Power and the Emerging Church

By Julie Clawson 5-04-2010

[Read more of this blog conversation in response to the Sojourners article "Is the 'Emerging Church' for Whites Only?"]

In this ongoing conversation around the question of the emerging church and race, I've encountered some frustration in regards to how leadership and power are defined by the various contributors. On one hand you have groups of people pointing at the emerging church saying that the leaders need to take the initiative in working for racial reconciliation by abdicating power in favor of voices from the margins. On the other hand, voices within the emerging conversation express a reluctance to claim power, advocating instead for an open-sourced village green communal structure. These divergent ideals of leadership have in recent discussions caused much confusion and in some cases anger and resentment.

I understand that in many ways this is just one more example of those who follow postmodern philosophy being misunderstood and opposed by others. In deconstructing the idea of power, most postmoderns value flattened structures over hierarchical ones. In their mind, to create a system where one person is empowered implies that other people will be disempowered. To avoid such cultural stratification, they choose to employ symbiotic instead of hierarchical leadership structures. In symbiotic systems all voices are valued because we all need each other to survive.

Naturally, this conception of power meets resistance, some of it well deserved. Postmodern philosophy and conceptions of identity and power have been harshly criticized by some proponents of feminist and liberation theology. As they argue, it isn't fair that right when previously marginalized groups like women, minorities, and queers were beginning to gain a distinct voice and power within the theological world this new philosophy comes up and challenges the very idea of identity and power. It is hard for an identity-based group to essentialize themselves and say that the power held by white men needs to be given instead to ____ (women, the poor, immigrants, queers, Asians, Latinas

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