Is Sojourners for Straights Only?

Is Sojourners for Straights Only? April 6, 2010

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?).

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