e-mail: "Why are Emergents so Angry?" [pt.1]

I got a good-natured e-mail from a new online friend recently. He had a lot of questions about the attitudes of emerging/Emergent Christians he's encountered: often, they seem very angry, indignant and even disdaining.

I will preface this first, by saying in my comments I made an assumption (so dangerous) that this reader was a Conservative Evangelical. He is not. Rather something closer to a Reformed Calvinist.

Anway, he gave me permission to reprint some of our e-mail conversation, so I'll share it here in several pieces over the next few days (it got long), chopped up a little...

I wrote:

Dear Xxxxxxx,
Thanks again for writing, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I wanted to give some actual thought to my response, and knew it would take awhile!

I understand we will likely disagree on much, but I want to convey a genuine hope for mutual respect, love and honor. I don’t wish to offend you at all. These are some tough questions that we all need to be continually asking. If any of this appears overly-vehement or harsh, forgive me. That’s not my intention. I’m sure those areas are still being worked on in my own heart, and likely have to do with my own direct experiences – not with you, your questions, or any potential disagreement.

I copied several of what seemed to be your core questions/comments for my own sake, so here’s what I’ve got…

You said: "I am attempting to understand the disdain that 'emergent' Christianity has with the more traditional understanding of the faith."

Disdain is a tough word, but I know where you’re coming from because I’ve seen it in action. In fact, I’m certain I’ve been guilty of it. But I’ll get back to that in a moment… First, I would challenge the idea that “conservative Christianity” is equivalent to “traditional Christianity.” In fact, the incarnation of faith most professed “conservative Evangelicals” probably emerged in the late 19th Century.

Despite the hierarchical power of the Roman Catholic Church, historic Christianity managed to make space for mystery and uncertainty, mysticism and the supernatural, as well as incorporating theologies of darkness (negative, apophatic) and meditation far outside modern Western spiritual sensibilities. The Church was also one of the most productive sources of the word’s greatest art, as well as scientific study and discovery (of course there were more than a few Galileo-esque “hiccups,” and the Inquisition was more than an unfortunate “blip”…).

From a Western historical perspective, the Mainline denominations in America are probably far more “traditional.” Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopals can claim far more traditional and historical connection to the Protestant and eventually the catholic Christian Church. That many of these churches were on the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement seems a “given,” by responding to the Holy Spirit with a consistent ethic of peace, justice, love and Kingdom values.

Many will criticize the Mainlines today for the same ethics they were praised for in the ‘60s. They see a difference between issues of race, and issues of sexual identity. I don’t really want to get into a gay debate here. But the reality is, along with homosexuality, the conservative Evangelical church seems to put women in the same category: unworthy of equality, respect, love – even tolerance (which should not be a social goal, but rather a bare minimum). I don’t want to get into a theological debate about the biblical basis for female equality either (I will do that soon on my blog) but I think it’s important to point out that there are vastly divergent positions held by equally educated, “spiritual,” pious women and men. The Body of Christ was not intended (in my opinion) to demand uniformity – rather, faith, hope, love (and I’d add humility).

Eastern incarnations of Orthodox Christianity open into all sorts of theological diversities that could make you pull your hair out if your goal was homogeneous belief.

That said, back to your “disdain” comment. I won’t try to excuse bad behavior. I’m guilty of plenty, myself. I had a blog visitor tell me I needed my mouth washed out with soap, and he was probably right! But please understand that for many, many, MANY Christians, non-Christians (and ex-Christians) in America, the Christian church has been controlling, rigid, abusive, angry, mean-spirited, uncaring, enabling, unloving, and even aberrant.

For example, I have quite a few women in my life – family and friends – who have experienced sexism, sexual abuse and even assault, directly from men in the church – pastors, leaders and lay. We cannot talk about “the Church” in the same way to victims of abuse. We cannot hold our heads up as if we have some “moral high ground” to stand on. But not everyone is a victim. For me, I have experienced very good things, growing up in the church. So my frustration (perhaps bordering, at times, on "disdain") is over the injustice I see, experienced by others.

So, that’s my short answer: people are hurting. That’s why most of them are angry. But for the trendy hipsters (again, sometimes guilty, myself) who are simply jumping on the bandwagon because it’s a cool reframing of Christianity that lets them smoke cigarettes and talk with postmodern cynicism… well, I understand your frustration. And that’s a superficial animal we (emerging/Emergent) have helped create.

Blog readers: more to come tomorrow!


Existential Punk said...


You know the old adage, ASSUME makes an ass out of u and me! :)

Appreciate your honest and informative response.

Looking forward to more!



Monk-in-Training said...

Interesting dialog. I have a great essay about women ministers I will email to you.

Peter said...

Please DO, M-i-T!!

Don said...

"the Christian church has been controlling, rigid, abusive, angry, mean-spirited, uncaring, enabling, unloving, and even aberrant."

Remember when Dana Carvey did the Church Lady routine on SNL? He was tapping into the darker sides of Christianity. The routine worked because EVERYONE knows a church lady.

Another thought: If you think emergents are angry, get up close and personal with some neo-pagans, like the wiccans and druids. I have known many of these people and they are completely pissed. They are so angry that they express genuine hatred and they teach it to their children. In my judgement, they are so angry that they are willing to risk building a new religion from scratch just to maintain some kind of spirituality and remain completely outside of anything that resembles western religion.

nate said...

I am super tired so I can't adequately respond to this interesting and intelligent post.

All I want to say is...(1) I seem to be encountering anger at every level of spiritual thought. I too succumb.
(2) interfaith dialogue at all levels while important, is wearying to me, as it so often it assumes that mutual respect, in essence freedom to covet subjectivity, is misunderstood as the path to conformity (which does make logical sense) and (3) your blog looks cooler than it ever has.

Peter said...

Don, great comment! Most of those pagan folk have a right to be angry. I once read a paper about using Wicca as a lens through which to analyze Christianity and identify all of the areas we fall so desperately short.

I'm no expert, but I know from friends in neo-pagan circles that Wiccan practice recognizes the sacredness (and equality) of femininity. It cherishes the earth and holds ecological stewardship as sacred, as well. There is more room for creativity in faith-expression, and for mystery in conception of the divine. Sounds like we should hire some Wiccans to lead a few seminars at our churches, no?

Peter said...

Nate, ha! I regularly post on too little sleep (or too much wine).

(1) Me too. We all bring emotional backgrounds and baggage to discussions - particularly about faith.

(2) Yeah, interfaith and ecumenical dialogues are fascinating to me as well - but you've highlighted what I think is an inherently self-defeating aspect of such conversations. When a bunch of thoughtful, respectful people of faith sit down with a bunch of respectful, thoughtful people of other faiths... everyone ends up being very thoughtful and respectful. Which is good on one hand, but on another, can lead to a lot of affirmation and very little passion.

That's unfortunate. I'd rather be friends with Buddhists and Muslims and atheists who are PASSIONATE about their believes, than a bunch of interfaith gals and guys who are so respectful they can't posit any personal recognition of truth. Or personal love for said truth/faith/awareness/God.

I believe Jesus is "The Way" and that gets me excited all over. I also think I've been a real asshole in how I've talked about Jesus. Or at least my Christian worldview. In attempts to counterbalance, I don't want to stop talking about Jesus. I just want to be generous, engaged, loving and open to the faith and revelation of others.

That's a tough line to walk. But people who have beliefs they're readily willing to surrender out of politeness aren't interesting (and I'll confess, that's my personal temptation these days, recovering from the fundamentalism of my adolescence and early 20s).

But I believe I have more to offer ecumenism and interfaith dialogue through patient-passion, gentle faith, and humble piety, than a manifestation of blanket-universalism might offer.

(3) YOU MADE MY DAY! You know, I'm not a "designer." I tinker away on shareware design software (thank God for the GIMP graphics program!), try to come up with something cool-looking, and hope someone notices.

Thanks for noticing, bro. I feel hip again.

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