Saturday, April 27, 2013

Gender, Marginalization, and Emerging Church Movements

So, I'm just going to go ahead and spit it out without much lead-in: the emerging church movement is pretty much a middle-to-upper class, educated, heterosexual, white male-driven thing.  Here is a list of leading voices in the movement.  Notice anything?  Look up "emerging church figures" on Wikipedia and see if you can find a woman's name.  I couldn't, until I got to the references section, where I learned that women are talking about the emerging church, or rather, about what men are saying in and about the emerging church.  I can't tell from their names whether they are white or socio-economically privileged, but I have yet to see anyone who's not both of those things featured in the emerging church conversations.  And I just attended an event where everyone was white, well off enough to come to a conference in Belfast, well educated, etc., and where we listened almost exclusively to men, except once when we listened to a woman talk...about what men had written.

(I realize that the emergent movement isn't very well defined, and that many of the people considered to be part of it, Peter Rollins included, would not label themselves that way.  Oh well.  I have to group them as something.  Please understand that I mean a variety of alternative theological and ecclesiological ideas that can be broadly classified as "emerging.")

Of course, every theological trend has a particular source and primary audience, and this one came from, and seems to be answering mostly the questions of, educated, white people who are middle class or above.  However, the emerging movement tends to be critical of the traditional church's exclusivity, homophobia, lack of racial and cultural diversity, and failure to show justice and mercy to the "least of these."  The leading voices in the emerging movement are also egalitarians, that is, they believe in the equality of women in their churches/gatherings.  And yet, when you look around the table of Big Names in New Church these days, it looks pretty much like the table of Big Names in Same Old Church has looked for ages.  Economically advantaged.  Educated.  Straight.  White.  Male.  Those who have always been in power are still leading.  Those who have been marginalized are still at the margins.  

It gets tricky, because it's not like you can go grab someone who fits a target demographic and tell them to write a book about their take on alternative theology.  But I cannot believe that there are no women or non-white people who have something important to say about emerging or radical theology.  What I suspect is that they don't have access to the circles where their voices would be heard, and that there is a cycle in which being privileged makes it easier to do things like be published, and so it is the books of privileged people that get printed, marketed, and read, and thus there just is nothing really available to be read by marginalized people, so they'll never be invited to speak at a conference or contribute to a conversation.

Eventually (or sooner), it will be helpful if those major figures in the movement start being intentional about finding marginalized voices and encouraging them to come forward.  Sometimes that will mean that the star will have to step back.  Otherwise, all of this stuff about critiquing the power structures in the traditional church will have to stop, because you look just like the thing you're criticizing.

Eventually (or sooner, or now), it will also be helpful for some people in the unrepresented groups to decide that they care enough about their voice being heard that they really push for it, and keep speaking - loudly - until they are heard.

Which brings up the related fact that I am feeling some internal pressure to write something substantial.  I'm not sure whether this pressure is because I'm just so annoyed that there are no women in this conversation and know that my voice is, well, loud.  Or because I actually have something to say.  Or because I want to be recognized somehow, and feel like I've achieved something on a larger scale.  Probably some of all of the above.

I think the emerging church movement could use a healthy dose of conversation with liberation theologies, which come from the bottom and intend not to appeal to those in power, but to challenge them.  If they're serious about including those the traditional church has marginalized, they're going to have to be intentional about inviting their voices into the conversation, or perhaps just sitting back and listening to the conversations that go on among them.  As for me, I'm contemplating what a melding of these theological strands of classical Reformed, emerging, radical, and liberation theologies - which is pretty much where I am - might look like in written form, and whether I might write such a thing.


  1. I am white
    I am male
    I am a heterosexual
    I am an american
    I am in the 1% income in the USA
    I am over educated
    I am a Christian

    It feels like to me that don't see me as a person but simply the other.

    To me you are simply a person.

    Sorry. I wish we all could see past race, religion, sexuality, wealth, etc. We are all just people.

    If you don't like the fact women are not leading the emergent church... lead it. I'm listening.

  2. Yeah, yeah, I know, I've heard your opinion on this :) It's just not so easy to proclaim "there is no other! we're all just people!" when you've spent a lot of time having people tell you why X factor about you makes you less, and even more time studying how society tells a variety of people that they are less. May the world that you envision, in which we are all just people, be so.