This conclusions and recommendations section surprised even me. I may change my mind on this later and post the specific analysis pieces, but for the time being, I’ll just share my main conclusions about the Emergent/Progressive Movement after at least 300 hours of research and writing (about the same as I put in on my case study of the meltdown of Mars Hill Church):
As a long-time student of social movements, my gut response is: I think this thing looks dead, because the movement’s core problems have remained unresolved over a long period of time. From what I’ve seen, its leaders don’t seem to want to remediate the brokenness, so I don’t expect the Emergent/Progressive Movement to resuscitate. And actually, I think that’s probably a good thing.
Oh, I’ve got pages upon pages I could share of notes and posts with extensive sourcing and analysis on numerous relevant issues that support my main conclusion. For instance:
- How a decentralized movement or “network of networks” can be hijacked (or colonized), in part via multiple system failures where those who should oversee instead overlook, and how this seems to go all the way back to the philosophy of Leadership Network to see who stands out in a new movement and facilitate them having a platform – the perfect storm of an opportunity for someone with outward charisma but who is inwardly corrosive.
- Why we should assume an inherent duplicity in all words and deeds of someone with a clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder – perhaps take their words at face value but presume there’s a twist that fits into “plans within plans within plans,” as Baron Harkonnen says in that classic novel on cosmic power struggles, Dune.
- How with Dudebro and – dare one say? Dudegrrrl – celebrityship, the privilege of power seems to connect to social media outrage when the sincerity, integrity, understandability of their personal morality system, social ethics, theology, and/or ministry practices get questioned.
- How typical patterns of deflection of accountability show up in blog posts and comments, sometimes by direct engagement (typically just for several comments and/or emails), then withdrawal, then entry into the discussion by proxies who take up the cause either via concern, theological questions, and/or ad hominem attacks by blog comments and/or emails.
- How vestiges of moral absolutes seemingly result in odd questions in what looks to be emerging as moral relativism. For instance, a question that seems to have come up even in 2009-2010 when this first erupted on blogs, is: “Is it okay for two people to ‘be in a relationship’ once they’ve had divorce papers served on their current spouse, but before these divorces are final?”
After all of that, my ambivalence about the Emergent/Progressive Movement boiled down to this:
If Tony Jones is a litmus test of what the Emergent/Progressive Movement looks like and what it stands for and how it functions, please count me out. I find him not qualified to earn my trust – but the movement seems to embrace and protect him. So … sorry … but, because of that, I’ll trust my discernment and not your movement, or its theological thought leaders, or its ministry role models.
So, in the final analysis, my gut intuition says that this movement will not last because it is in an orbit, not on a trajectory. It claims all kinds of credentials, but has dubious credibility. It talks victim advocacy but creates victims. It values social change, but doesn’t seem to be changing and needs organizational CPR. It seemingly took the best of both post-evangelicalism and progressivism, but ended up with a mediocre muddle of both.
I wish them well, but actually, don’t expect me to get involved. The gatekeepers are guarding a space I don’t want to enter. It just doesn’t seem “safe” to me. And, from the trail of digital evidence dropped into posts and comments from the past five-plus years, a diverse range of other people have expressed how they don’t feel particularly safe with Tony Jones and/or Emergent/Progressive either.
It’s unfortunate, as I find there are commendable elements in progressive faith and practice which are needed for a holistic balance. Such as:
- The importance of justice work and social transformation.
- Individual self-determination of personal identity and trajectory.
- Critique of dominion theology.
- Promoting the importance of cross-cultural engagement and intercultural teamwork.
However, any common ground for the common good that I found in progressive theology has turned to apathy about participation with the Emergent/Progressive Movement. Why? It simply doesn’t meet my most basic criterion for collaborations: Do good plus do no harm.
I don’t like what I’ve seen there. And I should not be at all surprised, based on the extent of my research, to eventually find out other people and pockets of toxicity within this movement. But, sooner or later, all will come into the light and be made known – isn’t that what the Scriptures promise? And eventually, justice will be served. So, the question becomes: Will we be part of that restorative process, or part of the deteriorative problem?
I try to be solutions-focused, and my main ministry involvement is through research writing and participation on social transformation teams. So, it was definitely not a waste of my time to acknowledge my intuitions about Emergent/Progressive, or to do enough analysis to confirm them as conclusions. This will all inform what I write from here on out about (1) how things can go wrong when we seek to do what’s right and make a difference, and (2) how to work to correct toxic systems (or dismantle them if they are beyond reconstruction), and (3) how to create safe environments for dialog, teamwork, and inter-agency collaborations that do good plus do no harm. I expect those eventual writings will have a lot of constructive suggestions for those interested in course corrections and paradigm system solutions to get a movement back on track to a trajectory.
If you are interested in the “espresso” of that curriculum, see this post on What Makes a Ministry “Safe”? and peruse this category on Do Good Plus Do No Harm for some older samples. The 11-post Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse Series shares a lot about dealing with “unqualified/disqualified” leaders and “toxic” organizational structures.
Finally, these last 18 months of intensive examination of the New Calvinism/Resurgent and Emergent/Progressive Movements confirm what streams I feel most at home with out of that original, Spirit-sparked “emerging ministry movement” of 20 years ago. For me, the reflective Monastic/Mystic stream and the contextual and activist Missional stream both have a sustainable trajectory and momentum. I sense their followers embody the overall profile of values, beliefs, and practices that I am comfortable enough with as common ground, knowing that any endeavors I engage with will make me uncomfortable enough to move toward deeper transformation. I am likely to expend what efforts I can to contribute to these movements for the Kingdom.