empire and shalom (afterword to our privilege conversation)

arundhati roy

I published my post on privilege around dinnertime on Thurday and went straight to bed with the flu. When I woke up it had already become one of my most-read posts in nearly five years of blogging. To characterize the response as overwhelming doesn't come close to describing the way I'm still reeling.

Something in our discussion here touched a nerve, reverberating well beyond this little community. God knows that social media can bring out the worst, but the internet can be remarkably democratizing, too. Thousands inclined their ear our way, toward the frustrations and hopes for the Church held by mostly unpastor-y sorts following Jesus down unspectacular (and sometimes Lego-littered) paths.

We are, of course, the Church, too, and the conversation happening over at Homebrewed Christianity makes me wonder if I hear the rumblings of change afoot. I hope we do.

Although I like to fancy myself as something of a peacemaker (no, seriously), apparently I can be a bit of a shit-stirrer, too. My post was not met without controversy, and I want to clarify one thing. The crux of my thesis was that we cannot build the Kingdom of God with the tools of Empire and privilege. Yes, I offered a feminist critique of online emerging church culture, but I wrote it not to start a witch hunt (!) but to question the ways we enthrone worldly power and hierarchy within church and Christian culture.

I don't question anyone's motives and used the language of privilege specifically to argue that the harmful messages we send are largely unconscious. But inadvertent patriarchy is still patriarchy, and meaning well alone won't engage more voices, dismantle inequalities, or bring about the shalom we seek.

I wrote about gender privilege because that is the particular hierarchy to which I am especially sensitive (because of my own privilege), but it is only one aspect of the larger problem of inequality in the Church. We are all complicit in structures that foster injustice. I am complicit, too. My goal was never to drag anyone through the mud but to expose privilege as a component of social sin and systemic violence.

Do your hearts burn with this, too? I wanted to highlight a few (more) voices who are encouraging me along this way (and would love to hear yours, too).

Do you read Kathy Escobar, a pastor with the prophetic imagination for such a time as this?

to me, power is a combination of leadership, value, voice, and resource.
when it comes to “the church” i think we have a really jacked up system related to power. we have adopted the ways of the world and the methods of businesses as our central practices instead of the beatitudes. and even though a lot of people with power are taking more and more about “kingdom living”, often, they are perpetuating the same old power structures

Have you read Adam McHugh's Introverts in the Church? This book provides incredible affirmation to many who have felt less-than as Christians for not being the "best" kind of leader or having the "right" personality or gifts.

I can't stop talking about it. Adam provides an invigorating challenge that I believe pertains to this conversation, especially with regard to the narrow way we often conceive of leadership as a Church, some of what we're missing, and how we might grow as a Body. He interviewed dozens of introverts and pastors, and although he never makes a big deal of it, his story and research are woven with the perspectives and struggles of many women in ministry. It was profoundly encouraging to me as an introvert (and eye-opening to me as a verbal processor married to an internal processor). It should probably be required reading for everyone in church leadership and anyone who loves an introvert or cares about community.

I mentioned these at my post for Ed Cyzewski's non-fiction series, but another book that rocked me this year was Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd. It will mess you up, and you'll never imagine Jesus, the gospel, empire, or violence the same way again. It's an important read.

Now I want to put it to you. Where do you think we go from here?

"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can here her breathing." -Arundhati Roy
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