I have never had this many comments before. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussion. Many of the thoughts presented here have given me cause for further reflection on this very important issue. One of the fruits of this discussion, for me, was signing up with the Embracing Church site. It is a site maintained by Jay Vorhees.
Here is a re-cap of some of the comments that stood out in my mind and ruminated on.
Jose : “i also think we need to think of diversity beyond the # of blacks, latinos, etc. Attending some event. The issue is whether the above mentioned folks will be included into the think tanks, praxis, and theological expression of the movement itself.”
I have thought about my own experiences with this issue. I have been in church situations where it was proclaimed that this church was said to be “multi-cultural” or “ethnically diverse”. My first question and I admit it is a difficult one was this: is the leadership diverse? Then we started to deal with the culture of the church itself. What was the dialogue like? Had the leaders researched and discussed the particular histories and cultures of its diverse congregations? Did the leaders understand the particular issues that confronted its “ethnic” members when they were outside of the four walls of the church, in the world? Had the leaders read more than just dead white theologians, pastors and thinkers? So I feel you bru…and this is something I have to be totally honest about. I can’t tell you the frustration I feel sometimes when I am discussing particulars issues like “Reformation history” or the theology and thought of the Patristic heritage of Western/Eastern Christianity…and when I bring up people like John Perkins, David Walker, Martin Luther King Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, and a whole host of black theologians, pastors, and thinkers and I hear crickets chirping. That’s why I am encouraged with some of the people in the emergent conversation…there seems to be a critical dialogue with the church in all its forms…as what my man described as “deep ecclesiology”. But I am looking forward to the organic and natural emergence of people of color in this dialogue in regards the theology and praxis of Emergent. And like you said…there are many already who are trying. And many in other countries. That’s why I have to give it up to Brian McLaren when he discusses post-colonial theology and praxis and the growing relationships globally in this emergent conversation.
djchuang: Another way to look at the problem of racism at the root of the church in America is: it’s a Protestant/Evangelical problem. Where the church parish or congregation is formed geographically, like in the Catholic and Orthodox church, there is no white or black or yellow or red church. So maybe its endemic to how we do theology that we have racially segregated churches.
dj. I think you are on to something here. I was reading some stuff by Cornel West and there is a passage in his book Race Matters that I can’t recall the exact page. But he talks about how “race” is a modern invention borne out of the Enlightenment. So your thought here got me to thinking how foundationalist theologies, philosophies, and absolutist politics fed into the rise to racism. Such as how the notion of universal reason became the mantra of the Modernist project…and in conjunction with that how “whiteness” became the norm by which Western culture judged other particular cultures. The tyranny of the “perceived” universal over the particular. Or rather the reign of a particular over the particulars.
And part of the reason Catholic/Orthodox churches seem somewhat unscathed by the seeds of racial division may have to do with the fact that they learned and did ecclesiology out of a tradition that proceeded the notion of a universal “white-culture-as-norm” for centuries. That isn’t to say that Catholicism and Orthodox bodies were immune to these issues…which I don’t think they were inasmuch as they adapted to some of the cultural products of the Enlightenment. Something to further reflect on there. Why has Evangelical/Protestant culture become victim to the racial divides in a more pronounced way than say some of our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters?
david: The question of why the movement is mostly white is a question of who has interest. The “Emergent” movement seems to be another movement in the white church to catch up to society and reach the people where they are.
There is some truth to what you are saying but I think Emergent is something bigger than that. I see in Emergent a shift away from theologies, philosophies, and practices that privilege a particular culture over others. So while there may be many black churches that may not be participating in this specific discussion some of the issues being addressed in this conversation are relevant to the black Church. And trust me there are many black Christian leaders that are having similar discussions we are having in the Emergent conversation.
The white church has continually faced the problem of being outmoded and unable to keep pace with the times and issues of the people. The black church, in my limited experience, and observation, has been more able to adapt to the moment, reaching people with the context of today more readily. Thus, the need for an “Emergent” movement within the black church is redundant. The black church is already current, dealing with the problems, issues and advances of society on a daily basis more often and more specifically than the white church.
I believe there is much in Emergent that resonates with particular forms of black Christianity. I don’t want you to get a idealistic picture of the black Church. Some would argue that the post-Civil Rights black Church is being taken over with theologies deeply influenced by some of the negative effects of capitalism. That’s what partly brought me to this conversation. I saw theologians and pastors attempting to grapple with stuff I see taking a strangle hold on the black Church. Such as theologies of crass materialism, hyper-individualism, and in some cases American exceptionalism (which is another issue altogether). There is a growing conservative shift within black Christianity that is literally scaring the hell out of me. The black Church has not been totally immune to a theology of empire as some would have us believe. Although the black Church has historically been a site of resistance and cross-bearing in our culture it is becoming more and more less so. That’s part of the reason I am here.
Another issue as well and I will acually end my comments here with a thought about something. I think those that have been nurtured and fed and discipled by the black Church can find a hospitable dialogue partner with Emergent. In reading Hauerwas, one of the theologians that has deeply influenced many in this conversation, I have gained a deeper appreciation for St. Augustine. St. Augustine, an African (ok…North African) by the way, serves as a cautionary tale for young conscious black leaders in the body of Christ. Augustine got me thinking about the issue of freedom. I think part of the reason why we have many of the pathologies we have in the black community is because we have gone passed freedom situated within a theological narrative and ended up with a notion of freedom that looks more like Kant than the Exodus or Jesus. Freedom during slavery up until the Civil Rights meant freedom from tyranny…in a very real way. But this understanding of freedom was deeply situated within a very nuanced understanding of the Exodus story and Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Not so today. Freedom becomes an end in and of itself. Which I think is dangerous. Which I think serves as a cautionary tale for young black Christian leaders like myself who want to see the end of political and economic oppression. I believe that many black Christian leaders have allowed an American-styled ideal of freedom to overdetermine their ecclesiology and theologizing. Don’t get me wrong here. I think the history tells us why “freedom” looms large in black culture and language. But what has happenend, in my little estimation, is that we have grabbed hold of a notion and practice of freedom in many of our communities that is no longer situated in a theological narrative that sustained and gave us hope during and after slavery…up until the Civil Rights movement. It would have been extremely difficult for a black Christian to discuss “freedom” without mentioning “God”. It seems now that we have allowed freedom, a particular appropriation of the term, to overdetermine our theological discourse and practice….thus allowing some of the negative effects of living in a society that doesn’t situate freedom within a theological narrative and a society that is feeling the negative effects of capitalism…such as the deformation of desire. In many cases, but obviously not all, freedom went from tasting the goodness of the Lord to tasting whatever the hell I want.
My comments here are just one small piece of the puzzle. I could be wrong as two left shoes here. But this is what I am seeing. And why I think Emergent is an excellent ecclesial space to talk about these issues.
Enough..this post is entirely too long.