Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Amen to the Critiques of the Whiteness of the Emerging Church

In its most recent edition, Sojourners published an article asking if the Emerging Church is too white by an Asian-American theologian. This is a good question, as is any such question.

In fact, the answer is yes. It is too white. It is too male. It is too American. It is too Protestant. It is too filled with professional clergy and those that wish they were professional clergy. It is too upper-middle class and too educated. It is filled with too many Mac users... and too many Democrats. It is also filled with too many intellectuals, too many Midwesterners and Californians and too many fans of LOST and folk music (and if you ask its critics, not enough Christians).

If it does not have a cross section which looks exactly like an approximation of the make-up of the world or at least America, it is too something. ALWAYS. Even if an entity is struggling with the fact that it is too white, too male, too intellectual, too rich or too right handed, we must be vigilant to criticize it based upon our singular experience. In a post-modern world facts are not to be trusted. If Colbert has taught me anything, it is this.

It does not matter if something is trying to change, we should demand the change even as it is changing (instead of demanding it before the change begins). That way, when change does happen, as it already is, we get to say it is because we made a stink about it.

We must work hard to critique young changing organizations and movements like the emerging church while ignoring the leadership of our nation, the Supreme Court of the United States, the Executive branch, the leadership of both political parties, the clergy and leadership of the United Methodist, Episcopal, Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist, Presbyterian (USA), American version of Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches, the leadership of Christianity Today, Willow Creek, Purpose Driven, Relevant and Sojourners itself. We should ignore every parachurch organization also. We need to focus on the ones that are easy to critique and wanting to change. It is the right thing to do.

As we focus our energies on the entities that are trying to become more diverse, solely because they want to reflect the world at hand and listen to voices beyond those with the same life experience, not because of some political correctness (even if there is more than I like), we can ignore those that have not opened themselves up to change, those with hidden agendas that may never change because the pressure is put on the easy one.

When I was in a fraternity in college, a couple of black guys wanted to join. Now, we were not KA, a notoriously white-only fraternity. Heck, we had guys from many different ethnic backgrounds, Latino, Greek, Asian, Italian, Arab and Indian. But, in our eyes all of these were white. In fact, growing up as I did, there were 2 races, black (anyone with really dark skin) and white (anyone with relatively light skin). It did not matter what ethnicity you really were, you just fell into one of those camps. That said, I remember trying to get my fraternity to open themselves us to brothers that were not white... or some variation. As usual, I was branded the trouble making liberal Jesus freak (things were not different in my fraternity or my church).

It was almost impossible to get these exceptional young men in, with every dishonest excuse imaginable, some of which would make you laugh if they were not so cringe worthy. Within a year our fraternity relented (when a black freshman showed up for rush week who was so superior in quality to any of the rest of us that only the most ardent racists complained).

When we focus our energies on demanding diversity of those entities that long for diversity, we may miss those entities that hide their disdain for diversity from the rest of the world... like my fraternity and those leading some of our businesses, churches and social groups (and even they change sometimes).

by the way, I think th emerging church is too insular, but its whiteness is not the issue. in fact, had these critiques happened 3-4 years ago, they would hold resonance, but now they are one of the few critiques of the emerging church that lack relevance.


andrew said...

agreed. whiteness is not the issue.

Anonymous said...

i enjoy your posts, rick. i may be missing it, but help me understand why 3-4 years ago the critique would hold resonance, but now it's changed?

Tripp said...


Lee fischer said...

Hi, just linked to your blog. I've been following the "Is Emergent too White" debate, and must say that from my perspective, it is still white with freckles! What we hear coming out of the American, Christian publishing Industry is still predominately white male seminary grads. I for one am striving for more diversity.

Also, I see you have read The Family. I've read it too, and don't know anyone else who has with whom I can discuss it with. What did you think of it? do you think the Family is really as scary as Sharlitt portraits it?

ok, thanks for you posts! lee

DJ Word said...


I think Emergent has worked very hard to be less "white" in its leadership, etc. While they are not perfect, they have made serious strides and efforts. I think the critique should have come before the major strides were made. When someone critiques someone like this as they are making strides, it just seems less useful.


I think what we get in every part of the Christian publishing industry is from those same white male educated voices.At least there are some small steps being made.

I did love the Family. It scared me. I have friends that have been part of it and known about it for years. I think it is not as nefarious as Sharlet thinks, but I think it has dangerous implications of its way of working and its theological presuppositions.