Saturday, October 22, 2005

tolerance, hospitality and the future of the church

A thought provoking series of posts over at heretics corner; here, here and here, on the extent of hospitality offered at the emergent table. (Link from maggi dawn). The posts are glad of the emergent conversation, but critical of how truly hospitable it really is. “Wearing a white wrist band is easy. Practicing radical inclusion of all the people of God in our communities is harder.”

I’m linking to the conversation, having just spent a week at the futurechurch conference and hoping to capture some thoughts swirling through my head. The conference was both an incredibly hospitable place – with voice given to women, gay, and lesbian – yet also at times quite an inhospitable place, in which I was stereotyped as “Baptist, male, clergy” rather than Steve Taylor, person.

1. All people, evangelical and liberal, can be intolerant.

2. I wonder if the emerging church and the progressive liberal church share a common dialogue around feelings of marginalisation from the church. The marginalisation might be for different reasons, but it has created some shared dialogue.

3. Marginalisation is not automatically missional. In fact marginalisation (and I am naming my experience of the post-evangelical discussion at this point) can be negative and cynical, which is not always healthy for those seeking a life-giving spirituality. I wonder if, and how, narratives of exclusion need to engage and draw energy from the Jesus story, to turn them from marginal to hospitably inclusive.

4. Such missional engagement is not easy for groups (whether post-evangelical or gay/lesbian) who start by feeling excluded from a conversation.

5. Perhaps paradoxically, it is the energy of this discomfort that helps hold me in such conversations. Debates around right and left, evangelical and liberal, don’t hold much energy for me. Nor do stereotypes. But open dialogue with discomforting people is hard, disconcerting, but something worth hanging out for.

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM


  1. Steve, thank you for this thoughtful response to my comments on the emerging church. This is the kind of reflection I’ve been hoping to see. When you wrote that you would have just preferred to be Steve rather than be the Baptist Male Clergy Guy I really identified with that because it is so tiresome to always be the Gay Christian in the room. I would love to be Karen, but too often I find that no one else will raise the issues that concern me and mine, so I get stuck in the role.

    I completely agree with you on the points you laid out. True conversation is often not an easy transaction among people who don’t know and trust each other; oftentimes it is painful and halting and filled with suspicion. I believe that the task of moving from this type of conversation to one of fellowship is incredibly hard, but it is the mandate we Christians have been given. For those on the “inside,” it may mean learning to listen more attentively and be more conscious of who is and is not in the room. For those on the margins (like gay folks) it means acknowledging that not every Christian who has theological questions about about same-s*x relationships is a homophobe who means them harm, or that they have been intentionally excluded. The most important thing is the open dialogue, and as you point out, it’s definitely worth hanging out for.

    Comment by Karen — October 23, 2005 @ 3:37 am

  2. Steve, thanks for your post, particularly for your links to Karen’s posts / reflections. They’re excellent – very thoughtful and insightful.

    Stereotyping is such an incideous human characteristic – I find myself all too easily doing it, and also feel myself stereotyped, e.g you don’t often go to church on a Sunday morning so you must be ________________ . “lay-person” “white, middleclass male, pakeha, hetros@xual etc.

    There are a whole lot of assumptions made, and I guess in the intital encounter that’s our way of starting to get a sense of the “other.” The reality is, however, that we have to journey together, “side-by-side, space in between” (Salmonella Dub)in order to get past the initial, in order to ‘paint’ a more authentic picture of the other.

    We need an “Emmaus” experience, and Emmaus isn’t reached without a journey being taken together.

    As I said in my post conference reflection – it’s not until you really talk, really listen, see etc that you discover your stereotypical assumptions melt away. That’s one of the rich possibilities and outcomes of “discomfort,” of being in discomforting contexts…

    Comment by Paul Fromont — October 23, 2005 @ 8:23 am

  3. hey steve, right on! I often find myself challenging liberal christians about their closed mindedness and lack of openness to encountering God in new ways and places – an assumption that nothing good can come from….. evangelical land.

    I find myself a boundary crosser these days – a lesbian christian post church person who enjoys hanging out with journeying evangelicals. So at the conference it was more important to have a walk with a friend that attend a gay/lesbian etc caucus. Not that the latter was not important, but not for me at that time.

    Ditto with categorising people as ordained or not – I simply don’t care any more – as a post church person those categories are simply boxes I no longer put people in. I find myself rejecting traditional categorisation, probably because I don’t feel they fit me any more.

    Like you I get irritated when I am pigeonholed in a category I have not chosen for myself.

    I like the idea of the pilgrim traveller who remains open to meeting God along the way, in whatever guise. The ‘discomfort’ of this and the surprises are as you suggest, what energises me.

    Comment by rosemary — October 26, 2005 @ 11:27 am

  4. As far as the word marginalised, I am finding it rather problematic at the moment. It seems that when it is used it sometimes means just make the marginalised the centre and everyone else marginal. Somehow is a Jesus world everyone should be the centre but also everyone should be the marginalised. I agree with so many of the comments about stereotyping. I think stereotyping often comes from fear and wanting to protect yourself. If you stereotype people then they are simple and not worthy of consideration. Somehow those who are afraid need to feel safe enough to consider those they view as “other” and those who are marginalised need to know they are in the centre in Jesus’ eyes, if not yet by those who marginalise them.

    Comment by marion — October 27, 2005 @ 11:01 am

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