This post first appeared on the Emergent Village Voice on Patheos as a guest blog on September 6, 2012 by Steve Knight.
If Wild Goose West is any indication, the Emergent movement is looking more and more like a gathering of the proverbial tribes right now. For more than ten years this movement has been emerging, but now it looks more like a converging of cultures.
While we acknowledge and understand the history that (post) Evangelicals founded this movement, we are now in a time where new people and cultures are coming into the conversation and we are going to evolve into a broader shared identity than the label “Evangelical.”
Since I should only really tell my story, I’ll use me as an example. I have been around the Emergent movement for a little more than a year now, and I come to the conversation with influences like New Age, Buddhism, Activism, and Non-violence. I am not even close to identifying with the word Evangelical, and so, even as a middle-class white woman, I am looking for my place in our shared identity.
Here’s my story in a nutshell: I broke up with Jesus in high school when an evangelical bible study teacher told my best friend that her father, who was dead and Muslim, was in hell. It took me 20 years and several Rob Bell books to get over the wounds from Christianity that I found in myself and others. I called my sister in tears when I realized I could call myself a Christian again. She said something that moved me, “Honey, you have always had Jesus, you just let other people define him for you.” As Bishop Yvette Flunder would say, I had to “get back my God,” get back my Jesus, before I could be a part of this conversation. So I know a little something about needing to have old wounds acknowledged in order to feel safe in this emerging conversation. And while as a white woman in the U.S., I can never know what it is to be colonized and marginalized, I have reason to understand why inclusivity and oppression must be integral to everything we do.
All social justice movements have to deal with the fallout of historical oppression. In 1999, racial justice teacher and activist, Elizabeth Betita Martinez wrote an open letter to the Global Justice Movement after the largely white protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. It cast ripples of disgruntled reactions, pushback, and waves of white guilt across the movement. Some NGOs had to completely dismantle their boards and rebuild. Clearly, we’re not the first to deal with this wave of consciousness, and we could learn a lot if we’re open and willing to listen.
Since we follow Jesus, this movement is, in the context of this society, and by HIS very nature, about social justice and hospitality. It’s the integrity and backbone of our movement as Christians. I’m not a big Bible quoter and certainly no scholar, but I am a fan of the times when Jesus embraced someone of a different culture, breaking customs and norms to show them grace, love, and inclusion. One such example in the Gospel of John, is the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (from The Message):
7-8 A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)
9 The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”
This year at the Wild Goose Festival, the programming exhibited a strong, integrated, and reoccurring thread of anti-oppression work. I attended multiple sessions, led by people of color (POC). I actually heard the history timeline of the colonization of the first nations people and the land where we were camping — twice, once from main stage and again in a session. First nations people began and concluded the festival from the main stage, and I will never forget the talk on radical inclusion by Bishop Yvette Flunder on the main stage.
Emily Rice, Bruce Reyes-Chow, and Dan Fan at Wild Goose Festival West 2012 (photo by Bill Dahl)
Wild Goose organizers understand that we’ve inherited a history of oppression that has to be acknowledged to be inclusive of folks from colonized or oppressed ethnicities. Sorry to quote Billy Joel here but “we didn’t start the fire” but guess what, it is still burning. Some of us are warmed and privileged by this fire, while some of us have been used as kindling. Do we think POC are going to invite their families and friends to this conversation if they feel like a basic acknowledgement of anti-oppression and inclusivity are not being practiced?
Would we invite our friends to a party where we feel like they might be offended? People of color in our movement know how to be allies to their folks at home and already work as translators between their various cultures. They aren’t going to create an invitation to their communities unless it feels safe to do so. If we embrace this work, our Emergent-minded friends of color will likely be more inclined to promote Emergent gatherings to their communities.
We have to embrace this emphasis and inclusion of anti-oppression content and organizing in all of our events and gatherings. Randy Woodley’s recent call to action for white men and women to boycott “all white” conferences (Read the Call to Action here) is a powerful and direct challenge to us to get more intentional about about how we work. He writes:
“I’m putting out a challenge to all White Christian speakers to boycott every ‘Whites Only’ conference or meeting. Simply refuse to speak unless there is significant minority representation that goes beyond tokenism. And if you are an attendee, you can make a change by not supporting the hypocrisy of exclusivity and tokenism. Simply write the organizers and scheduled speakers and tell them how you feel. If they don’t respond, don’t buy a ticket and don’t attend. It’s got to start somewhere. How about with you?”
What an incredible opportunity to rise to the challenge and ensure that no one ever feels the need to exclude themselves from Emergent events due to a lack of consciousness around inclusivity and race.
We have amazing POC in this movement stepping up to teach us how to behave. Bruce Reyes-Chow’s session on Race at Wild Goose West was entirely comprised of him quoting things white people say that are not helpful to having productive conversations about race, and him explaining why. He’s one of many POC reaching out to us in this movement to teach us and bring us all together. It’s better if we white folks approach the topic with an open mind. We should check their ego, come with a humble heart and be receptive to learning.
So very selfishly (so I can keep showing up at Emergent gatherings, my lifeblood) I humbly beg my privileged white identified brothers and sisters that when a person of color engages us in a conversation about how things could be different somehow please, please, please engage in the following as applicable, and in any order:
listen, trust outside of your own experience, become willing to look at your own behavior, pray about it, acknowledge when you can see their point, make amends, seek to lift up the voices of POC and often make them louder, remember that we can be the corrective to oppression by putting more emphasis on it, spend some time on it, take an oppression 101 class, look to our allies of color who are trying to lead us in this work, check each others’ behavior with love, never say you aren’t a racist if you were raised in the U.S. (it’s a racist country historically, racism is alive and well today, and it’s in us), so don’t expect yourself to never express a behavior rooted in racism — it happens so forgive yourself, correct the behavior and move along …
To our conference planners, event organizers and conveners movement wide, please …
… embrace this work, try really really hard to never have panels of all white people, set aside scholarship money for youth of color for admission fees, flights and hotels, plan for inclusivity from the beginning of your conference planning so you don’t end up scrambling for a brown person the week before your panel which becomes tokenistic, have POC in on the organizing of the event and in a leadership position from day one …
To all the leaders who are still asking the question “how do we diversify?” please stop thinking this way. Instead let’s ask ourselves what needs to happen in us in order to provide an invitation that isn’t tokenistic in nature, but instead rooted in an authentic and holistic sense of shared and mutual liberation.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what needs to happen, merely a start, and a invitation to engage in this conversation. If any community of people can handle this challenge with grace, it’s the Emerging Church movement. We have the model of Jesus to look to and we have the Holy Spirit working in us. By the grace of God, may we all feel invited and welcomed to this conversation and live out this powerful opportunity to become a corrective to colonization and oppression.
Holly is a long-time activist who ran away with the film industry for seven years. She’s currently back to community organizing in her neighborhood on the south side of Santa Fe and lives to soak up all things Emergent.