Shekinah Glory

Unsafe Places
August 21, 2011, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Each semester every Moody Bible Institute student is expected to fulfill a practical Christian ministry in the different urban contexts of Chicago. During my time at Moody it was rare for a student to spend at least one year in the infamous housing projects called Cabrini Green doing ministry. I was fortunate to spend a year and a half working in that area as well as another year in the equally as infamous Cook County Hospital. With another 6 months working in the gang area of Humbolt Park I was exposed to a part of Chicago that is on no tourist map.

It is here that I could blithely point out my street credibility. Yet, that would be a denial of the true bumbling hick from Nebraska that I looked like in these contexts. It would also obscure that I rarely knew what I was doing and was in complete fear almost constantly. The violence that I encountered during that time was a reality in which I found myself completely unprepared.

The unsaid Moody code toward safety was simple. You were on your own with God as your strength. Like so many missionaries and inner city witnesses of the past you had truth as your guide in a murky terrain. Looking like Pat Boone was no limitation, but our God was big enough to melt the hearts of anyone, even someone as tough looking as Erik Estrada. Faith was our armor, the word was our sword and God would help us with his everlasting strength. With God for us, who could be against us?

When violence or tragic consequences ensued it was seen for some as a mark of pride. This meant that we had been chosen to suffer and suffering would bring about endurance of faith. We counted it a privilege to suffer for Christ.

While I was on my practical Christian ministries I found myself attacked, punched, threatened, held at gunpoint and with about forty children being shot at. I was secretly terrified to show up for some of my ministries when in Chicago.

At the time the psychology of our situation was clear and quite warped. We were doing God’s service and that was our end. There was no thought of reporting a crime against us to the police, changing our tactics for safety sake, or even avoiding a situation that we knew contained potential danger. It was all for God’s glory.

I am convinced that many of my classmates, like me, left Moody shellshocked because of the experiences we endured. There were many cases we were put in danger and this should have never been the case. Still, our leaders believed that there was a higher calling from God. We must sacrifice safety for people making it to heaven.

It is this dewey eyed utopianism that I find so troubling amongst some neo-evangelical movements. It is their denial of a concrete reality for an perfect universe contained somewhere in the right interpretation of scripture texts. Scripture as talisman, trumps on the ground of reality. They replace a few social, political and cultural positions from their evangelical/fundamentalist past and in the process have discovered the outcast. I unfortunately hear many of the same type of defenses for unsafe or destructive behavior as I did back at Moody amongst their ranks.

Endure abuse for the betterment of Christ, strong arguments with a victim of abuse, people with power claiming to be victimized by the abused speaking up, mob rule toward conformity, rallying around the feelings of spiritual leaders at the sacrifice of an abused feelings, acts of “love” to obscure actual points of pain, and the inclusion of abusive elements with the hope of their salvation. Sometimes it sounds like that the abuser is not the problem, but a lack of faith or belief in God’s inclusive love on the part of the abused that is espoused by these groups.

Since many of these groups deny any structure they leave their groups to function at the whims of underlying sociological structures (many that they deny exist at all). This allows for a lack of transparency and manipulation by the most vocal or persuasive elements. It may also work to the benefit of those who are most adept at working people toward their goals. Their claim of being movements without leaders gives them plausible deniability when it comes to accountability and responsibility. There there is no one in charge, there is no one to blame.

It is clear that many of these groups are in between the evangelicalism/fundamentalism that they found restrictive but unable to turn completely from it’s ideological underpinnings. This is why it should not be shocking that they are sometimes ignorant of their own inherent sexism. When pointed out it becomes the woman’s responsibility, not theirs. They should be “stepping up” because after all no one is stopping them. It is not a failure of leadership (because remember they have plausible deniability). Even when their conferences are stacked with men and the decision makers for their conferences and publishing are men they can see no inherent structural problem. It is the woman’s fault.

This is also true when homophobia creeps its ugly head into their movements. They can make no guarantees that it wont occur at their functions (they again have plausible deniability). Homosexuals however need to take on the burden of forgiveness and patience for Christ’s sake. They are the one’s after all who desire inclusivity. So they may have to endure abuse from others for God. Safety is abandoned for scriptural idealism. Then it is dressed up in a spiritual language and blamed on God. God is always an easy scapegoat for ignoring bad behavior if one can decorate the creator with enough scripture.

If there are inherent inequalities and lack of clear transparency these movements are open to criticism. Women have a right to complain, agitate and organize around forcing them into recognizing them as equals in publishing as well as leadership. If powerful men get their feelings hurt, so be it.

No faith group should accept abuse in its midst. Victims of abuse should never be told to just endure for Jesus. Leadership should never coerce people to participate in places that they feel unsafe. If someone claims a space to be abusive and unsafe they must be taken extremely seriously. It should be expected that these people will choose non-participation if they feel fear of reprisal. Victims of abuse should never feel silenced because of faith.

It is in the hope that emergents, outlaws, new monastics and other neo-evangelical groups can eventually function as safe spaces for people other than white, male, heterosexual middle or working class Protestants. They can and are a positive and generative movement in the church. Until that day they are not always a safe haven of faith for people working out their liberation without a sense of fear.


1 Comment so far
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You bring up excellent points! Thanks for this post, Brian!

Comment by Existential Punk

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