The Wacky Emerging Church: Reason #2.76

This post is part of a continuing series. You may want to read my list of disclaimers and intro remarks here, if you haven’t done so already.

Reason #2.76: The other white meat

Sad, but true, folks. White dudes with money are still pretty much in control. If you took a poll of emerging church folks, of who the ten most influential people in this whole scene are, you’d certainly end up with a very homogenous list. Yes, we have a few prominent people that we can point to as good examples, but I think we all know that it’s not enough. As a white dude with money, I have to face my own little identity crisis here – who am I to call attention to this? All I can do is try my best to keep this issue on the table, and work to change my own practical approaches to this.

For all our talk about new forms of theology, praxis, and leadership, and all our talk about God’s concern for the marginalized, we still have to look at the raw data: who’s getting the publishing deals, who’s keynoting at the big conferences, who’s getting celebrated on the blogs, who’s showing up to the conversations.

I’ll say that there seems to have been some good progress in the number of women that are gaining a voice. Cool. But what about non-white, non-Eurocentric cultures? Not only are we rarely seeking connections and bringing these folks into the public discourse here in the West, we’re almost completely ignorant of things taking place outside of our Western culture.

Why is that? Really? Is it that we just haven’t taken the time to learn about groups like Amohoro in Africa, or La Red Del Camino in Latin America, or Emergent Malaysia? Or is it even worse than simply accidental ignorance of what God is doing in the world?

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons that the emerging church conversation is so dominated by those in the white middle class is that people in minority and poorer segments of our society don’t relate to the kinds of questions being asked, and so much of the talk is just irrelevant to where they live. While I think there’s validity to that, I think it probably indicates a continuing attitude of colonialism/paternalism. Yes, many of us in the emerging church want racial reconciliation, and we want to defend the causes of the poor, and serve them. But in so doing, are we listening to what they have to teach us about God, and how they’ve learned to follow Jesus? Do we set aside our overpriced educations and impressive libraries long enough to sit at the feet of those who God favors? Do we make the same old broken assumptions that “if they’re poor, they must not be smart?” Do we really believe that spiritual gifts of wisdom and teaching and discernment are limited to those of means?

How many emerging church people do you know that, when they became dissatisfied with the church culture they grew up in, decided to go join a church pastored by someone of a different cultural background? How many emerging church planters do you know that, when they decided to start their church in an urban poor environment, took the time to sit and learn from the pastors of the existing churches in that neighborhood? I actually do know a couple of people that did so, but they’re the exception by far.

I can’t overstate the importance of this issue, friends. It’s just not good enough for us to continue talking as though we’re enlightened, and not really racist or sexist or classist ourselves, unless we’re actively working to bring about change. Talk isn’t cheap here – it’s costing us dearly.

Thank you for your attention. That is all. Comment at will.


8 Comments so far
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Good challenge Steve. Thanks. I totally get what you are saying. I wonder how much people who are emerging really care about race and ethnicity and such. Is it as important as it might have been 10 or 20 years ago? I don’t have an answer just that thought. And I could certainly be wrong.

Comment by Tyler

Great post, we were having a similar discussion on Josh Brown’s blog (www.iamjoshbrown.com/blog) a few weeks ago. I made a commitment there to read at a 1-1 ratio books from minority voices to the books by “white guys,” I’m still getting through my last two white guy books that I started before I made that commitment, but honestly, I look forward to hearing the voices that we have marginalized for so long.

I do have a question for you, in light of this post, how do you view Jeremiah Wrights comments? (I’m not trying to bait you, I’ll say this upfront: I completely empathize with his viewpoints)

Comment by Matt Scott

I’m one of the first to speak out in this regard – one reason why I left the Methodist denomination was their tendency towards voluntarily segregated congregations.

But…could it be more because the ‘black’ church in America has not experienced the same malaise of the ‘white’ church? Stronger and theologically conservative congregations, not as many are seeking something different. Take a look at Obama’s church; based upon his pastor’s fiery rhetoric I doubt if many who frequent that venue would be too interested in the more laid back ways of emergence.

That being said, there are emergent leaders of color. Michael Battle is one that comes to mind.

Comment by Christian

Matt – thanks for the comment and link. I like your idea for your reading list. My school reading list has me reading a lot of authors from the global south, and I’ve found that very helpful. Rock on.

As for your tricksy, bait-y question (just kidding), I’m no fun – I’ve not been at a place in my life to be up on the news for the past week or so. I’ve been vaguely aware of some controversy regarding Obama’s pastor, but that’s it. Therefore, I will just say the words reporters love to hear – “No comment.”

Christian, I’d say that the reason ‘black’ congregations haven’t been “seeking something different” is largely due to the fact that they’ve had racism, injustice, and poverty to deal with, and haven’t had the luxury to sit around considering the ways in which theological systems have screwed us all up.

Also, I don’t mean to call you out here, but two things:

– “Stronger and theologically conservative congregations” – I know this isn’t the point of your comment, but I’m gonna play the postmodern card and just rhetorically ask what those categories mean? I have a hunch that if we talked those things out, we’d find the white church to be less strong, less conservative than we thought. But that’s another conversation.

– If people from African American church culture wouldn’t be interested in the laid back ways of emergence, that’s due in part to what I talked about in my post. They haven’t been included, which means their voices and energy levels and messages haven’t been included. We all suffer for that fact. Because of this, I don’t think it’s “them” that need to get interested in what “we” are doing, but rather, the other way around.

Again, I don’t mean to call you out personally. I appreciate your comments, and think they add to the conversation.

Comment by steve lewis

No problem. Calling each other out in respectful and encouraging ways is what this is all about.

Anyway, what I was trying to say was that for the past 40 years or so the mainline churches, made up of predominantly ‘white’ congregates, has been experiencing quite a decline in attendance. Many think that this is due to the fact that as they embraced the social Gospel they lost their focus on Jesus and the scriptures. The African American church, already having a great understanding of Jesus message of social justice, never lost the other ‘fundamentals’ Their congregations remained strong.

So there are fewer African American Christians who are fleeing either irrelevant mainline churches or the hard line conservative evangelical churches.

Besides, what percentage of the population is African American? 12 -13%? Who can know the demographic of the the ’emerging church’, as it has now real boundaries?

This is simplistic, I realize, but I think it holds water.

Comment by Christian


That’s helpful clarification. Good words. Thanks.

Comment by steve lewis

Christian- I would disagree with you. From my vantage point, Christians, in large part, lost their focus on a the social side of gospel, forsaking it for an solely atonement gospel. Perhaps it’s my evangelical upbringing that causes me to view things this way, but it’s what I have seen. Were any social related kindness dispensed, from any of the evangelical churches I attended, it would have been only in addition to some sort of “turn or burn” message.

Also, as a college student, I see atheists, agnostics, and “relapsed” Christians respecting more persons who carry out the social side of the gospel than those who harp solely on the “fundamentals” of Christianity.

What I see is a common belief of “What good is orthodoxy without orthopraxy?”

Just my opinion.

Comment by Matt Scott

Matt, you don’t disagree with me, you just misunderstood me.

It’s the mainline churches I was talking about that did good by emphasizing the social Gospel but somehow in the process they lost much of the mystery and sacred connections to God, Some even though calling themselves Christian claimed to be agnostic or atheist.

So people left for the ‘turn and burn’ evangelical churches that tend to forget the social Gospel, or when they remember it there is always some strings attached.

I think we are finding people ’emerging’ within the old mainline denominations with the intent of redirecting their communities. Meanwhile people are leaving the evangelical denominations because there is too much resistance to any type of change there.

As far as your closing remarks go; I just mentioned to my wife that it seems like that it’s only Christians who feel compelled to condemn me to hell.

Comment by Christian

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