- The conversation still looks to much like the old conversation, white, male and academic. The dominant culture still dominates.
- The values behind the conversation aren’t readily expressed in actions. No generous orthopraxis to go with the generous orthodoxy. (see my previous post)
- The lexicon of the white European theological framework which still dominates. There is very little inclusion of black theologians and the theological framework of people of color. People of color seem to be included in the conversation only if they are willing to use this language and framework. It seems we all need to read NT Wright in order to have any credibility.
- Talk, talk and more talk. My experience is we love to talk about this stuff but other than retro worship stuff we don’t get around to acting on it. Even so talk about diversity has never come to the fore. I want to be the church and act like the church not just talk like the church.
- Ultimately its about relationships and I have made some good ones which go beyond the whole emergent (non movement) thing. So I’ll go about the spiritual practice of reconciliation through relationships with my brothers and sisters and leave emergent tag to others.
I have been slow to respond to this because I wanted to give some thought on this particular issue. When I went to the Emergent Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf at Yale Divinity School last month I was not suprised by the dominance of white faces in the crowd. This is pretty typical of these kinds of conversations, in my experience at least. During the conference I was blessed to talk with a brother from Atlanta named Tony Bronsink. Tony just recently attended a conference where Darrell Guder of Our Gospel and Culture Network was giving his thoughts on the emerging church. In his recounting of Guder’s thoughts he mentioned that there is a danger in the emerging church in not thoroughly discerning its sharing in the American experience. This has been one of the valid criticisms, I believe, of the emerging church conversation. That somehow we have moved on from modernity and have found (and still finding) a faithful way to follow Jesus in postmodernity. I believe this to be a dangerous temptation. The temptation being that we have faithfully (possibly completely) named our capitulation to the bad habits of modernity. The emerging church, in many ways, has the resources to ‘name’ these bad habits. But one bad habit has gone typically unscathed in the broader conversation: the racial Constantinianism of North American Christianity.
I believe this is at least one reason why Andre is post-Emergent. Andre, like he says, sees that “the dominant culture still dominates”. Why call this racial Constantinianism? Because I hope to get the attention of those in the conversation I believe have the resources to counter-act this bad habit before Emergent and the emerging church conversation create more conjeeled structures and communities that reflect the politics (eccelsial bodies) of Constantinian Christianity…albeit a more posh version of it.
I must confess. I am part-way a member of the Hauerwasian mafia. I am coming out of the closet. My imagination has been captured by theologians Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in how they have named American Christianity’s theo-sociopolitical captivity to what they describe as Constantinianism. What these two theologians have taught us is that the church has been profoundly shaped in its theological and ecclesial habits by the sociopolitical order of the Western political order:
“The decline of the old, Constantinian synthesis between the church and the world means that we American Christians are at last free to be faithful in a way that makes being a Christian today an exciting adventure.”- p. 16 Hauerwas, Resident Aliens
Theologian Michael Cartwright expounds on Hauerwas’ project:
Hauerwas’s theological project also involves questioning the institutions, practices, dispositions, and habits that have been formed under the conditions of Christendom, which imaged the unity of church and world under the (official or unofficial) sponsorship of so-called Christian governments from Constantine to so-called Christian America. The name of the first Christian emperior has come to be associated with the complex of institutional changes and alliances that led Christians in the West to see churches and nation-states to be aligned within a God-given order within which Christians would exercise leadership. The vestiges of this ‘Constantinian synthesis,’ while obviously weakened and unstable, continue to tempt contemporary Christians to believe that they don’t have to take responsibility for the church’s own discourse and practices because the powers that be (whether the Emperor Constantine or the latest incumbent of the White House) are “Christian” and Christianity is on the side of Western “progress”.- p. 629, The Hauerwas Reader
Cartwright then quotes Hauerwas:
“Constantinianism is a hard habit to break. It is particularly hard when it seems that we can do so much good by remaining ‘in power.’ It is hard to break because all our categories have been set by the church’s establishment as a necessary part of Western civilization”- Hauerwas, After Christendom
The synthesis that I see that goes largely unscathed in these kinds of conversations is the way much of the discourse named emergent, emerging church or missional is tied to a racial order that we have inherited from Christendom’s capitulation to the principality and power of ‘race’. Or more specifically what I like to the call the dominance of the symbolic universe of whiteness. It is racial Constantinianism. A form of Constantinianism that created a racial order whereby whites were at the top and blacks at the bottom.
We see vestiges of this racial Constantinianism when Christians engage in theological conversation and praxis that exclude non-white voices. This exclusionary practice is difficult to name because of our captivity to individualism…the the reducing of racial Constantinianism to purely personal prejudice (“I don’t hate non-whites…or have ill-feelings toward them”). Such thoughts reflect the politics of America. More later…