Quitting the Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 1

Further Explorations Into A Liberationist Theological Approach For Online Engagement

When I made the fateful decision to start blogging I was nervous at first. What were the chances others would be reading my work? Why was I even going to try? It was 9 years ago that I would write Facebook notes and post on Xanga and MySpace as well. Remember those? I don’t want to!

The vast majority of Christian blogs I read were overwhelmingly either Calvinist or biblical studies. The center of these conversations focused on the dominant culture, the prominent megachurches (Yes Mark Driscoll, but also Kenneth Copeland). If the Christian blogosphere was a cliquish high school prom, conservative Republican evangelicals would be considered the life of the party. In 2007, I decided that in addition to working two part-time jobs during seminary, making the Dean’s list as a full-time student, and being active in several campus organizations, blogging would be my outlet. I figured, what was there to lose? I had just began thinking about what I wanted to cover for my ThM thesis — early church history and black liberation theologies — so why not blog about these topics? My aim became to network with other writers and scholars who loved liberation theologies and/or early Christianity prior to the 4th century. Since I intended to appeal to a broader audience, I also decided that I could occasionally discuss nerdy pop culture items as well. My audience, as I had intended, would be both”the Church” and “the World.”

If it were not for this blog, Twitter, or Facebook, I would not have met friends like Drew Hart, Austin Channing, Christena Cleveland, Emily Rice, and who could ever forget my homey Joel Watts, (one of my first commenters on my blog, and we still talk to each other on the phone at least once a week!). It was always sort of my dream to at least  take part in an online conversation that focused on articulating Black Liberation and Womanist Theologies, and as the years have gone by, I am definitely seeing more and more of this take place. Real dialogue can be intentional in origin, but can have unintended consequences. Perhaps there is no better example such as this than when it comes to talking about notions of civility and kindness online as I did last week.

Explaining the liberationist approach to theology and ethics in general is difficult, given the hostile environment that it is placed within (Read: racially segregated, class-stratified, kyriarchal economy, church and academy). The logic of Liberation Theology is one of viewing the world from the bottom up. It is this posture that remains the primary source for the refusal to view things from “the middle way” or “the top-down approach.” In fact, from a Liberationist perspective, given the way ideas and practices happen, “the middle way,” by default is still a Top-Down vision of the world. The differences between the Top-Down/privileged, the Middle Way/Privileged, and the Bottom-Up/marginated views of society are very real. However, there remain many persons who ignore this reality. Liberation theologians seek to emancipate the oppressed and the oppressors who are located in BOTH “the Church” and “the World” for the sake of reconciliation and love. The dominant culture resists and suppresses the voices of the marginalized because it cannot see reconciliation  in anything but its own terms: hegemony, assimilation; some call it “diversity,” others name it “THE CHURCH.”

New Vocabularies And Practices

On New Year’s Eve last year, Zach Hoag wrote about his concern for what he regularly calls now, “The Progressive Christian Internet.” I, too, share concerns with all of the Christian Internets, but since many lump me in as Progressive, I guess the Progressive Internet is my home whether I want it or not. Hoag describes one part of the PCI as:

The Progressive Christian Internet is perpetually collapsing on itself in a series of its own mini-schisms, where the other is not subversive/anarchist/feminist/womanist/affirming/allied/inclusive/academic
/philosophical/whatever enough. And these judgments of inadequacy are typically made solely on the basis of 140 character “conversations” which often begin with the other’s accidental or mistaken use of certain words or phrases, and then spiral into raging fits and subtweet rants and block wars from there.

It’s rather unfortunate that these Social Justice Warriors use of Twitter is just so toxic and damaging to Hoag’s ecclesiology. If only they could be more relational and stop the subtweeting, and making secret facebook groups, then everything would be a bunch of roses! I know I joked earlier that the Christian blogosphere was like a high school prom, and I wish I were just kidding about the PCI but these things happen.  Anyhow, when a person creates a neologism (like a made up word), there has to be some concrete examples to go along with it. I learned that in my education from a really great Black theology professor, and for that I am grateful. So again, a new word/concept that has been defined by a writer must have a visible example, otherwise that writer is throwing flatulence to the wind.

In the days since Quitters of the Progressive Christian Internet have left behind the subtweeting and vaguebooking and all that jazz, Hoag has nevertheless returned to comment on the Progressive Christian Internet:

Subtweets are such a strange creature, but as someone once said, they always hit their intended target. A few of my friends had a few days prior writtten a letter and a few emails to an organization that Hoag works for, asking questions about the lack of racial and gender diversity for their forthcoming event.

SURPRISE IT WAS MISSIO ALLIANCE!

SURPRISE IT WAS MISSIO ALLIANCE!

There you have it. The Progressive Christian Internet are a group of “Survivor-esque” alliances making anti-sexist and anti-racist criticisms of gentrified missional Christian organizations. Not a coincidence to see that the Missio Alliance’s content/blog curator would harbor resentment — and a dismissive attitude — toward an anti-racist, anti-sexist letter writing campaign geared towards the organization. Missio, by partnering with think tanks that teach that People of Color suffer from pathologies and that the colonial church that endorsed the enslavement of Black people was good for the marginalized, has likewise shown its true colors and “commitment” to reconciliation.

I also think that part of the problem with Christian Conferences & that industry is that persons are far more concerned about platforms, and the money they have invested in them, than their investment in the lives of people. This is a problem at the congregational and denominational level. Rather than discussing what we have put in financially or how many minutes this or that speaker deserves for “leading” the movement, our questions should be, what does the Kingdom of God look like? Are we really pushing towards the “One Church, Many Tribes” model described in Revelation? The stances I see in churches and online are exactly the ones that Drew Hart criticized in his post on White Privilege last week as well as my friend Amaryah Shaye in her post “White Privilege as Inheritance.” I find the theme of even “The Once And Future Mission” (references to King Arthur, Merlin, and even C.S. Lewis) as slightly problematic because from the get-go, the idea of a “post-Christendom to begin with, as I continue to argue, is based off a narrative centered on whiteness, to exclusion of Christians who are POC who suffered under the cruelty of what emergents call “Christendom.” It wasn’t “Christ”-endom to begin with, perhaps SatanDom, in the eyes of persons like Frederick Douglass and others.

If I may quote Christian anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, who today be cast as an angry Social Justice Warrior,

“Why is mob murder committed by a Christian nation? What is the cause of this awful slaughter? The question is answered almost daily, always the same shameless falsehood, that Negroes are lynched to protect womanhood.”

If the very notion that America is a Christian nation is a falsehood, then so must the concept of Post-Christendom when this country is gazed upon from the Bottom-Up. When my friends critiqued Missio Alliance for their all-white-male-lineup, it was one of Missio Alliance’s employees who labelled them with the dubious distinction of “Progressive Christian Internet.” My friends were called angry, impatient, prideful antagonists, violent and retaliatory. The act of writing a letter/email was seen as an act of violence. Think on that for a second. Challenges to the Brogressive status quo, the nonviolent writing of letters, is framed as an act of coercion; not only is this problematic, but it is indicative of the Top-Down approach of the Imperialist world order. It is clear American Christianity has a racism and sexism problem. Neo-Anabaptists, Missio Alliance, emergent churches are no exception to the rule.

In the second part of this essay, I shall take a critical look at the Incarnational ecclesia that Quitters Members of the [actual] “Progressive Christian Internet” have formed.

0 thoughts on “Quitting the Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 1

  1. Pam

    YES YES YES to this: “The logic of Liberation Theology is one of viewing the world from the bottom up. It is this posture that remains the primary source for the refusal to view things from “the middle way” or “the top-down approach.” In fact, from a Liberationist perspective, given the way ideas and practices happen, “the middle way,” by default is still a Top-Down vision of the world.” !!!! This is such a crucial word. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Tyler Tully

    While reading the post, I was reminded that my “Is Misisonal Religious Gentrification” blog post was first presented to Zach Hoag during his hosting of “missional” conversations, but it was rejected. As I recall, Hoag not only accepted the submission before he rejected it, he also suggested that I repost it somewhere else and that I should mention that he rejected it so that it would give my story more “umph.”

    Reply
  3. Hannah (@thefemonite)

    There is so much that is awesome here. I think what especially hit home for me is that a “middle way” is still a privileged way. This whole “middle way” and “unity” rhetoric often seems to be a guise for me that masks a certain white progressive desire for sameness and assimilation (and I’m talking to myself here, too). I also love that you used the word “brogressive.” I want to hold on to that one…

    I wonder,as I’m currently at work for a denominational organization planning another big conference/convention which often struggles with this temptation to fall into the “cult of Christian celebrity,” what words might you have for us? What movements or gatherings have you seen that truly grow out of a lived ecclesiology that actually emphasizes the participation of all believers and a “bottom up” approach to theology?

    Reply
    1. h00die_R (Rod) Post author

      I would say like I did in the post, that the Conference (church&academic)-industries need to focus less on Big Names and more on service, making a space for those with lesser means and giving them a platform to speak. That would be my practical suggestion. Are there any examples of this? I have yet to run into.

      Reply
  4. jimfromcanada

    I am reminded of Paul’s approach in Romans to the division between Jewish and Gentile Christians where he said that “there is no one who is righteous, not even one” There is no such thing as a hierarchy of sins. I think our task is to real to the powerful the depth of injustice that we are being subjected to, and to forthrightly advocate for justice.

    Reply
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