Diversity and the Emerging Church

Charlotte Emergent Cohort

I just saw a ten minute snippet of the Religion and Ethics piece on the emerging church conversation-movement. Thanks DJ for the link! In the last moments of this snippet the question was put forth about diversity and the emerging church. Will it break beyond a white middle class demographic? Well it has. Which is not to say that we have arrived. Honestly, I don’t know what it means to arrive there. Only time will tell.

I have been getting emails from people all over the country who are not a part of this demographic but find common ground with many features of the emerging church. There are aspects of the conversation that resonate with people outside of this demographic. Which brings to mind the issue of diversity. I have been wrestling with this issue. But here are some thoughts that are becoming more concrete in my mind. I want to hear your thoughts on this…if there is anybody out there.

I posted these thoughts on Susie Albert Miller’s blog (with a few amendments):

I am hopeful that emergent and the emerging church at large will grow more diverse ethnically and socio-economically as time goes on. As a Christian that comes from a predominantly African American context as it relates to Christianity, Evangelical Christianity in particular (with a dash of Pentecostalism), my journey here to the emerging church has been a wild ride. I am encouraged by the growing amount of ethnic voices I see joining this conversation. I am getting emails weekly of people who are trying to find other ethnic voices that are a part of this conversation. One of the things I am seeing in this conversation is a congruence of strange bedfellows. Many of the people I am talking with have been wrestling with some of the issues Emergent seeks to deal with before they found this conversation. In Emergent many are finding a conversation partner that is on a similar journey in our time and place. This needs to be clear as we begin to seriously talk about diversity and the emerging church. My journey into this whole deal started with a chance visit to a pawn shop in Bremerton, Washington (outside of Seattle on the Kitsap Peninsula) back in 95′ where I picked up a tattered copy of David Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission“. I wasn’t looking to be Emerging…I was looking to be faithful to the gospel given my North American context. Emergent has been one of the many conversation partners that has equipped me to better articulate what I am seeing. This has led me to other voices and texts. It has also led me to a greater appreciation for the Christianity of my African and African-American ancestors. Through the emphasis on ancient-futuring the emerging church has created space and time for me to gain a deeper appreciation of how black folks followed Jesus down through the ages. Hence the name postmodern negro.

My point. I came to this conversation not because I wanted to see “diversity”. Diversity wasn’t the telos that has brought me here. What has brought me here are some of the similar features in my thinking and practice of Christianity and Emergent. Emergent is singing the same song I am singing in many ways. I believe diversity is something that should be intentional but not coerced. We have to be careful to look at the various narratives and ideas relating to diversity that are flying around in our culture…based upon our particular social order. Diversity, in our culture, in many ways, has become somewhat of a ethic of coercion foisted upon the dominant culture. Such an understanding of diversity does not embody the peaceableness of the gospel. Diversity is something, I believe, that is the outworking of participating in the very life of God. When we break bread together, pray together, fuss, fight, dialogue, debate, share our joys, our sorrows together God may see fit to bless with His Spirit to guide our bodies to reflect the sociality of the Father, Son, and the Spirit. Which I believe is true diversity. The telos or goal of our diversity should be living life together in God…not diversity for diversity’s sake. When diversity is sought after for its own sake it can easily turn into some thing…some narrative…some idol that is foreign to the story of God. Let’s break bread together and see what happens.

What has happened in my emerging church journey, thus far, has been the befriending of Steve Knight. If anything, me and Steve’s friendship represents the future of this conversation. There other like friendships spread throughout the emerging church conversation. I know we are not alone.


12 thoughts on “Diversity and the Emerging Church

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  1. Hey Ant. I appreciate your perspective on the place of diversity in this conversation. The complexity, however, of walking it out can be tricky. In missiological circles outside of the Euro-Western world, the battle for balance wages. Historically, missionaries from the West would come and “civilize & Christianize” the “savage” peoples of the world. While this attitude changed in time, the colonial attitude didn’t all that much.

    Thankfully, as the ethnocentricity of Western missions changed, an emphasis on “indigenously” lead churches became more common. For the first time in many centuries, new faith communities were being formed and defined true to their own histories, contexts, narratives, etc. It was a well needed restoration.

    However, a (relatively) new dynamic has entered the conversation. As these indigenously true churches develop, they are finding that many of them are becoming ethnocentric, microcosms of the Western Church they sought not to replicate. This has presented the next challenge of missiology: How to grow communities of faith that are true to their narrative while remaining a part of the global Body of Christ.

    I think we face the same challenge, though in some respects far more complex. The varying theories and practices outside of the Western world seeking to address these issues have raised great disagreements, sometimes including cries of heresy or racism. Here in Canada, with the First Nations people, part of the challenge is that (unlike the African American Christian community) there has not been a significant expression of Christianity in their cultures, causing some to conclude that, until they have explored indigenous theology and ecclesiology, requiring their participation in the larger dialogue could undermine their efforts.

    While I think there is food for thought in this stance (and in many others), they strike me as still being addressed i terms of the Euro-Western church being the standard or base form of Christianity into which all others need to integrate. What is your perspective?


  2. Jamie,

    Thanks for lending your perspective on this. Especially as it relates to First Nations people and Christianity. Indeed African-Americans have significantly been impacted by Christianity, in particular, Evangelical Christianity. That’s what I am grappling with now…what is an “authentic” and “contextual” African American form of Christianity. Most forms of Christianity practiced by black folks down here is a convergence of some aspects of an African world-view, Protestant Evangelicalism, and the experiences of living in North America (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow, Integration, etc.).

    I am currently working on a project that is attempting to ancient-future black Christian faith…going back to the Coptics and some forms of Orthodoxy Christianity that made its way early in Africa to slave Christianity to the post-Civil rights black Church.

    What I am hungering for is what I see in many Euro Christians here that are discovering celtic Christian spirituality.

    My perspective is this thus far:

    I think that it is alright to have authentic forms of Christian faith and practice tied to the narratives and contexts of a particular people. But I think we also need to create extra spaces where we can come together and represent the sociality of the triune God. As Christians I would hope, despite our varying contexts and histories, we would be able to find common worship practices that give witness to God’s kingdom.

    So, I would say that we would need common spaces to worship and practice our faith together while maybe we go off to our own contexts to be more authentic in our faith. But not all will fit there either. I know quite a few black folks here that have no problem not being a part of the black church. And I know white Christians here that have no problem with being a part of a black church. Of course the former is more prevalent than the latter, in my experience.

    The question you raise is worthy of a long discussion. That would be a worthy discussion topic.

  3. jamie,

    Do you think there is the possibility that we can “over-contextualize” the gospel? Your comments here took my thoughts to a book a read some time ago by David Bosh “Believing in the Future”. He says this and what he is imagining is a missiology towards Western culture:

    “We have, at long last, come to the conviction that mission in the Third World must be ‘contextual’. We do not have an equally clear conviction about the need for contextualization in the West. Somehow we still believe that the gospel has already been (has always been?) properly indigenized and ocntextualized in the West. However, as we now know, the West has largely turned its back on the gospel. Was it perhaps because the gospel was never properly contextualized? Or perhaps overcontexualized, so much so that it has lost its distinctive character and challenge? What, indeed, will contextualization of the gospel in the West involve and look like? I submit that we do not really know. That makes it all the more necessary to reflect on this issue with the utmost urgency.” (p. 58-59)

    I think Bosch inability or unwillingness to answer this question requires that we grapple with this stuff on the ground. That’s why I think the emerging church culture that is developing may prove to be a place where different contextualizations of Christianity can come together and break bread and give witness to the kingdom together. We’ll see.

  4. Hey bro,

    This was another beautiful post. I was getting emotional just reading it and looking forward to the next time we can break bread.

    I’m here in Eastern Europe, surfing on the free wifi in the hotel lobby. It’s been a strange time for me here. The dominant culture in Moldova (and much of Eastern Europe) is the Orthodox Church, and the evangelicals here have been greatly discriminated against and even persecuted by the Orthodox Church. It breaks my heart to see this, and I’m longing to see unity in the body of Christ — Orthodox and evangelical, breaking bread together and giving witness to the Kingdom of God. Anyway, just another gaping hole in the torso of the Church to pray about when you think of and long for the unity that Christ prayed we would have.

    See you soon, friend!

    Steve K.

  5. I wanted to speak to the primary concern that you raise Anthony, which is Emergent “seeking diversity for diversity’s sake.” You express your concerns in a very thought-provoking manner, but I think we may be putting the cart before the horse a little bit here.
    Seeing how emergent is really just beginning to resemble anything that could be considered diverse, is the primary issue the possibility of idolizing diversity or being more intentional about reaching diverse individuals and groups?

    When I think about how you and I came to this conversation, it was a result of us taking the initiative to participate in a local cohort. There was no formal invitation, other than the claims of Emergent’s most vocal voices that they desired to overcome the racial and socio-economic barriers that currently divide the church. So, we decided to test that premise.

    Though we do not want to replicate the sometimes contrived, market-driven diversity of the larger society, when you are up against hundreds of years of racism and segregation you have to be proactive about inclusion if that’s what you really value. I suppose, because as far as I can tell, there is still much more talk about diversity than action, Emergent is far from being in danger of seeking diversity for diversity’s sake, and would be better served by adding praxis to proposition.

  6. Rod,

    Thanks for your comments here. They are instructive. I hope I wasn’t giving the impression that emergent is seeking diversity for diversity’s sake. I didn’t think that was my claim. I wanted to say that our intentionality for diversity has to be something that is grounded in the gospel and not the other narratives in our culture that are based upon violence and coercion…and superficiality. Hopefully my comments here were not taken as this is where Emergent is heading as it relates to diversity (seeking diversity for diversity’s sake). I was hoping to give a word of caution as we proceed with this conversation about diversity. Any diversity without relationality and friendships can be dangerous in my estimation.

    Like I said in my post I think we should be intentional in becoming conversation partners and friends in the emerging church but we must be careful what brings us to this conversation.

    I don’t think there are easy answers to this piece. It has to be lived out in the context of friendships. Friendships that give sign to the triunity of God.

  7. Hello all,
    Regarding “diversity for diversity’s” sake, I believe the idea is UNDERrated.

    In a culture that worships comfort, and pursues that comfort in sameness, I think there is great Christian value in pursuing diversity for diversity’s sake. I, too pursue a telos of the Reign of God, but if our picture of that telos does not include diversity, it ain’t the Reign of God.

    What I have appreciated about the Emergent conversation is the willingness to bring diverse voices to the table and the willingness to question all the givens like, “‘church growth’ that comes from banding together with ‘people like us.'”

    I submit that while “churches” HAVE grown through the heresy of pursuing sameness, they might not be growing The Church. The heresy is comfortable AND it works. We like it. It’s easy. But it’s not the Gospel.

    I believe that if we do not pursue diversity for it’s own sake, we won’t pursue it. But “for its own sake” means “as an integral component to pursuit of the Reign of God.”


    I’m very interested in where your pursuit of ancient African Christian practices is taking you. What are you reading?

    My own thinking has led to a belief that, while we might be able to overcontextualize the Gospel, we are met with the question of who is the arbiter of such a decision. Who decides that we have too much culture in our Gospel? If the decision is based on some generic disembodied Gospel–I don’t buy it. I have come to believe that the Gospel is ALWAYS embodied.

  8. tdadpete,

    I like the way you put that. “diversity for diversity’s sake” meaning diversity being an “integral part of the gospel.” I think that’s key. Part of the issue for me is the issue of language. For we know that language and practice are connected. I am also encouraged by your testimony regarding your experience with Emergent. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to make it to one of the events.

    The reign of God is the telos. My only point was coming from my experiences of attempting diversity without friendships, discipleship, and of course focus on the reign of God.


  9. Hey Ant. I would very much like to hear more about your pursuit of the ancient-future black Christian faith. Celtic Christianity is a rich tradition to present an example, as perhaps the only European Christianity to stem from indigenous values. Celtic & First Nations spirituality, actually, share some core similarities.

    As to “over-contextualization”, it raises some interesting questions. Ultimately, though, the concept of contextualization presupposes that we have an uncontextualized faith to begin with, which I personally do not believe is the case. It is a false dichotomy that diminishes the sacred nature of our co-creative place within Creation, albeit diminished by sin.

    Additionally, while cultures have interacted throughout history, never has there been cultures like those represented in Euro-Western nations, where cultural identity exists in the paradox of multicultural synthesis and the loss of any cultural heritage at all. As an aside, many white Canadians, reflecting on the beauty of our Canadian multicultural mosiac (as opposed to US melting pot), feel ‘rootless’ and without context at all. This is something I regularly struggle with. As I have always said, I would rather be part of a leperous body than an otherwise healthy severed finger. But I am drifting…

    I agree with you (and Bosch) that these struggles need to be grappled with on the ground. As Rod said, I think we need to add more praxis to proposition in this conversation, which I believe is happening. While we need to be more intentional, many of us are at a loss at where to go from here.

    At any rate, I find the dialogue here refreshing, challenging and edifying. Thanks for creating this sacred space!

    Peace, Jamie.

  10. tdadpete,

    Right now I am reading:

    “Terror and Triumph” – Anthony Pinn
    “Africentric Christianity”- J. Deotis Roberts
    “Whose Religion is Christianity”- Lamin Sanneh
    “Down, Up, and Over”- Dwight Hopkins
    “Prophesy Deliverance!”- Cornel West
    “The Black Church in the African-American Experience”- Lincoln and Mamiya
    “Sorrowful Joy”- Albert Raboteau


    What is motivating me to do this is a deep longing for something that transcends the growing consumerist forms of Christianity pervading African American Christianity nowadays. Especially in the Southern United States. While there still exists historic traditional black Churches there is a growing number of churches that are becoming more and more dis-connected from a rich theological/ecclesial heritage. As a matter of fact in some of these churches the rich theological and ecclesial traditions are mocked. More and more I am seeing young black Christian leaders poke fun at the negro spirituals or some form or practice of black Christianity. It is troubling to me.

    So…my project is to simply locate how long the conversation has taken place between the people of Africa and their descendants…AND the Christian tradition. What I am discovering is fascinating.

    I am more interested in how various Africans and African-American Christians “practiced” their faith.

    I want to ancient-future black Christian faith the same way writers like Robert Webber and Len Sweet have for white Evangelicalism.

    The movie Rize that just came out is an excellent analogy to what I am doing. Here are inner city kids trying to find their way in the world. They want to transcend the pathologies that plague inner city living…so they go back to the past in the form of ancient African dance…and combine with hip-hop dance. Its a fascinating story. I plan on blogging about it in the near future.

  11. What are examples of when diversity has been imposed through violence? I’m sure there are a lot of people feel that it has been coerced through programs such as Affirmative Action, but do you have an example of violence?

  12. “What are examples of when diversity has been imposed through violence?”


    Good question. Of course I don’t think I said that diversity was ever imposed through violence. My claim was that the diversity we see in our society derives its source from a culture based upon violence and coercion.

    My point is that the diversity in our culture is based upon a liberal capitalism. Which is based in part on violence. In order for our culture to maintain its global hegemony it needs a “unified front” among its various groups. Which means that it would need a diversity of people unified under the nation state as seeks to “survive” or “fulfill” its own self-interest. In these instances would I caution diversity for diversity’s sake. Diversity for what?

    The war in Iraq is an excellent example of what I am talking about. Although held to be an unjust war by about every major Christian body there was a “diversity” in the military campaign. The military is an excellent example of a diversity that oftentimes is used to buttress the violence of the nation-state. Again, my question, diversity for what?
    For the aims and aspirations of the wealthy? So you see diversity in and of itself has to be grounded in a different narrative, the gospel, than the narrative of our liberal capitalist society that is founded upon violence
    . When diversity becomes an “end” in and of itself it can be used for all kinds of evil.


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