Sacralizing the Secular: The Economic Organization of Emerging Ecclesiology in North America and its Latent Spirit of Resistance

[This is a working copy of the paper I presented at AAR this year in Chicago in the Ecclesiological Investigations Group on the following theme: “The Social Gospel in a Time of Economic Crisis: The Churches and Capitalism Today.”  Here is a link to a further description.]

Walter Rauschenbusch observed and contended that global capitalism directly opposes the spirit of Christianity in at least two fundamental ways: by inhibiting economic democracy and by encouraging the rule of profit motive over and against the value of human life.  In contrast, the Christian spirit is marked by devotion to the common good and to God’s reign of justice in the world: “Devotion to the common good is one of the holy and divine forces in human society, [and] [c]apitalism teaches us to set private interests before the common good” (315).  

The mission of the church in light of global capitalism then it seems is to mirror and foster an alternative social and political order by instilling and adhering to values that subvert the dominant narrative of competition, consumerism, imperialism and individualism.  Such subversive values include peace-making, generosity, cooperation and solidarity.  In order for these values to be thoroughly integrated into the church and the lives of Christians, they must also affect the economy of ecclesial organization itself.

Rauschenbusch, like most everyone else in his time, failed to be duly cognizant of racial and gender prejudices and the challenges of religious pluralism.  Furthermore, he was obviously unable to foresee the current impending ecological crisis, peak oil, the post-WWII triumph of U.S.-dominated international military and economic power, and more recently the hyper-financialization of the global market itself – specifically with its heightened volatility as demonstrated by the Great Recession.  Nevertheless, much of what Rauschenbusch meant by “Christianizing the Social Order” was profound and is still relevant.

Rauschenbusch attempted to popularize the view that Jesus’ teachings about the reign of God regarded God’s peace and justice as ideals to be prayed for and realized in the present as much as anticipated in the future.  Rauschenbusch diagnosed and identified the capitalist, corporate state as “the industrial outfit of society . . . owned and controlled by a limited group, while the mass of the industrial workers [– often propertyless –] is without ownership or power over the system within which they work” (311).  Extrapolating from this, Rauschenbusch argues that

where [profit from Capitalism] is large and dissociated from hard work, it is traceable to some kind of monopoly privilege and power . . . Insofar as profit is derived from these sources, it is tribute collected by power from the helpless, a form of legalized graft, and a contradiction of Christian relations” (Christianizing the Social Order 1926, p 313).

Impressively, this issue of ownership of the means of production and wealth in general by a few is perhaps as pertinent as ever for people in North America today.  Growing income inequality and the stagnation of wages adjusted for inflation, particularly in the past three decades, is staggering.[1]

THE PRESENT ECONOMIC CRISIS

With respect to the recent financial crisis itself, Christian leaders and theologians would benefit by understanding the values, incentives and mechanisms that gave rise to the housing bubble and the subsequent market crash – if we wish to have a hand in shaping and informing a counter-consumer culture in Christian communities.  Discussing the causes for the Financial Crisis itself is beyond the scope of this presentation, but by relying on the work of others – like Dr. Christine Hinze – who have taken the time to really grapple with what exactly led to the recession, I’ll briefly make a few observations from which I think we can appropriate intentional local practices that might really signal a thorough critique of the disparate economic establishment.[2]

The consensus seems to be that, broadly speaking – even if it has become cliché to say since OWS – the market crash itself was brought about by a financial sector that incentivizes and even secures the privatization of profits and the socialization of risks and therefore losses, or costs, as evidenced most notably by federal bailouts of the big banks.  In summary, one might identity at least four major factors the led to the financial crisis:

  1. Deregulation via the removal of much-needed firewalls between commercial banks, insurance companies and security trading institutions/brokerage firms — through legislation passed under the Clinton administration, and through the role that money plays in Washington in general (SuperPACS, Citizens United, no term limits, etc.)
  2. A lack of a principle of agency and responsibility for taking bad risks, enabled by the design and implementation of financial instruments that repackaged and sold over-leveraged credit at multiple levels (e.g., credit default swaps)
  3. Credit-rating agencies with conflicts of interest issued artificially high approval ratings for mortgage-backed securities
  4. The toleration, or promotion of, in many cases, a culture of debt-financed living – even if many people were victims of predatory lending

These phenomena highlight a top-down proclivity of global capitalism in general for not only privatizing market success and socializing market failure, but also its contribution to an increasing disparate distribution of wealth in the U.S.  Additionally, the financial crisis unmasked the elasticity and underscored the interdependence of global relations.  (It should also be mentioned that there are other critical perspectives from an even longer-term standpoint about the causes of the Great Recession, as exemplified by Yanis Varoufakus’ recent work.)

SOCIAL AWAKENING IN THE CHURCHES

What we call the secular is actually the realm or domain of the Spirit. The secular – literally meaning the world, the realm outside of church control – isn’t profane. Rather, properly understood, it is sacred because the Spirit is and has always been active there, evoking light from darkness, order from chaos, fullness from void, life from lifelessness, actuality from potentiality, and potentiality from actuality. (Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? p. 151)

In the wake of economic recession and the recent financial crisis, and in view of growing global and domestic disparity with respect to wealth and power and its concentration into the hands of so few at the expense of so many – without adequate transparency or accountability – I propose in response that churches in North America are entrusted with several basic tasks:

  1. Raising awareness and making the economic inequalities and interdependencies of the world, both abroad and domestically, better understood by Christian congregants
  2. Engaging the public sphere through changes in habits of consumption so as to bear witness to God’s mission of (economic and ecological) reconciliation in the world
  3. Using capital, organizing themselves (in church governance and leadership) and conducting their worship and service practices as a church in such a way that challenges and contributes to the transformation of these inequalities
  4. mobilizing the fulfillment of this mission in part by facilitating participation in local political decision-making processes in order to disperse economic power where it has become overly concentrated, disembodied or undemocratic

I suggest that the church in North America will be best situated to oppose the exploitative nature of global capitalism by embracing the erosion of the sacred-secular divide – what Charles Taylor called “the Great Disembedding”[3]  – a distinctively modern divide, or as Taylor elsewhere descries it – a modern social imaginary – and one that is still prevalent in liberal-democratic nation-states and Western culture in general.  It is true, however, that a “de-secularization” or  “re-enchantment” of the world has been increasingly noted and called for in recent decades, indicating “both a discrediting of [rigidly] scientific theor[izing] of secularization and a renewed debate about a more nuanced understanding of secularism, religion, and the influence of modernity on each.”[4]  Aaron Stuvland insists, for example, that  

“Secularization, far from undermining religion with its denial of the transcendent and its insistence on verification through the senses and the application of cold logic, has created a spiritual vacuum and a deep desire for integration.  In fact, secular space for that matter simply does not nor has it ever existed. Or if it has existed as a political coercion, the secularization of the church results in the sacralization of the secular.”[5]

Gustavo Gutierrez has expressed the need for transgressing this boundary by emphasizing that there are not two histories, one sacred and one profane, one soteriological and one political, but rather, Gutierrez contends, that “the history of salvation is the very heart of human history [itself].”[6]

I believe that the boundary-blurring of the sacralization of the secular would serve to de-privatize religious communities and thereby renew or potentially re-capture something of their transformative force in the public sphere.  Such is a spirit of resistance to capitalism, I submit, or at least a spirit of resistance to a certain kind of capitalism – namely, its late neoliberal, global form with a reach that, though fragmented and not monolithic, relativizes, consumes and subsumes at so many levels –vertically, horizontally and internally – in terms of intensity, velocity and overall impact.

By using the language of “resistance to capitalism,” however, I’m not implying the endorsement of some other kind of macro, total state model, socialist or otherwise.[7]  In this way I do intend to break somewhat with the analysis of traditional Latin American liberation theology, despite deep indebtedness to Gutierrez and others of the movement.  Rather, I’m speaking of the church and its response to and role in the shadow of a corporately compromised capitalist state.  As such I am persuaded by those like Martin Luther King Jr. who summon the church at times to be the conscience of, or conscience raiser for the nation-state – though not because I believe this to be a primary vocation of the church.  The church is not a servant of the state; nor should its purposes be defined in terms of the state.  But, I do agree that speaking truth to power is one of the church’s chief responsibilities and means for bearing witness to God’s reign in the world.

To over-identify the church’s mission with the task of affecting the public sphere though without some further qualification is to risk confusing and conflating the secular and the sacred altogether; that is, the danger could be the secularization of the sacred rather than the reverse.[8]  I wish to maintain, therefore, that the church’s role is to transcend the allegedly immanent plane[9]  – not to be captured by so-called secular reason (Milbank).  I understand that the church is neither strictly sacred nor secular, but the foremost medium, potentially, through which the process of sacralization can occur.  Thus, my aim in this paper is to try to point to several ways that emerging churches in North America are both obscuring and moving sacred-secular borders, and to indicate additional practices by which this is and can be done by the church more generally.    In light of this aim, I propose that the deficiency of economic democracy in the marketplace can be contested from below by the church as followers of Jesus endeavor to conserve and steward resources more simply and responsibly, hold more in common together, decentralize power, organize its leadership in greater mutuality, meet publically, and share space with others and mobilize for the sake of the good of society as a whole.

EMERGING ECCLESIOLOGY

By emerging ecclesiologies in North America, I am referring to a wide range of relatively recent “fresh expressions” of church, including house churches, pub churches, new neighborhood churches, and hyphenated churches (this refers to the housing by certain Mainline Protestant congregations of new worship gatherings and services in traditional facilities that treasure the old but bring in the new – that is, merge ancient and contemporary spiritualities and traditions).[10]  With a swelling desire for aesthetic and participatory liturgy, these faith communities bring dance, drama and literature into worship (or maybe better said, they’re make dance, drama and literature more worshipful).  And rather than borrowing their songs from the most popular Christian music or simply singing traditional hymns, emerging communities often write their own music and have their own artists.[11]  Other common practices include corporate and contemplative prayer, as well as Sabbath keeping.  Emerging churches tend to privilege the vision of the Christian community in Acts as the model to be sought, and have frequently been associated with New Monasticism.  These communities have a tendency to resist the self-identification of the title “church,” preferring instead names like “Solomon’s Porch,” “Mosaic,” “Journey,” “Jacob’s Well,” and the “Emmaus Way.” Many do not have (or want) their own buildings or ordained pastors.  If their leaders are even called “pastors,” they’re sometimes bi-vocational, and they’re likely to be compensated at the same rate as other staff members.  While it could be argued that both evangelical churches and mainline denominational churches continue to have a propensity toward preoccupation with numbers and money, and the measurement of overall quantifiable influence, emerging folks might accuse; conversely, as Phyllis Tickle asserts, “Market success, is neither an emergence concept nor even an emergence virtue.”[12]  Tickle describes emerging churches as fairly indifferent to [market success] and individualism as a cultural value.[13]  Tickle paints a picture of emerging churches as free from the trappings of modernity and instead more sensitive to postmodern impulses such as adaptivity, relationality, and hybridity.  This somewhat romanticized characterization is not without criticism, but it may still suffice for the purposes of this paper.[14]

There is in general a noticeable aversion to hierarchy, to clear distinctions drawn between clergy and laity – preferring instead gift-based and team-oriented leadership structure as opposed to ordination-centeredness.[15]  Moreover, emerging faith communities are frustrated by denominationalism and want to form looser, bi-laterally collaborative networks with less infrastructure and overhead.  At the same time, they do not usually endorse a wholesale rejection of or separation from established churches.  Many leading this movement are younger mainliners (though not exclusively young), while others have been called “post-conservative evangelicals.”[16]  Disenchanted evangelicals, for instance, are learning to appreciate and reinvigorate traditional liturgy.[17]  This is partly why one does in fact see new forms of church growing out of existing congregations.

Theologically speaking, emerging churches are characterized by post-foundational epistemology and  theology, “Emerging church ecclesiology . . . seeks to rethink how church is done in a decidedly postmodern context . . . They are asking questions of mission, the centrality of Jesus, and what it means to live in community.”[18]  The rediscovery of the centrality of the Kingdom of God in Jesus’ teachings as a world-centered or “secular” mission for the church.  There’s a strong belief in the mission of realizing an “alternative social order” implies a new way of being and acting in the world both locally and globally.  The dualisms of modernity are thought to have placated the transformative potency of the gospel, so emerging churches wish to eschew this false dualism, with greater sensitivity to postmodern impulses like adaptivity, interdependence and hybridity. It is supposed by extension that if God’s redemption of the world is already present and bids people take part in its sacralization, then secular space is not without God, and God’s work knows no categories or boundaries.  “Because of this focus,” Andrew Stuvland explains, “emerging churches tend to be small and decentralized communities.” that value commitment and accountability over meetings and institutions. . . Stuvland argues that the “relational and fluid structure of the emerging church a de-centralized, entity opens it up to becoming more relevant and responsive to global realities.”[19] By extension, transforming secular space has become a core practice, it seems, and even a hallmark of emerging churches, as gatherings are held in places like coffee shops, art galleries and neighborhood community centers, in part for precisely the purpose of blurring sacred-secular lines.

According to LeRon Shults, “[emerging ecclesiology’s] resistance to a missional approach that colonizes the other is reflected in theological commitments to more dynamic models of ecclesial identity as wholly embedded in the relational life of “the world.”[20] Many [emerging churches] want to focus more strongly on the way in which embodied communal life here and now is being redemptively transformed and reordered in salutary ways that manifest justice in the world. In a certain sense, then, one could say that [for emerging ecclesiology] all salvation is “outside” the church.”[21] Shults concludes, “If [emerging churches] have anything in common, it is a desire to embrace the prophetic, the enthusiastic, and even the mystical as they move toward reformative ways of being and becoming in community as followers of the way of Jesus.”[22]

Let me now try to identify more specifically and practically a few marks and habits of economic organization for social awakening, some of which I see budding in emerging churches – while others are more feasible for established churches.  Both though correspond to what I’m calling a latent spirit of resistance to global capitalism.

FOUR MARKS OF NEW ECCLESIAL-ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION

[As a backdrop to talking about the church’s response to economic recession and the financial crisis, I am presupposing the globalization narrative that industrial economism of the 20th Century has been bulstered by the hyper-financialization of global markets in the 21st Century.]

Stewardship and Conservation: as a result of resource scarcity and the ensuing sustainability crisis brought about by this nation’s current international energy dependency and addiction to consumption, severe consequences are foreseeable – not only ecological in nature but geopolitical.  In other words, the energy crisis is intimately related to militarism and a security crisis, both of which increasingly serve the financial sector.[23]  At leas two kinds of responses are in in order on the part of churches, with respect to how Christians spend their money and where they entrust it: First, purchasing local, regional and fairly traded goods and services – especially food – must become a basic church rhythm in response and value – as sacred as anything else Christians do.  Some churches are adopting this, but many are not.  To resist the massive-scale distribution of goods and services by buying locally is to participate in the subversion of its overarching reach globally. Transactions that sustain small-scale farmers and businesses in turn become acts of living sacrifice for the sake of the propertyless, the unemployed and the otherwise disenfranchised around the world.  Further, in an attempt to protest third-world debt, unpenalized Wallstreet crimes and financial economism in general, it seems reasonable to advise that Christians bank with smaller financial institutions, even if these institutions can’t offer the same services at the same low rates as big banks.  rather than primarily focusing on accumulating wealth in the stock market, Congregations can be encouraged to bank locally and regionally, and even invite them to invest significant portions of their wealth and savings in non-profit micro-finance lending organizations.  So these are practices that emerging and established churches alike can implement.

What is more, in the name of Christian stewardship and creation care, rather than mere humanist environmentalism, church groups can sacralize the secular by conserving water and energy, which are sacred gifts from God but that have been secularized as profitable commodities – So by walking, cycling, utilizing public transportation, and consciously reducing what we send down sewage pipes.  The growing adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets is also sacralizing.  Along these same lines, to form and maintain smaller neighborhood-based churches rather than investing heavily in destination churches, is to conserve energy and therefore to at least indirectly combat the violence and neocolonialism of militarily ensuring secure lines of trade, as well as to challenge a culture of individualism that subjects church attendance to consumer preference and to the commodification of religious goods and services.  And this is where the economic organization of emerging ecclesiology really shines.

(With regard to) Church Buildings, then, whereas many  evangelical churches have perhaps tended to over-accommodated their worship to culture for the sake of remaining relevant, many Mainline Protestant and Catholic churches have adjusted in more subtle ways to signs of times without abandoning the richness of their rituals, liturgy and traditional adornment.  This is one reason why some emerging churches still feel comfortable in traditional buildings.  Another reason is that many emerging church congregants have had negative experiences with contemporary evangelical and non-denominational churches. However, evangelical and traditional Protestant churches alike are usually organized in such a manner that requires the allocation of the vast majority of their resources toward utility, maintenance, facility and payroll costs.  As a result, most of the money, time and energy of established churches is being directed toward the preservation and proliferation of their particular ministries and programs – ministries and programs that, however effective and well-intended, tend to reinforce sacred-secular divisions.  The advantage of the economic organization of emerging churches is that, with lower and fewer fixed costs, more resources are freed up to be directed outward.

Of course established churches can experience social awakening too, and in ways already mentioned.  Examples range from the incorporation of recycling, carpooling and other energy saving programs to awareness campaigns that emphasize the importance of spending less, sharing more, and replacing wasteful systems of any kind.  They can lease or share their worship facilities to newly forming, emerging congregations, for instance – or to non-faith-based organizations more generally that fall into the purview of the church’s broader mission for social justice.[24]  Buildings can be used for soup kitchens or homeless shelters in the winter.  One Anglican Church in Alantown PA was able to keep its doors open during the recession because it used its space to start an AIDS clinic and to  partner with another organization to offer GED classes five days a week.

Making greater use of urban real estate for other purposes, like after school tutoring and youth programs in sports, music and art in particular are some of the most tangible ways to curtail neighborhood gang activity and therefore also to protest/resist mass-incarceration in this country.

Further still, there are both emerging and established that perform some kind of service to the community in lieu of a worship service, say, once a month or every quarter, which can be a powerful statement to society about the church’s concern for the world.  which, as Michelle Alexander made so well known in her book The New Jim Crow, has a grossly uneven effect on the African-American population in the United States.[25]  Partnering with the school system in this way too would by extension combat drug-related violence in Mexico with the weapon of education rather than that of the penal state and outsourced slaughter to competing drug cartels.

While usually lacking the necessary facilities to support this kind of work, emerging faith communities compliment established ones by being nimble and small enough usually to gather in public space for worship, which has greater potential to bring people of different socio-economic status into the same place, which increases the visibility of suffering, injustice and inequality in the world.  Furthermore, neighborhood-based community groups create greater accountability and intimacy so as to ensure a common culture of commitment to these new practices of economic responsibility, interdependence and creation care in and between households.  Consequently, with lower fixed costs the church will be free to apportion a higher percentage of its resources toward the local and global needs of the most disadvantaged.

the Collapse of Clergy-Laity Separation: (and the re-emergence of bi-vocational church leadership)  Thirdly, emerging ecclesiology demonstrates a dethroning of the sharp clergy-laity divide by championing gift-based rather than clergy/ordination-centered leadership and priestly authority.[26]  Gift-based leadership language draws on Paul’s “one body, many parts” metaphor as a model for team and strength or talent-focused responsibility-sharing in church staff structure.  Obviously this does not mean that just anyone is able to claim theological or pastoral authority, nor that the Eucharist or its relationship to the priesthood is something to be taken lightly; but rather simply that with sacralizing the secular follows as well the disintegration of any inflexible difference between lay and clerical leadership responsibilities.  Instead what emerges is a leadership model based on personal strengths and indigenous, organic anointing that can only happen incarnationally – or, relationally, locally and contextually.  Consequently, there has also been a bourgeoning lay interest in and access to theological education.  In short – taking the priesthood of all believers a little bit more seriously.

As already indicated, the aversion to hierarchy in emerging church culture need not be anti-denominational.  It does seem though that with such great decline not only in church attendance but also therefore the decline in tithes and offerings to the Mainline churches in North America, change in denominationalism itself is inevitable and imperative.  How exactly structural amendments are made will vary significantly, but more relaxed networks with less bureaucracy and fewer layers are needed to meet the demands of emerging ecclesiology.[27]

Advocacy:  Finally, churches can experience social awakening by facilitating community organizing.  Much can be learned from certain Latino/a congregations in this regard with their practices of community organizing.  More so than in the case of arguments made by liberation theologians, for Latino/a ecclesiology the process of transformation (of economic, political, and social structures) is a byproduct of the process of transformation within the domestic cultural location: “So suffering is not only an epistemological category but an aesthetic, physical and domestic experience that the church must embody along with the poor.”[28] There is also implicit in Latino/a ecclesiology a criticism of Protestant liberal individualism, which has invented the individual as an unsituated, rather than community-situated self, and therefore a self-enclosed entity.[29] In his book, The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit: A Postmodern Latino/a Ecclesiology, Oscar Garcia-Johnson describes how Latino/a churches have utilized community organizing to mobilize and enact the church’s mission in neighorhoods:

Methodologically speaking, community organizing is a social process based on the communal exercise of self-betterment.  [It] employs a language constructed from within the constituency of a given community – a language that aims at social empowerment . . . Such an endeavor entails finding a shared [neighborhood] vision of community development . . . The shared vision is to encourage inclusion, participating in the planning process, and Motivate participants toward imagining the preferred common future for the community.  Community organizing entails a bipolar social process.  On the one hand, there is (social) inclusion, participation, unification, and communal imagination.  On the other hand, there is (socio-economic) assessment, task distribution, decentralization, and leadership development.[30]

CONCLUSION

My argument in closing is that by “sacralizing the secular” and becoming more decentralized, participatory, and outwardly/practically economically conscious as churches, with respect to our organization, leadership and ordination – which is what many emerging faith communities are already doing – churches will be able to constructively address and with hopefulness respond to the financial crisis and economic recession brought about by the hegemony of global and financial capitalism.  A blurring of the sacred-secular divide would lead to changes like lower tolerance of high operations costs and encouraging/enabling economic and consumer simplicity as well as the support of fair trade, in the lives of individual members of the body of Christ.  Church leaders especially should be expected to embody simple living and risk-taking for the sake of those on the margins in society.

In sum, not so much by taking anything away from the traditional practices of the church but by intentionally expanding the social ramifications of those practices, a theology or ecclesiology of sacralizing the secular is essentially to sacralize the mundane, ordinary everyday-ness of life – to sacralizes all the exchanges, that is, be they economic, cultural, relational.  This can start with the institutional church itself, but is moving forward with many expressions of emerging ecclesiology — some of which are partnering with established churches.  These movements are perhaps the clearest sign that social awakening in North American churches is already well underway.


[1] Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (W. W. Norton & Company, 2012).  Some major causes are fairly easy to identify, as there is wide consensus among economists, such as more women entering the workplace, the outsourcing of jobs, immigration and technological advancement.  These factors together have created a labor surplus, which drives wages down and gives prospective workers far less freedom and power to negotiate their compensation.  And of course the problem has only become more acute since 2008.

[2] Christine Firer Hinze, “Economic Recession, Work, and Solidarity,” Theological Studies 72, no. 1 (March 1, 2011): 150–169.

[3] Andrew Root, “A Secular Age,” Word & World 30, no. 1 (Wint 2010): 111–113.  Root summarizes: “This moves the reader to what Taylor calls the Great Disembedding, which in Christianity meant the splitting of sacred and secular into two distinct categories. This would unravel the enchantment of the world. Now, so-called enchanted experiences only had credence in the sacred realm and were eliminated from the secular realm, disenchanting it. Taylor asserts that this division had significant impact on how one conceptualized the self. Now, the self and the world were no longer a whole, but were experienced in parts. Therefore, the porous self gave way to a buffered identity, the idea that you can think of yourself as outside of, or other than, the world. This buffered identity is the core ingredient for the poisonous stew of Western individualism that Taylor so opposes.”

[4] Aaron Stuvland, “The Emerging Church and Global Civil Society: Postmodern Christianity as a Source for Global Values,” Journal of Church and State 52, no. 2 (Spr 2010): 210.

[5] Ibid., 221.

[6]  Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, Revised. (Orbis Books, 1988), 86.  I think it can be argued that even Augustine’s two cities and Luther’s two kingdoms are not in conflict with this notion – as long as the mission of God’s city or kingdom is taken to be one of commission to permeate or sacralize the secular city or kingdom by the divine.  At the same time, there are those who criticize Gutierrez and see a distinction between him and pre-/early modern Christian thought: “Gutierrez thus wants to overcome the bourgeois privatization of the church by elevating the spiritual status of the mundane political world and by breaking down the barriers between theology and politics.  The church is the explicit witness to the liberation of humanity from sin, including social and political sins of all kinds.  The church, however is not epistemologically privileged in understanding social and political processes, which operate within their worldly autonomy and are thus best understood by the social sciences” (Cavanaugh, The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology).

[7] It follows then I am not necessarily trying to make a case against say, market competition – insofar as competition can be conceived within the confines of a more fundamental commitment to cooperation for achieving the end of basic provision and well-being for everyone in society.  Markets are indeed useful and necessary for productivity and efficiency, but they are not value-neutral, as many economists would have it.  Without transparency, accountability and at times thorough ethical scrutiny informed by the interests of the majority, productivity and efficiency can be ruthless.  And the first to pay for the mistakes of the profit-maximizing speculators are almost always the poor. – So I insist with Jon Sobrino, for example, that churches overlooking their responsibility for solidarity with and defense of the most vulnerable are simply not fulfilling their God-given mission. Thus this goes beyond mere Keynesian theory, which, despite recognizing the need for government interference and stimulation, fails to question global capitalism’s normativity, the supposed amoral nature of its capacity for perpetual growth, its dependency on profit motive, or its appeal to unqualified utilitarianism.

What is more, in light of the proliferation of value-pluralism, it probably cannot be argued anymore in the same way Rauschenbusch did that the mission of the church is to “Christianize” the social order.  And while it is perhaps not incorrect to describe the U.S. as a welfare state, it could hardly be credited with social or economic democracy.  But while self-interest drives the economy, confidence in such an economy, as Rauschenbusch rightly saw, will ironically fall if market practice, culture and regulation are not moralized through smart and fairly invasive legislation.

[8] Liberationists like Gutierrez, for example have been charged with expecting the church to bow before the authority of the social sciences.  But conversely, those who privilege ecclesial-based social ethics in the post-liberal tradition, for instance, are accused of too much reluctance to “dirty their hands” with the politics of the nation-state.  In my view the liberationist vs. post-liberal juxtaposition is a false binary, and it seems to me that sacralizing the secular requires greater appreciation and negotiation of the hybridized, dynamic and dialectical character of language itself, as well as the relationship between the church and the public sphere.

[9] D Stephen Long, “How to Read Charles Taylor: The Theological Significance of A Secular Age,” Pro Ecclesia 18, no. 1 (Wint 2009): 93–107.

[10] Phyllis Tickle, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters (Baker Books, 2012), 116.

[11] Scot McKnight et al., Church in the Present Tense: A Candid Look at What’s Emerging (Brazos Press, 2011).

[12] Tickle, Emergence Christianity, 116.

[13] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Baker Books, 2008)., 145.

[14] There are those who would criticize not only emerging ecclesiology but also Evangelicalism and Mainline Protestantism for accommodating modern-liberal ideals like democracy and egalitarianism without realize the simultaneous comportment of smuggled-in secular reasoning.  It is argued in other words, that ecclesial authority and institutionalism in the church are still vital. See William T. Cavanaugh, “The Ecclesiologies of Medellín and the Lessons of the Base Communities,” Cross Currents 44, no. 1 (Spr 1994): 67–84.

[15] Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, (Jossey-Bass, 2009), 204. “Emergents downplay—or outright reject— the differences between clergy and laity.”

[16] Roger E. Olson, How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative (Zondervan, 2008).

[17] McKnight et al., Church in the Present Tense, 75.

[18] Stuvland, “The Emerging Church and Global Civil Society,” 219.

[19] Ibid. 228.  See also: Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging Churches, 65; Sweet et al., A Is for Abductive, 264; Emilio Gentile, Politics as Religion (New Haven: Princeton University Press, 2006). See the notion of “political religion” explored in Michael Burleigh

[20] F LeRon Shults, “Reforming Ecclesiology in Emerging Churches,” Theology Today 65, no. 4 (Ja 2009): 427.

[21] Ibid., 428.

[22] Ibid, 429.

[23] Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide (Thomas Nelson, 2009).

[24] Chris Lewis, ed., Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals (IVP Books, 2012).  British emergent church leader Kester Brewin summons North America churches, in the spirit of “emergence ecclesiology,” to forsake purified space.

[25] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, The, 2012).

[26] Tony Jones, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement (JoPa Productions, LLC, 2011), 119.

[27] One should be careful though, not to overly-idealize notions of egalitarianism and democracy – as William Cavanaugh rightly cautions.  Sometimes the modern-liberal heritage of these forms of organization can be uncritically received and incorporated, which may have unintended and undetected secularizing consequences.  Again see Cavanaugh, “The Ecclesiologies of Medellín and the Lessons of the Base Communities.”

[28] Oscar Garcia-Johnson, The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit: A Postmodern Latino/a Ecclesiology (Pickwick Publications, 2008), 113-14.underlines several traits of Latino/a churches that could be adopted by others as well.  These in particular are worth mentioning: Manana living; Being-in-community and having commonality, which implies coviviencia (life together); by extension, accompaniment – a paradigm for understanding church-in-culture; and lastly, sacramentality as a remedy to false dichotomies – an idea that is akin to sacralizing the secular.

[29] Roberto S. Goizueta, Caminemos Con Jesus: Hacia Una Teologia Del Acompanamiento (Convivium Press, 2009).

[30] Garcia-Johnson, The Mestizo/a Community of the Spirit. 128.

One thought on “Sacralizing the Secular: The Economic Organization of Emerging Ecclesiology in North America and its Latent Spirit of Resistance

  1. Pingback: Christian Social Justice and “the Common Good”?

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