just when i think i’m out, ehvangelicalism* pulls me back in!

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

in preparation for the upcoming leadboston program day, which will focus on immigration, i had to visit boston’s south end to explore the themes of immigration and integration in that community. the day was supposed to start with a phone conference with the director of programs for agencia alpha, an immigrant focused service agency started by leon de juda, one of the leading latino congregations in the city.  the phone conference was cancelled due to an impending grant deadline on their end – a completely understandable reason! – so we rescheduled for monday and i clicked through the south end’s city data page instead.

later in the afternoon i had scheduled a meeting with brian corcoran, an old home church friend, who now works in applied research at the emmanuel gospel center, which is located in the heart of the south end. i have been somewhat aware and connected to the egc for years. i knew that through partners such as ralph kee, they had a hand in hundreds of boston church plants – including many led by immigrants or new citizens – over the past 40 years. i knew that through starlight ministries, they were involved in outreach to boston’s homeless and house insecure population. i knew that they were the kind of mission center that simultaneously nurtured the leaders and formation of initiatives against human traffiking while also, somewhat absurdly, encouraging church planters to attend evangecube trainings (for my perspective on the evangecube watch this). however, i had never met doug or judy hall, gordon-conwell grads who were longtime directors of the egc, and i hadn’t really thought about their mission for years.

fortunately, after i entered the wrong door and navigated my way through what i think was an AA meeting and into the rather spartan egc offices, i had the privilege of sitting down next to judy hall. after establishing our points of connection – rick bennett and city on a hill, amirah, & a shared passion for youth violence work – judy’s husband doug came over and joined the conversation.

doug showed me a paper that was recently published in a johns hopkins university publication about egc’s youth violence systems project and about his passion for applying systems thinking to the development and health of local communities and the church. he breezily referred to his background in counseling and he and judy spoke briefly about their decades of working and living beside innumerable individuals with mental health challenges in the south end. they asked me about my work at triangle and were genuinely interested in the applications innovative community rehabilitation work for people with disabilities would have for their community. we talked briefly about points of overlap between triangle’s impact violence prevention training and their work with youth as well as amirah’s growing work with women and girls who have been traffiked.

after twenty minutes of discussion with the halls, brian corcoran and i had a cup of coffee at a starbucks on tremont street – not far from the jorge hernandez cultural center where city on a hill gathered for worship not so terribly long ago. we talked about the corcoran’s experience living in the diverse community that is the south end, where little league teams include the children of hedge fund managers and generally uninvolved – except when it comes to baseball – puerto rican fathers. we spoke about our hope for the city, the health of local churches, the growth of our families, and our own challenges to contextualize the faith that has been given to us in the new england context.

although i like to think of myself as broadly ehvangelical in the bebbington sense – i.e., i hold scripture in the highest regard, believe in the importance of individual transformation, try to center my life around God’s mission, and long to be formed all the more by prayer – eeevangelicals’ penchant for focusing on the minor theological debates instead of the infinitely expanding mission of God (see bell, rob and hell, existence of), reflexive embrace of extremely conservative politics, and often ongoing commitment to patriarchal systems, has often tempted me to toss the label and related commitments aside.

but when i meet warmly ehvangelical people like the halls and brian corcoran, i am reminded of the faithful, beatitude shaped, sacrificial lives that the best of my ehvangelical bretheren have committed themselves and continue to live. on friday i was reminded of the best of my christian tradition and i now have a renewed longing to live up and into the faith that they have proclaimed and embodied so well.

in the end, i’m an ehvangelical. you can’t wash that off and, in my better moments, i don’t want to. thanks be to God for the gracious reminder he gave me this week.

* in gentry speak, eeevangelicalism is the reflexively conservative, christian subculture obsessed, inerrancy constricted, michael w. smith listening, megachurch adoring, altar call committed contingent of my tradition that i have a hard time connecting with. ehvangelicalism is the Christ focused, culturally integrated, clapham shaped, mostly urban, globalized contingent that i snobbily consider my own. these categories provide a divisively judgmental short hand whereby i can identify my preferred position within m larger tradition.

  1. mmmm, yes

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