Racial Constantinianism and why Andre is post-Emergent (Part I)

My friend Andre Daley has blogged about why he is post-Emergent.  Here are his basic five points:

  1. The conversation still looks to much like the old conversation, white, male and academic. The dominant culture still dominates.
  2. The values behind the conversation aren’t readily expressed in actions. No generous orthopraxis to go with the generous orthodoxy. (see my previous post)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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… 






34 thoughts on “Racial Constantinianism and why Andre is post-Emergent (Part I)

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  1. Good Morning. I was wondering are you a Jesse Jackson type Christian? I am a back sliding Christin right now. I hope to find my way back. I cant do any good for me or others untill I get over the African American male problem I have with them.

  2. scott,

    what do you mean by Jesse Jackson type Christian? I am a Pentecostal Christian concerned about race issues in the church. Jackson typically speaks to “America”. He says very little to the “Church”.

  3. Perhaps the term Pre-Emergent, or What-ever-I-was-before-jumping-aboard-this-Emergent-thing would suffice Bro. André.

    As you know, Ant, I’ve had thoughts along these lines of the “Emergent Conversation” for a while now . . . I think that you have ably clarified these thoughts in your post here. Well done.

    One thought that I would like to contribute, though, is the idea of simply getting back to the essentials of Christianity and not musing so much about the current structures of Christianity.

    In my eschatology, what deems importance is the saving of the soul through the proclamation of the Gospel in Jesus, and (as much as is possible) the discipleship of that soul in living the Way of Jesus and in turn making disciples himself.

    I include eschatology simply because when it’s all said and done, neither the structures we decry nor the structures we endeavor to erect will stand in the Final Day. Indeed, no structure earthly, political, social, yea, even theological will stand in the Final Day. What will stand is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and a life lived faithfully to Him.

    Maybe I reduce the issue too far? Maybe not.

    Then again, when the structures that are in force militate against the ability of the Christian church to faithfully preach the Gospel and disciple the soul, then yes, we need change.

    But in America, are we really at that point? Or is it that in reality all we are actually facing is a spirit of discontentment birthed out of boredom? Whoa – now that’s my critique of the “Emergent Conversation.”

    Stay up, bro. Peace!

  4. So glenn, you would say that as long as we have the liberty to talk about Jesus then injustice(and the systems that legitimize it) does not matter?

  5. Daniel,

    Of course injustice matters. How you deduced that inference from what I previously wrote is quite frankly beyond me.

    Let’s get at the heart of the church’s mission: salvation and discipleship. (Notice that I did not say the heart of Christian praxis.)

    In my understanding, Emergent has become a conversation that deals more with how we “do church” (or, shouldn’t do it) than how we exist as Christians. (Ant, have I missed something here?)

    But back to mission: if your purpose in life is to fight for social, economical, and environmental justice (I’m assuming here) as an end in itself – go ahead and do so. But I continue to wonder as to how that will stand in the Final Day. I for one will not invest my life into such efforts that have as it’s telic scope a better world now.

    However, if I live my life missionally as a Christian, investing my life into things that have bearing upon preaching the Gospel of Jesus, then I feel that I will have lived my life for something that at the end of it all will last and remain, i.e., souls saved and lives brought closer into the Way of Christ.


  6. Then it sounds like our differences are eschatological. I have no concern about the end times and the final day. The kingdom of God is here, it’s breaking into the world. God has bigger dreams for this world than “save souls to get them to heaven”.

  7. AMEN!! it is about time someone articulated this. I just started reading your blog and you got it going on! i am so thankful that I have discovered your wirtings. i have been saying that the african-american has been doing missional, jazz emergent theology and ecclesiology for years. it is the natural and appropriate response of of a marginalized people, which is who the African-American church has been for years. Dudes like John Perkins have been doing Emerging church for 30+ years. Thanks bro. I hope you get a listen. I would love to connect with you sometime. We are doing an missional church developemnt in Pittsburgh, PA and really prayerfully wrestling through the race issue in our neighborhood. Peace to you!

  8. Here, Biblically, are the “bigger dreams” for this world:

    “But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.”
    2 Peter 3:7

    “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
    2 Peter 3:10

    “Now I (John) saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”
    Revelation 21:1

    Just from these verses I would suggest that an adjustment of your eschatological theology is definitely in order, man. We should have a concern.

  9. I don’t base my eschatology on metaphorical passages and apocalyptic literature… both of which were speaking to first century people about first century(or soon to follow) events.

  10. Glenn,

    Great quotes, how about what’s in context:

    With Peter, the teaching diligence, acting on the disciplines of faith (piety, brotherly love, etc…which render you fruitful, if lacking, your salvation for naught, see vs. 1:9).

    With the Apocalypse, the teaching of the day of judgment:
    …”and they were judged, everyone of them, according to their deeds” (Rev. 19.13, the only interest in the judgment day is the deeds of today, how humans handle worldly concerns…only then can they be deemed worthy of a new creation, see Luke 16:1ff).

    Hanna Safrai, a Jewish scholar of the 2000 some parables in Jewish literature, noted the Jewish respect of Jesus for the world in passing. She taught me about Christ’s very, uhm, un-Constantinian thinking (shall we say) about the fundamental respect for humanity breathed in his teaching of the Kingdom. For starters, in Christ’s world-conception for example, angels have a great respect of this world, they dare not pluck the tares. That’s reserved for the judgment day. Jewish eschatology, she stunningly explained to me (she’s an Orthodox Jew), elevates respect for the judgment day only because it elevates respect for humanity…and this world.

    With that view, our dreams cannot be big enough.


  11. Dear Anthony,

    I don’t have time to read all the books you’ve mentioned, learn the postmodern lingo or vernacular to engage your ideas on a deep level. But, I have read your post, and Andre’s comments, as well and want to communicate how much I appreciate where you’re coming from. In my simple-minded way, and in the context of my own life, the two posts remind me of the Diahnn Carroll and James Earl Jones film Claudine.

    The sister (D. Carroll) was struggling to raise six kids and the system that was supposed to support her efforts at sustaining and moving forward in life, kept interfering and in many ways worked to keep her out of prosperity and in poverty and defeat.

    It’s a crazy metaphor, but for me, in many ways, all the systems in our nation tend to dominate, interfere and exclude those of us who are “different.” You can read that as non-white and non-middle class.

    The church is meant to lead us all to wholeness, life and prosperity (I don’t mean in the prosperity gospel sense but in the shalom sense of the word). However, as Jesus criticized we often go half way around the world to make a convert (to starbucks), but shut the door to the kingdom in their face.

    We have to begin to look at the ways in which we conduct our discourses and dialogues in a manner that reveals our intellectual, cultural, theological, and aesthetic worship biases in a manner that exclude others and perpetuate the sins of our (white political, philosophical, and theological) fathers in this practice of exclusion.

  12. Anthony,

    Very insightful post – both you and Andre make excellent points. Too often, “diversity” is defined by my fellow Anglos as “letting people of color and women join us in our conversation,” without recognizing that the terms of the discussion don’t reflect everybody’s reality. Until we figure out that we need to hear from other voices because it is essential to our own continuing process of redemption, we won’t get very far and will remain trapped in prisons of our own making. The racial Constantinianism you refer to takes a remarkable amount of psychic energy to defend and we rather desperately need to be redeemed from that, even if we don’t always realize it. Listening to other voices isn’t granting the “other” favors- it’s a path to salvation.

    Of course, I don’t go to church, I’m not emergent, and I haven’t read N.T. Wright, so I don’t think I have much credibility in the emergent conversation, but still, this is a great post.

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  14. 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.

    I think there is a real danger here of reducing the emerging church to just its American component. This ignores emergent movements in the U.K., Australia, and Europe. But I may be hearing the wrong thing here.

  15. bryan,

    Hey man! Good to hear from you. I think his comments were specific to our American context. The conversation we were having was about the emerging church in America. I am not sure if Guder ever talked about the broader global emerging church. I didn’t hear his talk…that was just one snippet of a much larger discussion that someone was recounting to me…that was directed at the emerging church experience in America. I guess it is important that I be more specific when referring to the emerging church conversation.

  16. Wow it seems this post has generated a wide spectrum of response. Well, I will throw mine in as well.

    I have a lot of love for Emergent and have supported and participated in it for several years. But the reality I have been struck with is that it is a conversation that intends to change the church, our understanding of the church and our spiritual lives, but it is taking place without many of the people who are necessary for such a change to take place. Not only has it been a white middle class dominated conversation, but it has also been a conversation that is largely North American, (although the UK does get more involved than pretty much any where else) and it doesn\’t seem to have a third world voice. I agree with the Andre that if the conversation doesn\’t evolve to include these voices, and some actual ideas for not just how to change and individual congregation, but the structures and power base of the church, then one day I will be post-emergent also.


  17. Very interesting post and conversation here. I am probably more like one looking in to this whole emergent thing and what you’re saying, and trying to understand better.

    I do agree and believe we need the entire Church and are especially low on the input needed from the third world. And particularly, when you think about it, Africa- in which there are more Christians or at least more and more Christians than any continent.

    Also I’m intrigued by the Constantinian thing. Was raised Anabaptist. But I fear many of them were swept more or less into the deluge of that thing. However there is a move in that tradition to recapture the essence of it and not be so affected by the powers as they have been.


  18. Just a question…
    Do you believe that this “racial Constantinianism” goes both ways? Or do you believe this is just a non-colored issue?

  19. Jon,

    Good question. Racial Constantinianism is more than just about phenotype (skin color). Like all forms of racialization it has more to do with the way the social order is constructed. Constantinianism is more about how we live among each other as human beings in the context of community or society. RC is about social relations in the body of Christ. Phenotype became a convenient means to delineate those who were ‘in’ and those who were excluded. For instance, ‘white’ is more than just about skin color…it is about sitting in a particular place in the social order. Think of the Irish…at one point they were not considered ‘white’ for a spell. The Irish ‘became’ white. Of course many Irish ‘look’ British or what we now consider ‘white’. That’s why ‘race’ is more than just about skin color. It is about one’s place in the racial hierarchy. In the church we have been ensnared by this reality.

  20. Anthony I just looked at your website and I wanted you to know that I thought it was great. How are you and the family?

  21. Any chance you could recommend some reading for a small-town, Canadian white girl trying to understand? I don’t have theological training, and while I don’t mind reading with a dictionary beside me, it’d be great to start with something I could move through without language being a barrier.

  22. wilsonian,

    Thanks for stopping by. Here are some readings that have helped me:

    On Constantinianism:

    “Resident Aliens” and “Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life”- Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

    “Missional Church”- Darrell Guder and others from the “Gospel and Our Culture Network”

    “Politics of Jesus”- John Howard Yoder

    On Race:

    “Beyond the Racial Gridlock” by George Yancey
    “Divided by Faith” by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith
    “Black on White” by David Roediger, ed.
    “Beyond Good Intentions” by Melanie Bush

    This is a good start. Most, if not all, are for an American context. I know Jamie Arpin-Ricci (from Emergent Voyageurs) would have some good recommendations regarding the racial mix in Canada.


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