11A Framework for Detailing of the Emergent Complex [Steps #1, 2, 3]

On This Page:

  • Before We Detail the “Emergent Industrial Complex” …
  • The Appeal of an Industrial Complex
  • Introducing the Identification Process and Core Issues
  • Step #1. Overviewing the Elements
  • Step #2. My Process for Detecting the Pieces
  • Step #3. Your Turn: Identifying and Interpreting the Pieces and the Bigger Picture

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OVERVIEW. January of 2015 brought with it an intense push-back against what some have called the Emergent Empire or the Emergent Industrial Complex. Blog posts, Facebook, Twitter – all seemed ablaze with inflamed people who were unhappy with certain situations and with each other. The Wartburg Watch posted two articles about Emergent celebrities and issues which, together, drew over 1,250 comments in the first 5 days. Parody Twitter profiles popped up, creating a satirized parallel world of EmergentC for Complex. Screen shots and storifies, block outs and comments off and deletes in and secret groups up and running and … and what next? And why? And why now?

The rather swift development and sometimes rancorous nature of the debate has come as quite a shock to many. Some people seem to think this just looks like a rehash of allegations or gossip from 2009-2010, or challenges to alleged accomplices to apologize from late 2014 – all related to that messy divorce case of Tony Jones and Julie McMahon. I don’t. I see something far larger at work than simply “private details of a contentious divorce.” The push-back seems to involve far more people who are insiders, and the triggering instances appear to be about hypocrisy versus integrity within the Emergent/Progressive stream. This time, the social media blitz-klieg seems to be shining its light on the surrounding partnerships that keep some kind of Emergent Empire afloat.

While a small portion of the two prior major “eruptions” of Emergent issues called out some other individuals than just Tony Jones, it was mostly just that – individuals. This time, it has moved to the people who could create an institution of Emergent: speakers and publishers, next generation leaders and first-generation mentors, others with vested or vestment interests that may prove to be conflicts of interest. This is why I have suggested that if the larger organizational and institutional issues are not resolved this time around, this Emergent network of interconnections may unavoidably implode. If issues are brought into the light, what had been on its way to an Emergent Complex may still implode, but it might end up dismantled and at least some parts salvaged. That may be out of the hands of the presumed leaders, since in a consumer culture that supports such a Complex, the power for survivability rests on the consumers. But what would it take to see something survive this internally-induced onslaught and be salvaged for whatever is next?

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Before We Detail the “Emergent Industrial Complex” …

Note: The following section on details of what I call the Emergent Industrial Complex will make much more sense if you have already absorbed the background information in 10 Institutional: Christian Industrial Complex. That page addresses what an “industrial complex” is, what kinds of entities and elements are involved, and how their leaders/owners function together in a sort of power-prestige-money-marketing leadership gridlock.

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The Appeal of an Industrial Complex

I am both a visual and a concrete learner. So object lesson activities tend to make a strong and long-lasting impression. For instance, I remember the first time I ever participated in “The String Exercise.” It was at a high school leadership training camp over 40 years ago.

The String Exercise can be used as an object lesson on community or ecology or systems. Here’s how it works. You have a group of people stand in a circle, and one person grabs hold of the end of a ball of reasonably sturdy string or yarn. The ball gets tossed back and forth to various people around the circle, and each time, the person who catches it slips the ball of string around his/her waist, and then throws it to someone else across from them. Eventually, the group has created this cool web of interconnections. The last person wraps the string around his/her waist, and then holds on to whatever is left.

Then everyone backs up to make the string-web-net taut. And then, everyone can lean backward and no one will fall over! The interconnectedness of everyone actually makes standing up secure for anyone in this network of string connections.

I’ve heard of The String Exercise being used in support groups as a trust exercise – who would believe that yarn or string could actually keep a group going upright? I’ve heard of it being used in business leader trainings as a way to illustrate teamwork.

I’ve even heard of groups where they do a follow-up exercise once everyone’s connected and is leaning backward. You pass a pair of scissors around the circle of connection and every fifth person snips one of the strings around them. Everyone watches as the string snaps into the middle and that lifeline goes loose. How many strings can you disconnect before the system unravels?

I’d never really thought about how this object lesson could illustrate something other than a positive support system to prop up people who need it. But the opposite realization occurred to me today. It could just as much be used to demonstrate aspects of a toxic organizational system – in keeping in place a person who shouldn’t be … someone who seems to have commandeered the system for their own benefit.

In the past 18 months, we’ve witnessed two such string systems at different levels of unraveling – Mars Hill Church and the Emergent Movement. In their own ways, each has been an “industrial complex,” a network of relationships that interconnected various individuals and entities in ways that were mutually beneficial for them – but harmed others. These two sister systems are different, but it looks like they’ll both potentially end up imploded. Mars Hill featured a centralized and hierarchical leadership pyramid. So, when the person on whom everything else depended – Mark Driscoll – kept acting in ways that broke the strings that held things together, it was maybe more obvious.

But, from the outset, Emergent was supposedly opposite of that – decentralized, “flat leadership structure,” and participatory. And that did seem to work, at least at the local level. However, as I think will be clear enough from the rest of this article, a sort of superstructure got constructed that fed into those multiple nodes of local conversation. And, over time, that superstructure became it’s own string-web-net kind of Emergent/Progressive brand, with a limited number of thought leaders and ministry role models who became not merely connected, but enmeshed.

As a group, you find them increasingly intertwined over time:

  • They endorse or write the foreword for one another’s books.
  • They speak at each other’s events.
  • They collaborate on social change projects.
  • They promote each others initiatives.
  • They follow and friend and like and retweet and comment and guest post.

As I will talk about shortly, I get it that we like to work with people we like and who are like us. There has to be enough common ground to keep us interconnected together as a group. But what happens when those connections potentially turn out to be conflicts of interest? Where part of our income or “platform” over-depends on one or more of the group’s members? Where maybe we find out things were not what they appeared and now we are entangled together?

What then?

I believe it is clear enough that there are long-time or otherwise intense bonds between a number of people seen as Emergent/Progressive “thought leaders and ministry role models” (i.e., celebrities), and that many are now stuck in a difficult situation. The meltdown of Emergent has been portrayed as private matters of a messy divorce. If that were the case, it might make sense to have a hard-line either/or thinking about things: Tony Jones is right and Julie McMahon is wrong. It’s impossible to believe both.

But what if …?

As evidence continues to emerge, people’s hard-line conclusions about the Emergent/Progressive Movement may become increasingly more tentative. They may find that they are in a “string system” that’s turned toxic. And, for those who have been full-on support in the circle of Tony Jones, I hope you’ll find the recent words of Brother Maynard both challenging to your conscience and compassion, and yet conciliatory and constructive in moving forward.

This is therefore a call to those leaders in and around Emergent Village in 2008-2010, and who have currently issued letters or made statements of support for Tony Jones, whether formally or informally. It is similarly a call to those on the fringes of Emergent™ who heard and repeated the Julie-is-crazy meme based on what you had been told at the time. Please rescind your support for these actions against Julie and for covering it up in whatever large or small way you participated. If you are not sure how to go about this, you can reach out to me, David Hayward, Ryan Stollar, or Dee at The Wartburg Watch. We can put you in touch with Julie and/or help you compose or publish an appropriate statement. If you read the comments on the thug-or-theology thread, you’ll see that Julie has only asked for apologies and has been quick to voice genuine forgiveness when those apologies were offered. Most importantly, if you are a leader with a voice, you owe it to those around you who trust you to not lend your voice to a campaign that props up abuse. Make it stop.

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Introducing the Identification Process and Core Issues

First, some background on when I first learned about this concept of an interlocking directory and how it relates to an industrial complex, excerpted from a comment I posted on an April 2014 Wartburg Watch article about “the patriarchy oligarchy.” (I have edited it slightly to correct typos.)

Over 40 years ago, an investigative reporter in my then home town did an amazing piece of work on the power brokers of our little area of the world. She researched and verified how a very small number of families created an “interlocking directory” of relationships through owning major businesses, holding significant or controlling interests in multiple forms of media (both print and broadcast), serving on major philanthropic foundations and/or non-profit boards, and involving themselves in the shaping of local politics. In effect, this group formed an oligarchy — a gridlock of elites who wielded their clout throughout the region.

When the report was released through an independent media source, it created quite the stir. Those named did what they could to minimize the appearance of their influence or the depth of their interconnections, but the documentation said what it said nevertheless. And if you simply sketched out a mind-map showing the various realms of influence and the relationships among the people most intimately involved, the clusters that appeared in this connect-the-dots exercise would be hard to deny.

And all these years later, I’ve not forgotten that tenacious and courageous reporter’s term of “interlocking directory.” I believe that is what we are uncovering as we see the inner workings of this “authoritarian christian industrial complex” of key individuals, families, churches, ministries, agencies, publishers, conferences, seminaries, denominations, movements. The press (including “citizen journalists” and survivor blog writers) have been pulling at the loose threads here and there, and it looks like the entire muffler may unravel as different people and organizations attempt to deny the interconnections, or minimize underlying doctrines that have given shape to their whole gridlock of power. …

I share this primarily (1) to overview the process of how to identify entities and individuals who are interconnected in their wielding of influence – basically by looking, listing, and watching for patterns – and (2) to introduce the concept that collaboration does NOT automatically mean there is subversive collusion. The fact of connection does not, on the surface of things, mean anything. But, as in the case I saw 40 years ago, there was significant enough evidence about influence to warrant looking deeper.

We tend to work with people who are our friends. That’s completely understandable, especially in a Christian ministry context where you need enough common ground of values, theology, and goals to make it work. Where things can go astray is when it becomes about more than just co-ministry, but about “a platform” of influence in the Church that brings with it power, prestige, and/or money. And I am using the term platform because that seems to be the word used in publishing and marketing and speaking to signify someone with authority. If you have a platform, supposedly that demonstrates you have moral authority to back up your marketability. However, I believe that is probably THE fatal flaw in the entire industrial complex system, because this so-called authority appears to have been disconnected from accountability. And that, in my opinion, is why there has been extreme social media push-back on key people involved in the Emergent Movement, because

In my thinking, the core issues in whether a Christian industrial complex is toxic revolve around two questions:

  1. Are people whose character, theology, and behavior patterns fall short of the biblical mandates of our leaders/role models, involved in this network – and perhaps, in fact, hijacking the associations for their own personal benefit?
  2. Have the interconnections among various network members created substantial conflicts of interest that inflict damage on others, such as by preventing truth from coming to light and justice from being served?

I am stating all of this about friendship connections here to make it as clear as possible that simply because someone’s name shows up in connection with various enterprises as, say, Tony Jones, that information is just that – information. Finding out whether there is any significance to the connection requires you to research the context, then discern the apparent depth of the connection, and what actions – both good and bad –  apparently stem from the connections. It’s not just about making a list, but working to discern the meaning.

In the material that follows, I will not be doing all the analysis homework for you as my readers, though I will draw some conclusions based on information I have compiled from multiple sources. I will introduce some elements, give some lists and links, but you will need to apply some do-it-yourself spiritual elbow grease to the situation to see for yourself what you believe and to figure out why. And keep in mind what I have “said in red” above about connection is not in itself complicity. The existence of a relationship between people doesn’t necessarily mean there is a conflict of interest in terms of finances, power, or prestige – so be careful about attributing too much to the connection, even if there might be an appearance of conflicting interests.

In working through the process of detailing the Emergent Industrial Complex, we will go through four steps, (plus maybe a few other points).

  • Step #1. Overviewing the Elements.
  • Step #2. My Process for Detecting the Pieces.
  • Step #3. Your Turn: Identifying and Interpreting the Pieces and the Bigger Picture.
  • Step #4. My Initial Findings: Main Entities that Plug into the Complex
  • Step #5. My Initial Findings: Majorly Influential Individuals in the Complex.

The DIY/do-it-yourself part of this is at Step #3.

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Step #1. Overviewing the Elements

Back 40 years ago, the basic list to look at to identify an “industrial complex” was for roles in interlocking influence in: business, media, non-profits, and politics. Given the decentralized and digital nature of connections in our current era, the breakdown of that goes a bit differently now:

Academia, Seminaries, Training Programs. Educational institutions have long been a place where friendship and business connections were forged. Understandably, degrees from particular schools carry a certain prestige. But in a Christian industrial complex, academia offers a critical component for people with a particular theological perspective or ministry movement – a sort of authentication of message and certification of messenger through roles in teaching and mentoring. There are other formal and informal contexts for learning that also carry weight, such as church-planting trainings, community development mentorships, etc.

Associations and Networks. Where two generations ago there were national and fraternal organizations, now there are now many kinds of formal and informal networks based on common interests, values, and goals. Project management can take place virtually and much more quickly through digital tools. However, decentralized and digital connections are not the same as local and personal interactions. Simply because people sign on with a network where they share the mission and vision, that says little about their personal character or qualifications to wield influence.

Businesses, Brands, Events, Media, and Marketing. The world of mass marketing used to rely on “conventional media” – printed newspapers and magazines, a few TV broadcasting companies, and radio. The digital era has flipped much of that to niche marketing that requires authors, speakers, and other “celebrities” to develop a platform – a following of people with enough common ground to keep their “membership” intact. This tends to use more social media systems where membership-like-follow-friend is about consuming what the platform people produce rather than indicating any kind of personal relationship. So, this is ultimately about selling a brand through a digital domain, with a virtually projected persona profile.

Ministry Platforms. Even if many of the values, missions, and visions have remained relatively the same in terms of Kingdom culture, things have definitely expanded in the past 20 years in terms of how ministry can be engaged in, who gets involved, where, when, and how long. There is still traditional ministry at the local level, using an “attractional model” to bring people into a place (church or other building) where they are “ministered to” with preaching and programs and worship services. At the other end of the spectrum are the more “incarnational models” where people go out to minister to others where they are at, both locationally and relationally. There are many newer ways to set up “ministries” that can be entrepreneurial, short-term, and/or virtual rather than institutional, long-term, and/or brick-and-mortar. Political and social action and dissent have gone into digital domains as well as in-person activism and advocacy.

Philanthropic Enterprises. People are probably more used to conventional types of organizations to raise and invest funds, like foundations, and to carry out missions and projects based on common ground values, as through non-profit organizations. Many new types of organizational approaches and forms have been emerging in the last few decades. Quadruple bottom line to benefit community, ecology, economy, and spirituality is a newer way to look at values in a systems perspective. There are new forms of for-benefit businesses being officially recognized, such as one in which a certain percentage of business profits are invested in social cause enterprises. Fund-raising has opened up to a per-project or per-person basis, with crowd-sourced collection such as through Kickstarter, Kiva, and GoFundMe.

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Step #2. My Process for Detecting the Pieces

Actually, you could use any of those clusters of elements as an entry point into deconstructing an “industrial complex” and identifying the specific entities and individuals involved. For this case study on the Emergent/Progressive Industrial Complex, I started with people directly involved with the non-profit Emergent Incorporated, and books they got published. So, starting with just the list of Board of Director and Emergent Village Council members plus a lot of clicking around Amazon.com and then elsewhere, here’s how that played out …

When you start looking at who is related to what, you keep finding the names of particular organizations and entities and individuals cropping up. Here is the linear version describing what was actually a multi-dimensional process for how I developed this particular list for the Emergent/Progressive movement – all from puzzle pieces that come primarily from public information.

I started with a basic list of key participants in the Emergent Movement from those officially involved with Emergent Village (see page 08 Organizational: Official Profiles for Emergent Incorporated).

From there, I looked at who the published authors are, including who had provided official endorsements and/or forewords to their books. (Endorsers often have their own ministry platforms and/or publications, so they, too are figures in the public eye.)

I also checked into which publishers and agents have multiple authors/clients in this theological genre. When I’ve been able to piece together a timeline and graph against it how many projects were published/signed at particular times, it helps trace the trajectory of the movement’s marketability.

“Round-up” books – collections of articles or essays from multiple authors – tend to give a good indicator of people who are considered “insiders” enough to be included, and also what topics in theology and ministry are important to the group.

And then to biographical sketches of the authors, editors, and endorsers. Those blurbs or resumes typically tells where they were educated, training institutions they teach at as professors or adjuncts or speakers, and what kinds of participations occupy them (training programs, networks, businesses, publishing, online sites, entrepreneurial endeavors, etc.).

Publications, academia profiles, participations, and online media provide lists of enterprises that help in discerning the common ground of interests, values, doctrines, purposes, vision for what the future should/could look like – in other words, what this network of individuals and entities hopes to achieve.

Note: Typically, in doing this type of broad-based research, it takes me multiple go-rounds through the material to grasp the who, what, when, where, why, how, and how long of it all. So, I try to hold my analysis, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations lightly, not tightly, and keep refining my understanding with each research go-round. In this particular case with the Emergent/Progressive Movement, there are parts I have been highly aware of for over 15 years, others for over 5 years, and some points of analysis and synthesis are relatively recent. That’s just the way it is, but we have to start somewhere – and now it is your turn for some do-it-yourself studies into the Emerging/Progressive Industrial Complex …

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Step #3. Your Turn: Identifying and Interpreting

the Pieces and the Bigger Picture

By putting these “chunks” of information from Step #2 into chronological order, you create the basis for seeing how a movement develops over time, what the milestone moments seem to be, who key influencers are, etc.

All of this helps give a sense of contours of the movement’s overall profile for (1) its theology and (2) its practices. These two points are paramount because a Christian interlocking directory becomes about who are the (1) thought leaders and (2) ministry role models.

And I cannot stress enough: The better your profile, probably the more accurate your placing of public figures inside or outside of an interlocking directory overall, and where their specific areas of overlap with that profile are. For instance, some insiders associated with the Progressive Christian movement have sought to dissociate that from the Emergent/Progressive movement. The people in each may not have been identical, but the profiles of the two movements would seem to share common ground on issues of social justice, for instance.

And then, because the Emergent/Progressive Industrial Complex seems to have majorly orbited around Tony Jones, it is important to see how connections relate directly with him. One way to bring things up to date is to discover who potentially has been the most vocal in support for him from late 2014 through early 2015, and figuring out ways to discern the strength of their connections with him. More about that in a later segment.

And, for those who prefer the non-linear description: Think of the process of putting together a mind-map with Emergent/Progressive movement as the hub circle, with multiple spokes going out from it to the various clusters mentioned in point #1 on Overviewing the Elements, and spokes going out from each cluster to multiple entities, and from there to people involved in each entity. Then fill in additional connection lines going between entities that have formal contracts with each other, and connection lines going between individuals that have contracts or friendships or other specific kinds of relationships.

And now, this is where you should go to the sources on page 11B Elements in the Emergent/Progressive Industrial Complex and go through the material yourself, and see what patterns seem to emerge. The additional sources on page 11C Emergent/Progressive Publishing Industry will add some important pieces to your understanding of the larger context.

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For Step #4 and #5, see page 11D My Initial Findings: Dominant Entities and Influential Individuals.

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