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Q&A: Author Becky Garrison talks mission-shaped ministries and unbiblical BS

November 17, 2011

Finally — what you’ve all been waiting for: Q&As on The Grand Scheme. (You *have* been waiting for this, haven’t you?)

First up, the incomparable Becky Garrison, satirist, keen observer, and a bit of a troublemaker. Which some would argue is exactly what the church needs right now. She’s the author of several books, including one of my faves “Jesus Died for This?” Her latest, “Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries,” looks at congregations (here in Austin and other U.S. cities) that are pushing the boundaries on hospitality while operating within or next to a more traditional Anglican ministry. How does it work? What difference are they making? How are they reaching people? Some fascinating discussions on race and sexuality here.

And Garrison is taking those issues to the fore, criticizing “progressive” and “emergent” Christians for their attitudes on sexuality — in particular how they are treating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered folks.

Lots o’ links below and all worth checking out.

Here she is:

You’ve traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad looking at different expressions of Christianity. What makes the communities you visited in this book unique?

Culturally specific to region – can’t import them like a cookie-cutter Acts 29 church plant. For example, St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery has a hip-hop, blues flavor and an LGBT welcoming culture that’s strongly influenced by its position two blocks from St. Mark’s Place. In the Pacific Northwest, a Celtic rhythm informs the spirituality of Church of the Apostles and Saints Peter and Paul located in Seattle and Portland respectively.

Having said that, I am finding some commonalities in the US-based communities that I visited over the past year. While a few of them use the term “emerging,” they do so in the context in the UK Anglican context. They don’t self-identify as missional, organic, emergent or whatever the evangelical church brand du jour might be. US emergent/progressive evangelical churches might talk up the need to affirm women and LGBT people but yet their funding streams, organizational leadership and author/speaker spokespersons remain almost exclusively white males of privilege who self-identified straight. But in the groups I profiled, over half of them are led by women with a sizable number of these leaders women of color. In addition, one finds LGBT people present at all levels of leadership within these communities along with those who self-identify as Republican.

There’s a great deal of angst these days over the direction of the Anglican church with leaders divided over issues of sexuality and theology. Do these emerging Christian communities transcend those debates?

The story of these communities parallels my own search for community. As a pre-natal Episcopalian (my late father was an Episcopal priest, you do the science and ecclessiology), I grew up with a hippie professor/priest father who was exploring reaching those for whom church was not in their vocabulary. As a young adult, I began searching the kind of communities my late father studied only to find the church starting to come asunder over the issue of human sexuality. All too often, it seemed to me that both sides on this debate  were more concerned about scoring political points than trying to find spaces to welcome all as created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26).But thanks to my spiritual director the late Rev. Judy Baumer, I found a community in St. Bart’s (NYC) in the ’80s that brought together people with differing political sensibilities to explore how we could put the Beatitudes into practice.

After she died in 1995, I continued my quest for similar communities, a journey that led me to the UK emerging church scene and select US communities who focus what it means to love God and one’s neighbor. In this quest, they try to fulfill the Baptismal covenant to welcome “all” at the communion table, and this radical inclusion extends to those excluded from my traditional communities such as LGBT folks.

There’s a very compelling quote from Christina Shinkle of the lay-led congregation Beloved in Washington. She says the mainline churches aren’t meeting “the spiritual hunger of our time.” That’s powerful. Does the church hierarchy hear this? And do they really get it?

In Ancient Future Disciples, I profile two bishops who seem to hear what Christina is saying. Here’s an excerpt from the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE posted over at Killing the Buddha where Shaw talks about working on opening up the Anglican big tent to everyone.

This may be kind of a weird question, but I’m wondering if there are any folks who might not be inclined to read this book but who you think would really benefit from hearing these stories.

This goes back to a conversation we had when Jesus Died for This? came out when I confess I often have more in common with spiritual atheists than evangelical Christians. In the panel discussion we both participated in at Journey Imperfect Faith Community last fall, I outed myself as an “apophatic Anglican” noting that,“The more I continue to enter the cloud of the unknowing, the more I realize just much I cannot know a God that is outside the time/space continuum But something happens when two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus. And the Anglican part is because I enter into the mysteries through the Anglican ritual. And Anglicanism is one of those traditions, where I can actually leave my brain intact. I don’t have to park my brain at the door when I come in to partake of the mysteries.”

I’ve walked away from the progressive evangelical scene after Sojourners rejected an LGBT welcome ad, and Tony Campolo compared the theology of the Red Letter  Christians with that of the Family despite the Family’s well proven connections to the anti-gay legislation pending in Uganda and other atrocities. These moves coupled with the quasi-affirming but not really welcoming

Wild Goose Festival  proved that when push comes to shove, this crew will side with their conservative funders instead of standing in solidarity with those who are marginalized. Heck, one of the US emergent church gurus is now a client of A Larry Ross Communications, a PR Guru and Dominionist denier whose client list reads like a who’s who list of Reformed Evangelical power players (e.g., Billy Graham, the Creation Museum, and Campus Crusade for Christ).

Over the past few months, I’ve learned the I am by no means the only person who has grown weary of this aforementioned unbiblical BS. As I’ve reported on sites like Killing the Buddha, we’re clearly at the start of a global grassroots movement that’s bigger than any one of us. I began picking up on this spirit in Jesus Died for This? and continued with my reporting in profiled in Starting from Zero with 0$ and Ancient Future Disciples. I sense that a number of spiritual seekers would find space to reflect, play, and explore questions in many of the communities I keep discovering in my travels. Just call it a strong hunch.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2011 11:15 pm

    Thanks Eileen for taking the time to chat again – love to continue the conversation.

  2. November 18, 2011 4:49 pm

    Great interview. I met Becky when she was in town inquiring about the St. Hildegard Community which is one of the two Austin congregations in her new book. She was charming. Becky is coming back into Austin in February for a book signing sponsored by St. Hildegard. I look forward to seeing her again!

  3. Jack Wirtz permalink
    November 19, 2011 5:02 pm

    Reading Garrison and Rollins opinions of different expressions of “Christianity”, well it takes one to know one. The Western World’s,
    and their offerings, are mere existential expressions of what they
    think, Christianity ought to be, rejecting objective Devine truth,
    for subjective philosophies.

    “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer
    of this age? Has not GOD made foolish the wisdom of this world?
    For since, in the wisdom of GOD, the world through wisdom did
    not know GOD, it pleased GOD through the foolishness of the
    message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor.1:20-21)

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