This post is part of a synchroblog initiated by Julie Clawson. Julie and I ended up being roommates when we both spoke at Urbana this past December. You can check out all the other posts at her blog or over at the facebook page.
What is emerging in the church?
What good things are growing that we can celebrate?
Who are the diverse voices that are now leading the church into the 21st century?
There has been a lot of chatter around the interwebs lately regarding how the church emerging in this 21st century is a mostly white male phenomenon. On one hand, there is good reason for this discussion. Many of the bestselling authors and rockstar speakers still happen to be middle-class white guys with Evangelical roots, and it is easy to assume that the most visible players define the whole. Nothing against privileged white guys with big platforms, but most of us know that they are not the sum of (or the core of) what is stirring in the church these days. In fact, their voices are in truth no longer the dominant voices as those of us who were previously marginalized in the Western church world (for one reason or another) are now defining the conversation regarding the church’s future. Our gender, our race, our orientation, our theological or socioeconomic background can no longer by any stretch of the imagination be reason to silence us. We are bringing our knowledge and perspectives from the margins to help guide the church forward. It isn’t something we hope to achieve someday, it is what is happening now. We are the emerging church. We are the voice of the church.
One might wonder why I’d want to weigh in on this kind of synchroblog here at BTG. Our desire to foster safe and spacious conversations around the intersection of faith and sexuality is not limited to those who might find themselves in an emergent church. But what is wonderful about Julie’s questions is their openness – this is not just tied to the emergent movement – but it is a question to anyone who connects as a follower of Jesus with others stumbling and staggering along in this journey of faith. That openness is both something to celebrate about what is emerging in the church – and a reason to jump in and engage.
So, as a Canadian who’s daring to throw my two cents worth into an American conversation, I want to begin by identifying the increasing global nature of the conversations. This diversity is often hugely challenging and stretching. Voices have different experiences, priorities, and comfort zones. But what is emerging, in my experience, is language and capacity to navigate difference with increased generosity, less freak-out, at times enlarged patience, and more robust humility. These virtues give me hope for what is continuing to evolve at the global level of conversation. Particularly, given the fact that the regular topic of this blog – diverse sexual identity – currently raises such tension and conflict in the global conversation ….. I have to keep banking on the hope that generosity, patience, and humility will mark the way forward. Since I believe these are deeply resonant with the character of Christ – I must hope that the church will recover these characteristics as it continues to move forward in a global and diverse conversation.
As has been identified by other contributors, marginalized voices are emerging in the gathering of God’s people. We perhaps typically think of gender, race, orientation, or income level in this regard – and I think there are examples of each of these categories – which give cause for much celebration. Given my work through New Direction, I’m grateful for the voices of those outside the heterosexual mainstream who are active participants in being the church together. However, I want to raise another voice from the margins – the voice of our children. Increasingly, I see a recognition that our children are not the church of tomorrow …. they are the church of today. There is an awareness of giftings and discernment on the part of our children that are welcomed equitably as we communally listen for God’s leading. What a wonderful way to grow us in humility. It is also interesting in our particular area of engagement as we consider kids coming out at younger ages, the voices of gay youth speaking up in the church. How can we encourage young people who find themselves outside the heterosexual mainstream to be active participants in listening for and speaking out God’s call to the church in our current context? Or what about youth with gay friends who are challenging the church to get their priorities in shape when it comes to questions of inclusion, hospitality and unconditional acceptance and love? What I hope continues to emerge is a willingness to break down the assumptions that our kids can’t yet contribute – because we deeply need their voices in the conversation.
Before I get too long winded, I would also want to quickly point to those engaging in the conversation with multiple minority identities – and the immensely valuable contribution they have to offer to the wider conversation and journey of calling the church to continue to emerge into a fuller expression of the way of Jesus. What of the non-white, young female who is deaf and outside the heterosexual mainstream? Do you know her? Have you listened to her story? Have you heard the shape of faith experienced through her journey? What of the transman recently arriving in your community, fleeing from a place of persecution? Do you know him? Have you listened to his story? Do you offer opportunity for his story to be told with those who gather as your church?
I celebrate that those who have dared to rethink, dared to face their anxieties and reconsider long-held assumptions and certitudes, are so often a people of action as well as contemplation. So, I celebrate the tangible expressions of hospitality, for stories shared, for lived stretched and challenged by the ‘other’. I celebrate pints of beer drunk with those with very different paradigms – in a spirit of inquisitive exploration. And I celebrate that the Incarnate One smiles every time the circle widens.