Emergent's White Problem

Emergent's White Problem April 11, 2010

For those who are just joining the conversation, here’s a brief:

  • Soong-Chan Rah wrote about the emergent church in his book — a characterization to which I and others objected.
  • He has now written an article on the subject for Sojourners Magazine.
  • I said I didn’t like the cover image and title — I still don’t.
  • I made some assumptions in the original post about Rah’s article which I have since amended and have apologized to Rah.
  • Some commenters have made suggestions as to how the EC can battle its diversity problem.
  • I responded that those suggestions don’t really fit what the EC is.  I was afraid that my second post would come off as defensive, and I’ve been told I was right.

So, I write this post both chastened and wanting to make a constructive contribution to this problem.  Surely it’s true that the EC is too white — as are so many collections of people in our culture.  We need to combat this, and I both have tried to in the past and will try in the future.  To that end, I offer these suggestions:

To Emerging Church Leaders

Diversify the leadership of the movement: I think this is being done.  For instance, when founders of the movement like Pagitt, McLaren, Seay, Cecil, Conder, and Jones stepped off the leadership team of Emergent Village, we were replaced by a more diverse group, including Shroyer, Bray, Smith, and Rosario-Cruz.  (Unfortunately, that group is introduced but not listed on the EV website.)  While I hold no sway over EV or any other group in the EC, I hope this trend continues.

Invite diverse speakers to events: Doug and I have tried to do this with our new event company, and I believe that EV is planning to do this in 2010 with their annual Theological Conversation.  I encourage other events to follow suit.

Let The Wild Goose Festival be a standard of diversity: A come-one-come-all event is being planned for June, 2011, and it has the opportunity to be uniquely attuned to matters of diversity.  (In fact, I happen to know the planners, and I’m convinced that it will be…)

To White EC Leaders: Examine ‘white privilege’: It seems to me that the issue at the root of the EC’s “whitness problem” — if not in Rah’s article — is the issue of white privilege, real or perceived.  Most of us cannot get through graduate school without being forced to confront our own privilege, as I know I did.  While we don’t have the structure to undertake the coordinated assessment that Lisa Sharon Harper suggested in earlier comments, each of us needs to take it on ourselves to look in the mirror and confront our own blindnesses.

To Persons of Color in EC Leadership: Let your voice be heard: Clearly, the EC isn’t a bastion of whitness, or you wouldn’t be here, so tell us why you’re here.  What about the issues that concern the EC overlap with with your own experiences of God and church?  Bring these issues to the fore of the conversation.

To Non-White Leaders in the Church

Give the EC the benefit of the doubt: Trust us, we’re on your side, and moreso than most.  We’ve been heavily influenced by theologians of color, and we’ve tried hard to diversify the conversation (not that we’ve always succeeded).  Work with us.

Recognize the limits of the EC: Unlike most of the ecclesial orgs with which you work, be they denominations or non-profits or NGOs, we aren’t structured like that, so you cannot expect us to act like those orgs.  There’s no headquarters and no discrete group of leaders and no one who can decide to give you a place at the table.  Instead, there are lots of autonomous groupings who are relationally connected to one another.  Become a part of one of these, and join the conversation.

Look for moments of intersection: Those of us who are white are often told that the issues that concern us in the EC are exclusively the problems of white, middle class Christians, and that tends to sap our motivation for cross-cultural communication.  So if you see issues of import to you in the EC, let us know what those are so that we can talk about them.

Stop stereotyping us: It is clearly unacceptable for me to write about the hairstyle of an African-American church leader or the eyes of an Asian-American person (indeed, Soong-Chan recently took the lead in protesting a Christian product that played on such stereotypes).  And yet it seems acceptable to write about EC practitioners:

From Rah’s article:

  • “a blond-haired, 29-year-old, white male, replete with cool glasses and a goatee”
  • “trendy clothing, sporting cool hairstyles and eyewear”
  • “younger people of European descent and stylistic flair”
  • “this ’emerging,’ postmodern church was simply the pierced and tattooed offspring of its older, modern parents”

From Rah’s book:

  • “yet another workshop led by yet another blonde-haired, perpetually twenty-nine white male with a goatee”

It’s probably clear that if I wrote similarly about the hair color, skin color, facial hair, and clothing of an Asian-American church leader, I would be excoriated.  And rightly so.  So let’s stop doing it in the other direction as well.

In conclusion, we’ve all come a long way, but we’ve got a ways to go.  For my part, I commit to continue to pursue the diversity of the EC from my little corner of the world.

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  • i’m new to this whole conversation (probably because live in Tanzania), and don’t have anything to do with the EC movement. i want to know, though, does this all boil down to “white privilege?” or is the EC being accused of being racist, or of only evangelizing to whites? is there anything being offered to suggest they’re not inclusive of other groups?

    i guess i really just don’t get it. if race is not an issue, then it’s not an issue. am i right? if, to us, there is neither jew nor greek, slave nor free, black nor white nor chinese… then why is anyone counting numbers and colors of leadership? somebody’s still keeping up with it. so why are those doing the counting not the ones being taken to task?

  • You know what, Tony? You are a shining beacon of balance, thoughtfulness and constructiveness in this conversation. You are lambasted by so many and while you sometimes react emotionally (which is entirely understandable and, in most cases, totally appropriate), you always reel it in with posts like this. You always keep your eye on the ball, even though you have all the players on the other team trying to tackle you. While some other emergent “leaders” (you know what I mean) may be more scandalous and may say more outrageous things thus grabbing more attention than you, you have established yourself, in my view at least, as the most important and reliable voice in the conversation. Whenever anyone asks me for a book that lays out what emergent is all about, I point them to your stuff, especially “Dispatches”. It characteristically balanced, considered and thoughtful – not to mention beautifully written. That’s why we love you, Tony, and will stand by you for the years to come.

  • well said brother. I especially appreciate your comment about the how often hair, eye color, glasses style, clothing style, etc. is mentioned in this context. I can’t help it if I’m Scandinavian with light brown hair (naturally anyway), blue eyes, fair skin and happen to be artistic and have a bohemian style any more than my husband can help his European Jewish features, Canadian citizenship and artistic actor style.

  • Your best post on this subject so far, Tony. Thanks for engaging the conversation, taking the hits that you have (over this and over the years), and for your willingness to be chastened and constructive. Good stuff. I’m grateful for you and your leadership.

  • Bill Samuel

    From my experience, clearly the “emerging church” community has a high proportion of white people, and those who have been most identified in the larger public mind with it tend to be white, middle class, and relatively highly schooled. This is something I think those groups that are less diverse than those around them need to seriously deal with. My own church, often identified as emerging, does some things about it but I think it needs to do far more. It needs to look at things like leadership – it has 9 staff, all white & it seemed to pigeon hole the last African-American staff member it had – and music – music has become more diverse in style, but almost all of it comes out of white communities.

    However, the kind of approach represented by Rah is not constructive, and seems more intent at tearing down rather than providing constructive criticism. And I have noticed a pattern in Sojourners of recent years of being faddish – jumping on bandwagons rather than being prophetic as it was in the beginning. So it’s not surprising that at a time of increasing evangelical criticism of the “emerging church” Sojourners found a way to jump on that bandwagon.

    I supported Sojourners back in its prophetic period, but not in recent years when it has jumped from one thing to another seemingly in an effort to curry favor from the powerful and use fads to increase membership (note how many staff they have in Marketing and Development compared to those in Policy and Advocacy).

  • Steven Burleson

    “trendy clothing, sporting cool hairstyles and eyewear”

    It doesn’t help that Steve Knight keeps buying glasses just like mine….

  • Tomas

    So, Tony, I eagerly clicked to read your apology, and found it so lukewarm, I almost missed it. You unfairly slammed him in your original post which you have now crossed-out, and you did so without even having read the article. Your apology note indicated that you were talking about the cover art of Sojourners – hmm, it that’s the case, then why your focus on Rah?

    Really? Striking back by saying it’s not fair to stereotype white folk?
    C’mon . . . you’re the dominant gender in the dominant culture in the States. Surely you can handle it.

    At one point you offered Julie as a model for minority folks – just organize like she did and you’ll eventually get our voice. Does it have to be that difficult, Tony?

  • Tomas

    Correction: ” . . . just organize like she did and you’ll eventually get our attention and inclusion.”

  • Jake

    Tomas said “Really? Striking back by saying it’s not fair to stereotype white folk? C’mon . . . you’re the dominant gender in the dominant culture in the States. Surely you can handle it.”

    Tomas, with all due respect, is that really what you mean to say? That stereotyping is ok as long as it is done by the minority culture? As someone who is currently reading Rah’s book and finding it typically very helpful – and who tries to be sensitive to the very real problems of white privilege – I find that pretty disappointing. Stereotypes are unfair no matter who makes them. And Tony is right in this instance – people have rightly been called out for stereotyping minority cultures (as with the recent issue over Deadly Viper). But when Rah (or others) chooses not to hold himself to the same standard he asks of others, it does nothing but weaken his position. Which is unfortunate because what he has to say needs to be heard.

  • Wow.

    I dunno. I always find that any time the dominant culture tries to control the conversation by saying things like, “I can’t control my skin color.” Or, “Well, we’re trying, it’s not our fault we can’t find anyone.” Or, really any of the things I’ve read in the article above or the comments that follow, we’re in real trouble. It’s simply more of the dominant (read, anglo-European, primarily male) culture co-opting the conversation and telling those who are still struggling to find their voices when they may speak, for how long and (often) what they may say. Vise … no we are not allowed to question whether or not leadership is predominantly male or predominantly white.

    Tony, just because you do not have a title or a paycheck does not mean you are not a leader. Constantly telling people you are not a leader yet always feeling the need to speak for the movement puts the lie to your words. Stand up and take your place or sit down and be quiet. Pick one and do it. But stop meddling around in this silly place.

  • Good stuff, Tony. One of the most frustrating components of this conversation is what I perceive as the glaring reductionism of “diversity” to matters of race. As you point out, EV and some conversations like it are doing much to involve women in the movement. And honestly, in 2010, I’m more impressed by those efforts than efforts toward racial diversity and multiculturalism (not that they need to be mutually exclusive!). I’m not in relationship with any Christian who has tried to use Scripture as a means of excluding people of color from inclusion and leadership, but I know plenty who use Scripture in that way against women. There’s great consensus (at least in my circles) to push toward racial diversity; it’s now a matter of methodology. Again, not that they need to be mutually exclusive, but I’m more impressed by those who shatter the gender barrier because I think it takes more theological insight and courage in today’s Church. I’m excited for a day when that talk isn’t a matter of “if,” but “how.”

  • “I’m not in relationship with any Christian who has tried to use Scripture as a means of excluding people of color from inclusion and leadership, but I know plenty who use Scripture in that way against women.” Great point, Paul.

  • Thanks Tony.

  • Alex

    Senseless drama.

  • Dan Hauge

    I appreciate the suggestions here–so thanks, Tony, for ‘staying at the table’ and continuing to engage the issue (and for doing so even though you probably were not asking to be a public lightning rod on the issue). At the risk of sounding like I’m ‘piling on’, I would offer one further suggestion–that Emerging Church leaders actively seek out non-white churches and ministries simply to observe, dialog, and learn. It may seem like this is asking EC leaders to step outside of their own concerns and passions to ‘do something on the side.’ But I would suggest that to the extent that the EC is passionately concerned with social justice, it is essential to actively pursue racial justice by being willing to listen and learn from churches and leaders of color on their terms and ‘on their turf’ so to speak. (Not, of course, to necessarily agree with everything one may find there, but that’s the nature of the emerging conversation anyway.) It’s not only a matter of inviting more people of color to ‘join up’ with what the EC already is–it is also a matter of the EC seeing how much it can learn from faith communities of color about pursuing the very goals that EC holds up: pursuing a vision of God’s shalom in the world, allowing different cultures and contexts to crack open our reading of Scripture, and getting caught up in how the Spirit is guiding the worldwide church in today’s world. By all means invite people of color to find intersection and issues important to them in the EC, but let those of us who are white also look to faith communities of diverse colors and cultures to find where they are already addressing issues important to us–perhaps in ways that will surprise us, challenge us, and enrich our theology.

  • Tomas

    Dan, #15, I agree with you – it takes active reaching out from those involved in EC. That’s why I was dismayed by the suggestion from Tony that people of color could, in essence, follow Julie’s lead and organize their own group so as to become part of EC leadership. Why is it always up to the people of color or the minority groups to do the moving? Why cannot those in the majority do the listening and reaching out?

    Jake, yes, I meant what I said. Active racism is a far cry from noting white guys who wear trendy clothes. There’s no comparison. I just find it interesting that in a post that is supposed to be reconciliatory, that Tony finds it necessary to drudge those tiny, tiny statements out.

    It’s not dissimilar to trying to point the finger back as in: Hey, Sojourners called us out for being too white, so let’s call Sojourners out for not taking the “right” stand on gays.

    • Tomas, why do I think that if I’d written something about the physical appearance of Korean Presbyterians, you wouldn’t have considered it a “tiny, tiny statement”?

      Tomas and others, I have reached out. Often. Geez, just because I pointed out the successful integrative work of the Emerging Women doesn’t mean that I’m kicking back and waiting for all races to come and join us. I’m just saying we should both be pushing toward the center…

  • Tomas #16, “Why cannot those in the majority do the listening and reaching out?”

    Your comment assumes that the majority haven’t been listening and reaching out. If you were really listening to Tony (and if you knew Tony as I do), you would know that he and others in the majority have been doing just this. His request “Give the EC the benefit of the doubt” appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

  • Tomas

    Steve, please re-read my statement in context.

  • Douglas

    I appreciate your April 11 post as a beginning for a more constructive dialogue. I believe you make a valid point about the differences between the way tradiitonal organixations are structured are EC. One suggestion (I am sure you are tiured of suggestions) is to be intenitonal about having conversations with individuals who are thinking about ecclesiology differently that are not in the EC. This is more of the EC style and can create some fruitful dialogues!

  • Thank you for your comments that are forward looking. Your desire and the offering of specifics to move further along is admirable and should be heeded.

    I’ll begin with my apology. If my words in the past have personally wounded individuals, then I offer up my sincerest apologies. In the same way, that I asked for and received an apology from those who stereotyped Asian culture, because individuals were wounded — I offer the same apology. In this apology, I don’t equivocate from the reality that I deeply wounded individuals with my characterization of emergent Christianity.

    I will on a different level, raise the following:

    (1) Tony, I’m with Tomas, I’m not sure where your apology is. You apologized about the specific comments related to Melvin Bray, but not the fact that you specifically called me out for being unfair in the article (BEFORE you had actually READ the article). You can cross it out, but I’m not sure I see the apology for an unfair and pre-judicial statement being placed on your blog in the first place.

    (2) Regarding quotations from our article and my book as cited by Tony. The first citation from the article and the excerpt from my book is an actual event that is being described. It is not made up. I’m reporting what actually happened and my recollection of an actual event. In the book, the quote about the cool glasses is actually taken from Publishers Weekly.

    I stand by the thrust of the article, but please note that I co-authored this article with Jason Mach. If you would read the article, you would note that the next three citations are reflecting Jason Mach’s story. They are Jason’s observations about emergent, not mine. For the record, Jason is a young, white, male. In fact, in our original submission, we had specified “Soong-Chan’s story” and “Jason’s story” to show that the specific paragraphs reflect our particular experiences.

    Further, along this line. Again, I am sincere in my apology for real offense and harm I may have caused. I do not mean to disparage one’s experience of pain from stereotypes. However, by being called a “hip, young, white male, with cool glasses and a goatee” — how much will this stereotype ultimately damage you? It may not be fair or even accurate, but how will it prevent you from walking down the street in a certain neighborhood? How will it affect whether you’ll be stopped by the police? How will it change your chances of being accepted by majority culture? In fact, my argument is that by appealing to and being fronted by hip, young, white males in the early stages helped Emergent get the notoriety and attention that it did. It was the Western, white captivity of American evangelicalism elevating a particular image as the next face of American Christianity.

    Stereotyping of African-Americans leads to profiling, seeing black males as a violent threat, and the increased likelihood of arrest. If we negatively stereotype Latinos/as, there is the very real chance of jobs being made unavailable. If we stereotype Asians, there is the very real possibility of violence directed towards these foreigners and being seen as an enemy of the state. I’m not condoning stereotypes in any form, but you must understand that there are differing levels of oppression when it comes to stereotypes. I believe this is what Tomas is referring to in this thread.

    (3) Please re-read my chapter in the book and the Sojo article through the lens of not specifically attacking emergent, but the rush of evangelicalism to establish white leadership for American Christianity. One of the challenges I would continue to offer emergent is to be constantly examining white privilege. The white privilege that elevated EV to a level not commensurate to any specific achievement.

    I am excited about the changes that have occurred in emergent village in the last few years. In fact, one of the goals of the Sojourner article was to highlight minorities and women in EV. We (Jason and I) intentionally sought to feature minority and women voices in emergent. In my book, I give props to Brian McLaren as one who gets it when it comes to the issue of racial and global sensibilities. My critique has been of the ways that evangelicalism has elevated this movement too quickly and too readily.

    I have not proceeded to single out individuals. You have done this. (Inaccurately, I might add). The tone and tenor of your blog posts have felt very much like a personal attack and for that, I am deeply disappointed.

    • Soong-Chan,

      I appreciate your willingness to continue this dialogue. And, while I do accept your apology insofar as I have been implicated by your stereotypes, I would also ask that you read Paul’s comment above. I think if we start saying that one stereotype is less hurtful than another because of the potential discrimination that it might engender, well, there’s no end-game to that argument. Better that we all stand in solidarity against stereotyping.

      Regarding my apology, it is sincere. I should not have made assumptions about the article, and for that I’m sorry. I made it clear in the first post that I was primarily criticizing the Sojo cover and title, which I realize you did not choose. I also criticized your book, and I still stand by that criticism. I have reread that section just this weekend, and while your point is to criticize Evangelicalism for dubbing emergent the “It Boys” of the late ’90s, you do so by relying on a stereotype. A reader would be hard-pressed to come away from the book thinking that you had a favorable impression of those of us in the EC. Which I think is ironic, since we’re probably among the most well-versed readers of theologians of color of any segment of evangelicalism.

      You note that the quotes I culled form the article were written by Jason — are you distancing yourself from those lines? Indeed, probably my biggest disappointment with the article is Jason’s methodology of looking at emergent church websites. Really? That’s it? I think it would have been better to visit a few churches. I was at one last night and I counted: 32 people there; 3 goatees; 2 pairs of hip glasses. Of the people up front over the course of the night, two of the eight were persons of color. And there were more people in their 50s than in their 20s in attendance. And this church couldn’t be more emergent.

      Church websites are a pale reflection of what a church really is.

      Regarding the changes in EV leadership, I appreciate your seeking out, quoting, and noting Melvin, David, Anthony, and Alise. But there’s nothing in the article that would lead an uninformed reader to know that these are persons of color and represent some of the diversity in the EC. For all the reader knows, they’re all white.

      Finally, I’ve only met you once. I don’t know you, and I’m not personally attacking you. I am publicly criticizing your written work. Where I did so incorrectly, I’ve recanted. That my tone was overly hostile, I understand and I apologize. But I stand by my criticisms, where valid, of your use of the EC as a straw man to attack evangelicalism. We aren’t what you say we are. I don’t know if I can say that any more clearly.

      I do hope you and Jason take the time to read all of the comments under this and the previous two posts. There are some really good ones, both in my favor and in yours.

  • Professor Rah, thank you for coming directly to the source and continuing to patiently engage in this conversation.

    For Tony and the rest who see this as “senseless drama,” perhaps this may explain why negative racial stereotypes affect people of color in a very different way than they affect us white folks: http://www.hipmama.com/node/26527

    There’s a PDF at that link called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh that really helped me understand that racism is not just about individual racist acts, but is a much larger and often unconscious thing for white folks to wrestle through.

    I have no way of knowing whether you looked at the link I provided in my comment on your last post about this, Tony (and others who may still think this conversation is no big deal), but I will go ahead and recommend that again as well, and beg you again to read it carefully: http://damaliayo.com/ICFI/ICFI.html

    Finally – I will say in solidarity, Tony, that we are white men, and that we are going to eff up and say offensive things from time to time, because we’ve been told our whole lives that we are special. We had no control over those messages we heard and internalized. However, it IS our responsibility to recognize and take ownership of the effed up things we say and do, to apologize and mean it, to try our darnedest to educate OURSELVES so we don’t have to put people of color in the painful position of correcting us and educating us every time we put our feet in our mouths, and to work toward a world where this conversation IS actually pointless, because people get it already.

  • “Again, I am sincere in my apology for real offense and harm I may have caused. I do not mean to disparage one’s experience of pain from stereotypes. However, by being called a ‘hip, young, white male, with cool glasses and a goatee’ — how much will this stereotype ultimately damage you?”

    In my experience, it’s difficult to accept apologies that seem to immediately retract themselves and move toward an attitude that says “But seriously, get over it.”

    It’s completely fine to not apologize, but let’s call it what it is, instead of probing Tony for an apology while offering the sentiment quoted above.

    Along those lines, I have no confidence in double-standards as a catalyst for reconciliation. I’ll stand with Tony’s point that there would be big consequences for reducing the work of Korean Presbyterians to a caricature of their physical characteristics. Fixing the rules (double-standards) leads to resentment, not reconciliation.

    “Do as I say, not as I do,” is not going to help any of us find a better way forward. None of us are entitled to make rude remarks but then ask for the apologies of others, or to justify broad-sweeping comments while condemning such comments from others. Privilege is privilege, regardless of your skin color, and it is a major obstacle in anyone’s effort for reconciliation.

  • I don’t know if this is relevant to the conversation or not (or is it just that I’m interested in both fields), but I see a parallel to Science Fiction, which looked for a while like a whites only genre. Pam Noles has a rather amusing memoir (http://www.infinitematrix.net/faq/essays/noles.html), in which she talks about her fascination with SF as a young black girl, and her subsequent battles with the colour issue — how people like Ursula Le Guin came up with some fascinating multi-coloured characters (which the Hollywood machine repainted white) etc.

    Someone, give that article a good read and see if there’s a lesson for the rest of us…

  • Excellent conversation on emergence in Latin America on EV: http://www.emergentvillage.com/weblog/rivas-disla-frederico-interview?commented=1#c005235

    It may depend on one’s entry point to the emergent conversation, but my journeys have found a much more diverse gatherings than most other expressions of church I have lived, worked and worshipped in. Folks in the emergent conversation represent a wider range of diversity than just color. I see intentional efforts to include folks across economic class, (dis)ability, gender, orientation, marital status, religious past, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual households…

    Please keep in mind folks, we are works in progress and we are all broken and trying to be faithful. blessings

  • Brian

    I’m white, young-ish (but heading toward old) and if someone accused me of being Emergent I wouldn’t deny it. I don’t have glasses cool or otherwise. (My sunglasses are kinda cool, I have to admit.) As for me, I’m not terribly cool and a kid in the youth group tells me I dress like a dork.

    As for the goatee, I’ve had it since college. That is to say, before I was a Youth Pastor attending YS/Goatee conventions (as they’ve been called) and before Emergent was born (at least officially…or as official as we- I mean, they get.) I grew it because I liked Alice in Chains and got bored in the middle of shaving one day. (True story.)

    So, say what you want about me and emergent- the goatee has nothing to do with it. And frankly, I’m tired of people insinuating that it does.

  • SYCM

    I have to admit I didn’t read Soong-chan’s article and I only sk imed Soong-Chan’s book. However my husband and I talk often about our frustration with emergent church’s lack of self-awareness. I espcially found your point about EC not being an organziation or a denomination very blind-sighted. While you may not think EC is an establishment, when you can walk into an EC and know that it’s an EC, it has developed a certain culture for itself (and unfortunately, I’ll have to agree with Publisher Weekly that in my expereince in visiting ECs many of the pastors do have “cool glasses, blond hair, and a goatee and usually go for the “cool” dress code.)

    I think the point is that, EVEN in EC, there is very little space to be DIFFERENT. I think Soong-chan makes a point in his book about how the church in America is not dying, it’s just changing faces. The fact that EC does not reflect the chanes faces of the American church is A FACT and that fact alone supports Soong-chan and his friend Jason’s observations and ponderings.

    I think EC has a specific place- like Soong-chan says, has its limits. I think it would be wise to be a little more self-aware of ones limitations and do what one does well. Serve the people you are called to faithfully but don’t make broad claims about what you are not.

  • Gentlemen, I appreciate the apologies and reconsiderations here, but the one really big reason stereotyping a wide swath of folks as singular (flat, monolithic and uniform) is that it denies the presence and contributions of all the rest of us who are not that type! So start naming names from the deep well of widely divergent folks who inspire each of you(us) to risk (y)ourselves for the sake of the good news. Honor the saints among you who humble you with their examples of generosity, hospitality and love. Invite others in and listen again to the stories that make you squirm and give you no space to wiggle out of the conviction G-d ignites — and I will trade stories with you.

    If I’m reading this right, only 3 of the previous 28 comments came from women, hmm….

  • Dave

    Stuff White People Like and Bobos in Paradise both make heavy use of stereotype and caricature to lampoon the cultural elite of their respective day. Making fun of emergents for goatees, macs, cool glasses, etc. seems to me to be in this same vane. (This point might be irrelevant since Prof. Rah’s article is not satire, but still at least some of the times these descriptors are used they seem satirical).

    Must we jettison satire when dealing with the leadership (yes, I know it is a flat-wiki-nonbounded-noncentered-crowdsoured movement) of emergent/emerging/emergence Christianity in the US?

  • Susan, Makeeha – YES!!! And, as I sit here watching the children playing in the street outside my window I can see a rainbow of skin colors and a United Nations of ethnicities. There is black, white, Hispanic, and American Indian – sometimes reflected in the giggles of smiles of the same kid!

    As my own family tree begins to blossom and become tinted with beautiful browns and tans and burgundy and black walnut I wonder whether there really is anything anyone can define as a race, or human breed, anymore. The whole idea of categorizing us by something which is quickly becoming meaningless has lost any usefulness. Are my grandnephews and grandnieces white? Yes. But, they are also black. The concept of a race cannot and should not be applied to them – nor to the rest of us.

    We are all mutts. Beautiful, diverse, and wonderfully made.

    What DOES matter is whether one is marginalized or not – for whatever reason. I pray for the day when we all can stop using racial vocabulary and start focusing on what is really important. I pray for the day that we identify, focus on and encourage the sheep on the edges of our fold regardless of what color their wool happens to be or what breeding stock they came from.

  • I’ve really appreciated watching this conversation unfold. It seems that both Tony and Soong-Chan have, at times, shown humility and grace to each other all the while being committed to their ideals. Though not perfect, this has (and I hope will continue to be)been a good example of Christians engaging disagreements.

    This morning I was reading a little Jean Vanier and I think his words are helpful to us all in dealing with this issue no matter what color our skin happens to be:

    “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts and not outside!”
    -Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, pg. 19-


  • toddh

    These public arguments and apologies are kind of like a show unto themselves – regardless of their content. We all get to be bystanders to a “conversation” that is conducted through a medium that is not really all that conducive to settling disagreements. It’s good drama nonetheless.

    For the record, I think Tony wrote a great post. There’s no need to go on and on about who apologized more or was more sincere or insincere or whatever.

  • Chyristina Brown

    I’ve been following all of these Emerging vs. Multicultural church arguements for quite a while. As an African American (or Black person), I do feel the EC has focused on issues and concepts that may not be at the heart of my daily struggle. That’s not to say the focus or conversations are unimportant. However, I think that’s more a matter of personal taste/interest than racial construct.

    To Tony – I have read all your posts on this subject. In general, I love your blog and honest approach to difficult questions. I can hear your passion about the EC and how it can and has influenced the conversation around Christianity. I don’t believe that a critique of the lack of multicultural influences in the EC takes anything away from the good things the movement has accomplished. Most importantly, EC has opened a discussion and dialogue. I see this latest event as a morphing of the discussion.

    To Prof Rah – While I have great respect for your opinion and work, I disagree with you regarding the use of stereotypes. Saying it’s ok to use stereotypes as a minority doesn’t elevate the conversation at all. Stating the use of the stereotype will not cause undue harm, sound like an excuse to me. Since we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we should strive for love to be our highest goal. I cannot see how we show love by using terms and stereotypes of our brothers and sisters which we know to be offensive to them. That takes away from the points of the conversation, in my opinion.

    I believe gender and racial bias is a discussion that needs to occur in the EC and the larger church community. Let’s not take things so personally, that we lose the essence of the conversation. If we miss it, we’ll never confront the real problem – – “People feel marginalized.”

  • Jason Mach

    Greetings everyone. I’m Jason, the “other” author of the Sojourners article. Sorry for my late arrival to the conversation. There’s been a lot of good conversation so far on this topic, and I’m glad to see people engaging it. I’d like to begin by trying to clarify some things.

    1. As Soong-Chan has already stated, the last 3 bullet points in Tony’s post above (section pertaining to non-white leaders) are my words, not his. They’re based on my actual experience of the what I used to think was the “emerging church” (see #2 below). I grew up in the middle-to-upper class white suburbs, was raised in white culture and white church, and until I moved to the city and lived in a very ethnically diverse neighborhood, my whole world was white. So, much about me and my own life embodies what I say about my perception of the “emerging church.” I did not make those comments or descriptions lightly. (Or insensitively; in the article I state that I mean no disrespect to anyone else who fits this mold, because I come from it too.)

    2. Tony – about my “methodology.” I did not simply visit a handful of “emerging church” websites and conclude that, because THEY look a certain way, ALL “emerging” churches must be that way. In the article, I state that I found an “emerging” church to attend and was quite happy to do so. In fact, I had been to several “emerging” churches before I visited the websites, and they were all (even those in the city) characterized by the descriptors I use in the article (the bullet points you reference). Additionally, most of the authors I was pointed to as representing “emerging church” thought fit some of the same descriptors. Researching the websites was merely the catalyst.

    3. I think this entire conversation has been a bit skewed from the beginning because of the way Sojourners has positioned the article. Please do not read that statement as an attempt to pass blame on to Sojo or to be a criticism of them; I stand by everything I and Soong-Chan wrote, whether it’s the cover article (as it ended up) or an editorial piece (which both of us thought it was going to be). I also continue to enjoy reading Sojo. However, it should be understood that when we set out writing the article, we did so in an attempt to begin answering the question: Is the emerging church dead? This was in response to at least one blog post (referenced in the article) that proclaimed the EC’s death. We were not asking or attempting to answer the question: Is the emerging church for whites only? Those are two different questions. Both valid, and both related, but different. Our attempt to answer our question began with racial experiences, and race continues to be part of the discussion. But the discussion doesn’t end there, and it isn’t limited to the sphere in which this entire conversation is taking place (i.e. the USA / Western civilization). That leads to the point we’re attempting to make in the article: the real emerging Church is global. It’s worldwide. It involves people from all backgrounds and ethnicities. It involves the massive movement and work of God’s Spirit across the world. It’s not what we thought it was (see our descriptors from the article, which again, are based on real experiences). Continuing to think that the emerging Church is something only happening and centered in the USA / Western civilization will continue to lead people into missing the point.

    4. The last statement in #3 is not intended to render what IS happening in the USA / Western civilization irrelevant or trivial. What’s happening here is very relevant; it’s part of God’s work in the world. But note that it’s a PART of God’s work. As Soong-Chan and I state in the article, what’s happening here in groups like Emergent Village is an important stream that flows into something larger. To use another metaphor, it’s a branch that’s part of a larger vine. A challenge for any group of believers is to keep this perspective, and we were both encouraged that there seems to be an understanding of and optimism about this among those in EV (as noted in the article).

    I’ve written a lot, so I’ll pause here. I hope what I’ve written has been a helpful contribution to this conversation.

  • How many books have you seen written about the “Black Church Being Too Black?” by non-black people?

    The person who attempted to write such a book would never be taken seriously. I don’t see why that’s not true the other way around as well. It really is baffling to me.

  • I’m not quite sure what brgulker is getting at, but I hope folks who see themselves as somehow connected with the “Emerging Church” or emerging conversation would not have as their objective the building of white churches. In a multicultural society, we should be building multicultural expressions of the body of Christ.

  • Tomas

    Prof Rah, your interpretation of what I was attempting to say was exactly correct, and the distinction IS in the level of oppression that occurs.

    Tony, many folks both inside Emergent and friendly towards it often have poked fun at the hairstyles, glasses, trendy clothing that many of the leaders have adopted. To even hint at equating this with what our brothers and sisters of color deal with on a daily basis is incredulous to me. So you’re exactly right – I would have huge problems if you negatively wrote about physical appearance of Koreans. Skin color and physical racial characteristics aren’t matters of choice as are hairstyles, sunglasses and cool shirts, and they have been used to harm people in tragic ways. Respectfully, Tony, to even complain that someone mentioned “hip” leaders seems really petty.

  • Bill makes a good point. I was horribly vague. My point is to echo Tony’s critique above — why is it okay (socially and theologically, in this case) for a minority question to appeal to racial stereotypes, etc., when it would obviously never be okay for a white male to do that?

    It’s such an obvious double standard, and I don’t understand why people don’t see it.

    It contributes nothing constructive and only serves to turn off and/or inflame the very people one is trying to engage in conversation in the first place. It’s controversial enough, so maybe it will sell some magazines — but is that really the point?

    I’m a big fan of Sojourners. I expect more from them than this.

  • Julie Clawson offers a great response to Sojourners’ article here: http://julieclawson.com/2010/04/11/sojourners-response/

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  • just saw the emergent/c newsletter highlighting this autumn’s theological convo…. interesting in light of some objections.

  • I’ll try one more time — the problem with the stereotyping isn’t that being accused of being hip and cool hurts the hip and cool guys feelings (although it may be dismissive of the content of their ideas in the same way I don’t appreciate it when folks compliment girls on their looks and boys on their abilities). The problem with the stereotyping in this article is that IT IGNORES EVERYONE ELSE’S CONTRIBUTIONS to the conversation.

    I reread the Sojo article and find it curious that the authors do not acknowledge the folks of color in EC leadership whom they interviewed for the story published about how white EC is. Why is that?

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  • Calvin Chen


    I am an Asian American working in evangelical college ministry at a selective, liberal, secular, heavily-white (and German-Scandinavian) university in the Upper Midwest.

    I have to say that your responses so far personify the very stereotype of an upper Midwestern white liberal who thinks they “get it” when it comes to race that makes it difficult to be an ethnic minority in the Upper Midwest… and even more difficult to be an ethnic minority Christian.

    Your defensiveness in light of Jason and Soong-Chan’s stereotyping of EC leadership and refusal to acknowledge that there is a difference between these types of stereotyping show EXACTLY that you don’t understand and can’t own up to white privilege. Whine all you want about being stereotyped for EC leadership’s choice of clothing, facial hair, and eyewear. Archetypes of leadership — and especially leadership in power that is assumed to be normative — has always been fair game for satire. It is ABSOLUTELY different to make a snide comment about a “Wall Street elite walking around, eyes glued to his Blackberry and sporting a designer suit and crew cut” as opposed to an ignorant, hateful remark about an Asian’s eyes or an African American’s dialect.

    The difference is power, and your obstinacy, whining, and failure to own up to it is extremely disappointing for someone in Christian leadership. You’re not helping the problem, much as you claim to care about it.

    FYI, you can ask any of my colleagues – I’m usually the voice for downplaying race and racial tension and “focusing on the gospel.” It’s only around people like you – yes, I said “people like you” and by “people like you” I mean white liberals who think they get it but don’t – that I end up sounding like an ethnic-studies-majoring-ranter.


  • Brian


    100% sincere question, no sarcasm intended: So, by your estimation, “do unto other as you would have them do unto you” applies only to the majority or those in power? Those not in power or majority can treat those in power however they want?

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  • Calvin Chen

    Hi Brian. Thanks for explaining your tone — often helpful in blog dialogue. Sarcasm on my previous comment was intended, as you could probably deduce. and it was very intentionally directed toward Tony. To answer your question: yes and no. But let me add two additional dynamics: one of historic oppression and hatred and the other of prophetic rebuke.

    Yes in the sense that those in power must uniquely own up to that power and the responsibility of it… and Christians in power are called to wield that power responsibly and redemptively — to empower the powerless. No in the sense that as Christians, those who represent and come from among those not in power are called to repent from hatred and anger… but are also equally called to be prophetic. Given the dynamic of historical oppression and hatred, there is also a unique responsibility for minorities to be prophetic toward our majority brothers and sisters. So, no, we as minorities are not “off the hook.”

    From a secular standpoint, nobody is going to fault someone (minority or not) for ranting against “Ivy League educated, Starbucks sipping yuppies.” Someone ranting against, “those greedy, slant-eyed Asians who speak funny English who should just go back to Asia” is a different story. Likewise, from a Christian standpoint, nothing is wrong with identifying an archetype of power — humorously or not. Belittling an archetype of disenfranchised oppression — “African American males are so _____ and _____ and why are they always in prison”… is just that — oppression. Again, Tony is completely failing to recognize this. His desire to simply wish away stereotypical trappings of EC leadership smacks of color-blind ignorance and… again.. stereotypically white liberal “hey look I get it I’ve talked about white privilege before I’m so enlightened” defensiveness. Not helping anyone.

    Finally, the prophetic angle: I hope it’s obvious enough that… much as I disagree with Tony and harsh as my rhetoric is… I’m trying to get him to realize something. Jason and Soong-Chan were doing the same. Tony’s example of Asian eyes and Black hair was completely irrelevant because those examples could never be used to try to call something out in either community (additionally, there is the historic baggage of hatred directed to both groups that represents decades and even centuries of oppression that would be conveyed by using those examples. Goatees and nice jeans are NOT THE SAME THING). Tony’s defensiveness, again, just shows how deep the problem is and how much further the EC has to go.

    Thanks for your sincere question.

  • Calvin Chen

    I also need to discuss the flip side of the equation — recipients of stereotyping.

    Recipients of oppressive racial stereotype have every right to protest and get angry.

    Recipients of “you have the trappings of power” stereotyping who protest are just whiners.

    I have a white friend who grew up in an upper class neighborhood who wears blue blazers and boat shoes. He and I both make lighthearted fun of this. Cool, right? Not cool to make fun of someone who grew up in rural poverty who wears tattered or out-of-style clothing.

    Stereotyping the predominantly white, not very self-aware (in terms of race and privilege.. and thinking it’s liberal and enlightened) leadership of the EC is not oppressive. Any Tony’s reaction, again, has confirmed the stereotype.

  • Calvin Chen


  • Special Communion

    As a group of subversive friends Special Communion wanted to offer this response to the EC/Race conversation and some useful resources.
    In regard to recent writing about the Emergent Church, we feel the struggles of people of color and queers have been pitted against one another. Special Communion would like to offer an antidotal dose of come-to-Jesus analysis for those coping with anti-racist critiques of their movement. A few points:
    1) Be careful about whose team you claim to be on. The immediate response to being called out was to divert, distract, derail: in short to do anything and everything to actually confess to being a part of a movement with racist practices. This blog began with the question, “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?” Our team believes that when white, straight, middle-class, educated, 1/3 world men keep insisting that their emergent church is an answer to the church’s problems, it is in fact the appropriate time to challenge that claim. We abhor and condemn the all-too-common practice of white people’s denial of the possibility of racism in their lives. White people (including “progressive” white people) seem to have an infinite number of tricks to deny their own privilege or the possibility that they perpetuate racism or have any responsibility in ending racism.
    2) We refuse to be set against one another. Refuse to participate in plantation politics/Oppression Olympics. The whole reason our community, Special Communion, exists is because we are a group of friends and co-disciples who’ve found *no sanctuary but each other*, be it in the hallowed halls of “progressive” seminaries, in the mainline, in the Emergent Church, or in single-issue justice movements. Collectively speaking we are people of color, we are queer/trans, we are poor, we are survivors of sexual assault, we are women, and we live with disabilities. And we aren’t all living the same exact struggles, but when and where we differ, we are STILL allies of one another. We refuse to have our particular issues pitted against one another, we refuse to say that one struggle can be prioritized over another, and we refuse to shut each other up in our respective processes of speaking truth to power.

  • 3) There are people who are, in fact, on the same team as us. Please learn from them. When we see white progressives answer critiques of racism in the movement by derailing, and claiming other issues to be more important, we know what’s up. This response to the Sojourners article does NO favors for queer/trans people of color. Have you considered that for the MAJORITY OF THE WORLD’S QUEERS, WHO ARE POOR BROWN RESIDENTS OF THE 2/3 WORLD, state-sanctioned access to marriage may not be a top priority? By attempting to “answer” critiques of racism with claims that homophobia is a more pressing issue, Jones left MANY of our queer Christian people behind. Here at Special Communion, our queer politics are devoutly Christ-centric. That means our queer politics are FIRST accountable to queers who are poor, queers who live under the daily threat of state and police violence, queer people of color, queers who do sex work, queers who are immigrants, our transgender and gender non-conforming family members, and queers living with disabilities. We can quote you a whole lot of Bible on why we frame our work this way– hopefully you’re familiar with some of it already.”
    We decry all attempts to leave ANY of these sisters, brothers, and family members behind. . On this blog, we do not try to answer injustice one single issue at a time– we do not have that luxury. In our community, we do not silence one another because we recognize that we are called to lead Gospel lives. This entails a comprehensive accountability to ALL the identities and experiences that made up Christ’s own life, as well as the lives of his people. Jesus never said, “Sorry sex workers, but the issues of fishermen are more dear to my heart. They go first.” Jesus demanded all of them to FEED ONE ANOTHER. Jesus demands the same of us.
    4) Watch the video. For guidance, may we direct you to this video, entitled “6 Rules For Allies”? Please pay attention to Rule Number 5, which addresses appropriate responses to being called out. I quote, “When called out about your racism, sexism or homophobia, don’t cower in embarrassment, don’t cry, and don’t silently think “she’s crazy” and vow never to interact with her again. We are all plagued by racism, sexism, and homophobia. Be grateful that someone took the time to expose yours—remember, exposure allows the wind to whip away isolation and fear. Exposure is a step toward freedom. Allies welcome an opportunity to see how their choices, ideas, words may be erasing those around them. It’s not about your intent—that you did not intend to be sexist when you consulted with men rather than with women even though the women were in charge—it is about the effect—the damaging effect your choice had on others, the reinforcement of patriarchy that your choice made. Allies want to know when they have been contributed to the very oppressions they oppose. Allies know they are not above reproach.”

  • Special Communion

    There are so many queer-positive, intersectionally-committed communities and resources out there. Please read, digest, and share amongst yourselves:

    The Sylvia Rivera Law Project http://srlp.org/
    The Audre Lorde Project http://alp.org/
    Queers for Economic Justice http://q4ej.org/
    QuIR (Queer Immigrant Rights) http://quir.org/
    Feminists With Disabilities http://disabledfeminists.com/

    In Christ, For Justice,
    Special Communion is a blogging collective and community of friends committed to promoting the liberation of all beings through the raising of heaven and the destruction of empire. You can read our blog at: http://specialcommunion.wordpress.com.

  • I just want to second what Susan said in #42 – the point about the racial stereotyping Rah/Mach engage in is not that it’s going to hurt the feeling of white hipsters. The point is that it ignores the actual contributions of all those in the EC who do not in fact fit the stereotype. It downplays and devalues and marginalizes all these important voices. By focusing on only the white hipsters, and claiming that they are representative of the EC as a whole (and failing to note that most of the emergent leaders they interviewed for the article were in fact non-white and non-hipsters), they themselves are actually contributing to the very problem they are trying to critique – i.e. the tendency of evangelical observers of the EC to only focus on the white, hipster males and ignore all the rest.

    In other words, the problem is not that they are stereotyping, but that their stereotype is demonstrably false, and it ends up serving as a further tool of marginalization.

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  • Errol Narain

    Please refrain from using the term non-white. In the South African context it is a term from a painful history. It may be coterminous with the “N” word.

    I am sure the term evokes the same sense and sensibility in those who lived in the brutal apartheid era in this country, especially the southern part.

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  • Errol – my apologies. I am entirely unfamiliar with how this kind of terminology functions in your country. However, as I was referring to circumstances here in America, where the term “non-white” has no such connotations and is an entirely neutral way to refer to persons who don’t happen to be white, please rest assured that I meant no offense by it whatsoever. In the future if I happen to be writing in regards to a South African context, I will be sure to avoid this terminology and I thank you for calling my attention to it.

  • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Special Communion for taking the time to hold me / us accountable to the body of Christ in constructive, grace-filled ways. You have offered gifts and a blessings in your contributions here.

    @Errol — can you offer suggestions for more appropriate / less offensive language? What words are helpful when we seek to acknowledge our common humanity and distinctive personhood?

  • Errol Narain

    Black for non-white will be safe. It goes down well here in south side Chicago as well Africa.
    I have no suggestions for Asians, Hispanics or Orientals.

    Blacks or I resent being defined against white. I am black -black not non- white.
    I suspect whites would not want to referred to as non-black- maybe in a few years from now when power shifts perhaps.

    Non-white is a term from Christendom or colonialism.

    I hope this is helpful. I did not mean to be typically pedagogic. I am a teacher though.

  • Errol Narain

    I would also suggest that when writing in the emerging context, remember that the context is global not regional.
    So when we write, be mindful there is such a thing as the global internet, the printing press, the screen and automobile.
    Humanity is gracefully being coerced into change all over this globe.
    The mystic world in John’s gospel is reference to the this earthly village and the universe.
    What name shall we give to the people on Mars whom we have not yet met personally.

  • Indeed Errol, and yet my comment was actually very specific, in response to Rah’s article and referring to very particular people – all of whom are Americans and many of whom are not in fact white (actually representing several different minority groups, thus I couldn’t simply say “black”). At any rate, I chose the term “non-white” in order to directly contrast Rah/Sojo’s use of the term “white,” and also because I was talking about more than one race. Since race is not quite so simple as merely black and white, I used the term “non-white” in order to be inclusive of much broader diversity, not to imply any sort of colonial intent. And as I said, not knowing the South African context, I was unaware that this term would carry any negative connotations whatsoever. Again, my apologies.

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  • I was on vacation when the article was published, so I feel really behind and I certainly haven’t read all of the comments, but a couple of things occurred to me as I was reading many of them: 1) what Rah and Mach are critiquing about EC and its Western focus seems to be not only a critique of Western Christianity et al, but of our still Anglo/Eurocentric attitude. Many of us in suburban/rural/metro America are struggling to get our parishioners to look to earlier parts of the church than the 20th and 16th Centuries, to even open their minds beyond the 10 mile radius of the worship space and their visions of the perfect 1960s.

    2) Christian history before the late 19th Century was Europe and North America with outposts in Latin America and Africa. Adapting to Phyllis Tickle’s understanding of history, the race/culture/ethnicity/nationality conversation is a long-view one begun with the growth and expansion of Christianity into places that do not have a Euro/NA-centric worldview as well as the growing awareness in the West that it has been racist. I think we ought to be further along, but man, in terms of Christian history, we’re talking about the tiniest of moments.

    And lastly, for crying out loud, can’t we move past the skepticism and the need to call out the one gathering of people (EC) that is actually hosting and participating in these conversations? I know we’re easy targets, but it just feels like un-“friendly fire”.