Jonathan Merritt

Fight the Inertia: A Call to Subvert the System or, What Is It About Christian Conferences? – A Guest Post

Tuesday I took care of some administrative work and listened to The Nines. I have caught some of the talks each of the five years the conference has been offered online. I looked up and noticed the live Twitter Feed. Then Greg called. Did you see Rachel Held Evans tweet? I had not but it did not take long to see it re-Tweeted in the live Twitter feed on the site.

Jonathan Merritt wrote a piece for RNS on Christian Conferences in general and how they fared in comparison to The Nines with regard to the presence of women speakers. Zach Hoag invited women to write something in response via his Twitter account. The interest lay in how others viewed the matter brought to their attention via @rachelheldevans Tweet.

I noticed that Natalie took up the call to write something.

Yesterday Natalie posted her thoughts on the subject. She opened up a wider swath than just considering Christian Conferences. Natalie looked underneath the hood of the systems that institutionalize habits and practices unawares to those who lead in those same systems. Here is what surely would have been provocative as a title,

I emailed Natalie and asked if I could re-post her piece as a Guest Post. She has obliged me in the past. Natalie agreed. So, her post titled, Systems and privilege redux: U.S. Christian Conferences. Take the time to add Natalie to your chosen Feed Reader.

NOVEMBER 14, 2013

Systems and privilege redux: U.S. Christian conferences

Earlier this week, Rachel Held Evans pointed out the absurd lack of women at The Nines, an online conference that featured only 4 women speakers out of over 100 total. Jonathan Merritt later chimed inwith a look at a number of U.S. conferences’ severe gender disparity.

'Enlightenment' photo (c) 2010, Brian Fuller - license:

While many of the responses to Evans’ and Merritt’s critiques were derailing, silencing, and downright condescending, one type of response in particular caught my attention because I believe it’s instructive with regard to systems and privilege. Many were quick to point out that conference planners are well-meaning people and don’t intend to specifically exclude women. A common refrain was that critics don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes in choosing speakers.

I take issue with this response, just as I did last year with Church Relevance’s Top 200 Ministry Blogs list.

Critical race theory exposes racism in social systems and groups. Its most basic tenet is that race is an integral part of social organizations, and racism is an  institutionalized, ingrained feature of social systems. Critical race theory holds that everyone in a social system furthers that system through social practices, reproducing the power and prestige of the system. Those with the most power and prestige are the most privileged, which means they have the most advantage over others, even if this advantage was passed down through generations.

Systems tend to be affected by inertia. Most systems, by their very design, are resistant to changes to their usual state. It is exceedingly difficult to push against the norms inside the system. The system itself does the work for the privileged individual.

Here, the U.S. Christian conferences system works in such a way that the system discriminates on behalf of its individual members against women, LGBTQ people, and people of color, while favoring white, straight men. The individuals themselves (i.e. the conference planners) do not have to be racist or sexist in order to perpetuate inequality. In fact, most participants in a system would vehemently deny that they intend to focus exclusively on white, straight men. One does not have to be a blatant racist, sexist, or homophobe to organize a conference consisting almost exclusively of white, straight, men – the system works it out for you.

I asked last year after Church Relevance’s list was released, and I’ll ask it again: what are people with the most power and prestige doing to make a conscious effort to ensure that the voices of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color are heard? Jarrod McKenna encourages men not to just blog about it, but act. Turn down conference invites if you see that women are not fully represented. I would add – turn down publishing deals and other offers and suggest a woman in your place. (Cue the refrain here that feminists hate men and seek “reverse sexism”…)

If you are a white, straight, Christian man, please take a look at the blogs you read and the people you follow on Twitter. Do they look like you? Take a look at the books you read on theology and ministry. Do their authors look like you? Take a look at the conferences you attend. Do their speakers look like you? Again, if so, would you be willing to join with me and fight the inertia?

Image Credit – Inertia

Trampling the Abused for Self-Vindication or, Stop Making It About You

Internecine squabbles are blood sport. It appears some care little about collateral damage in the process. I recently wrote a piece wherein I found it incredulous that a campaign is waged to discredit one person by casting suspicion on the realities of another’s personal struggle and abuse.

I realize in my little part of the interwebs I do not illicit the sort of traffic these would be enquirers claim for themselves. To me this means they are either read too widely or sycophants bloat page views. At some point I find it at least therapeutic to process by writing in such a way some may read and find there are some who claim Jesus that refuse to take up arms against another by relegating experiences of human struggles to anecdotal fodder.

Reading the latest assaults on Ed Stetzer left me longing for the writer of Too Dazed to take up the keyboard again. Fancy that, years later one writer writes about ethics whose strident refusal to admit a mistake against a brother required the threat of legal action to stand down and offer a retraction. Read More

It’s More Than Chicken or, The Subterfuge of Blogging

Jonathan Merritt stirred the political waters with a post in the aftermath of the Chick-Fil-A’s Dan Cathy commenting about marriage in the context of divorce. Certainly his words extend to the ongoing debate about marriage in the United States. You could call it another flashpoint that becomes louder than the central issue. In fact, over coffee/tea with a friend from high school this past week it was surprising to me he had no idea of the flap. Why is this important? He is a Pastor. He is also gay. Before anyone decides to make this post about which group you will be demonstrating for today, that is not the issue I raise. The deeper issue that will undoubtedly be missed is how we engage and treat others. Cars run both ways on this street. The left and the right miss wildly.

I wrote this last week after talking with my wife. No, I did not need permission. Our experience in pastoral ministry, of one form or another, brought to mind those times where we have walked down the lonely, tortuous road with those whose lives have been beset by abuse of many forms. We could not imagine how anyone could possibly diminish one person’s experience to call another to account. Read More

Letting Go of Heroes or, Why Is That Note In My Study Bible?

What do you do with stories that call your hero into question? I have not seen The Dark Night Rises, but when last we left Batman in The Dark Night, his light had been broken and his image tarnished. Dejected he rode off into the darkness pursued by dogs.

I have yet to see the new Spiderman movie.  I did see someone comment that the story of Spiderman is really the story about Peter Parker. Insightful. Maybe all comic book heroes are about their human alter egos.

What of your Bible heroes?

This morning I met with one of the men in our church. We meet most Tuesday mornings. We talk about a variety of subjects. He often brings up a point about the Sunday sermon in the course of our conversations. Read More

Jonathan Merritt Outs Sanctimony or, When the Internet Should Go Dark

I met Jonathan Merritt last month. We had exchanged emails over a subject of common interest, the lack of SBC Leadership speaking to the brouhaha over at the ERLC. I have since read his book, A Faith of Our Own. There was little doubt the personal experiences shared in that part of his story were not exhaustive. He is not much older than our oldest daughter.

All of us have parts of our story we hold in reserve. On most occasions we get to open up those spaces to others on our own terms. Not so in other instances.

A friend alerted me to a Southern Baptist Christian blogger turned Christian Enquirer. Under the rubric of just giving facts, said blogger feigned no agenda. Repeatedly he narrated his decision in such a way to present it as inscrutable. Bloggers love web traffic. Even Christians love train wrecks. The convergence of wanting to be read and wanting to read about someone’s possible fall is the perfect Internet storm.

I emailed Jonathan. Read More