in february i attended an emergent theological conversation/conference at yale university.
since then i've been following different participants' responses online; one in particular
caught my interest. i emailed a friend after reading the post and comments (content of said email can be found below).
i was rather shocked to see that the articulate, intelligent man who did an excellent job of moderating a conversation between ~300 people and one theologian could conduct himself in such a crass manner online (never mind the behavior i witnessed at BAR
when he demanded that the waitress make room for over fifty people without a reservation). (i acknowledge that this isn't the most gracious blog post, but i must point out that i am not attempting to be any sort of christian leader.)
if he would disinvite his own (christian) peer at first blush (see jones' first comment in the link above) what on earth would he do with me?
here's my rough-and-tumble email, lightly edited.
jones' behavior compromises his position as a leader (though some of his colleagues and those who revere him as a minor EC celebrity seem to be blind to this).
the original post was a good, honest critique. i think what's missing, though, are the questions Kellen wanted asked. i'm finding similar difficulty in expressing what it was i wanted out of the conversation rather than just complaining about what i disliked.
i'm actually surprised that the conference managed to disappoint me. i expected more of what i experienced in Tennessee (questions like "how do we do church," jokes about dark rooms and candles, reassertions and questions regarding what it means to be emergent, and in general a level of intellectual discourse that, while different in content, barely surpasses that which i engaged in during high school bible study). i know this sounds harsh, but there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between these folks discussing/arguing for different theories of atonement and a small group of intense young people doing the same regarding "once saved always saved." (or the gifts of the spirit, or methods of baptism, etc.) that said, the only time i find any of this interesting is when someone like mclaren ties his concerns to current events or communities.
the major disappointment was that many treated this as some sort of support group for pastors. i, too, was surprised at how many folks asked volf for *answers*--meaning advice on how to do their jobs. specificially regarding "the gay issue" (that language makes me shudder).
how on earth could volf speak to that issue, not knowing their congregations? a pastor is a leader of a group of people s/he should know well. these "issues" must be worked out within the community. an academic (whatever his or her area of expertise) is not going to be able to give pragmatic advise. (and yes, i realize that i'm being hypocritical by suggesting where these folk should go (below)).
enter the importance of story. those leaders who are struggling with this (and other issues) and look for answers from volf in the context of "embrace" are much better off paying attention to his stories of personally embracing his other(s). though very different, both stories involve identity and otherness. if nothing else this could be a springboard for both the individual pastor dealing with his/her personal response to the other and for a sermon/conversation with the congregation or elders or board or whatever they call it (we had deacons).*
similarly, it could be helpful for other pastors who have "dealt with" this issue (like Campolo or Gordon Atkinson) to share their stories: the makeup of their congregation, member responses, anecdotes from/of gay members of Christian churches.
does a church have to have something specific in their doctrine regarding this? even if so, isn't it impossible for a congregation to completely agree with every tenet in a doctrine? (again, i might be getting the info wrong. the only official doctrinal docs i've read are for AofG).
this "conversation" didn't seem to be the place for this kind of discourse. all this talk of embracing the other -- shouldn't your other be involved in the conversation? if there were any gay folks there they remained as quiet as the surreptitious post-atheist attendee. as it was, the talk (however gentle) was offensive, kind of the equivalent of "how are we going to deal with the negroes (in a loving manner)?"
wouldn't it be much more helpful if you actually held a conf in which you could learn from pastors who have "dealt" with this issue? invited people like volf and pastors and other thinkers whose theories might help, invited gay christians and gay people or "allies" -- how about spicing things up with a queer theorist....
maybe i deserve to be othered. it is rather cheeky of me to tell "them" how to church when i'm frankly disinterested in participating in such a business.
i just want to go and talk about meaning and identity, about faith and theology and philosophy and all those delightful tough parts in between. fuck talking about god's intention when he killed himself (or his son or whatever). i wanted to chuck wimsatt and beardsley's "the intentional fallacy" at their heads (although it is a rather brief article and would have most likely fluttered down noisily-yet-gracefully to the people standing below the balcony). anyone claiming to have direct access to god's intent is either a lunatic or a messiah. were we sitting in a fish bowl of messiahs looking for direction from a yale professor?
unfortunately i get this faux-intellectual masturbatory bullshit and a main speaker who won't answer the one question i was interested in (from what i could hear over the bastards whispering behind me he just rephrased what he's said in E&E). how is it a conversation if he answers the question and you don't get to follow up, respond back or call him out for failing to answer or continue the thread? don't answers to questions often lead to other questions? this is why a panel might be a better idea, so when folks in the audience comment/question and he answers one of his fellow panelists can hold things up for a bit and follow up.
that said, i did love the conversations we had together and with the guys who accompanied us... the types of discourse that can't be scripted or planned -- laughter and discussion about witches and demons while we navigated first the road from NH to NY, then the dismal projects and we scraped our way nearby yankee stadium.
*unfortunately, i think a lot of folks are interpreting volf's insistence on the importance of boundaries as a sort of sideways green light approach to declaring right and wrong. or, maybe that's what volf means. i couldn't bear digging through more of his clunky prose enough to find out. lazy of me, maybe.
it's okay, though. as a post-atheist i'm WAAAAAY closer to god than tony jones.