GCR: Julie Clawson and Ryan Kemp-Pappan

Where does that coffee come from? What does that chocolate bar have to do with slavery? How do our everyday choices affect the global economy and human rights? Julie Clawson wrote a book on these very things.

Carol Howard Merritt talks to Julie Clawson about her unique perspective on the Emergent Church as well as her book, Everyday Justice. Then Carol talks with Ryan Kemp-Pappan about what Julie had to say.


Blogging around….

Although I haven’t been here, I’ve been at a few other places… It is my dream that someday I will have a site that will automatically pick up the feeds from the other places I blog, and put them here. Until that dream becomes a reality… I have to keep up my erratic cross-posting.

I’m at Clayfire Curator, talking about Liberating: the Sermon.

At Duke’s Call and Response blog, we’re discussing the relationship between seminaries and churches. What can we do to strengthen that bond? Also Daniel Kirk has picked up the discussion on his blog.

At the Huffington, I reflected on Amy Winehouse’s death and talked about the Columbian Free Trade Agreement.

In other places… Bo Sanders has been hosting an interesting discussion on the use of terms evangelical/liberal/progressive.

Also, my mom just gave me a heads-up on this lovely eulogy that Rob Kirby, the Senior Editor of Beliefnet wrote about my dad.

That’s an eclectic list of topics…. Hopefully there will be something there to interest you!

God Complex Radio–Season Four

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since we started God Complex Radio. We’re on our fourth season, and when we designed this season, we decided to focus on people who are really good at networking–both in a traditional sense and in terms of new media. To kick us off, we have someone who’s a great networker in both ways. Landon Whitsitt talked to Steve Knight, the instigator of the Transform Network and the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation.

We would love for you to join us!

Diversity Still Matters

I was at a Presbytery meeting in South Louisiana, and a woman got up to the microphone. I shifted in my seat. I knew what she was going to say, because she always said it. She was going to bring up the fact that there was not enough diversity in our leadership. I have to admit. I rolled my eyes and thought, Here we go again.

I can’t tell you what happened between that meeting eleven years ago and now. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent a dozen years watching my friends get passed over for jobs, book deals, speaking engagements, and board positions over and over again. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been told:

“You were invited to speak at that conference? You must be the token woman.”

“Male leadership attracts men, and female leadership doesn’t. That’s why we need more men in the pulpit.”

“Pastoring is becoming a pink-collared profession.”

“Since women were ordained, our denomination has been in decline.”

“You don’t have enough administrative experience for this job.” (Even though I was a business manager and oversaw 27 employees before I entered seminary.)

Never mind spending four years at Moody Bible Institute. I hear these things consistently in progressive circle, among people who claim to be committed to inclusion.

It seems like I have been in the midst of many discussions around diversity issues lately. The contexts have been different: in new church movements, denominational settings, academic discussions, conference planning, and pastoral hiring. The questions and resistance persist. In fact, maybe it’s me, but the resistance, even among my progressive friends, seems more prominent right now. And, many times, I have been shocked at the responses. I guess I want to attend to some things here.

(1) If I am a part of your conversation, whether it is around a movement, organization, institution, or conference planning, and there are great inequities, I will ask questions. Just expect it. I’m not trying to ruin your event, discount the work that you’ve done, or question your integrity. I know what it’s like to plan an event and have it turn out to be a white guy gathering. It’s frustrating. I’ve personally planned events where the diversity was not what I hoped. I know that sinking feeling when I’ve been called on it. But… we just have to keep each other accountable with this stuff, or it will never change.

(2) I have been told that it is racist or sexist to reserve certain positions for people of color or women. The logic goes that if there is a bias toward women/people of color then there is a bias against white men. And that is racist or sexist. I understand the logic, but I don’t agree with it.

If you look at the whole of religious positions, there are a tiny handful of positions with a bias toward hiring women and POCs. When an organization is looking for a woman or a POC, it is usually only to correct an overwhelming proclivity towards white males within the organization. If you’re a white guy who got passed over for a less qualified woman or POC, I sympathize with you. But I know the feeling because it’s what we face all the time. Most religious jobs are biased against women, and many are biased against POCs. Women often get better grades in seminary, they are outnumbering men at many seminaries, and they still make up a small fraction of Heads of Staff, conference leaders, and board leaders. We are usually relegated to second tier positions for our entire careers.

If you are a white male, and you were passed over for a job because it was given to a POC or woman, hold on to that feeling and outrage. Understand it. And realize that’s what we live with most of the time.

(3) I understand that I am in a position of great privilege. When talking about this stuff, people often look at me and say, “What the heck?” (Okay… so they use more colorful language than that….) “Who are you to talk? You’re a writer and a speaker. You have a great job in downtown D.C. Why are you whining about not having enough power?” I know that I’m a powerful person. And that’s the main reason I bring it up. You see… I would have never talked about this stuff if I were powerless, because I would have been afraid that people would think that I was trying to hone in on some position, job, or slot. Or, because I would have been afraid it would ruin my career. But now, I can speak out more on behalf of others. And I know how important it is for those of us with privilege to recognize our own power and do the same.

(4) I reject the notion that “organic” should be used as an excuse for leadership being all white men. This is used in emerging movements a lot. If “organic” means that only WM are stepping up, there’s a clear cultural bias that we’ll need to recognize and work to overcome. If we are working in a post-evangelical context, we are often laboring with a very strong and deep prejudice against women that we need to identify and name. Organic farmers spend a whole lot of time spreading manure, pulling weeds, and encouraging growth in certain areas. If we are claiming to be organic, then we need to do the same.

(5) I’ve left so many out… LGBTQs, those with disabilities, those in poverty. Sometimes the list seems overwhelming. And recognizing that makes me realize how we need to keep pushing….

Are things getting any better? Yes, I think they are. But it’s only because people like that woman in South Louisiana ignored my eye-rolling and kept speaking up. (In the subsequent year, I ended up in a prominent leadership position, thanks to her.) It is because all of the hard work of men and women who keep questioning, keep studying, and keep pushing on those stained glass ceilings.

GCR 3.2 Brian McLaren and Phil Shepherd: Navigating the Shifts in the Church

What do we do with dying churches? Is the emerging church male-dominated? Why? Which is more likely to reform, denominations or evangelicalism? Does Brian McLaren still claim the title “evangelical”?

These are some questions we asked Brian McLaren. Brian is an author, speaker, and activist. Most recently, he wrote the book A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that Are Transforming the Faith.

Listen Here!

Another death certificate for the emerging church

So the Wall Street Journal has proclaimed that Emerging Church has fizzled out. Brett McCracken has declared it a hipster trend and we’re moving on, because the hipsters were never about Jesus.

I don’t really want to talk about whether it’s dead or not. I don’t know. I know a lot of intelligent people who are still involved, and I think that it will have a huge impact on American religion for many years to come. My sense is that what died was “emerging” as an evangelical re-branding effort. The evangelical movement could not control the Gen Xers, so they will declare them dead. But the people who were writing interesting things are still writing. Those reeling from the after-effects of evangelicalism have not gone away. People who struggle to respond faithfully to postmodernism have not gone away. Whatever is happening, it’s clear that a transition is occurring and there are things that we can learn right now.

I say “we” with discomfort. I have felt shut out of the “Emergent” movement. I am a pastor in a historic, intergenerational congregation with traditional liturgy. A few years ago, when I asked an Emergent writer and leader if there was room for me, if the conversation could be about both/and (both innovation and tradition), he told me clearly and emphatically, “No.” Denominations were going to die at any moment, and I was holding onto a lumbering dinosaur. I was not part of a denominational church so that I could live out the fullness of my calling in a community of faith, but in order to gain power for myself.

As someone who grew up in a church that systematically oppressed women, who was constantly told that my calling into ministry was a sin and the only reason I felt a longing to minister was because I could not accept my God-given role of submission, and I was all about power, the soundtrack sounded the same…even though the intent was different. I feared that people in the movement did not understand the difference between abusive power and spiritual empowerment. I bolted.

(And, yes, for anyone who doesn’t believe me, I’ll be happy to give anyone the name, place, date and precise time of the conversation. I will email it to you though. I won’t do it publicly. But, remember, if you keep questioning the validity of people who complain because your experience has been different, then you just might be contributing to the problem.)

Many people wonder why I often make a distinction that I am not a part of the capital “E” “Emergent” movement, even though I write about being faithful in the midst of postmodernism and cultural shifts. Not to mention the fact that I dearly love many who are in the heart of the movement. It’s because that was one of many conversations that I’ve had. In spite of this, I have found friends among the loyal radicals—those who are in the midst of denominations, understand the shifts in culture, and are working to respond faithfully to them.

The Emergent movement might be dead. Denominations might die. But God’s not dead. I guess the question is, what we can learn in all this? How can we retool? How can we keep being the hands and feet of Christ in the midst of the shifts and changes? What is God calling us to become? Here are a couple of things that I have learned from this larger conversation.

First, we need each other. We need the tradition and wisdom of the generations who have come before us. We need the Boomers and the Builders. And we need the church movements of the past. We need the wisdom that comes from church structures and we need the passion that breeds in the postevangelical movement. There is no way that we can shut out all evangelicals and all denominational Christians and expect that a movement will survive.

Second, we will need to be kind with each other when it comes to financial security. Often times, in our new church movements, we can heap shame on each other for not starting new churches, or guilt one another for not giving everything up and living with the poor. If a person receives a pension then she’s a sell-out. If he receives book royalties then he’s a sell-out. Shoot… if a person runs ads on her blog and gets a monthly check for $1.27, she’s a sell-out. If he blogs for Beliefnet, he’s a sell-out.

If we continue this sort of hardcore attitude, it may be difficult for us to sustain in the long run. Many of us have families. We have student loans and mortgage payments. We love Jesus, but our kids need backpacks to go back to school. Many of us hope that we will not be eating dog food when we retire. We will keep having difficulty planting churches and working for social justice if we don’t have some realization that sometimes we need money. Our ministries need money. That doesn’t make us greedy capitalists. That doesn’t make us all about power. It’s just reality.

Third (and I have been clumsy as I’ve talked about this in the past, but I still think there’s more to say), when people complain that they are being left out (women, LGBTs, different ethnicities), there has been an assumption in the Emergent movement that there is no power structure, so there is no way that people can be left out.

It’s important to understand when we have power. And it’s vital that we use it to empower others in their ministries. If we want a diverse conversation, we will need to make sure that it happens. There are many people who have been historically left out of church leadership. Some have been ill-treated blatantly or discreetly. As a result, they just don’t have sharp elbows. They will not push themselves up to the table and make a place with ease. Those of us who are people of privilege will need to understand this. We will need to keep making spaces and extending invitations.

The Next Forty Years

A commissioner to the General Assembly (our denomination’s national meeting that happens every two years), came back to report on what he did. He was a bit disappointed that he was on the church growth committee. The first day they sat down and talked about how if the church continues to decline at the same rate, then there will be no members left in forty years. The second day, they studied Matthew 25. The third day, they studied Matthew 25. They went on a couple of field trips, and they studied Matthew 25 some more.

The people hearing the report were shocked. That was it? I mean Matthew 25 is super, but… that’s it?

Perhaps there was more to it than that, and that’s just what the commissioner reported, but wow. Why not come up with a strategic plan for growth? I realize that there is no denominational master plan that we can follow. We tend to be much more grassroots. But we had the best and the brightest minds of our denomination gathered in one place, why not dream a bit about what we could do? We have a lot of money, a lot of property, and some of the most gifted pastors… what could we do? Here’s what I would love to see happen:

1) Become determined to keep our recent grads. If anyone has met anyone who has recently graduated from seminary, you will know that we have a glut of qualified candidates, and no place for them to go. Actually. Let me rephrase that. We have some of the most brilliant people in our church who are unemployed. I have seen the most incredibly gifted minds walking around, wanting to be ordained, and we have no place for them. Some of them are finding jobs as interns, or working in seminaries, or non-profits, but they can’t get ordained without a traditional call. Can we begin to open up our idea of what a validated ministry is? Can we make sure that we track these graduates? Could Presbyteries support them and encourage them while they look for positions? Can we offer internships and educational opportunities for them? (I know you guys need jobs, not more education, but untill then….) We’re going to need them soon, and we don’t want to lose them.

2) Quit giving incentives to ministers who are past retirement to stay employed. I’m not sure what other denominations are doing, but in the Presbyterian Church (USA), pastors get incentives to stay in their jobs beyond the age of 65. This is going to take action from the General Assembly to change. I’ve written on this before, and here’s a comment from a Pension representative to explain exactly what they’re doing. With grads not able to get jobs, this seems like a bad idea.

3) Help churches to die well. There are many things that we do, as pastors, when we stand beside the bed of someone who is dying, and there are many things that we don’t do. It’s the same with our churches. We don’t tell churches that they are failures because they are dying. We don’t shame them for not living a few years longer. We celebrate their lives. And with churches, we can help them to imagine how they can use their resources and assets to plant new churches.

4) Support people who want to plant churches. While going to Bible School, I was told there was one way to “make disciples” and that was to plant churches. In our denomination, only a couple of New Church Developments were started nationally in the last couple of years, but I know at least twelve people who would start a church tomorrow, if they could. Many of them have been approved by the denomination. They are raring to go, but there’s no place for them to go. They have been told to just plant the church, and then look for denominational support. But they have children. They need insurance. They need some support.

I’m a part of a group of pastors who are starting to fundraise for NCDs outside of the denominational systems. They are DOC, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Post-evangelicals.

There will be some NCD failures, just like a percentage of new businesses fail. We can plan for those. And we can let the pastors decide what makes sense in their context—a traditional church, an emerging church, a monastic community, a coffeehouse church, a nesting church, or whatever…. There are a million ways to do it now.

Generation X is an entrepreneurial, innovative generation. We start businesses. We create new technology. And we are itching to start new churches. (The DOC is doing a great job of this.) And the Millenials are a very large generation. Can we begin to imagine congregations that make sense in their context?

Will we support our innovators? Will we allow people to retire? Will we give dignity to churches who are dying? Can we have a better vision for the next forty years? What would you like to see happen?