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.

Church for the 21st Century: Transforming Existing Congregations

I’ve been delving into the Church in the 21st Century subject for a few blog posts now. So, far I’ve set up the background, because we can’t imagine what a church will look like until we get an idea of what its participants and landscape will look like. I’ve sorted through things with a generational lens—especially looking toward younger generations.

I often get push-back when I look at things generationally. Many people feel old or irrelevant when we focus our attentions on younger adults. Often people will point out the burgeoning church in the retirement community. I know growth and wonderful ministry can happen with older adults, and I would never want to diminish that.

But, as I mention a lot on this blog, the average age of the PCUSA is over 60, and the average age of most denominational churches is almost 60. Older adults are not neglected in our churches. They are doing well. Our leadership is made up of older adults, and those who have most of the power are older. They are getting plenty of attention and voice. Most of our denominations are dedicated to them. It doesn’t hurt to shift our attentions every once in a while.

We’ve set the landscape: we looked at work, family structures, finances and ethnic make-up. Now, we need to ask, what sort of church would work in a new generation? What is our vision for the 21st Century? There is no one answer to this question, of course. It depends on each context, and there are all sorts of models out there. We’ll start with transforming existing congregations.

Some congregations will revive. I currently serve a church that was up for a vote to close its doors about 30 years ago. But they didn’t. Now they’re a healthy, growing congregation. We’re a regular church, for sure. With all sorts of regular church problems. But Western is a good guide for transformation. We’re very traditional, with pipe organ music and written liturgies. How did we turn around?

The older generation let go of power. They had an older generation of leaders who allowed younger leaders to take charge in significant ways. Without that key, the whole thing probably would not have worked, but the older generation gave over real power in pastoral leadership and committees (even while they were underwriting most of the budget). They didn’t just expect a younger generation to do everything their way. They even allowed a theological shift.

They focused their ministry outside of their doors. Western began to serve the homeless in their neighborhood. With Miriam’s Kitchen as well as other outreaches, the church began to look outside of its doors, and the community began to notice them.

A middle governing body I visited challenged each church to ask itself, “If your church closed tomorrow, what would your community miss the most?” If the church couldn’t answer that question, then they became committed to finding a ministry that meant something to their neighborhood. All sorts of things could come out of this–community gardens, arts programs, music support, feeding programs, or homeless shelters. Traditionally, churches have flourished in all of these areas.

They focused on a new generation. When a campus ministry at a nearby university was about to lose its funding, Western reached out and housed the ministry. This made them focus on the surrounding campuses and the needs of students around them. They didn’t focus on “young families,” but began their outreach to emerging generations much earlier—with college students, grad students, and singles. It was a loving investment that paid off, even in our transient D.C. culture. Now, the college students are starting careers. Some who are in careers are getting married. Some who are married are having children. But whatever a particular family looks like–whether it’s a nuclear family or an urban tribe–we try to make sure that all are welcome.

Alisa Harris: Raised Right

I’m a pastor in Washington, D.C. The job is not at all what I supposed it would be. When I lived outside of the beltway and looked in, I saw a group of power-hungry, egomaniac talking heads, yelling at television cameras or rabid crowds.

I didn’t expect what I encountered—a group of idealistic individuals, who love God and love their neighbors. They have allowed their dreams of what the world ought to be seep into what they do each day. They work for nonprofits (or as they say around here, NGOs, non-governmental organizations). They lobby for the environment, lead with teachers unions, and work on the Hill. I don’t serve one of those congregations where the superstar politicians go (there are those churches), but I serve the one where people might be hanging out with a guest at Miriam’s Kitchen on one day and affecting policy on the next.

Of course, we have a thread of ego-driven power-mongering in all of us as well. We are a church, after all. But for the most part, after pastoring this congregation, I’ve learned a bit more about day-to-day politics and the people who are rightly known as “civil servants.”

I had a chance to think about this a lot this weekend. Not only was it the 10th anniversary of September 11, but I’m also participating in the Patheos Book Club Round Table discussion on Alisa Harris’ book, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics. I loved reading how Harris went from Hillary bashing at a goat pageant to burning thrift-store bras as a feminist protest at her conservative college. So much of her story resonated with my own.

As I sat, consuming the pages, I wondered, What now? I may be over-reaching in my analysis, but I dare say that we are watching the coming of power of many women who learned the ways of politics through the pro-life movement.

Think about it… we’ve got Sarah Palin. We’ve got Michelle Bachmann. We’ve got a whole bevy of Mama Grizzlies. You may scoff, but they became solid political figures as a result of their activism. Liberals scratch their heads, wondering why so many Republican candidates are wearing power skirts, while those who fought for women’s rights still seems to be overwhelmed with old white guys. But those of us who grew up in the Religious Right hotbed know exactly why (and if you’re wondering, read Harris’s book).

I’m a full-grown, full-blown progressive now. Palin and Bachmann make me feel like I gulped down a glass of milk before realizing it was six-months out of date. But I was raised looking up to women like them, and I often wonder, If I were still conservative, would I be running for Congress right now? The truth is… conservatives are better at developing young leadership than progressives…. They’re even better at developing their young women.

Which brings me to my earlier point about my congregation, about the everyday work. Harris’s book didn’t make me want to give up on politics, or even completely untangle my faith from politics (even though they are now woven together in a different way now). But it did make me realize that if we represent a new generation of political creatures, then we need to roll up our sleeves and get on with the daily grind. Not just in rallies and protests, not just in posters and sound-bytes, but also in day-to-day justice. In being honest journalists and courageous pastors. In making sure that our daughters hear a different message.

One bit of the book keeps rolling around in my mind, and I find myself wrestling with Harris’s words:

Unless you are smuggling soup to the Jews in your attic, I think a political act can’t be an act of love. It can be a good act, even a noble and heroic, but love is something that takes place behind a barricade; it happened in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups. Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity but to love your neighbor.

I suppose that I agree more with what Cornel West famously said: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” I know that politics is messy, but I also believe that individual acts of love are only going to go so far. As one hand feeds the hungry, the other needs to be working on the larger scale.

Putting energy into helping one homeless person does not keep you from defending the poor in the political sphere. Loving my daughter does not keep me from fighting for women’s rights. Recycling one can does not keep me from working to make sure regulations are in place so that environmental degradation does not consume our planet. One action informs the other, and we need to keep doing both.

It is a profound moment for a new generation of politics, especially as we learn to engage our faith in the public sphere. And reading Harris’s story is a good reminder that our faith should never be tightly wound up into one political party. And as we engage our faith in different ways, we can remember that being involved in politics means that we must keep thinking for ourselves.

Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women

I’ve been in a conversation about the post-evangelical movement. During the conversation, someone asked me to blog about post-evangelical women’s issues for their blog. This is what I wrote. While the post is about PEWs, it’s relevant to Mainline situations as well. For those who read this blog regularly, forgive me for sounding like a broken record on so much of this!

Right now, in the US, many of us wrestle with the Evangelical movement in which we were raised. There are a lot of reasons for that. Our questions are theological, as we struggle with the atonement, the Kingdom of God, or Hell. We ask sociological questions about the role of women, LGBTQs, social media and politics. And philosophical and generational issues arise regularly. We’re in this exciting moment of turmoil right now, and we can realize we make real differences.

For me, the questions (or lack of questions) around gender have been interesting. I find myself wanting to explain what it’s like to grow up as a conservative Evangelical woman and how difficult the transition into leadership is from that place. I work a lot in the conference world, and my issues often arise there. I hear the whispers that men don’t. So, even though I’m at risk of sounding like a bad Cosmo article, I decided to write 7 Things Guys Need to Know about PEWs (Post-Evangelical Women). Basically, it’s the stuff we’re saying or dm’ing when you’re not there.

1) We were told to keep silent in church. Sometimes it was overt and other times it was subtle—a youth or Campus Crusade for Christ director buddies up with the cool football guys, takes them to lunch, and focuses on their leadership potential while the young women were left stranded. To go from “you must be silent” to finding your voice can be a long, arduous process.

2) We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here! It may be that we are welcome, and the leadership thought that having one female voice was good enough. But, for PEWs who grew up listening to “women should keep silent,” major gender inequity is a clear signal that the table is off-limits to us.

3) We don’t want to hear whining about forced quotas.
We’ve heard the tiresome response: “We don’t do quotas. This movement isn’t about counting and making sure that there’s a particular number of non-white males.” I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. There will be no transformation in women’s leadership unless women are in leadership.

4) PEWs hear a defensive response as “you’re not welcome.” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

5) There are enough women. I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

6) Please refrain from using “organic leadership” or “meritocracy” as an excuse. When the subject of PEW leadership comes up, we hear, “Our leadership grows up organically. If women want to be involved, they need to produce.” If organic growth or meritocracy is a reason for not having women in leadership, you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.

7) Money Matters. Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for flattening leadership, overturning hierarchies, or unbinding the church. The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.

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!

Church for the 21st Century: Family Structures

I’m working through the 5 questions for the Church for the 21c Committee. I’m chairing the committee, but these thoughts are my own. They don’t reflect the whole committee’s opinions, nor are they indicative of what the final paper will say. While answering “What is your vision for the church in the 21st century?” I’m focusing on a few of the cultural changes that have occurred in the last fifty years. We’ve talked about Work and Finances, now I’d like to look at Family Structures. Please join the conversation, and I will happily link your blog!

The magic formula for our congregations has been to reach out to young families, and our churches spend a great deal of effort hoping and praying that the next generation of young families will walk into our doors.

It has typically worked that way. When young adults found a career, got married, had kids, and “settled down,” then they found a church. And all of that used to take about six months after a man graduated from college or high school. (Okay, so I’m exaggerating here. But only slightly….) Now, our patterns have changed. Because of finances, employment, and choices, our family structures look different.

First, we have an ideal in our society that a person is (or ought to be) a financially independent adult at the age of 18. Even our sociological definition of adulthood is based on when a person gains financial independence. But, of course, the world has not worked that way for a long time. It is difficult to find gainful employment without a college education, and many men and women have to go into debt in order to earn that degree.

Second (and related), there are employment considerations. When a person graduates, there aren’t many jobs—particularly jobs that can pay off those student loans—so men and women entering adulthood often go into internships, temp work, or some other underemployment situation. They are the first to get laid-off, and often young workers don’t have any health insurance apart from their parents. The cost of housing is often based on two incomes. Many young men and women live with their parents well into their 20s.

What does this have to do with our family structures? Well, in our society, a person is expected that he or she will become financially secure before getting married, but it’s difficult to get married when it takes a great deal of financial instability (educational debt and internships) in order to establish a stable career and a place to live. Often people glorify this situation or place the blame on the emerging adult—they say that young adults are in their odyssey years or an extended adolescence. I think we’ve created a society where we don’t take care of our young workers.

Anyways… young men and women are caught in a trap. They can’t get married until they have financial security. And they often can’t attain financial security until they get married. As a result men and women are often scheming their next employment move, figuring out more schooling, going for their next internship, and this situation makes it difficult to make a commitment to a spouse or loved one. People are getting married later now, if they are getting married at all.

Finally, when it comes to family structure, there is more choice in a new generation. Though the societal expectation that men and women will get married and have children is strong, there is also a bit more freedom. Although it is difficult, a woman can have a career and financial stability without getting married. She doesn’t need to move from her father’s home to her husband’s home. There is room—small pockets in our country—where LGBTQ people can happily be with, live with, or marry their same-sex partner.

What does all of this have to do with our churches? Congregations are often set up to cater to the young family. Although this model is good, we will need to broaden our focus in order to reach out to younger people.

Are we welcoming to young singles? If a young couple is living together (this is often a financial necessity), do our churches welcome them? Is our church open to same-gender relationships? In what ways (verbally or nonberbally) do we communicate that our congregation is only for nuclear families?

What happens when a person walks into our sanctuary alone? Is church an isolating experience for them? Will they most likely sit alone and stare at the back of another person’s head? What does our seating look like? Does it invite a community feel?

Is there a social network for people who don’t have a spouse or children? Does the church think about where people will go for Thanksgiving or Easter dinners? Do we think about how a person might be celebrating Holy Days in their homes?

How much time and energy does church leadership put into attracting those who are single or students? How much time do we put into ministering to and with singles and students? How does the time that we put into ministering to and with younger adults compare with the time we minister to and with older adults?

Illuminating the Darkness

Text: John 1:1-18

I write regularly for the Huffington Post, and this week, they asked for nominations for the Religious person of the year. Since I was on vacation, I didn’t do any research or nominate anyone, but the question did occupy my thoughts when I was in Florida. Who made the greatest impact in religion? I thought of the many Muslims who have not hidden in the face of discrimination, but they have worked for deeper understanding. I thought of Jews who have worked for peace. But on the site, I represent a Christian perspective, and so I began to think of Christians who have impacted our faith, and the question grew for me, from the past year to the past decade. Who made the greatest impact on religion?

And I imagined all of those men and women. I don’t know their specific names. I could only recognize their shaky voices and blurred profiles. They were the people who have stood up and turned in their priests, pastors, or missionaries who were predators. I thought of all of those who risked the suspicion and disbelief of their friends, loved ones and community. They were brave enough to stop the lies and cover-ups, and they told the truth. Now that I have worked in churches for thirteen years, I know how good they are at suppressing secrets. They are like families, businesses and other organizations. Powerful forces arise when someone has a complaint of this magnitude. And yet, these men and women did what John describes: They shined light into the darkness.

Since the day when those victims began to raise their voices, they became survivors. Many people have had the courage to step up and shine a light in that deep darkness. Now, in our church and in most denominational congregations, we have strict rules to protect children. One adult is not allowed to be alone with one other child. We try to keep two Sunday school teachers in the classroom, and if we can’t manage that, then we have our Christian Educator who floats and checks in on all the classrooms. In our nursery and classrooms, we have clear glass on the doors so that parents will know that their children are being cared for properly. In our denomination, we have strict rules on how a report is to be made, and how the perpetrator will be disciplined. We have men and women who work to make society safe for children. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. It is a struggle in all walks of life to protect the vulnerable and those who cannot speak for themselves. Yet, many have become aware of what can happen when we try to hide things, and they have worked tirelessly to bring those things in the deep darkness to the light.

I grew up knowing that our former pastor was a pedophile, and so it was often hard for me to go to church. Even though I realize that pastors and priests are human, the depth of hypocrisy that it takes to carry out something like that is astounding, and so I always had a difficult time with religion in general.

I have watched people take different positions when the church betrays them or their family. They can reject the church altogether. Or they can proclaim that they are “spiritual but not religious.” In other words, they appreciate the goodness, teachings and practices of spirituality, but they cannot abide the darkness of church. They don’t see much good in the professional clergy, the buildings, or the governance.

I understand this thought and I would never try to argue with someone who has made that determination, but I have made a choice to be a religious professional, in spite of all the darkness that I know is in our midst. The reason is because we are human. There is no way to have a spiritual experience apart from our humanity. And with every human endeavor, there is light and there is darkness. Even when we try to be good, even when we try to be noble, even when we try to do the very best and right thing, there is some darkness.

I have read discussions on MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s blog when it comes to the environment. In order to help the environment, she employed the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” tactic. And yet, she found that she had to use harsher chemicals when cleaning her toilets. A commenter was concerned the hamburger that she bought everyday, and how bad her beef consumption was for the environment, so she decided to order salads instead. But then she became frustrated to find that her hamburger was served in a small piece of paper, but her salad was served in a giant, plastic dome. I heard a story on NPR recently that said that many dishwasher detergent companies took phosphates out of their soap, because of the terrible things that they can do to the environment. But the story explained that there was a concern about how it was taking more water to wash our dishes now. We buy CFLs, but then we find out how toxic they are when they break.

We can see the same thing when it comes to technology. The community and relationships that can arise through social media fascinate me. Men and women are able to talk to other people who have the same hobbies. They can share ideas. Artists can sell their art. People with the same political passions can create constellations of hope around their causes or candidates.

But at the same time, we have also seen how people can be bullied to the point where they have killed themselves. Men and women, who may never be so uncivil to a person face-to-face, can become nasty with the anonymity of the Internet. Racism can thrive. The darkness of the technology, having your face hidden in those shadows, seems to create monsters out of some people.

We see it with science. Incredible discoveries were made. We learned about atoms, and then we figured out how we could split those atoms. And the world has never been the same.

We even see it with the medical profession. When wonderful achievements have been made to prolong a person’s life, sometimes we begin to wonder, “Does this person have the right to die?” We appreciate ground-breaking medications, but we also realize their side-effects.

Over and over again, our technology, our science, our advancements have led us to new problems. But does that mean that we should give up on caring for the environment, on technology, on medicine, on science? Of course not. As progressives, we will keep working for the good of all people and the care of the earth. We will work for education and freedom for all men and women. We believe that we will keep moving forward and pushing for a better world.

With every advancement, we understand that there will be light and there will be darkness, and we keep shining the light, even when deeper, darker corners arise. In each of our professions, in each of our passions, we cannot give into the complacency of walking away and in giving up. But we need to keep striving and moving forward.

And I feel the same way about religion. It is my passion and my calling. I have seen religion do incredible harm to women, men, lesbians, gays, and children. But I have not been able to walk away from it and I have not been able to separate “religion” from a spiritual life. I have not been able to sequester myself into an individual spiritual practice, devoid of our life together in this sanctuary. Because I know that we can do more when we are gathered. We have more light to feed homeless people, to care for prostitutes, to teach art to children, and to provide medical care for people in Ethiopia.

There is darkness among us. I cannot deny that. And I realize that my comparisons are faulty in many ways. I am not saying that pedophilia is the inevitable outcome of something that is well-intentioned. No. Not at all. But I am saying that there is darkness that I’m not willing to walk away from, and many of us have been called to the diverse and colorful beauty that our collective light can bring.

Thoughout these days of Christmas, may we remember the light that was born within us, and may we be called to keep illuminating the darkness as Christ did.

Through our Creator, our Liberator and our Sustainer. Amen.