Sojo Asks: "Is the Emerging Church for Whites Only?"


Sojo isn't completely sure, and offers several takes on the question, mostly from leadership within Emergent Village... but does seem to lead in the direction of "Well, maybe at this point, kinda, yeah." Go and read the Sojo article here

I'd like to suggest there are three problems with the question and the article itself.

First, it presumes there is such an entity as "the Emerging Church" that can be identified. I think Phyllis Tickle's approach in The Great Emergence-- one that, while describing primarily North American phenomena in detail, in fact does make some claims about a much broader set of phenomena globally-- really is closer to accurate. It's not "a church" we're talking about. It's rather the recognition that church itself, worldwide, is undergoing significant "churn," has been for some time, and is likely to continue doing so for perhaps decades to come before a new sort of "settling in" takes place for another few hundred years perhaps. 

The more fruitful focus of the various movements and conversations that make up the "emerging missional way" is precisely on emergence as a process going on now-- rather than on "a church" as such.

Second, it seems to address primarily the phenomenon of emergence/emerging/Emergent within North American Evangelicalism, and more specifically within its more Reformed subsets. These are the "guys" (and yes they're mostly guys and they're all white) who have the book contracts and get most of the headline speaking engagements-- McLaren, Pagitt, Jones, Kimball, and their associates. When one of the commentators in the article noted how such marketing efforts took emerging/Emergent Village into hyperspeed, I think that was spot on. The issue is not that these are actually THE spokespersons for all things emerging/Emergent, much less for emergence itself. The issue is they are the IDENTIFIED spokespersons--  that is, identified by publishers and publicists because they can draw crowds, attention and sales really well. I hope no one begrudges the talent of these white Evangelical men-- but the reality is there aren't similar contracts or gigs on the offer out  there by these publishers/publicists on the same scale for those who aren't white, male and Evangelical. 

Do we need there to be? I'm not so sure we do. At least not if we're pretty clear and up front that emergence itself is one thing, and it's happening whether it has big exposure or not, while book contracts and headline gigs are quite another. In other words-- if we keep straight in our heads and voices that emergence is the real deal, and "the Emerging Church" is, at least in part more or less a "meme" created by the publishers and publicists. 
Karen Ward (who is neither white, nor male, nor Evangelical, except in her denomination's name-- ELCA) gets plenty of calls to speak in a variety of circles, and she's great. But where are the book contracts? Where is she on BeliefNet? And why aren't there more like her "out there?"

Maybe there is some racism and andro-centrism in the publishing/publicist business? That's very possible.

But there's something else, too. 
Karen seems to take seriously that she has a community to care for. She's not exactly keeping a low profile- but at the same time what she's doing, her real contribution, isn't as much to some larger movement thought to give "legitimacy" to her work or her name (though she is also the instigator of the Anglimergent Ning Network), but actually first, from everything I can see and know of her, to the kingdom of God as its happening in the lives of people in and around the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.

That gets to the second problem I see with the Sojo article-- its fairly intense focus on Emergent Village as the "bellwether" of emergence. On the one hand, given that Sojo is primarily an evangelical community itself, or at least has its roots there, there is some good internal sense in Sojo thinking to focus there. This is the subset of emergence they know best-- and of course is also the one with the book contracts!  But on the other hand, it really does leave out a whole lot of others (like us) who really aren't "Also-Rans" but are just as engaged in seeking to live a faithful missiology in our contexts as Emergent Village has been promoting, even if those contexts look very different from Emergent Village's "usual suspects." What I'd note in that regard, though, is that as Emergent Village has sought to connect more intentionally with non-evangelicals (from their angle-- at least some of those of us in the "mainline" might have a broader definition of that term that could also include some of us), they've also come to embrace and give expression to some priorities, values and people that may have been identified as more "liberal" or "progressive" or just different than white, male and  "evangelical" in the narrower sense. We're rubbing off on each other-- and that's a good thing.

But to me the most disappointing thing about the article-- and where it fundamentally missed the boat, I think-- is in failing to understand how "emergence" and "missional" are intimately linked, and that the latter actually drives (or I might say, should be understood to drive) the former.

It is precisely because of the awareness of the vast differences in missiological context that have become, at least to many of us, too obvious to ignore, that "emergence" is happening in the first place. The missiological issues the church must address are far bigger than "how are we going to keep younger people engaged with the church" (which is fundamentally an attractional rather than missional question in the first place). The real issues are about whether and how the church will express itself faithfully-- which includes careful and intentional efforts to form and deploy disciples of Jesus of every age and station in life-- in ALL the contexts in which it finds itself. (There isn't and really never has been just one!). 

Well, so much for my critique.

There is real missiological work for all of us to be doing with everyone around us in all the worlds they and we inhabit.

White's only just isn't an option and never should have been thought to be one. Nor is any "single group only"-- not on the grand scale. The first question is always-- who is my neighbor? And the second is, "How will I, a disciple of Jesus, BE neighbor to my neighbor, whoever and wherever that may be?"

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards