perpetuating the cultural isolation that is prevalent in the denominations they actively seek to distance themselves from.

    • tony

      Warren, I find your comment virtually incomprehensible. Can you tell me what you mean by the EC’s “misunderstanding and mishandling of race”? I mean specifics, not generalities. If you’ve read my books, please show me how my theology is latently racist.

      BTW, I am not at all blindsided by the accusation.

  • Daniel Mann

    Let me take a stab at why the EC is so white (and also upwardly mobile). I’ve noticed – and the NT bears this out – that the Gospel appeals to the truly sorrowful, the broken, to those for whom an attractive philosophy and other cultural perks have little relevance.

    Tony, let’s face it, you have virtually disowned the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation:

    • “To assume that our convictions about God are somehow timeless is the deepest arrogance, and it establishes an imperialistic attitude that has a chilling effect on the honest conversation that’s needed for theology to progress.” (Tony Jones, The New Christians, 114)

    • “Jesus did not have a ‘statement of faith.’ He called others into faithful relationship to God through life in the Spirit. As with the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he was not concerned primarily with whether individuals give cognitive assent [faith] to abstract propositions [His teachings] but with callings persons into trustworthy community through embodied and concrete acts of faithfulness. The writers of the NT were not obsessed with finding a final set of propositions…” (Jones, 234)

    The hurting need more potent stuff. They need the meat of the Gospel.

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  • david

    This is so baffling to me. It was only when I began to interact with the people in and around EC circles that I began to develop a consciousness of issues of justice and diversity. I’ve found no better example of how to learn from people who seem, look and sound different than you than with the agents of emergence. I heard about Christians meeting with Jews and conversing on a truly level field. Some of the most beautiful reactions to injustices in New Orleans, Iraq, Haiti and urban America have flowed from people who are friends of this conversation. In the emerging church there are visible leaders and inspirers of every race and gender. And where things do seem a bit too white there is always an effort to deconstruct that as an issue, to name it and to make a change.

    I think it depends on who has your ear. If you hear a meme repeated by just the right person you will believe it despite all the other evidence.

  • tsk

    Koreans say the EC is too white, Sojourners says the EC lacks an emphasis on justice, fundamentalists say the EC is too heretical, Bible teachers say the EC neglects the Bible, seminary profs say the EC leaders are not trained enough, denominational leaders say the EC does not submit to the denominations enough, liberals say the EC is not liberal enough . . . isn’t this all very PREDICTABLE? Where is the originality these days in criticism?

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  • Dan Ra

    But do we not criticize those outside emergent? How many of us feel our criticisms of conservative evangelicalism, prosperity gospel, and mainline liberalism, etc. are valid? How many of us non-Catholics have criticized the behavior of the Catholic church as of late? Because I’ve seen it happen and have engaged in it myself. And I think my criticisms are valid, whether others in those expressions think otherwise.

    And I know what Julie and others did. I saw it happen. And she’s awesome! But it really, really isn’t as easy for a naturally-insular minority Christian subculture in America to engage in expressive, deconstructive, and inherently egalitarian environments like the EC. I still know a lot of Asian American women who went to seminary and aren’t able to entertain the possibility of being a pastor of a church.

    That’s why I pleaded for the EC to make active attempts to reach out to the minority American church, rather than just leaving the door open when I wrote for EV’s blog:

    I am in no way trying to provide a defense for Soong-Chan Rah, especially as he shares my last name (Ra/h is a very small clan in Korean society). I love the EC because it “saved” my faith. If the EC is helping breakdown Euro-centric American Christianity, then I ask for it to help it break down the theological and ecclesiological colonization that has taken place in some minority American Christian expressions.

  • tsk

    hi dan. i just read that article on EV, and also noticed my good aussie mate Fuzz Kitto giving you two thumbs up. my comment on thoughtless predictable criticism does not apply to you, and i have appreciated your input on my blog as well. Any friend of Fuzz . . .

  • Sam

    I understand where Tony is coming from here. He doesn’t appear to like it when people at Sojourners get on their high horse about a particular church movement not being racially diverse enough. I don’t like it either, and I don’t think Sojourners should be criticizing the racial makeup of churches unless that church is doing something to specifically exclude or turn off racial minorities. But writers at Sojourners have been doing this for years, mostly to delegitimize those churches and Christians with which they have a disagreement (mega-churches are too white, conservative Christian churches are too white, etc.)

    I don’t understand the question that Tony asks: “Is this really the time for us to be criticizing other Christians who are on the same team as us?” I would ask a follow-up question. Why is it wrong to criticize Christians who are on the same “team” but it’s okay to criticize Christians who are on another “team?” (I don’t exactly understand the “team” concept here. I thought all Christians were on the same “team.”) In my mind, Christians should either seek to correct supposed wrongs regardless of which “team” is the perpetrator or ignore supposed wrongs for the sake of unity. But this “Hey, don’t criticize me, I’m on your side” mentality doesn’t make sense.

    • tony

      Sam, good point.

  • Tom

    When I first saw this photo, the pointy-top white crayons reminded me of the pointy-top hoods of the KKK. Needless to say I was shocked, and I hope that it is not the intentional (or even unintentional) message.

  • Gabriel Salguero

    Tony and Friends:

    In the interest of transparency I am on the Sojo board, friends with both Soong-Chan Rah and Brian McLaren, and several EC folks in NYC.

    Tony, this is a conversation worth having. I have heard this critique before and I’ve also mentioned it to my friend Brian McLaren and others in the EC. As part of the Latino Leadership Circle we’ve mentioned our concern about the relative lack of diversity in EC to many of our dear friends who are part of EC. As a matter of fact we had this respectful conversation at a forum in the Bronx some years ago. We have done this as friends and people who want the best of God for all.

    Tony, as you say, the movement is young and this may change. My hope is that a respectful dialogue will help in this regard. In addition, I would add that diversity, as you know, would bring both challenge and promise. Latinos, Asians, African-Americans by and large (not universally) tend to be more conservative on some issues than their white brothers and sisters of the same generation.

    I will read the article closely and see what is there. I regret that you and unnamed others feel Dr. Rah was involved in caricature in his description of the EC. I read the book and that was not my impression but would love to hear more about that impression. My hope is that this would spawn an honest continued dialogue that does not end in a competitive hierarchies of oppressions but that builds a coalition that loves God, people, justice, and mercy.

    Un abrazo fraternal,
    Gabriel Salguero

  • tsk

    havent read the sojo article and i am not really tempted to buy it looking at the cover, but i purchased rah’s book and was disappointed to see my friends eugene cho, rudy carrasco taken away from the ec segment of the book and stuck over where the people doing it right were located. hip hop churches also were bumped out of the ec category and over in the multi-ethnic-we-are-the-future part of the book.

    if you keep taking away the non-white segment of the ec then what you will have left in your little ec box will obviously be white.

    as for the graphic of white crayons, despite the slam, its a really nice piece of work.

  • Jason Derr

    I think it can be said for those of us who call ourselves EC (Post-conservative, post-evangelical or post-mainline) can recognize that the EC has opened up conversations around issues of diversity and inclussion. But when I look at the EC ‘leadership’ I too feel that what is needed is more plurality of voices. In the Lutheran church I know their are associations for African-American, Arab-American and Chinease Lutheran leaders and laity. Maybe we need groups to form so that minority voices can be more clearly heard.

  • tony


    First, I’ve always considered the LLC a part of the EC, broadly conceived. Do you?

    Second, I wonder if the article will mention Melvin Bray, currently the co-chair of the Emergent Village Council and responsible for EV’s publishing partnerships. He happens to be Black. I’m guessing that Rah has never even heard of Melvin, much less interviewed him for the article.

    Not to mention any of the other scores of persons of color who self-identify with the EC…

  • Kevin Matthews

    The last time I checked, the leadership at Sojourners was still debating whether or not homosexuality was a sin and coming up with yes, it is. So, at best, their support for the LGBT community would be limited to civil rights issues, not religious rights concerns. So throwing stones at their house, while easy to do, really does not address the point.

    The reason EC should be concerned about the Whiteness issue is that non-whites have watched what happens in too many movements when we are not included until after the power structures have already been put in place. No matter how well intentioned the leadership is, they unwittingly conspire to keep minorities out by building work systems that reflect their own sensibilities. Then they wonder why we are on the outside knocking loudly while they keep telling us the door is open. They miss the fact that it only opens from the inside unless one has the key.

    But wait, you say. EC is not an organization, it’s a movement. Or a conversation. Or whatever. Let’s see. It has several identifiable leaders even if they are more gurus than directors. It has people who identify themselves with it. It is growing, and it has local and national meetings of various sorts. This is close enough for horseshoes.

    I deeply appreciate EC, despite my being Black and Episcopalian. Of course, I am a college chaplain, so nobody thinks I am supposed to be normal. But you need to take the critique seriously Tony, despite the source. You never want to be in the position of having to clean something up. Better to prevent it in the first place. All the local cohorts need to ask themselves who is not in the room and why. Then go and do something about it.

  • Kathryn Witzel

    My understanding of the Emerging Church is that it’s a mindset, or dialogue, not an organization. There are no criteria for joining or participation. I get frustrated with those who are eager to replace the denominational system that they dislike with their own system. Systems are run by people and will always have problems. Tony should have the freedom in his own blog to voice his opinion – that’s the purpose of a blog. I look forward to reading the article and finding out what Sojourners has to say.

  • Jason Derr

    @Kevin – people do expect university chaplins to be weird. I was a Lay Campus Minister for SFU (in Vancouer, BC) for a year (no funding to go on!) and I could get away with all sorts of things as Emergent-Process Theology-Integral Theory lover of Jesus!


  • Prof. Rah

    I would strongly recommend that folks actually read the article. For what it’s worth, I had no control over the cover of the magazine. In fact, I was surprised that our story (the article was co-authored with one of my students) was considered the cover story, I was assuming that it was a side story.

    But I do want to respond directly to this comment by Tony:

    “The second thing I thought was that since the author is Soong-Chan Rah, the article will not likely be fair.”

    WOW! Did I just hear the sound of an extremely judgmental, pre-judicial, propositional assumption being made?

    “he excoriates the emerging church” – This is a very common misunderstanding about that chapter in my book. I am excoriating the evangelical publicity machine that made EC the next big thing among American Christians. (Please note that most understood my chapter in that light).

    “I know several persons who have approached him privately and publicly to tell him so, and from what I’ve heard, he has admitted that he wasn’t as thorough in his assessment of the EC as he could have been.” – This statement is not true. I stand by my assessment of the emergent church and the evangelical response in the early stages to EC, but, again, it must be understood in the context of the above statement. My concern is how evangelicalism latched onto the emergeing church (particularly in the early stages) as the next big thing. Without much consideration of what was going on in ethnic minority Christian communities. As some may notice, I do not take any theological issue with EC (others have done that), but I engage on the need not only for diversity in the EC, but ways that EC can raise the issue of diversity. Again, this would be evident if folks would actually read the article in Sojo.

    My hope is that there would be constructive dialogue on the issues being raised — not false accusations and misstatements directed towards individuals.

  • Blackwasp19

    Honestly, I believe a fundamental problem with this conversation is the lack of definition of “emergent”. It seems some mix of social, theological, cultural, and other elements that are tossed together. To me it is dangerous to be this broad. I am not suggesting that the EC completely bind itself, but the reality is Dan Kimball, Tony Jones, Soong Chan Rah, Efrem Smith, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell, Peter Hong, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, Peter Kreeft etc. are all seen as emergent by some people.

    I think “post-modern” is often assumed as “emergent” which is not true. But that assumption does not allow us to earnestly talk about the EC because everyone’ s picture of the EC is different. (Example Eugene Cho, Phil Jackson – Pastor of the Hip Hop Church – & Rudy Carrasco are not part of the EC in my mind, but for some these leaders obviously are. I am not taking them out of mt EC box, they were never in it to begin with).

    The lack of definition of or broadness of definition of “emergent” makes people, both in and and out of the fold of the EC, assume any Christian perspective that is new (or seemingly new) or different as necessarily emergent.

    I suppose my comments conclude in a question:

    Is there a way to publicly define the EC without sacrificing its robustness but without being ambiguous or amorphous?

    I realize it is hard to define any group/movement (i.e. what does conservative or liberal), but some clarification would help me [and I believe many others ] better engage in some of these conversations

    Peace be unto you.

  • Rick Bennett

    Is Emergent too white? Sure.

    Is the Senate too white? Is the Presidency (1 man withstanding) too white? Is the Congress too white? Is the Supreme Court too white?
    You betcha.

    Is the PCUSA, UMC, SBC, UCC, CBF, PCA, ELCA or Episcopal Church too white?

    Is the leadership of Sojourners too white? Yes.

    Are the presidents of most universities too white? Si.

    Are the coaches and owners of MLB and the NFL too white? uh-huh
    Is NCAA football coaching too white? Yup

    That is the world we live in and some institutions are trying to change. It would be smarter to focus energies on the ones that are not trying to change or get more diverse.

    Because their “too white” is a bit different from Augusta National’s.

  • T. Sturgell

    Mr. Jones, I think you’ve definitely jumped the gun on this. The small caveat that you haven’t read the article really isn’t strong enough.

    It is precisely as a movement is gaining steam that these issues need to be brought forth. Whether the accusations presumed are accurate or not might not be the most important issue. What is important is that if the EC doesn’t do a better job of lifting the voices of multiple races (and genders and orientation and…) then it will continue to face criticism. Maybe if you engaged those “best selling authors” of the movement to actively address the issue, then those other voices that we apparently have to dig for would have a better platform to be heard – and articles like this will disappear. Which is what makes articles like this so valuable.

    Defenders in any movement can scream to the rafters, but if the predominant perception is incorrect, don’t dismiss those questioning the perception – change the perception by mobilizing the movement.

    This feels a bit like people questioning the Iraq war after 9-11. They were dismissed as unpatriotic because there was no other way to validly dismiss their claims. Don’t complain about the existence of the article, you haven’t provided enough proof that it isn’t necessary.

  • Prof Rah

    Again, Tony, please READ the article. You may not agree with everything Jason Mach and I have written but at least you won’t be completely WRONG such as this statement:

    “Second, I wonder if the article will mention Melvin Bray, currently the co-chair of the Emergent Village Council and responsible for EV’s publishing partnerships. He happens to be Black. I’m guessing that Rah has never even heard of Melvin, much less interviewed him for the article.”

    Melvin is cited in the article. As is Anthony Smith and David Park. And other emergent leaders.

    • tony


      I made it clear that I’m criticizing the cover, not your article, which I have not read. I’ve been critical of your treatment of the emergent movement in your book before, as have others, and I stand by that. I think it’s the weakest section of your book and it shows virtually no understanding of the movement. It’s a caricature.

      However, I am glad to stand corrected about your awareness of Melvin Bray and other EC leaders of color. I was less than generous to suggest that you hadn’t heard of him. I apologize.

      I wonder if you also cited that many of the white men in the Emergent Village corner of the movement (Jones, Pagitt, McLaren, Keel, Seay) have intentionally stepped back from leadership to allow a new (and hopefully more diverse) crowd to step up.

  • Jay

    The Sojourners cover sucks, the article title is not great ether. The article may say that the emergent church is the most racial divers movement ever. But the cover suggest racism and or intolerance. (Whites Only?) It’s a bit of a kick in the gut for those of us who are a part of EC and are paying a grate price for being so inclusive. Evan being ignored by Sojo because some of us work with LGBT community and consider that a big social justice issue. This may be a knee jerk reaction, but it’s how I felt when I first saw the cover.

  • Brian Merritt

    Prof Rah And Gabriel~

    But the cover is important as others have pointed out the perception of the best selling authors of the movement to be only white. Plus, no one on Sojo’s side has answered the question about LGBT civil rights. Your organization is in a District that has just approved of same sex marriages. How can this not be a civil rights issue? Where are Sojourners on the Districts policy to limit winter days and cut funding to homeless ministries? What about the idea that Catholic Charities threatens to stop working on thier District contracts to the homeless because of marriage equality laws? Where were you? This was a poverty issue that effected people blocks from Sojourners offices on 14th Street. Maybe you did something that I never heard. I hope so because the silence from such a powerful religious organization in the district seemed deafening. It seems that I see Jim when the cameras are on. I would love to see Jim Wallis at HIPS, Miriam’s Kitchen, Calvary Women’s Services or the DC Center. I know a small African American church two blocks from Sojourners that distributes food to the homeless, maybe a photo op with Jim would be just what would encourage this struggling, small community of faith. Let me know and Jim can come along with me in my Honda.

  • Billy Kangas

    TONY! Come on… since when is it cool to insult something you haven’t even read… I’d love to hear your thoughts on this once you’ve actually read it, but this completely undermines your credibility.

    You can make your point about LGBT issues without making childish Jabs at Soong-Chan… I’m disappointed.

  • Brian Merritt


    That goes for you as well. If you want to come speak at the International Council of Community Churches regional or national events I will make sure that you do not follow Pastor Ken in prayer or the choir.

  • Haven

    I am interested to read this article, but I must admit, I am going into it a little biased since I saw Soong-Chan Rah pick a fight online with a pastor here in vegas who is trying his best to do work on redemptive grace, and showing people how their lack of forgiveness is hurting them as much as other people. My wife attends that pastor’s church, so I am familiar enough with him to know that despite the fact that he is very human, he has a good heart and means well. Also, with a title like they gave the article, it seems like it was solely designed to piss people off before they even read it. Not sure what the purpose of that is?

    I will withhold judgment till I read the article tho. I just worry that with such an inflammatory and attacking title, that the constructive criticism might be lost because it starts with a wounding, not with a loving.

  • david

    At every single emergent gathering i have been a part of the issues of diversity and inclusivity have been seriously discussed. Understanding shortcomings in how we involve and learn from others is foundational to the EC. It is a gospel issue. I doubt that the same attention is being paid in other christian circles, although it may be.

    To me it is like criticizing Albert Pujols for only hitting .375 instead of encouraging the rest of the team to rise to his level.

  • Richard

    @David I think the issue is not whether the issue of race is discussed but the issue is WHO is discussing it. I question if a meaningful discussion about race can really happen if there is no person of color present in the discussion.
    Blacks, Latinos and Asians have been largely absent from the discussion…in large part because I don’t think EV discussions make it on the agenda of minority church leaders (with a few exceptions). We aren’t generally pissed at our parents and conservative church upbringing. Disconnected…maybe…pissed is another story altogether.

  • Jose Humphreys

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

    Tony, as part of Latino Leadership Circle and someone who has been conversant with the EC, learned and benefited, I will say EC has made a significant contribution to my own Christian journey. In fact, I believe there are aspects of EC that influence our church’s approach to ministry today (speaking as a pastor).

    I also read Rah’s book several months ago Tony, and I thought he was spot on. In fact I had to say “amen” several times because he was voicing what many 2nd generation Latinos, African-Americans and Asians have been saying for quite some time about EC. I do know that some efforts have been made by the EC to become more inclusive, particularly at the level of leadership, which for me is a game changer and catalyst for potential bridge-building.

    Further, while I also appreciate your reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. and your call for people to “be patient”. I’m reminded of MLK’s letters from Birmingham: “Why we can’t wait”. This was in response to some of his own in the faith urging him to soften his approach to racial equality. I believe racial inclusion is well worth the effort of many who are justifiably impatient and “maladjusted”.

    Thanks for your transparency in this dialog…

  • Lisa Sharon Harper

    Dear Tony,
    I can’t remember if we met at the Envision Conference back in 2008. If not, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance tonight. I have met and talked at length with several leaders in the EC movement and am often mistaken for one myself. In fact, I included an interview with Brian McLaren in my book, Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…or Democrat. That interview was extremely enlightening.

    McLaren said the Emergent Church movement (a post-modern project) is actually a “post-colonial project”. I assume you’ve heard this analysis before, so I’ll explain for the sake of others following this conversation.

    Throughout the 18th, 19th and most of the 20th century, the era was the Modern era. It was the era of characterized by the domination one over the other, often in the form of colonization. The bulk of the 20th century, in particular, was an era where the struggle between only two nations mattered–USA and USSR; the struggle between two political theories mattered–capitalism or communism; and the struggle between two theological positions mattered–liberal and conservative. This binary “either/or” way of thinking influenced all aspects of life. As a result, the narratives of people of color in the world AND in the church were suppressed, repressed, and, well, just plain o-pressed. (Hence, many evangelicals did not consider Dr. King or most Black church leaders “Christian” because their brand of Christianity didn’t fit the Modern Era “either/or” liberal/conservative rubric. It was a both/and paradigm that called for both social justice and personal transformation.

    Beginning with the 1960′s when the first African nations threw off the bondage of colonization and climaxing with the fall of the Berlin wall, the later days of the 20th century saw the unbinding of the lips of the oppressed. Around the world maps became peppered with tiny nations that had been suppressed for decades, not able to wave their flag or speak their language, now waving their flags, electing their own leaders, and teaching their language to their children. At the same time, leaders of color like Dr. King, Oscar Romero, Ceasar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, began to cry out and demand that the voice of the ones who live on the bottom be heard… because the story is not complete or accurate unless it also includes their voices.

    Likewise, in the evangelical church, voices like John Perkins, Tom Skinner, Rene Padilla, Ray Rivera and many others began to rise up and speak to the center sharing the view from the margins of evangelicalism.

    I believe the Emergent Church project developed in response to the cries from the margins. Finally, white evangelical Americans were hearing stories they never heard before, seeing things from a perspective they never saw before. And in our post-modern (post-colonial) era, they were naturally led, then, to question the integrity of everything they had been taught before. So, not only the structures of worship are called into question, but the very integrity of the white evangelical gospel narrative that had been held so dear for the entire 20th century.

    So, I get it. It is necessary for post-colonial white evangelicals to engage in that struggle. It is necessary for space to be set aside for white folks to ask the kinds of questions that are specific to the kinds of questions a post-colonizing church must ask.

    But here’s the rub. To do that questioning in isolation without the partnership or tempering of your sister and brother Christians of color is to continue the cycle of evangelical repression of narratives and perspectives of color. As well, as Dr. Rah says, it will ultimately deem the Emergent Church movement isolated and irrelevant within one or two generations. After all, demographers tell us the American church of our grandchildren will be more people of color than it is white.

    And here’s one more rub. I served as Director of Racial Reconciliation for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship in Greater Los Angeles and Southern California for 6 years. If we learned nothing else in that process, we learned this: the work of rooting out racial, ethnic, and cultural partiality in our own thinking, in our leadership structures, and within our faith communities could not happen unless we set our minds to make it happen. No church in the history of the U.S. ever just naturally evolved into a truly multi-ethnic, multi-racial, or multi-cultural church without setting their face toward Jerusalem (so-to-speak). And by Jerusalem I do mean toward the cross and the resurrection.

    I offer these words as a post-modern, post-colonized African-American, Cherokee and Chickasaw, Puerto-Rican, evangelical sister in Christ. I hope you will take these words and the words of Dr. Rah, Gabriel, Jose, and others who have shared their thoughts with you in this forum not as condemnation, but rather as a chance. A chance to open real dialogue. A chance to see things as they are seen from the margins of your movement. A chance to see your trajectory from our vantage point. And finally, a chance to give a necessary project a longer life and greater relevance for our grand-childrens’ generation.


  • Al Shaw

    Blimey (as we say here in England).

    Isn’t it possible to be a progressive, social-justice-orientated evangelical Christian without embracing uncritically the GLBT agenda?

  • Onleilove Alston

    Dear Mr. Jones:

    As an African-American Christian well versed in what happened between poor whites and slaves pitting the issue of LGBT rights against minority rights is what some would call Plantation Politics. We need gay rights to be respected in the Christian community and we need minority rights to be respected. I have spoken to leaders in the Emergent Church movement (an author) and someone from Emergent Village alike and no one denied that this movement lacks diversity. As a student at Union seminary the most inclusive seminary in America I have white allies who are Queer (one who was just ordained as the first openly gay clergy-person in Vancouver, Washington) and she has harsh critiques for the Emergent movement. I have written about critical race theory and the need for this critique in the church. The Hip Hop church fits much of the criteria of the Emergent Church and yet there has been no partnership. You do sound defensive-”well if someone criticizes the Emergent movement for not being racially diverse I will point the figure back and accuse it of not being diverse in the area of sexual orientation”, this is similar to how poor whites were pitted against blacks in the south and personally I am tired of Queers and minorities fighting each other while those who are responsible for homophobia and racism egg us on. That is why I am working with Christian Queer activist to build bridges and from both sides we are going to stand up and be allies for our communities. I could provide the names and contact information for 3-5 Queer Christian anti-racist friends who would debunk what you did by writing this blog (not the accuracy of what you stated but why you stated it). Please visit Special Communion ( a blog developed by myself a Black Baptist Evangelical, A Episcopalian Queer Priest and her Evangelical/Methodist Partner, A Charismatic Bi-racial Disciples of Christ member, a Caribbean Evangelical, an African-American who goes to a CCDA affiliated interracial church in Chicago and a biracial Chicana Presbyterian who all met at Union and developed a prayer circle, deep friendship and space where we could speak out against the principalities of racism, classism and homophobia that affected our everyday lives even in the “progressive” church on April 17th. Though this group may seem extremely PC its a real group of friends, no we don’t have book deals or do speaking engagements we are just serving Christ together. The Emergent Church has to take responsibility for its racism and classism because until it does the Queer people I know (especially because the Queer community of color is huge in NYC) will not partner with this movement.

  • Onleilove Alston

    Dear Tony,

    I am apologize for the tone of my message but I really think we need to fight both of this issues at the same time not one at a time. The way we fight them is to start in our communities, movements, etc. I honestly see the same racism and Homophobia in all branches of Christianity. I think this critique of the Emergent Church should be listened to and not brushed off. Take care.

  • Gabriel Salguero

    Tony and Brian,

    Thanks for engaging in this dialogue in respectful manners. I really think this may produce not just a wonderful and illuminating conversation but genuine transformation for all of us involved.

    Tony, in reply to your question I would reference my dear friend José’s comments. We have spoken with EC and others but I am not sure we would self-identify as part of emergent. Nevertheless, our relationships, friendships, and dialogues have been mutually beneficial. On another note LLC is a diverse group, and I certainly do not speak for them all, so some may self-identify as EC but I do not think we have done this as a group.

    There’s another issue I wish to address and that’s namely asking about Sojourner’s involvement on issues of LGBT/GLBT. It seems to me that raising the issue of LGBT communities is a fair one but to raise it in response to this article needs some unpacking. It reminds me of everytime I raise an issue about Latino/a discrimination someone might say “What about the plight of women?”. Or if one of my sisters asks about female discrimination a colleague may say, “But what about Latinos, Asians, and Blacks?” Or if someone raises issues of GLBT/LGBT, another might say, “What about the genocide in Darfur or poverty in Appalachia?”

    Frankly, my dear brothers Tony and Brian, this can be a challenge. Each of these issues is important and I am hopeful that we can see some of the interstitial layers of marginalization and oppression. I would hope that one of the benefits we can gather from this conversation is for all to be mindful of our shortcomings and places we miss the mark when they are raised. I hope that pointing to where Sojo misses the mark does not move EC away from continue to do its own work on racial and ethnic inclusivity, reconciliation, and justice. In the same way I hope that Sojo’s cover article does not move them away from doing the deep work they need to do on an array of issues.

    Moreover, I do think it is fine and fair to take issue with the cover. Eventhough I did not perceive it in the same way I can appreciate and affirm the reactions of my sisters and brothers in the EC and elsewhere. In many ways their reactions helps me see my blind-spots and learn.

    Tony and friends, I would love to hear your responses to why you think José, Lisa, Soong-Chan and I feel that the EC (a movement/conservation in which we have many friends) really has a growth area in diversity leadership and inclusion. Do you think we do not have enough information? If so, we welcome clarification. Do you think we are all guilty of caricatures of EC? I am a pastor who housed an EC church and leader in our church facilities. Where are we missing it and where do you think our friendly critique is on target?

    Perhaps when your back at Princeton or NYC we can talk about it over some good Puerto Rican or Colombian coffee. You are my brother and colleague.

    Un abrazo ( A big hug),
    Gabriel Salguero

  • Greg Gorham

    If I can offer a question, what do those of you who are critical of the lack of diversity to date within the emerging church movement want to see happen, specifically? And I mean this genuinely, with no malice. My fear is that ideas like “take responsibility for your racism and classism” or “be intentional” just aren’t concrete enough to actually do something with. Would could the more prominent figures and everyday, regular (white) participants like myself do that would be helpful? Every Emergent event I’ve been to has been populated with people who genuinely want to do the right thing, want to be helpful, and would LOVE increased diversity and voices. And I think some credit should be given for things like Christianity 21, which featured all female speakers, and gay/lesbian voices as well. I guess I want to say that we’re all trying. What concrete, specific things do you think would help us do even better in the future?

  • Onleilove Alston

    Dear Greg:

    It might be helpful for EC leaders to take an Undoing Racism workshop sponsored by the People’s Institute-though this organization is not anti-racist there are Christians within it. One person I know actually did a training years ago with a very prominent Christian group. You can google them, I have White Friends who are apart of White anti-racist discussion groups. I also think a examination of the role class plays is important because its not enough to have racial and sexual orientation diversity if all of those people are from middle and upper class environments. I think some intentionality around partnering with Hip Hop Churches would be a great place to start because these churches serve low-income people. This is hard but I think working with a community can help a great deal. My email is if you contact me I can put in touch with friends who are apart of anti-racist groups. Take care.

  • Lisa Sharon Harper

    Hello Greg,
    Thanks so much for your earnest question. It demonstrates the kind of openness that can lead to real movement forward. The question you ask is one that people have written whole books about. So, answering in a blog format is a little, shall we say, challenging? ;p But here’s a shot:

    1. The leadership of the EC movement has to engage in it’s own “all cards on the table” assessment of their personal histories with issues of race, racism, and racial reconciliation. This assessment MUST be led by someone from outside of the movement who can listen well and offer an objective point of view. It may also be good to include gender relations in the assessment as well, since this is another critique of the movement and they are linked.

    2. When that assessment is complete you will have a mirror document that reflects back to the movement’s leadership the strengths and weaknesses of the movement in this area. It should address two questions: 1) in what ways has God placed in the sovereign foundations of this movement the kind of experiences needed to move forward in its journey to becoming an anti-racist movement and 2) in what ways do the leadership’s past experiences around race serve to prevent movement forward (or even add bricks to the Ephesians 2:14 ethnic “wall of hostility”)?

    3. Next a strategy and plan for movement forward can be devised. For real change to occur the leadership MUST fully engage the process on three levels: personal, a communal, and structural. I do not recommend focusing all the movement’s work on the issue of race and racism head-on for years at a time, as other may. We did that in Southern California and found a shift in generational sensibilities called for a new approach. I think the “racial reconciliation” approach of the 1990s worked to some degree for Gen Xers who like to emote and dive deep into their feelings, but it doesn’t work for Millennials, who are much more action oriented — they become open and learn in the process of doing. Also, I have come to believe focusing too much time on folks personal issues of racial partiality defeats the purpose. White folks often get stuck in this part of the process and think they’ve overcome when they can point to one, two, or three, friends of color who have engaged with them on their personal prejudices. It really isn’t about personal prejudice. Its about cultural and structural welcome and embrace.

    So, at this stage, along with deep theological work on the concept of Shalom, I would recommend an inductive assessment of the culture and structures of the EC movement–again facilitated by someone outside of the movement. Also it should be done in partnership with a diverse community of leaders of color (both men and women). This assessment should not be done as a simple learning exercise. It should be conducted with the intent to implement the recommended strategies for change that come from of the exercise.

    From there the course of action is determined by the findings of the analysis.

    There’s more, but too much for a blog. The process I just outlined for you is similar to the one I led the staff team through in Southern California. I would be more than happy to work with the EC movement as it determines if it wants this kind of process.

    Greg, with all that said, I’m reminded of what my friend Boris Peterlin (Peace Trainer for Caritas Croatia) said during a training on reconciliation. He learned about ethnic reconciliation in the context of the Croatian wars. From that experience, this is what he learned: the first requirement of reconciliation of any sort is desire. You have to really want it. I sense in your question that you want it. I hold out hope that the movement’s leadership wants it as well. Change never happens without desire.


  • Gabriel Salguero


    Here are some additional thoughts:

    1. Like Onleilove states there is much work out there on deconstructing privilege. Engage in some of the reading and perhaps join one of the conversations.

    2. The leaders of EC should engage someone like Brenda Salter McNeil on these conversations; as a leadership group.

    3. Engage a forum with some of the names mentioned here to plan a way forward.

    Un abrazo (perhaps more later),

  • Wes Ellis

    I’m a big Wallis/Sojo fan and I was somewhat disappointed to see that cover. I think it’s a worthy article to be written only because it’s a question that EC folks should consider, if only to keep themselves in check. But, it wasn’t worthy to glaze the cover of the mag.

  • Brian Ammons

    Dear Gabriel,

    I’m not sure if I’m the Brian you were addressing, but either way, I’ll take it as an opportunity to jump back in. I really appreciate the conversation that’s happening. Despite its difficult nature, there is something really hopeful for me about the attempts on the parts of so many in this forum to really engage one another and not slip into “us and them” dualities. At its best, this is what I see as the EC’s primary intervention into the larger cultural discourse.

    I agree, Gabriel, there needs to be some serious unpacking of the role “issues of LGBT/GLBT” plays in this conversation. I am suspicious of evocations of welcoming and affirming stands as a means of marking ones social location. First, it perpetuates the sort of litmus testing around who is in or out of certain theological circles even as it tries to disrupt that sort of thinking. Secondly, it disregards the actuality of LGBT people (and maybe particularly those of us who claim Q for queer, because we got tired of the same sort of binarism in LGBT politics) who are played as pawns in someone else’s cultural battles. Thirdly, it seems mostly invested in a politics of distraction. Brushing off critiques of race because those raising the critiques have work to do on homophobia just seems too easy. After all, I’m still a middle-class white guy with a Mac and hip glasses. I blend in pretty well in an EC crowd, so let’s not let my inclusion be reason for avoiding the difficult work around race.

    Finally, the sort of rhetorical strategies used in the initial perpetuate a notion of competing oppressions that maintains repressive hierarchies, resulting in a constituting of LGBT identities that is dominated by white, middle-class, and arguably male assumptions and values. The often unintentional result is a false distinction that “issues of GLBT” have little to do with issues of race, class, gender, and nation — and that identity categories tied to each each exclude the members of others. We thus further participate in silencing the voices for women of color, poor queers, etc.

    Perhaps then a more coalitional approach is needed in which the codes of “normalcy” for the community (or movement, or network) are transparently considered and questioned. That is not to suggest an anything goes sort of approach (as if the existence of such codes could or even should be desirable), but rather and humble and reflexive stance in which we consider how our communities are producing and regulating normativities even in the most subtle ways.

    I’m grateful for a call towards anti-racist work. What does it mean to claim that our Gospel narrative requires of us an anti-racist commitment? How would we live that out?


  • Melissa Mitchell

    While it may not be intentional, it appears that way in practice. And I’m sorry to say that while I enjoy reading works by McLaren, et al, I have not been inclined to join “the conversation” for this precise reason. It feels very ‘white’ and by that I mean, culturally. That has stuck me as ironic, since I do see some EC authors talking about social justice. For now, I will stick with Sojourners and CCDA. If the EC movement catches up on racial-consciousness, then maybe I’ll feel like we’re actually walking a path together.

    Maybe part of the problem is that since it is predominantly culturally white – it too suffers from the white tendency to see itself as culturally neutral or the default culture. As in, ‘hey we’re welcoming, we don’t get why other people don’t feel welcome…they can come over to where we are and do things the way we do, we’d love to have them.’ I’m not trying to insult, but I’m just trying to suggest that if there is a lack of diversity, there are reasons. It’s not simply just the way it is. Peace.

  • Gabriel Salguero


    Thanks for understanding what Onleilove and I have been trying to express. The concerns of bulding coalitions that are post-colonial and comprehensive are important. It seems to me if we don’t start the hard work of this conversation we are relegated to allowing the issues of imperial bio-power (a-la Hardt and Negri, C. René Padilla, Spivak, L Rivera-Pagan, Mayra Rivera, J. Kameron Carter, etc.,) dominate and divide. I was concerned that the issues of race and ethnicity were being put in tension with issues of sexuality. This should not nor need not be the case. As you say, the initial response (intended or unintended) sounded like a hierarchy of oppressions that do not further solidarity or comprehension. I thank you for hearing us.

    Un abrazo, Amahoro, Shalom, Salaam,

  • Brian Merritt


    I do think EC has a growth area when it comes to diversity. I think that the criticism that having a door ajar for the “other” is not the same as those who are gatekeepers inviting the people outside the gates into the feast. I appreciated your thoughtful response, and I would like these local and inclusive issues at Sojourners to be addressed as well. I left the evangelical church 20 years ago because of Liberationists in Chicago that held the same sort of Don’t ask don’t Tell attitude about LGBT equality and followed Sojourners closely. It makes me sad to think that Sojourner’s Neo-Evangelical, para-church organization has not moved much since that time. As I said to Tony earlier, if your friends can’t challenge you on these issues then we are not going to grow.

  • Sondra


    You say, “In any case, if Sojo has the freedom to focus on a limited number of issues, does not the emerging church have the freedom to provoke ecclesial conversations that are primarily of interest to certain people?”

    Did you mean this, or were you just going tit for tat with Sojourners?

    In my opinion, the problem with your statement is that “ecclesial” and “certain people” are critical odds. The EC is the first to point out, rightly so, that the ecclesial or “church” is the people of God—not the institution nor the physical place of worship. Moreover, scripture portrays the church as an irreducibly complex and integrated body, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many…” (Corinthians 12:14).

    How then can you have ecclesial conversations, i.e. discussions about the body of Christ, with only “certain people” or one part, and arrive at an awareness of EC’s true ecclesial function? Furthermore, there are only complimentary parts, not competing “teams” as you say.

    The problems with ecclesial conversations about racial diversity is that virtually all white people will agree that they think that racial diversity is “nice.” But do they think that is it necessary? Do you think that any movement is fundamentally impoverished, dysfunctional, and just a lone appendage without it? If so, I think the proper response is to critically self-examine oneself, and if indeed true to any degree, to then lament–not hurl accusations.

    But maybe you disagree? Maybe diversity is just a nice idea, and you’ll deal with it when you’re ready. Some us, however, call that white privilege.

  • Katie Jo Vasquez

    Hey guys,
    I wonder if the reason the EC is so white is that the Black folks already got it. What I mean by this is that (as a broad generalization) the “black church culture” is one that already accomplishes what the emergent movement is trying to do in mainline denominations. I see the Emergent movement (correct me if I am wrong) as something that concentrates on the form of church and tries to make it match the best of our theology. Our unorthodox forms of worship and looser boundaries on fellowship in turn effect our theology- and I think that is a good thing. These effects draw a crowd and change a culture. Though the black church culture is far from perfect, it has lots of the methods and thoughts that the EC strives for. (and, I’m one of the white folk in the EC, btw) The question, it seems to me, is not “why is the EC so white?” but “Why aren’t the white EC folks talking to the black church to get some good ideas?”
    -Katie Jo

  • Douglas

    What I normally appreciate about your blog is your willingness to wrestle with the issue at hand. While you make a good point about sojo. it does not detract from a core issue facing the emerging movement. I hope you will come back to to the issue of race again and consider it more deeply. I am curious on what you believe are the theological reasons the movement has not seen more diversity.

  • Mac

    Sexual diversity and racial diversity are not ethically analogous.

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  • Lisa Sharon Harper

    Wow, Brian! I checked out that article you posted and LAUGHED OUTLOUD several times!!!! I can totally see it. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about.

    By the way, Greg, I second the motion to contact Brenda Salter McNeil. She’s a personal friend and former colleague of mine and she is amazing at what she does!

    Peace Today,

  • Brian Gerald

    As a queer person, I’ve danced around the edges of the Emergent Church/Conversation because, while I appreciate much of what is going on, I see, hear, and read mostly straight white men. It’s not that many folks (even “leaders” or at least figureheads or mentors) within the EC don’t embrace LGBT folks (or even that queers aren’t part of the EC) but rather there aren’t prominent queer voices I can look to.

    I am shocked by this return fire at Sojourners around sexual orientation. Yes, Sojourners distresses me deeply with its unwillingness to engage sexual orientation and gender identity as issues of Christian justice, which I believe they are. The EC also distresses me for the same reasons. Yes, there is no official governing body or leaders but there are some voices that are heard more than others–and those voices are (mostly) white straight men. I’m so grateul for Adele at Queermergent for carving out a new space. I’m equally grateful of Onleilove for posting on the Sojo/God’s Politics blog about sexual orientation and gender as issues of justice.

    It’s nice, I suppose, to hear straight men tell me they don’t think homosexuality is a sin–or even that Christianity should change–but there is more. Growing up within Christianity and realizing I am not straight was a catalyst for introspection, education, thought, prayer, meditation, and growth. *I* do not merely need to be accepted for my own sake, the *Christian Church* (and EC by extension) needs to embrace and empower me for its own sake as I (and other queer folks) bring a powerful insight to faith that is lacking if we are only or primarily listening to heterosexual folks.

    Likewise, as a white male, I have increasingly realized that *I* have a lot to learn by listening to the perspectives of women, people of color, and my global siblings. They don’t need to just be invited to the conversation or recruited to the conference, I need to be reading their blogs, seeking out their message, following their advice, and joining their movements with fervor. I am already reading, listening to, and informed by a wealth of straight white male voices (Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Mark Scandrette, Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, etc) because their voices are easily accessible in our culture. Beyond a personal level, I need to make sure organizations and movements I am part of elevate the voices that are not as accessible (and invite dominant voices to step back and listen)–not for diversity or political correctness but rather because I and we will be better for it.

    Is EC the only predominately white movement in the USA? No. Is Sojourners the only non-queer-affirming group in the USA? No. Can each, who are committed to justice and on a journey to follow Jesus the Christ do better? Absolutely. If I didn’t believe in what EC and Sojo are trying to do, I wouldn’t even bother. I share because I know we are doing something right and we can do better still. This blog post is not an example of a productive way forward, unfortunately. Let’s take the opportunity to listen to the many dissenting voices and learn from what they have to say, rather than ignore them or rationalize them away (isn’t that just the same old…?).

  • Greg Gorham

    Thanks for the input all! I’ll definitely look up some material from Brenda! I tried to add a couple of you on Facebook for the leads you offered, but Gabriel I couldn’t find you (actually I found too many and didn’t know which one you were). Feel free to hit me up at

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  • Phillis Sheppard

    It may be because I bring a psycho-social perspective to what hear and read, but I cannot help but wonder why anyone who is a “freelance theologian” would begin a very needed conversation on race, ethnicity and EC by offering a critique of an article not already read. The depth of my disappointment is probably greater because I am Soong-Chan Rah’s colleague, and I know him to care deeply about the Church and the future of the Church. His analysis is borne out careful consideration, ministry experience, and desire to see a more just society. I was also disappointed because the student co-author is a reflective, thoughtful and intelligent man–and his contribution to the article (which I read) bears this out.

    At the heart of some of these kinds of discussions where those who are not white offer a critique of racism, conscious and unconscious, is the issue of power and its abuse. When one can publically single out an author and critique what you imagine he will write about a topic without having to read the work in question–I believe this is an abuse of power, privilege and access to to the public. I think power is also at the center of the issue of diversity in the Church and EV efforts. It is not up to current leaders to “let” newer and more diverse leadership participate. If it an issue of letting, the power resides with those who are doing the letting.

    Finally, I am made hopeful by the many comments here grappling with these complex issues. I offer my comments in the hope that they can further what has already begun.


  • Lee Fischer

    I am white
    I am a woman
    I am a white woman
    too distracted by her own exclusion
    to include another
    to reach out
    to reach down
    to see
    to really see the invisible people
    I live in a world
    where white still has the power
    I need to share
    the spotlight
    pass the mic
    open the door
    stoop down and listen
    to the whispers
    to the songs
    to the heartbreak
    I am a white women
    and I thirst for color
    rainbows and rainbows of color
    rainbows and rainbows of color
    painting the canvas of heaven
    with rainbows and rainbows of color
    please forgive me

    • bob c

      this is gorgeous – thanks for posting

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  • bob c

    While I appreciated the pastoral nature of Nadia Bolz-Webber’s post in defense of SoJo’s “position” I must confess it felt more like a statement than either an explanation or even a conversation.

    I bring that up in this context. From it’s inception, I have felt that a unifying aspect of the US “emergent” phenomenon has been it’s almost note-for-note discordant reaction to criticism. Time after time, criticism was met with counter-criticism, often delivered from what seemed like a fetal position. It is difficult to watch, even more so to be tribally connected often to the “attackor” and the “attacked”.

    What came out of that was the messy, often wobbly of consistency under fire. People learned it with scabs, with phone calls after rants, with late night flame words. It came more bottom-up than top-down.

    SoJo is many things – a powerful force for good, a reminder of the prophetic ministry, an advocate for those at risk economically, a lobbyist. They are a masterful fundraiser and awareness raiser.

    But SoJo is captive to the Baby Boomer, top down messaging of my generation. And when countered, SoJo seems to double down and never come out of the clinched fist.

    IMHO, they blew it here – and they showed an ongoing inability to engage in the conversation, even when it’s messy & painful as hell.

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  • Livin

    If you have a lot of white people in something it is going to feel white. If your membership is black it is going to feel black. A person cannot make a culturaless organization period. But you also cannot make a multi-ethnic organization without members to bring in the culture with them.
    Plus with LGBT you either support it or you do not period. You do not need to support LGBT to still be loving and open. You just have to be upfront that “we teach xyz here but you are more that welcome to be a part of this church”

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