Tag Archives: emergent church

so you want People of Color to attend Christian conferences?

Today, I feel like I am going to attempt to articulate the frustrations of a number of my friends, shared experiences that we have.  This post isn’t about me but something deeply troubling with institutional Christianity.

Recently, I had a white friend who attended a conference on Missional Christianity. From the looks of the promotions for the three day event, he was under the impression that it was going to be a diverse gathering. As a youth pastor who is working for a pre-dominantly racial minority church, my friend was hoping to become better equipped to minister to a diverse congregation and community. In the course of seeing and listening to the keynote speakers, my friend took a quick census of the attendees & speakers, and posted the results on Twitter, 99% white, 1% POC. 90% male, 10% female. Are these numbers really reflective of the Church located in the United State? Compared to the Church Universal found throughout six continents, do these numbers add up? Can we honestly say that conferences like these are truly about the future of Christianity? The backlash that my friend received was both hostile and utterly predictable. “Well, why don’t YOU DO a better job of inviting more POC and women?” or how about, “Are you trying to say that all the members of the entire planning committee are personally racist and sexist?”

A long time ago (precisely well over FOUR years ago), my good friend Drew Hart wrote about his experiences at a similar missional gathering. What brother Drew faced was what Austin Channing Brown calls a metaphysical dilemma. This is based on the fear of marginalized persons of feeling “devalued, unimportant, sidelined, monolithic, or invisible.” Will Persons of Color be able to stand out (as individuals)? Can we be made visible without any negative stereotypes hindering us? Why do justice conferences and missional gatherings persist in being focused, centered, and dominated by white persons and limit themselves to the interests of men? What did Jesus have to say about religion, and the building of brands and platforms?

In many instances, seminaries and other institutions for theological education have the same problems as these conferences. Due to the lack of diversity in the student body and faculty as well as support, Persons of Color in seminaries and bible schools are left to create their own resources and pressured to recruit more students of color on their own. This overwhelming burden placed upon POC by the institutions renders POC into further invisibility.  Having have been part of a campaign to make curriculum more cultural pluralistic, I know first hand that POC are always blamed for their own lack of resources. This “boot-straps” mentality manifests itself both in progressive and conservative institutions. Rugged Individualism, and the White Privilege defended by Christian institutions and conferences, are both unbiblical and break the law of Christ. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Racist practices unintentionally isolate POC individuals and communities, leaving POC to fend for themselves. But if we are supposed to be the Body of Christ, we are to choose the model of intercultural neighborly love over and against privileged, elitist notions of formation of Christian leadership.

Recently, I was both saddened and enraged when a close friend of mine told me yet another story of how a gathering of missional Christians had taken the time to reach out to him, and ask his advice about diversity issues. Yet when the time came to make final decisions, the meeting that was planned to be held is still going to happen in a white suburban area, safe from at-risk POC youth, and their issues. Is Missional Christianity showing itself to be another form of White flight, an escapism away from the joyous celebrations and oppressive realities of People of Color? Could this Emergent Christian movement (assuming it isn’t dead yet) be just another re-hashed version of a Post-Christendom Christian hegemony? I think that the label “Post-Christendom” itself is highly problematic. Exactly what type of Christendom are we referring to? There would have to be an assumption that the U.S. as a nation-state had practiced a some form of Christianity to begin with. Given the history of African enslavement and genocide that many good Christians are still in denial about, I believe that the belief of a US Christendom in the distant past needs to be called into question.

My friend who tried to help this Missional gathering deal with this issue was told that rather than have a conference reflect the Kingdom of God, the planning committee wanted to honor leaders who had brought the movement into being. In other words, the power players, the movers and shakers were to be given yet another opportunity for their platform. These approaches and practices are once more anti-Christ, and anti-Gospel. In Mark 10:42-43, “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” The Christian Conference Industry reads more like Corporate America and Wall Street, choosing the rulers and leaders who are already on top. Yet, Jesus said that greatness is defined not by the blogger with the largest platform and cleanest name-brand, but the woman or man who says, “NO!” to the world, and yes to humility and suffering servitude.

I think efforts to make Christian conferences and educational institutions more diverse are noble, however, we must get beyond diversity. There will be no such thing as a perfect seminary or a perfect conference , but the Emergent church should not allow worldly commitments prevent them from putting perfect love into practice. Missional Christians must work to intentionally co-create just spaces for people on the margins because that is where Jesus and His mission lied, with the least of these, the downtrodden, the despised ones.  This means actually listening to women and People of Color, valuing their input and their labor, sharing in the burdens of marginalized persons, and rejecting Thrones of Privilege(s).

If You Want To Be An Ally, Stop Tone Policing

At times, I know my writing style can come off as abrasive, as angry, even according to a close friend, close to oppressive.  I’ve been called “more Malcolm X than MLK Jr,” “a social justice blogger (as if that’s really an insult) with a “social justice meter,” and someone who has an “axe to grind to prove his pet theories.”  There has not been a week that’s gone by that my faith has been called into question because I write about white supremacy, sexism, and poverty as systemic oppressions.  I could be writing with absolutely no emotion but because of the color of my skin and the nature of the content I write, I am labelled as the angry black.  I have been writing on gender and class issues for years, but noooooo I’m just the race guy! (Let’s set aside the fact that I also write on church history as well as pop culture from time to time).

Indeed, Dianna Anderson is right, that doing the work of CONTINUE critical engagement is unpopular work. Lately, what I have noticed is this, when well known writers and bloggers talk about social justice issues, they keep trying to advice persons under distress to “be patient” and “play nice” with their oppressors. This is perhaps more widespread in Christianity and Christian blogging circles.  If you take a dissenting opinion on this matter (which I definitely do), you are (I am) demonized as “unforgiving” “less than Christian,” falling short for white moderates and their standards for civility.  Take for example my post to Dave Ramsey; while a few more civil bloggers responded to him, acknowledging his positive influence on people’s lives and then calling for everyone to celebrate the fact that we are all “spiritually rich,” I took the exact opposite approach and praised the poor for their willingingness not to pay $400 to become wealthy.

It is this form of civility that caused me to leave such blogging network groups such as The Despised Ones.  It was supposed to be a closed group, but since it’s been decided that laundry could be aired, I will go ahead anyhow. One the reasons that I left TDO, which was originally supposed to be about social justice oriented Christians having work centered on the marginalized (I was lead to presume), was because whenever the discussion came to racism, I was always alone.  My position as the token black lead to some frustrating conversations. One blogger even claimed that John Piper

charity jill piper1

charity jill piper2was good for racial reconciliation (this was after the fact that Piper had endorsed PaleoConfederate Doug Wilson). Throughout my time as a member of The Despised Ones, I was villified as the guy who was too angry about racism.  Every conversation would get derailed because the derailers wanted to make everything personal (that’s what they do, duh!!!).  I would be tone-policed, right and left, in the name of UNITY cuz that’s whats sooo important.  Earlier this week, I saw one of my friends, Dianna, ask a simple question to one of the groups members, Micah Murray, and there was a short back and forth, and apologies issued after.  Mr. Murray was one of the several members who worked to tone-police what I said regarding white supremacy, so I completely disagree with Grace that Mr. Murray could be my N*gga. In fact, I don’t want anyone being my N-word for that matter.  And I definitely do not want anyone who has tried to govern how I feel or how I express myself to call themselves being an ally in any way, shape or form.

So word to the wise, start listening, and stop silencing the silenced, capiche?

Celebrating C.S. Lewis: Lessons For Missional Churches

When I was in undergrad, there was a missionary from overseas who came to visit us at the campus ministry I attended. During his presentation, he worked to make everyone feel guilty. He claimed that if you were a Christian, you HAD to go overseas. Back then, I did not know better, and I was overwhelmed and ashamed of myself for not having the “missionary desire” to convert other brown-skinned people like myself. On this inside, I was overcome by such guilt (okay, it only lasted like a few weeks, but still), that I even condemned close friends for not feeling the same way that I did.

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the ward...

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the wardrobe from his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in East Belfast, Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look back at my spiritual journey back then, I can chuckle to myself about some of the ideas I had. But one thing I will never regret is the reading I did my freshman year. I wanted to learn about CHRISTIAN Particularity, so that I could discern for myself how to believe in a Post-9-11 world. Unbelieveably, the first book I finished that wasn’t a textbook was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I still did not have a grasp of what I had read, but there was something about the second half of that book that appeals to me, the talk about the Trinity, and so forth. Last Friday was the fiftieth anniversary of Clives Staples Lewis‘ passing. There is much to celebrate and remember Lewis’ contributions to the Church Universal. No, this isn’t a typo. This is Rod here writing, the same Rod who had a small criticism of The Screwtape Letter. I hold on to my commitment to Nonviolence and Peacemaking and Intersectionality and all that jazz, but I can still admire the C.S. Lewis of the Space Trilogy. You see, before there was such thing as “missional,” there have always been Christians who acted and saw themselves as missionaries to their cities, their countries, their unique and beautiful cultures.

For a few years now, I have been interested in the conversations that writers for the Emerging/Emergent/Missional church have been having. If there is anything good that has came out of these talks, it is that the use of the term “missional” has got Christians re-thinking what it means to go on missions. No longer are mission projects viewed as short term, expensive overseas trips to convert the heathens, and to pat ourselves on the back. Christians are starting (rightly so) for making the case for more relational approaches: long term missions, becoming immersed in a culture, and showing God’s love. C.S. Lewis’ writings for many emergent Christians or believers who consider themselves “missional” are seen as inspirational. Works like his “The Problem of Pain” and “The Great Divorce” are texts that I hear about a lot. From Lewis, here are a few lessons for missional churches:

1. Never underestimate the power of imagination: In first book of C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy, Out Of The Silent Planet, Lewis was able to use such vivid imagery that he could put James Cameron’s Avatar to shame (as if critics hadn’t already done so already). Rather than relying on the old models of conferences with the most popular speaker, churches with the biggest pulpits, and writers with the biggest platforms and searching for signs from above, maybe it’s time to look below. What I mean is this: God has enabled us the power to imagine and dream great things. We are able to do greater works that what Christ did (John 14:12). If we remain faithful to Christ, the Spirit will renew our minds, and empower us to resist the status quo.

2. Particularity Is Not A Bad Thing: One of the things I will never get about emergence Christianity are the number of people who make up neo-logisms-as-labels, like an Eastern Ortho-Ana-Baptist-Methodist or something or other. These neo-logisms are not accessible to the person in the pew (I’ll admit, sometimes my writing style could be seen as unappealing to a general audience too), but why are these neologisms so popular? I suspect it has to do with shame in being part one particular Christian tradition or another. The great thing about C.S. Lewis’ witness and writing is that, on one hand, from the Space Trilogy, IT IS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS THAT HE IS A CONSERVATIVE ANGLICAN CHRISTIAN. Yet, C.S. Lewis was conversant with several other worldviews and Christian traditions, such as Catholicism and maybe even Eastern Orthodoxy. In my undergrad days, it was very popular to call yourself “a non-denominational Christian” so that you didn’t have all the baggage that came with labels. However, look closely at the belief statements, practices, and curriculum taught at “non-denominational” churches. Really, there is not such thing as a local church that is outside the Grand Narrative of the Church Universal.

3. Faithfulness Must Be Placed Before Relevance: For its day, the Space Trilogy was in response to popular spirituality movements (relevance) as well as the progress that science fiction literature was making. Lewis was simultaneously able to be relevant in philosophy, ethics, British culture, and the literary arts all while placing the focus on Jesus. We must ask ourselves: what disciplines, what areas of society is God sending us to. While discipleship is the life-long process of God working with us, apostleship (the missional life), is God calling and sending us, much like the story of Samuel. Samuel is called and sent by YHWH first to Elijah and the priests, then to the nation of Israel, and later to King Saul and the future monarch David. In each sending, God’s mission for Samuel differs, but the pattern is the same. God calls Samuel, Samuel delivers a message concerning rejection/being rejected to each party. Likewise, one of the offices in Eastern Orthodoxy for Christ is Apostle, as God’s Chosen Sent One. If missional churches are to go any where in culture and in the church today, they need to reflect and look in the Gospels to see where God’s Apostle was sent, and what is the pattern for this sending and going. The Spirit is with us to help us in our mission, and it is the Spirit that testifies to Christ as the standard to make sure our missions do not become gentrified.

4. Last, Self-criticism is a greater sign of humility than saying “I’m sorry”: In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis identifies humility as a great virtue. What does humility look like in our “Post-Christian” context? Does humility look like doubt over and against certainty? For some, it may be so, but according my understanding of Scripture, doubt is never an issue as much as faithlessness is. The people of God are not exiled because of doubters in their midst, but because they acted upon their doubts, or, resisted their own beliefs. It’s crucial for persons who are on mission to keep going back through prayer, reflecting on the Apostle to us apostles. What may look like an angry face may in fact be the Word you need to hear/read. While some may get tired of hear/reading criticisms about the emerging church’s race problem, criticism is important in moving forward. Forward where? Forward looks like a reflection of the Commonwealth of God, that we in Revelation, where persons from every tribe, nation, and language worships the Triune Missional God. Constructive ways forward include becoming immersed in the life your city, find Christian ways of discussing issues of race, class, and gender, and becoming mentors in underprivileged, at-risk neighborhoods.

As long as there have been followers of Christ Jesus, there have been apostles: divinely called-and-sent ones to their culture and language to communicate God’s love and justice. C.S.Lewis is just one example, but he is not alone. And neither are you.

“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”- John 20:21