How would you react if someone called you an "evangelical"? How about if they called you part of "the emerging church"? Does "evangelicalism" make you think of a history of compassionate activism or reactionary fundamentalism? Does "emerging church" bring up for you connotations of fresh creativity or sloppy theology?
With the new cover article for Sojourners, blogs are hot with discussion of the emerging church (again). Some of which is helpful, asking important question that help us more fully embody the Gospel we profess. Others posts reminds me (to paraphrase Zizek) that fundamentalism in its last death throes will always be the most fierce.
I'm glad my mate Andrew Jones (aka "Tall Skinny Kiwi") has waded in and said in effect, "hey! What about the diversity found outside of the U.S.A.?!?" (It might be worth remembering that this was brewing elsewhere in the world before sisters and brothers in the U.S. started writing books about their experience of it).
Australian Radio personality and friend of Jim Wallis, John Cleary recently had me in the studio to talk about a new generation Christian leaders and the subversive spirituality found in Christ. The hour interview aired yesterday around Australia and has been edited into a half hour podcast that's up on the ABC's website as an interview with an "Evangelical Activist".
Terms like "Evangelical," much like "New Monasticism" or "Emerging Church" or even "Christian" create different associations for people. Associations many want to run from. Yet the terms we use, or are used about us, ultimately find their definitions in what we embody, not our rhetoric. Those of us involved with the global justice movement have chanted on the streets "This is what democracy looks like!" Those of us involved in the climate justice movement have heard in the words of my hero Vendana Shiva "This is what green democracy looks like!" What is implied is a sharp critique of what people most often associate with these terms by embodying something better.
Maybe there is much more room for us, (with mischievous smiles), to re-inhabit abandoned terms and revive forgotten traditions. In doing so we'll be able to own the shadow-sides of these traditions instead of becoming, to quote Ian Packer, "the newest hyper-protestant church of this-time-we-finally-got-it-right." Maybe then we can live what Peter Maurin meant by "The best critique of the bad is the practice of the better."
So bring on the critiques of our different movements. But let them primarily be embodied not (just) blogged. Let them help us remove the log from our own eyes before specks from others. Then it won't be so laughable when those who stand in the traditions that provided the spirituality of Apartheid want to have cheap shots at the emerging church movement(s).
Maybe I'm not just an evangelist... but even an evangelical. Besides, that's a lot easier to say than "I'm the love child of Dorothy Day and Menno Simons, adopted by charismatics and fed by Eastern Orthodoxy."
Jarrod McKenna is seeking to live God's love in a world where business as usual is costing us the earth (at the expense of the poor). He is a co-founder of the Peace Tree Community serving with the marginalised in one of the poorest of areas in his city, heads up Together for Humanity in Western Australia (an inter-faith youth initiative working for the common good), and is the founder and creative director of Empowering Peacemakers (EPYC), for which he has received an Australian peace award in his work for in empowering a generation of "eco-evangelists" and "peace prophets."