A little over a year ago, I began to identify myself as an emergent Christian. While there are several definitions of emergent Christianity and what it looks like, generally speaking, emergence Christianity is a progressive-leaning form of the faith that typically doesn’t hold to many of the traditional, Evangelical doctrines (the belief in a literal hell, the understanding of the Bible is completely “inerrant” or “infallible,” etc.). Its goal, in general, is to be open to the changes brought about after the rise of post-modernity, and to find a way to follow Christ in the midst of those changes. Peter Rollins, of whom I have written about before, is one of the top philosopher/theologians within the emergent movement.
Recently, Elaine and I went to a church called Church in the Cliff in Oak Cliff, just south of Dallas. The church website identifies the church as “a post modern, emergent, open and affirming, truth seeking community of faith.”
Because I identified myself as “emergent,” but had never actually been to a church that labeled itself as such, I figured it was time to see what a truly emergent church looked like in the real world. I was really excited about this, because I thought that this might be the kind of church that I was looking for. I’ve been so desperate for a church that truly revolves around community, open conversation, and holds Scripture as the epicenter for practice and belief (rather than simply using it as a pedestal for a position or life-principle) – I thought we might have finally found the place.
I was wrong. What I found, instead, is that I am definitely not emergent. Or I’m at least much more moderate than I previously thought.
The week that we went to this church, the whole Chick-fil-A controversy was happening. In case you’ve forgotten (I’m sure you haven’t) the CEO of Chick-fil-A came out in support of traditional marriage (big surprise) in an interview. This sparked outrage amongst Christians and non-Christians alike who stand for marriage equality. Yada, yada, yada, people boycott or support Chick-fil-A based on its CEO’s view of traditional marriage, the country is further divided… you get the picture.
Go figure, Church in the Cliff’s service revolved around the issue of homosexuality and the church. Now, I’m not here to talk about my views one way or the other on marriage equality and the proper biblical view of homosexuality. For me, the focus is how this specific, self-labeled emergent church dealt with the issue.
When we arrived at the church, the people were all extremely friendly and welcoming. This is something I expected, and was actually quite glad to experience. However, I noticed in our introductions to various people in the church, the words “inclusive” and “inclusion” were a major part of the dialogue, even in passing.
The entire service (which was filled with lots of liturgy and Scriptural/apocryphal readings I was kind of uncomfortable with, simply because of my lack of familiarity) revolved around the idea of loving and accepting “the Other.” Basically, the idea is that we are to do our best to understand, empathize with, welcome, and love those who are different (and hold different views) than ourselves.
Here’s the thing: I think that’s all well and good. I think that’s exactly what Jesus did with us. Jesus, as the Son of God (something completely foreign to humanity [see John 1]) saw us in our sin and our brokenness, and came to dwell among us as the light of the world, taking on flesh and blood in complete solidarity with the human race.
The disconnect for this church, however, was that they failed in their attempt to be truly inclusive in the manner that they presented the issue. Rather than framing the question of homosexuality and homosexual marriage in a way that allowed for honest conversation between those who were on both sides of the issue (and those caught somewhere in the middle), the language used was filled with vitriol and malice towards those who disagreed with their viewpoint. The transcript from the main speaker is found here. One can see throughout the speech that the speaker was not interested in any kind of dialogue in the matter. Case in point:
In short, [Evangelical “culture warriors”] oppose homosexuality and all other manner of queerness because it upsets their apple cart. Their apple cart holds all the power. They control access to God. They control access to money. To justice. To love. What the culture warriors are really after is to maintain the status quo.
Really? Nearly all of the Evangelicals I’ve met that oppose homosexuality are not doing so from a place of hatred or malice. Some do, of course. Most, however, simply want to follow in the true way of the Lord, regardless of the consequences. And, I daresay, rhetoric like this doesn’t serve to change people’s minds in the slightest. It only fuels the fire of divisiveness in this country.
If those who are emergent truly desire honest conversation, authentic community, and want to truly follow the way of Jesus, this is not how to do it. A group of people cannot have its epicenter be simply the disillusionment with Evangelicalism or institutionalized Christianity. The hermeneutic cannot simply be about inclusivity. That will only lead to further division.
This is why I’m not emergent. At least, not that kind of emergent. My desire, in rethinking traditional Evangelical doctrines, is not to be further divisive or ostracize myself from a particular group of people simply because I’m offended by a particular stance. My desire is to seek out Truth and follow the way of Jesus in a manner that is both unconditionally loving and truly authentic.