Journeying Through the Dark Side of Emergent Christianity (Toward the Light!)

Journeying Through the Dark Side of Emergent Christianity (Toward the Light!) October 1, 2014

dark-and-light-moon-300x216This month on the Emerging Voices blog we want to focus on moving through darkness and into light ie: transformation. Tomorrow Teresa Pasquale is going to speak to us about healing woundedness. But today I want to talk about leadership and some of the dynamic that have generated some of the woundedness we see in the Emergent movement.

Emergent leadership is being called into question and has been for sometime. In the past few years I have watched the founders of this conversation be attacked and, for the most part, increasingly distance themselves from it.  I have to admit that my initial response to this was very judgmental. My teacher Alexia Salvatierra defines privilege as “the ability to choose your burden,” so when the leadership seemingly walked away (leaving a wake of walking wounded behind), I judged.

I was even more concerned when folks started to declare Emergent as dead – like they were entitled to make that declaration! See for me, no one person can kill or even define a movement, and to me, the Emergent Church has always felt like one. People have disagreed with me on this. But what else can we call this “conversation” that has persisted in the margins of the church world for over a decade? It’s not an organization. It has no clearly defined leadership or systems of accountability. Emergent is a disparate community of people who exist in the margins of the church who seek to change it. They are seeking community and seeking safe space to deconstruct and heal from the harmful effects of church.

I came into the conversation late in the game, about four years ago. My first emergent event was the last Emergent Village gathering in Glorieta, NM. It was my spiritual homecoming. I never could have gone to a church, but in the pines in the high desert, with a bunch of religious misfits I found a spiritual home. I don’t live here full time. I spend a lot of time in other prophetic church spaces, but it feels more like home than any church.  My first entré into the Emergent conversation was over a year later. I was critical of the leadership style and the organizing model. There was no accountability because there wasn’t transparency and there was almost no consciousness about the organizing model that was being utilized.

In the lack of transparency people are left to fill in the blanks. Combine that with a messy public divorce, some very patriarchal behavior toward women, some unchecked privilege and reactionary blogging, we have invented the Emergent Industrial Complex. If you are unfamiliar with this term, it has it’s roots in social justice movements and this is how those wounded by their experience of the Emergent Church refer to it and it implies an inherent and systemic abuse of power. So people are angry and there’s no one in leadership to blame save for the people who have turned their backs – not a set up for reconciliation is it? The “leaders” are people who took it upon themselves to do stuff. They convened conferences, edited books and started organizations. Some of them turned these largely volunteer efforts into careers and some of them spring boarded off into other realms.

As a convener of Transform Network and a staff member at Wild Goose 2014, I’ve gained some access to what people might perceive as the inner circle. In the interest of transparency I want to share a few things that I have learned about the folks perceived as Emergent leadership.
1- We probably agree with them more than we disagree with them.
2- None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes and none of us are at our best when attacked publicly.
3- No one is making a living off the Emergent Church so there’s very little power and very little money involved.
4- The Emergent Church has been and continues to be largely volunteer-driven.
5- These folks who are perceived leadership have been hurt too. (If you’ve ever seen your name in chorus with accusations in an online public forum, you’ll know it’s like being punched in the face.)
6- These folks have been kicked out of the conservative space they emerged from just for defending people like us.
7- Most of these folks do live in the margins of Christianity and have personally sacrificed to do so.
8- There is a growing consciousness around white male privilege and an increase in inclusion practices.

Now that we have a lot of new voices and a platform that values and celebrates the voices of women, people of color and voices from traditionally marginalized places, let’s see if the wisdom of the group can speak some healing into this space called Emergent. I have a deep trust in the power of the multitude to transform the dynamics created by hegemony. Let’s open up the space and see how the many can transform the failures of the few.


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