Sustaining a diverse (theological) conversation

February 13, 2008

emergent / emerging church / life / marriage / theology

At Josh Brown‘s blog, there is a series of posts that I began to link to yesterday that are challenging some of the common critiques leveled against Emergent (and in this sense, I do mean, at least predominantly, Emergent Village, not the global emerging church).

One of the posts deals with the conception that Emergent consists of white guys, sitting around talking about theology. The post itself is well worth a read, as are the comments. One of the comments, from Julie Clawson, is what I want to look into, at the moment.

Part of it reads like this:

“Nice Christian women" are taught to be polite, respectful, and submissive – very hard things to be if you ever want to get a word in edgewise in a conversation with men.

I saw this firsthand during the first year we led the local Emergent Cohort. The group consisted of mostly younger men and single women (wives never show up, what family shells out babysitting money just so the woman can participate in such things???). The group nearly fell apart after all the women left. They left because they never got a chance to participate in the conversation and constantly received the message that they weren't wanted. If they tried to speak up, some guy would jump in and talk them down, and as nice Christian women they were “trained” to let that happen. The guys weren't doing it intentionally or generally even aware of what they were doing, they were just holding a conversation like they had been trained to do.

I feel like there is something deeply significant in that statement, as it pertains to things like Emergent, or theological and church-related discussions in general, and also as it pertains to life in general. At this time in the development of Emergent, many of the people who are attracted to it do have a history of involvement with the evangelical church. For a number of reasons that are related to everything from serious biblical misinterpretation to simple selfishness, evangelicalism has not, especially in the last fifty years, welcomed the voices of women. There is a certain “training” that Julie alludes to that women receive in modern evangelicalism that leads them to be quiet and let themselves be shut out of conversations with men.

As a man who has both formal and informal experience in evangelicalism and training in evangelical ministry, I read this comment and was immediately struck by how true it is. I recognize guilt in myself of shutting women out from conversations, because I have spoken as I learned to speak. I have unintentionally expected women to speak in the same ways that I do, and I have neglected to recognize the differences between the framework that I have been given and the framework that they have been given.

The implications of this thought really hit home when I began to think about my marriage. I recognize guilt in shutting out my wife by expecting her to speak like I do. This occurs in public conversations as well as private ones. She has a longer, and in general far more negative, history with the church in general and evangelicalism in particular than I do, and thus this framework has been drilled into her even more than it has into me, and many times I have failed to recognize this.

I believe that a comment like Julie’s has the potential to teach guys like me how difficult it can be for a woman to get past that framework, and the damage that it can cause. This kind of learning is essential for the development of the Emergent conversation as more than a bunch of white guys discussing theology.