Responding to Charges of Racism

Portrait of the Author as a Not-So-Young-Man

I appreciate all of the thoughtful responses to yesterday’s post, “Is Sojourners for Straights Only?”  While few commenters dealt with the actual question of the post (What about Sojo addressing GLBT rights as a justice issue?), many chimed in to agree that yes, indeed, the emerging church movement is not diverse enough for their tastes.  I use the phrase “their tastes” purposefully, because it does not seem like there would come a time when the EC — or any collection of people, for that matter — are diverse enough.  That’s both because the demographics of our society (and your community) are always in flux, and because there’s no one person who gets to judge when a group is diverse enough.  Diversity, you might say, is in the eye of the beholder.

The problem with defending oneself or one’s organization or group of friends from charges of racism (or lack of racial sensitivity or lack of racial diversity — whatever you want to call it, it’s basically shorthand for racism) is that when you defend yourself, you sound, well, defensive.  So if I were to write about how hard we’ve tried to recruit authors of color to our book lines, it will sound disingenuous.  But what if I write about the diversity in the by-lines of the books An Emergent Manifesto of Hope and The Justice Project? Or about the diversity in the present leadership of Emergent Village?

What if I were to write about how hard I’ve tried to get Desmond Tutu to be our dialog partner for the Emergent Village Theological Conversation?  Or about the diversity on the panel of theologians about to be announced for the 2010 Conversation?

What if I were to notice that the Board of Trustees at North Park University and Seminary, Soong-Chan Rah’s employer, is 85% white?  Or that the seminary administration is 85% white?  Or that the seminary faculty is 83% white?  Or that the student body of that school is 65-75% white?  Would that sound defensive, like I wasn’t addressing the problem in the EC?  Is North Park for whites only? Of course not!  It is a group of people trying to do it’s best to educate undergraduate students and attempting to be as sensitive to the increasing diversity in North America as they can be.

OK, let’s take Lisa Sharon Harper up on her suggestions for what the EC could to to combat the whiteness problem (thanks to Greg Gorham for pushing until someone actually answered the question, What, exactly, do you want us to do?).  Lisa makes three suggestions:

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.

My response: Who is the “leadership of the EC movement?”  Lisa’s suggestion of a racial and gender relations assessment (as will be seen in suggestion #2) is for a formal process of investigation and critique by persons who are trained in this sort of thing and provide assessments in corporate and educational settings.  The problem is that there is no formal leadership group in the emerging church.  There’s no one to call such a meeting, and no one to attend.  There is no board, like you would find at a university or a hospital.  There’s no discrete group of leaders to send through an assessment (and woe to the person who suggests that the Emergent Village Council is the presumptive leadership group of the movement.

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”)?

My Response: Again, since there’s no discrete group of leaders to go through a formal assessment, there would be no such document to guide the movement.  Further, I suspect that if we could find this hypothetical group of leaders, they would recoil at the thought of a document of this kind, since the movement in general has an antipathy toward conclusive documents and statements.

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… It really isn’t about personal prejudice. Its about cultural and structural welcome and embrace.

My Response: It seems unlikely that a movement that lacks “strategies” and “plans” altogether would somehow band together for a strategy and plan for racial reconciliation.  The EC isn’t like Promise Keepers or North Park University — there are no strategic plans; hell, there’s no structure at all.  And to demand that an organization like Emergent Village — which is already operating on no budget and a threadbare group of volunteers — spend the next two years going through a three-stage process like Lisa has outlined is completely unreasonable.  If that demand were met, EV would cease to exist.

Gabriel Salguero added to Lisa’s suggestions:

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.

My Response: 1) Every EC proponent I know has and does engage in just this type of reading — it could be argued that ECers read more and engage more in these conversations than most Christians; 2) There is no group of leaders nor a forum in which we could engage Brenda; 3) I think that EV is planning to do a theological conversation in 2010 along the lines of this suggestion — the only question that remains is, Will Anyone Attend?

And none of this even raises the fact that race is a cultural construct that, while resulting in real marginalization of voices, is becoming increasingly problematic as a rubric in our society (see Barack Obama and Halle Berry as Exhibits A and B).

So, now I’ve attempted to address the criticisms of the EC for a lack of diversity and the suggestions that some have given as to how to correct that.  And what will be the response?  Probably that I’ve sounded defensive and haven’t really addressed the issue.

Ay ay ay.

  • Joel

    I think the charge has some legitimate ground, but the suggestions on how to help the issue are, well, absurd.

    The problem with the EC is that the primary message found in the books critiques and offers solutions to the suburban church within America. Whether you realize it or not, the reason the EC is so white is because conservative evangelicalism is so white. Another way to look at it:

    If I built a car company to compete against Mercedes, the majority of my cliental would be rich white people. Mercedes could then turn around and yell, “RACIST!” at me, but the fact is, if majority color cliental proved I was racist, then it would only prove that Mercedes was racist too since I went after their existing cliental.

    The EC, like it or not, has built on those burned out by the conservative evangelical movement. Though there are a few mainliners in the EC (of course, that too is a predominately white), it would appear that the majority come from historically evangelical denominations. Though there are obviously black evangelical churches in these denominations, they simply don’t face the same problems the white community does.

    So to Emergents I would say that if you wish to fix this problem, find a universal message of hope, not just a critique to what is a white movement. Of course, I would argue that the universal message of hope is found in the infallible Gospel of Christ and that you’d have to drop many of your beliefs in order to live this Gospel out (don’t worry, I say the same thing to conservative evangelicals). But never forget that your movement grew out of a (rightful) critique of conservative evangelical Christianity, which was predominately white to begin with. So no matter what, you’re critiquing a “white problem” and thus offering a “white solution.” It’s going to be difficult to increase minority involvement that way.

  • Jim Fisher

    When I first read the SoJo post I thought it was a little like asking “Is swimming for whites only?” I have been a competitive swimmer for several decades into adulthood and have NEVER seen anyone of any color other than my own in the pool with me. Is that my fault as a leading swimmer in my age group? Is that the fault of the coaches? The people who write books about swimming? The high school and college swimming organizations? The Olympic Organizing Committee? Get a grip! It is what it is — and it will change in time.

    Is hockey for whites only? Is the blogosphere for whites only?

    What really irks me, and has for many years, is the use of a racist term “whites”. Just asking me what race I am is racist. Ask me what my ethnicity is — and I will answer “American” — and so will my nephew whose skin color comes from the other end of the Crayola box.

  • Dan Hauge

    For a short, opening, comment: it seems to me like the EC has managed to make some progress addressing the issue of gender equality on a structural level, even though there is ‘no discrete group of leaders’. So I don’t understand why such a lack of discrete structure should be an obstacle in the movement addressing the question of race and white privilege on a more systemic level. The ‘mirror document’ that Lisa was suggesting would not be some kind of binding, doctrinal statement, but precisely a ‘mirror’–helping people prominent in the EC see and understand just how open and embracing (or not) the movement truly is to people of color. I understand that Lisa’s suggestions sound like they require organizational structure (and it looks to me like they are drawn from the organizational world–a group called the People’s Institute offers workshops on Undoing Institutional Racism that more or less follow the process that Lisa is describing). But there are plenty of ways in which people who do have prominent voices within the EC could engage in the kind of coversation Lisa is describing, even if it is on more informal levels. Again, the EC seems to be able to address such issues with regards to gender. Wasn’t Christianity 21 in some ways a structured response to those issues? (I don’t mean to suggest that EC doesn’t have farther to go with regards to gender, my point is simply that it’s lack of formal organizational structure should not be held up as an obstacle to addressing the issue.)

    I’m speaking as someone who only within the last five years or so began to engage in difficult conversations about white privilege and how racism works on a structural level within movements and institutions, however unintentional it may be. So all I can really say is that the first step is being willing to listen to the critiques with an open mind and heart, and be open to the possibility that I have genuine blind spots when it comes to how white privilege operates, in myself and in my communities.

    • tony

      But how, Dan (and Lisa)? How do you suggest we get these hypothetical “leaders” of the EC to attend an assessment at the People’s Institute?

      C21 was an educational event run by a for-profit company. I don’t imagine that’s what you’re suggesting.

  • Daniel Mann

    I think that it is inevitable that the EC will continue to struggle with these confusing and divisive topics. Without a central core of philosophical/religious commitments, the EC has condemned itself to trying to please a broad and irreconcilable spectrum of people. The EC must first decide who they are – Libertarians, Liberationists, Marxists, Religious Pluralists, Cultural Relativists, or just Biblical Christians trusting in Christ alone.

    Without this core in place, the EC will continue to thrash around with every wind of doctrine until everyone is nauseated by the ride.

  • Jim Fisher

    And what if we end up dumping doctrine entirely? What if the wind we are blown by is the ruach, the whisper, the breath of the Holy Spirit rather than some human-carved categories. One will never be able to put THAT into a neat little tidy drawer — and it may indeed look like thrashing. As we each do our thing loving our Lord and loving our neighbor, redeeming our little corner of the planet, the overall plan may not be apparent — but it will work out in the end. If all we did was love Him and love each other, we would have no need for doctrine. I’d rather leave the doctrinal arguments up to the Doctors of the Law.

    One more thing on racist thinking. How white is white? If my skin color is darker than most, am I not white? If I have any non-white ancestor, am I still white? I dare anyone to draw THAT line in the sand. Please! Let’s all stop categorizing people by their skin color.

    I can see now we are going to have a really hard time encouraging people to give up their tight grips on their categorical drawers. They might eventually come along, but there will be a lot of kicking and screaming and pounding fists on the floor before we get there.

  • Chuck

    There is really only one effective response to that sort twaddle and that is to just laugh and say that you have better things to worry about. There is no response more effective than dismissal.

  • Patrick O

    I think there are two questions here. Racism and diversity. The first should, along with sexism, be immediately addressed when seen, and should not have a place in any Christian communities.

    The second is more tricky. Maybe I have the benefit of growing up in Southern California where diversity is simply what is, not something that has to be pursued. Maybe it helps that I was educated at Fuller Seminary, which is globally diverse–I remember one small class I had on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in which there was at least one person from all six inhabited continents.

    So, I assume diversity maybe more than others. However, in assuming diversity it is vital we do not alienate or reduce every context to very surface level indicators. The EC is, I think, best understood as a contextual expression of a global movement that has different nuances in different societies and cultures. In other words, there’s an aspect of the EC that is a contextual response to the dominant suburban Evangelicalism of the last forty years, and as such it reflects a more holistic embrace of the Gospel in certain ways as it reacts to certain particular issues within this context.

    White folks in the suburbs have a context too, after all. This context suggests a liberation as well, maybe one that reflects kenosis more than a poverty stricken region. As a contextual theology it does attract those who reflect the contextual questions and responses. Rather than seeing itself as diverse in and of itself, in isolation as a sole grand movement, maybe the diversity of the EC could best be seen as it contributes to a global emerging theology, which has African, Latin American, Chinese, Korean, etc. expressions all which reflect broadly shared values of Christ and Kingdom but do so in particular ways that are specific and particular to each context.

    It seems that so much of diversity insists on de-culturing people, forcing them to go outside their context, to meet with someone else outside their context. Diversity becomes the goal, rather than determining what the Spirit is doing in hearts and lives in each context, whether in the city or in the suburbs. Unity comes out of celebrating this broader work of the Spirit, I think, rather than insisting every context has to have the same balance of colors, priorities, language, etc.

    It’s a body. And the EC is part of this body, expressing and pursuing the Gospel within particular contexts, as the Spirit works in particular lives.

  • Calvin Wulf

    Thank you, Tony for this analysis. You offer a good point-counter point perspective here. The critics are perhaps looking through different eyes.

    I was disappointed that Sojourners decided to run this kind of article about the emergent conversation. What were they thinking when the made it a cover story with that graphic of white crayons? There is, perhaps, a generational issue on civil rights and racial equality verses diversity.

    Face it, Sojourners was founded by “older” white men. They have a compassionate cause that as an older white man, I support. Wallis, Syder, Campolo and others are people I have respected over the years and I still appreciate their passion and their work.

    But emergent is a different paradigm. Diversity, in this paradigm may have a different meaning than civil rights and affirmative action that I have advocated for decades. At the same time, I see the great need for the emergent conversation for spiritual liberation, freedom, healing and rebuilding. I am able to appreciate both paradigms and say that both are good.

    Sojourners might want reconsider this portrayal of the emergent conversation. They might even want to apologize. Together we might acknowledge generational and social differences in perspectives and agree that we are on the same side coming from different experiences.

    Groups or individuals that want to de-legitimize the emergent conversation will not go away. They have something to defend and some will defend to the death. So let’s carry on the conversation and make more friends.

  • Gabriel Salguero


    Thanks for taking the time to respond to the comments and post. For the record, I did not and would not accuse the EC of racism, nor did I think did most commentators. What I tdid say was that diversity is an area of growth for a movement (any movement) committed to reflecting the kingdom of God and its love and justice?

    Second, my response about reading some of the works I mentioned were a direct response to Greg’s question not to the EC as a movement. I am aware of the works written by the EC and a diversity of authors, as I am one of the contributors to “The Justice Project” .. . Brian McLaren reached out to me personally, for that I am thankful. Moreover, I am glad that the 2010 conversation will be addressing some of this so I think this speaks directly to my forum question… Congrats and press on!

    Tony, many of the colleagues and friends are very aware of race being a social construction. We have read extensively Anthony Appiah, Homi Bhabha, Judith Butler, and the list goes on. Still, that does not negate the fact that this social construct has real life implications of inclusion and exclusion, power and oppression, for all people white, black, brown, etc.,

    Still, I think the following questions remain. Why point to other organizations areas of growth when our areas are pointed out? What is this about? Yes, let’s affirm that Sojo, North Park, denominations, my local church, etc everyone has areas of growth but that does not take-away or detract from the issue raised about EC, particularly as EC has been critical (in loving ways) of many of those organizations. The point here is how can EC be critical of so many things but when that movement is critiqued by friends and allies they point to other people’s and groups shortcomings.

    In addition, forums and conversations are quite possible even if they are informal. Brian McLaren had two with LLC and one at LPAC in the Bronx. You and Soong-Chan where at Cornerstone at the same time. I too was at Cornerstone. Shane Claiborne and John Perkins have done it… It only requires the time, will, and space. Again,I think the 2010 conversation is a good step.

    Tony, my dear brother and friend. I want to be mindful that Greg raised a good question about what do you want us to do? Several people responded in I hope ways they thought would be helpful but the burden is not just on people of color to provide solutions. Just as EC has used its creative genius and intelligence to respond to so many ecclesial, theological, and social challenges they can also work together with others to respond to these criticisms. I am hopeful in some of the more recent work.

    Finally, one direct and confessional question… Do you believe EC has a diversity challenge around issues of race and culture, yes or no? If yes, what can we (all of us) do to help address that issue. If no, then I and some of my EC-conversation partners are engaging in an unfair critique for which we should apologize. For my part, I think it is a fair critique from friends who want to help. May God bless our conversation and teach us humility and courage.

    Tu hermano (Your brother),

  • Dan Ra

    I’ve said it several times before and I’ll say it again. The EC has much to offer to minority American Christian expressions as much as it has to learn. And this whole issue is frustrating to me as one who wears “two hats.” Many minority expressions still place women lower in church structure, are condemning of LGBT, and within that, some are tricked by the prosperity gospel. The EC has to care about those injustices. It must, because I see the serious good it did for me as a Korean-American Christian raised in a conservatively evangelical Asian American environment.

    The simple truth is that most minority American Christians just simply don’t care about what the EC has to say, and the EC, as unstructured as it tries its hardest to be, will always be perceived a certain way (and as one group). That’s the political nature of “movements.” It doesn’t necessarily help the EC either that, time after time, keynote speakers at EC gatherings are 99% white American, from John Caputo to Brian McLaren to Philip Clayton to Pete Rollins to Jurgen Moltmann. But again, with an apathetic minority expression how do we break the mold?

    The EC (and its loudest voices) has to make serious attempts at, not only including but, bringing light to the diverse theological and ecclesiological expressions we have in America. There are a plethora of minority American Christian scholars that could make the EC so much more robust and rich than it already is. And trust me. I’ll do my damnest to help make that happen.

  • Brian Merritt

    I have a tendency to agree with you that those who have power within EC have shied away from seeing themselves as leaders in this movement. Hell, they don’t even recognize that if they are published, speaking all over and read online by 1000′s that as power. It has been this naive idea of “organic” movement and leaderless movements that has contributed to the systemic issues of race, sex and sexual orientation. The dominant culture of the leaderless, leaders is going to move the spirit of the movement. In my mind I would agree with Joel that this cultural worldview gravitates primarily from conservative, suburban Evangelical culture. The language, the apologetical approaches and the marketing are very similar. Zondervan, youth ministry movement and its clear use by evangelical churches show that EC is a movement that finds itself comfortable limning the boarders of evangelicalism while making an important critique. I think that will be the struggle with any reactionary movement that hopes to be anarchist in its leadership intentions. It then must intentionally empower those from below to be the next iterations of the movement. There may be a need to move further away from the traditional “big name” presentation conferences. If not it will further to institutionalize these non-leader, leaders of the movement.

  • Brian Merritt

    Just reread that and just to be clear I am not intending to call you naive about power and leaders. It has been my experience with the broad discussion around EV. I respect your struggles with this.

  • Jay

    All of this conversation is valuable, and certainly the embracing nature of God means that all are invited and welcome to the table. And yet, as Tony has tried to share, the practical realities of crosscultural relationships are rarely neat and clean, and while we may recognize our racist heritage and structures, at a personal level the separation of cultures continues.

    From the very beginning, this emergent thing has ultimately been focused on relationships. And, as is normal for all of us, these conversations tended to spread among folks of similar backgrounds and experiences, similar socio-economic status, and yes, similar ethnic heritage. It wasn’t an intentional snub, and throughout the history of the conversation there have been voices (mine included) which reminded folks that there were voices missing from the table, and encouraging a broader conversation. Certainly attempts have been made to do so, but one can’t simply will relationships into being, and the differences in narratives and contexts of the differing communities made these conversations even more difficult. The fact is that there ARE differences between communities, both of heritage and of faith, with different concerns, stories, experiences, and theologies. We all have our own agendas at some level, and entering into relationships that are difficult, messy, and sometimes uncomfortable is never easy. Add power dynamics (privilege) into the mix and recognize that none of this is easy.

    Why should the emergent friendships be called on the carpet anymore than any other Christian group in the U.S.? It would be interesting to review the Sojourners subscription list to see the diversity levels of their audience. For that matter, while there are a tiny smattering of multicultural congregations, the church in America still remains largely segregated. As Emerson and Smith record in “Divided by Faith,” the narratives in each context and unique and different, leading not to unity but more often to division. Why then are we singling out emergent rather than drawing attention to the larger issue of division in the Kingdom throughout the U.S.?

    I live in an extremely diverse community and am a part of a prayer group of area pastors who come together each week to pray for the community. Throughout the past five years we have worked hard to deal with the issue of race, attempting in a variety of ways to create a group that is reflective of our community. In the end, while there are small signs of hope, for the most part we’ve failed. Why? Ultimately because of the differences in approaches to the Bible, power dynamics, “competition” in ministry, authority, vulnerability, etc. It isn’t for a lack of trying — and we are committed to doing all we can to find bridge points between the differences, but let no one think that this is something that a single workshop or some sort of training can make happen.

    Where do these relationships happen? More often than not outside the head (which is often the natural focal point for emergent conversation) and in the day to day stuff of life, focused on the real acts of faith necessary to bring forth God’s kingdom in the world. In our community it comes in folks rallying around the needs of schools, of folks trying to deal with issues of crime, and in small acts of togetherness such as hosting a community egg hunt. In my experience, it is only when folks truly live with one another that the embracing nature of God’s kingdom is revealed.

  • Dan Hauge


    I’m aware that C21 was organized by a for profit company, and I am not suggesting that producing such a conference is the ‘next step’. But it was produced and attended and supported by people who, by and large, are involved in the Emergent conversation in some way, so I still think of it as an (extremely positive) event within the broader ‘emergent’ community that implicitly spoke to the need for gender equality in who we listen to and learn from. It isn’t so much that this was an “EC sponsored event” (obviously such categories do not exist).

    I guess I would like to see the conversation move beyond the question of formal organization. While EC is not specifically an ‘organization’ with specific formally recognized leaders, it is still a movement, and there are still people who write books and produce conferences and lead cohorts. I’m not really concerned about deciding “who the real leaders are” and getting those people to a workshop on behalf of the entire EC (since I agree that doesn’t reflect the realilty of EC). It’s really about more and more people who are involved with the EC being willing to have the kind of challenging conversations to look at issues of race and white privilege in our wider society, and how those may play out in the EC.

    As for the specifics, it is very possible to sign up for a workshop through the People’s Institute website, if they run in your area. I’m not sure what else is available in your area but I know that in Seattle where I am it is possible to find talks, workshops, and dialogue groups on the issue. It’s not about making sure that “the leaders” get the right training; it is about saying that engaging further in this issue is crucial for anyone who is involved in following Jesus Christ, in whatever part of the church they happen to be in. Mostly it is about engaging in conversations (like the one currently going on) with a desire to hear the voices of people who (for whatever reason) feel marginalized or see the lack of diversity as a weakness in a community and movement that has otherwise contributed many positive things.

  • Dan Ra

    FYI, Julie posted an entry on Sojo about all of this:

  • Micah

    As a white transgender Christian, I don’t really care about “diversity,” I care about justice – because “diversity” often means that a woman/trans person/person of color/queer person gets hired or claimed by a movement to fill a quota so that other folks can point to them to say “see, we’re not sexist/transphobic/racist/heterosexist!” (which, unfortunately, sounds a lot like what you’re saying with Desmond Tutu here).

    We don’t need to separate out the issue of including people of color in a radical way versus including queer folks – if we are truly concerned with justice, we can see that there are no neat categories – we are all connected. The quote’s been done to death, but Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It’s true – not just in a hold hands and sing kumbaya kinda way but in a very real human connection way. There’s strength in numbers and we do ourselves no favors by alienating other people groups in need of justice.

    Instead of responding with “well what do you want me/us/the EC to do?” perhaps a more constructive first step would be to listen – REALLY listen when people of color call you out, and then find a way to educate yourself. Forget about the “EC leaders” for a minute, and just focus on what YOU can bring to this conversation.

    If you are truly asking what you should do and intend to follow up with some introspection, here are two suggestions:

    1) Rather than trying to claim amazing people of color who are already fronting their own movements for your own, perhaps you can see how you can step up to help THEM, expecting nothing in return. It sounds like Onleilove had a great suggestion when she mentioned the Hip Hop Church in the first comment thread.

    2) – read it, live it, learn to love it. Every step, slowly, without rushing through.

    Finally, I’m writing this as someone who recently read an article by Brian McLaren and finally thought I could start to read Christian theology/literature/ideas/thoughts again without a feeling of utter despair and disconnection. If you can’t hear anything else I’m saying, please hear this: I am disappointed to hear the same old rhetoric here that I find elsewhere in the church and elsewhere in the world. If you can’t educate yourself for the sake of people of color, please educate yourself for the sake of your movement. The world doesn’t need another denomination/movement/whatever the EC is represented by primarily straight white men who can’t listen to others with the true love of God in their hearts. Believe me when I say you’ll do more harm than any good you intended this way.

  • tripp fuller

    Thanks Tony.

    I wonder if all the whiners go to one of the few churches that are not homogeneous. A few years ago I read an article on diversity in congregations and it said that less than 2% of churches in the US have the second highest race make up over 25% of the congregation. Those that do, it pointed out, are overwhelmingly economically and culturally homogeneous.

  • Micah

    Tripp – as one of the “whiners,” I have to wonder – what did you intend your comment to add to the discussion?

    Is the idea that the problem is too large, and not worth the time it would take to solve it?

    And Brian – those are some thought-provoking questions. Did you have any responses in mind?

  • Annie

    I think Joel hit the nail on the head in the first comment: The solutions proposed by EC conversation address issues that affect a certain sort of community with a certain social and cultural location. White, middle class, suburban America.

    In that respect, the absence of people of color is not about exclusion. It’s about the issues being addressed.

    So if, for instance, one considers the womanist critique of feminism, perhaps there is a parallel. Feminists addressed issues that affected them as “women’s issues.” And womanists took issue because they were not issues that affected their communities so deeply. And aren’t they, after all, women.

    If the emerging church reflects something about “the church” then the question is whose church? And Joel suggests an answer: a middle class white church in America.

    There’s no problem with that. The question to be asked is why are you calling yourselves “the (emerging) church”?

    Honestly, that’s something I’ve wondered as a Catholic leaning individual, given that the issues raised–I do not belong to a church context where the penal substitutionary atonement is the predominant mode of understand he incarnation–and the solutions presented–I have no need to “retrieve” liturgy and other ancient practices, as my tradition never abandoned them–in these conversations don’t seem relevant to my experience, my context, or my concerns. Or, I might add, to the concerns of the vast majority of the Christians on the planet.

    And maybe rather than pointing to the relative absence of diversity, this is the better critique: Whose issues? Once you identify that, you can answer whose “church”?

    • tony

      Annie, I must agree with you. The question that I have often asked those who criticize the EC for its supposed lack of diversity is, Should we change the issues that we care about in order to attract a more diverse crowd? In other words, what little traction we’ve gotten is a result of raising issues that concern us. But, as has been acknowledged in these comments and elsewhere, those are not the issues that are of interest to Black, Latino, Korean, etc. Christians. Just as it would be racist for us to demand that the Black church put aside their own concerns and focus on the concerns of the White church, it seems similarly inappropriate in the converse.

  • Gabriel Salguero


    In response to your last comment. No, you should not change your core issues. Still, it is not exactly accurate (and is actually problematic for people who seem to be in dialague with the EC )to say that the concerns of the EC are not of interests of Black,Latino, Asians, Native Americans, etc. I am quite sure Christians of color care about the nature of ecclesiology, issues of environmental and sexual justice, issues of colonization and power, etc., Moreover, you can’t have it both ways you say name some leaders of color of the E.C. and then say that the interests are not the same.

    As I see the issue raised here is the following: EC has done some good work to begin a dialogue with some people of color. These same people of color overwhelmingly say that EC has challenges with inclusion, not just diversity, inclusion that reflects shared voice, power (a-la Foucault), and influence in and among the EC. In addition, some of these people of color who do not wish to be part of the EC do wish to form “more concrete solidarities”, conversations, and “ties-that-bind” that show Christian mutuality with EC and other kindred movements. I do not think there is anything inappropriate either in that critique or focus. EC has through many of its writers asked the church to change its focus, narratives, and assumptions for the sake of the Gospel and the kingdom of God can the same not be asked of EC.

    Frankly, I would be dissapointed if these friendly critiques and issues for the sake of kingdom solidarity remain rationalized or ignored away.

    I remain your hopeful brother,

    • tony

      Gabriel, Thanks for your steadfast commitment to this conversation. I guess I’ve been told that so many times by persons of color that I’ve come to believe it. They tell me that the EC conversation holds no interest for them or their churches. I’m glad to hear from you that’s not entirely accurate. Let’s look for ways to broaden this discussion…

  • Micah

    Gabriel, I agree, it is discouraging to see people of color and white people alike offer their insight and suggestions simply to be rationalized away when we aren’t affirming the status quo.

    Thank you for continuing to engage in this conversation. I hope some of your wise words are heard – if not now, then perhaps later down the road when/if an epiphany finally happens.

  • Mihee

    I’m appreciating this dialogue. For some reason, finally feel compelled to write and join in.

    I’ve only jumped on the EC bandwagon recently, maybe in the last 5 yers or so. There was just something about the kinds of questions people were asking about the institution, and the things people were trying to do as a result that really resonated with me.

    I attended the Emergence Now conference back in January. I was surprised that I was surrounded namely by Anglos. Reading a couple comments above does give me some explanation: “I think Joel hit the nail on the head in the first comment: The solutions proposed by EC conversation address issues that affect a certain sort of community with a certain social and cultural location. White, middle class, suburban America.”

    That’s interesting. I had hoped that some of the issues that W-MC-S America would entail relationships with people of color/marginalized peoples. I think I thought that some of the impetus to start these conversations came out of looking around at each other in our mono-ethnic churches (whether white, Korean, or Latino, etc.) and wondering what it was that was making us shift a little in our pews…something was amiss, and race/diversity I thought was one way to label it.

    Am I wrong about this as one of the issues important to the EC in the context of WMCS America? Because if it wasn’t an issue being seriously engaged in the beginning, then I think it needs to be one now. I think it’s interesting when people think that now we have Obama in office suddenly our race issues have become minimal. During his campaign and especially in the last couple of months during the HCR debates, it seems like I’ve heard more racist language and actions directed towards Obama or other African Americans. I agree to a certain extent that the likes of Obama and Halle Berry add a different dimension to our conversations about race now, but in some ways, it should make us even more aware of the potential issues surrounding, and more involved in the conversations. I agree that the GLBT issue is important, too, and that all of the marginalized voices need to be a part of this process. But we’re not “done” with the race issues…

    Tony, I don’t feel you’re being terribly defensive, but I feel that your posture is trying to protect and even justify some of what is being criticized here. There’s still sooo much to do in terms of equity and justice. I hope that you want to be a part of that work. That being said, I do think you are, and appreciate your perspective and effort in trying to make space at the table for everyone.

  • Mike Clawson

    I agree with you Tony, that the EC is simply not structured to follow this advice or go through the kind of process Lisa recommends.

    However, I was amused by the thought of identifying the current Emergent Village council as the “leaders” and asking them to go through a process to assess “their personal histories with issues of race, racism, and racial reconciliation [and gender issues as well].” Let’s see, we have three persons of color, three women, and only two white males currently on a Council of seven… not exactly a bastion of white male privilege. Just sayin’…

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