Monday, September 29, 2008

Race, Reconciliation & The Missional Church: A Confession

Race, Reconciliation & The Missional Church: A Confession

Over the last few days I have been following the articles over at the God's Politics blog in respect to issue of Race & the New Monasticism. These articles both thrilled me and tormented me as I read them. They thrilled me with their incredibly important challenges, while tormented me in the difficult helpless, almost hopeless state it left me as a white male leader. Neither outweighed the other- in fact, the tension of these issues is critical. However, in the end, I am exhausted.

As our ministry here in Winnipeg increasingly moves towards what could be described as a "new monastic" model (insofar as we are increasingly and intentionally embracing the 12 Marks), I struggle with the reality that I am another white male leader in a largely non-white inner city context. It is easier for me, perhaps, on two counts: first, we are still in formation and so, in a way, the jury is still out; and second, because in the co-leadership of our ministry, my wife is increasingly the primary leader. However the questions need to be asked.

Our neighbourhood is crippled with the racial divisions that turn neighbour against neighbour, often leading to violence and murder. We have very much mourned these divisions, including those more subtle, but equally devastating divisions within our Christian communities. Most of us in our missional community have little confidence in the well intentioned event-oriented reconciliation methods so popular in previous decades. We want to actively pursue reconciliation- and we do!- but recognize that it is a long path to walk with many challenges along the way.

We have sought to intentionally diversify our community with mixed success, sharing our home and life with people of different races, cultures, socioeconomic standing and mental health. However, after nearly 7 years the core community remains white, middle class (though more women than men by far). This is not to say that we do not have strong relationships with community leaders & pastors, representing a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds. We have survived as a missional community in large part through submitted trust and even reliance on their wisdom and support. The same goes to our neighbours, even those leading lives of crime, violence and exploitation- even they have been essential "teachers" and guides in our formation.

However, we have not seen that diversity within our immediate community last more than a couple of years at best. Most move on, though remain strongly tied to us in relationship. Those who brought critical leadership, almost without exception, ended up investing themselves into ministries, churches, organizations, etc. that were predominantly made up of those of their own race (though sadly, virtually all of those were outside our neighbourhood, making partnership with them unlikely). And so we remain, genuinely following the vocation we received from the Lord, yet discouraged that we seem to be perpetuating the division we were called to mend.

I think part of what discourages me is the depth of the roots of these issues. While we must work at the grassroots to nurture reconciliation and a mutuality and diversity into our communities, I also know that the larger system of our culture is deeply flawed. Until it is challenged and changed, it will not be surprising that some (i.e. white males like myself) will have more opportunity to be in positions of leadership within the new monastic movement (and the Church at large). This is not an excuse of inaction or maintaining the status quo, but to help us open our eyes to the bigger issue, being careful not to saddle a few privileged with all the responsibility and expectation to bring about the change. After all, that only feeds into the problem.

In the most recent article in the series, Sam & Rosalee Ewell close with the question:
"As we read it, Jason and Vonetta, Eliacin, and Gabriel don't question whether white guys can be in the band. But they raise another question: What would it look like to be in the band without leading it?"
While I full embrace the inherent and necessary challenge of this question, I cannot help but be frustrated with how that translates on the grassroots. In our community, my wife & I have attempted for years to share the leadership, even give it away, in our attempt to build a more embracing community. And yet, no matter what we have done, the leadership remains with us. While we are vocationally confident we are where we are meant to be, we are also exhausted, longing to see others come alongside, either to lead with us or simply to lead us themselves. It just has not happened.

I know that Sam & Rosalee (nor any of the other writers) would suggest that no white male should be in leadership in the new monastic movement, but in the midst of the discussion it is hard to consider that as a possible answer in some cases. After all, we would be perpetuating the same mistakes if we decided qualification for leadership based on gender and race. But it remains something that can be deeply discouraging for me, as a white male leader in my context.

That being said, I want to make something clear: I am willing to live with that discomfort, discouragement and uncertainty. I am willing even to be the brunt of the anger, frustration and dissatisfaction of others over this issue. Why? Because it is a small thing compared to what has been lost by those, losses upon which my own privilege has been built. I wanted to be honest about my frustation, but also open to the reality that it is but a drop in the bucket of what others have paid for my position in life.

If I could offer anything of my own experience and wisdom to the discussion it would be in these two points:
First, that we are careful not to endow positional leadership within these movements with more value than they deserve. Again, this is not to say that the leadership imbalance should not be addressed- it must! Rather, I am suggesting that, in God's Kingdom the significance of ones authority and influence is not measured by being the founder, the leader or the man-in-charge, but by submitted obedience to be Christ. Should white males need to give up leadership more often (and we do), it should be in order that we can embrace the true privilege of service of Christ and neighbour.
Second, while we should never underplay the historic and continued injustices that so many have suffered at the hands of the privileged few, leadership is often a costly and thankless responsibility. As we seek to to pursue a mutual and equal expression of leadership and community, let us now ignore the historic and continued service of many white men, people who gave of themselves for God and neighbour with little to show for it. We must embrace a justice that not only corrects, but also restores.

I look to the future with uncertainty, not a little bit of angst, and a modicum of hope. This issue is increasingly important to me as my wife & I prepare to adopt an Ethiopian child into our family, powerfully personalizing the realities of race

May God, in His mercy and grace, lead us into the unity of His Spirit, binding us together as one Body.



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