History in the making folks, seriously! Well, all kidding aside, it was a great day. I got to visit the National Gallery of Art and photograph some very cool art, eat at Johnny’s, catch a cab, sit in on a pretty interesting meeting (more below), take the metro to Bethesda for a good dinner with April before taking the metro, the Amtrak, the NJTransit and the Dinky to get back to Princeton. Very good, but long day.
For those of you who are interested in how the meeting with Rabbi Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives went, keep reading.
People present at meeting
There was a diverse group present: Presbyterians, Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ, Jewish, progressive Christians and at least one Pentecostal. Many organizations were represented, including the National Council of Churches.
Yet everyone wanted to make sure that we were not simply talking about a lowest-common denominator type of deal. Everyone wanted to make sure that people were being allowed to maintain the integrity of their individual heritages, traditions and beliefs. Rabbi Lerner commented that this is why more progressive evangelicals were being open to the idea of this conference.
The Conference itself
It sounds interesting. A pretty good mixture of hearing from some pretty good speakers, discussions and then actually going out and meeting with people on Capitol Hill and actively making the public aware that there are that many progressive Christians who are opting for a different vision for a life of faith in America than the Religious Right has proposed.
There are a few things that I think could be good about this part of the conference:
While they will clearly be marching/protesting/etc. against something (the war, the current foreign policies of our government, etc.), they also want to make sure that they are FOR something as well.
They are open to more creative ways of protesting and making a statement, ways that Emergent folk could be very, very good at coming up with, especially those who are involved in the alt.worship/artistic side of the conversation.
Strategy for getting the word out
One of the key ways that was talked about to get the word out was through the use of blogs. CrossLeft was there, and they are an organization that is attempting to “organize the Christian left” (as they say in their own words), they are interested in getting the progressive Christians together. They work with the Progressive Christian Blogger Network and will probably be trying to get bloggers to spread the word about this conference.
What about Emergent?
So the question, why might this be a good thing for Emergent to promote/support/get involved with? I think there are many progressives within Emergent, especially those who are within the mainline denominations, who would love it if Emergent would get involved with this. I think it would be a good way for more politically minded/socially conscious progressive Emergents to be active; the conference creates some great outlets for activism and connections for those who feel that they need to help the American public realize that the Religious Right does not speak for the whole of American Christianity.
And I think the more conservative people within the Emergent conversation would be okay with it once they heard the bit about it not being a “lowest-common denominator” type of event – where people who are there representing Emergent would have to be wish-washy on their beliefs and faith, but rather those in Emergent believe that the cause of the Network for Spiritual Progressives is an important one and they are willing to partner with them to help bring about social change in our country; this fits in with the belief that we believe we are blessed primarily to be a blessing to others.
Should Emergent advertise and promote this event? Yes. I think there are many within Emergent, again, more within the mainline denominations who would want to attend this conference. However, both Tony Campolo and Glenn Stassen will be there, so that will help increase awareness of the event within the evangelical circles as well. But, I think it would be a good thing to make people aware of.
Should Emergent co-sponsor this event? This one I’m not as sure about. However, I think that if Emergent were to co-sponsor this event, they also might want to get in touch with Evangelicals for Social Action and see if they are doing any conferences that we could co-sponsor as well. I think we have to realize that no matter what we do, people (and I mean people other than Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea and the EmergentNo website) will critique us. That was clearly seen after the announcement of the Emergent/Jewish dialogue with S3K.
The nice thing is the focus that the group has on making sure that each person/group is able to remain loyal to their own religious traditions and beliefs – that is key for Emergent’s involvement I think. The Network of Spiritual Progressives is not asking Emergent to lay aside its ‘robust Christology’ or its missional character in order to join in with this conference – not at all, in fact, quite the opposite.
My one hesitancy concerns drawing lines. Tony has mentioned to me before that if Emergent were to come out with a Doctrinal Statement and post it on emergentvillage.org, that tends to defeat the purpose and desire for open, inclusive conversation. That draws lines, sets boundaries, creates walls, etc. Conversation and discussion can be shut down with that. With this conference, it’s not that Emergent is coming out with any theological statement, per se, but we would be signing up to help support a group that DOES have tenets (see the Tenets of the Network of Spiritual Progressives), so in a sense, by deciding to partner with them, we do in a sense say “this is something Emergent stands for and supports.” There is always the potential to lose people from the conversation – but on the flipside, engaging in a conference like this, with such a diverse group, serves to open the conversation and make it even more inclusive, which I think could be a good thing.
So, I say promote it. Advertise it. Encourage those you know in the mainline traditions and those who are very socially active and conscious to go to this conference.
Co-sponsor it? Maybe. I think at some point Emergent may inevitably have to start drawing some lines and making some statements. From reading the Tenets of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, I believe they have a good vision. The only question is, is that a vision Emergent is ready to support?