At the end of last week’s Emergence Christianity conference (#EC13) there was a confusion. Phyllis Tickle, the conference keynote speaker, who presented her work on Emergence Christianity throughout, made a couple of controversial statements. Julie Clawson makes a good accounting for them here. However, I heard her differently.
First, I will state that I self-identify as a feminist. This is to declare at the outset that I did hear and understand what many expressed in response to her final session. My disagreement is not because I’m a dude or I don’t understand the plight of women.
Second, the confusion began when several people in the room tweeted objections which were put up on the screen behind Phyllis as she spoke. This brings new meaning to “talking behind someone’s back.” It felt incredibly rude and helped set a very confusing tone.
What I heard.
Phyllis’ final presentation spoke to the nuclear family and the change brought the 20th Century. In her landmark book, The Great Emergence, she references the nuclear family as the result of the Great Reformation and Protestantism. She raises this as evidence of the new thing that was Protestantism and as evidence of how different Emergence is. To say that Phyllis was advocating going back would be equal to her suggesting we reject Emergence for Protestantism. Which she doesn’t.
This further colors the way she concluded her talk. She told a personal story of transmitting the Christian story in a way that demonstrated fidelity to the core value of Emergence: what we used to call authenticity. Her current work on the revelation of the Spirit and the ways Emergence Christianity seeks to make community meaningful and consistent and of value all but required her to speak to a meaningful, personal, and local practice of storytelling.
There is no doubt that her comments about women’s roles in family and church were bound to stir people up. I also recognize that she didn’t articulate her vision clearly. However, to hear her comments about the Pill and “menses” as negative is to ignore all that Phyllis has written and spoken to previously, including the previous 24 hours! And further mistakes an important aspect of her thesis: the death blow to Sola Scriptura is the sex stuff: particularly the rise of women in leadership and the place of LGBT in Christian community. She argues that the biggest game changer in the 20th Century is the Pill. She didn’t denigrate the Pill (though she did make a couple of bad jokes), but raise it up as the lighting rod for the 20th Century’s culture war.
When people blame something for something else (the Pill for our current state of affairs), they are doing two things.
- Scapegoating something
- Calling something else bad
We see this all the time. For example, the decline of “traditional” marriage has to do with those gays wanting to get married is the popular argument. Implicit in that argument is that something (LGBTs wanting to get married) is the reason something else is bad (that “traditional” marriage has declined) due directly to the interaction of the two “somethings”. The same argument is made about the Pill, premarital sex, sex education in school, and any number of other things.
The problem with suggesting that Phyllis blames the Pill for the current state of affairs is found in that connection, particularly as it applies to number 2. She doesn’t think that the way things are is bad. She doesn’t speak negatively of the “decline” of church or the need to bring the “glory days” back. In fact, she is incredibly positive and hopeful about the way things are.
This is why I say that I heard what was offensive and understand where it is coming from, but an essential part of the argument is missing: that the Pill is to be blamed for something, since she didn’t appear to be arguing that something else was bad. As always, she chronicled the events of the 20th Century and highlighted what changed our course and then ended with an Emergence (not Protestant) example of transmission of identity. One that appropriately challenged me to be more honest and Spirit-filled in all of my life, including who I am with my family. It was a weird way to end the conference, but it certainly got us thinking and talking. I’ve got to say, I like that about it.
If you were there, what did you think about the conference?