What Will The Peace Reformation Look Like? #WeNeedHumbleLeaders

October 5, 2013 § 4 Comments

Last Sunday I attended a “networking event” at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The purpose of the event was to bring together ministry folks so that we could pray together and discuss the burgeoning ecumenical movement towards Anabaptist thought in the Church here and abroad. Greg Boyd even went so far as to predict a coming “reformation,” which tickled my imagination—what does that mean? What would it look like?

As discussion focused on organizing—we need leadership! Media presence! Conferences!—I grew impatient (as is my wont). I wanted to talk about the more fuzzy ideas of reformation (I will admit, I even shouted out an interruption about recognizing the non-Western Church, incurring what I can only describe as a “warning look” from our dear Dr. Boyd). So without further ado, here are my thoughts:

What do I want to see from the Peace Reformation?

  • I want to see the Anabaptists recognize that their critique of colonialism/imperialism is not something they came up with. It came out of the non-Western Church, the colonized peoples, who by their own understanding of the Gospel came to see the power game played by their mission-izers as incongruent with their message. If we don’t recognize our non-Western brethren as the source of this theology, it becomes merely another tragic appropriation.
  • I want to see an embrace of non-Western theology, in general. This is why I don’t want the Peace Reformation to call itself “Anabaptist.” Certainly, let’s be influenced by Anabaptist thought, but if we trace our roots back to the Anabaptists as our sole progenitors, we’re just another Western, imperialist church movement, asking the world to take on our categories of identity and put itself under our influence. That makes me feel icky. I want to see a true blending of families, in messy glory. Not in a gross, let’s-appropriate-someone-ELSE’s-history way; but in a way that celebrates the Church outside the West as important, powerful members of the Body of Christ.
  • I want to see generous orthodoxy.
  • I want to see all the good things done to raise up the poor.
  • This is a big one for me: I want to see a healthy skepticism of “leadership culture” (ahem, “leadership commerce”—all these books and resources and certificate programs are sure making a lot of money for someone.) Not that a healthy concept of leadership isn’t important. But we need to make sure that our criteria for leadership are in line with our beliefs about power. It was mentioned at the meet-up last Saturday that even in Anabaptist circles the basic criteria for Church leadership are that one be a white, Type-A male. I will tell you a story about a close encounter I had with one such leader: during a heated conversation in the dark halls of a neo-Anabaptist Facebook group, a pastor began to speak condescendingly toward me and another woman in the group, twisting our words in a mocking fashion. I called him out on his unkind method of discourse, and he took to Twitter to post this:

“My generation believes boldness is abuse and leadership is arrogance. Both are lies. #realtalk #prophetswithouthonor #weneedboldleaders”

“Don’t let the tone police silence you. Bold leadership isn’t politically correct. #realtalk #prophetswithouthonor #weneedboldleaders”

“Dr. King is a hero to many now. But back then, the tone police tried to silence him. It’s safe memorialize bold leaders when they’re gone.”

No. At least in the Peace Reformation, we don’t need bold leaders. We need humble leaders. We need to be able to speak the truth in *actual* love. This isn’t “bowing to liberalism” (as was suggested by other Type-A males in the Facebook group.) It is basic fruit-of-the-Spirit stuff, to be able to engage in rigorous discourse without resorting to verbal violence. In the Peace Reformation, I want to see leaders whose Holy Spirit is a Counselor, not an aggressive, coercive convict-or. I also want them to accurately understand the power relationships that are part of the definition of “tone-policing.” (hint: the one with the privilege cannot be tone-policed)

  • On a similar note: I want to see the gifts of women and non-whites to be celebrated, even if they look different from our typical (and likely to conform to the power-models of the world) ways of doing church leadership.
  • I want the Peace Reformation to be Spirit-filled; pentacostal, even. And as I have said elsewhere, if we want a Church that embraces world-wide Christianity, it will probably have to be pentacostal (little “p”).

I probably could keep going for quite awhile, listing wishes and dreams and addressing grievances. But I want to turn the conversation over to you. What do you want to see from the Peace Reformation?

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§ 4 Responses to What Will The Peace Reformation Look Like? #WeNeedHumbleLeaders

  • tylertully says:

    Charity,

    First of all, I wholeheartedly agree with all you had to say. I only had a few things to offer per your points:

    1) I think it would be helpful (from a historic standpoint) to acknowledge that the Anabaptists did, in fact, come up with post-colonial thought before it was so. I totally agree with your critiques of appropriation and missing the larger and broader points, so I won’t belabor the point. But from a historical standpoint, it was the marginalization and the oppression that the Anabaptists faced that lead them to adopt these stances back in the 1500s. To my knowledge, that is much before feminist thought, queer thought, or post-colonial thought. Still, the inheritors of the Anabaptist movement have become so engrossed in their own ethnic identity that they have forgotten this in many circles, although others (like the Christian Peacemaking Teams) put it front and center in their solidarity with the marginalized.

    2) I see your point about the danger of imperial theology. It seems this would only happen in Neo Anabaptist circles if they simply failed to do what you suggest, by understanding the universality of the Christian faith and theologies outside of the US. I hope we take this seriously.

    3) I think your point about leadership commerce is the most important one you have offered (out of many excellent EXCELLENT suggestions). This is a huge problem we are facing. Are we continually going to be co opted by the powers of commerce in an effort to somehow free ourselves of the typical hierarchy of power? You’re point rings true on so many levels, keep hitting this note! We need to move back towards persuasion, and away from coercion, both outside and INSIDE of the Church as you so accurately point out. If we aren’t empowering the many, given the tools we have and the message we are attempting to present, we are a bunch of hypocrites who don’t need to be listened to in the first place.

    Great stuff! Thanks for posting this.

    • charityjill says:

      Thanks Tyler! I’m still not really sure how the Anabaptists could have come up with post-colonialism before the colonial era. Do you know of any writings from the early era of Anabaptism that deal with the topic of imperialism? If you are referring to a more general critique of power, I think I can agree, but post-colonialism in a more technical sense–from my brief education on the subject in college–is something that would have had to come a bit later, after the imperialist nations launched large-scale missionizing efforts to go along with colonizing efforts. Admittedly, I’ve read precious little classic Anabaptist literature, but I might tentatively suggest that even if they criticized imperialist efforts the ownership of post-colonial theology should be ceded to those who it actually affected.

  • tylertully says:

    Naturally, I meant more of “they were dealing with unjust use of power by violent power systems before it was ‘cool’.” Yes, colonialism had just begun to blossom at that time, whereas institutionalized oppression of class, gender, race, religious belief was still going on. Anabaptist thought certainly dealt with “what do we do with power,” and other relevant questions based upon the Church/State alliance that was putting them to death. They definitely called out the alliance of Church/State as evil, and definitely criticized the wielding of that power by those who called themselves Christian. In that sense then, they certainly criticized the powers that be according to the cultural and religious appropriation going on at the time. So all of that to say, Anabaptist theology was truly proto-colonial, and also proto=feminist in some manifestations.

  • Jerad says:

    “Has it actually been six months,” I asked myself.

    Yes. Yes, it has. You think out loud well. Please write more.

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