This issue is dedicated to the theme of #churchtoo. Abuse of power and leadership failures may be nothing new in churches, but that doesn’t take away from its horror or devastation. In many cases, these abuses have been allowed to metastasize in secret, with those who have been called to be communities of light complicit in cover-ups. In our day, especially in the wake of #metoo movement, revelations of abuse by those entrusted with power in all spheres of our culture have also drawn many secrets hiding in churches out into the open. We are living through a time of reckoning for the church.
But real healing can remain elusive, and the mission of the church has suffered in the meantime. A chief reason non-Christians give for rejecting the faith is the hypocrisy of church leadership and a tolerance for injustice these scandals highlight. The same can be said for younger generations leaving churches. How does the church of Christ authentically communicate the gospel of the God who identifies with the abused and enters into solidarity with victims of violence, to the point of death on the cross, when the public perceives that it protects its own interests and those in positions of power at the expense of the wronged? Surely the right response cannot be to cover up, minimize, or dismiss these scandals (as the abusers would have it do) but to shine a light on the truth, mourn over its sins, and forge a new way forward towards shalom. Only when the church demonstrates real repentance and actually lives by the gospel it preaches will its message gain credibility among the world.
An urgent agenda is a reimagined theology of power–a kind of theology that does not stay in the abstract but permeates and transforms the church’s practices and structures. Part of the massive cultural change taking place in our time has been the deconstruction of authority. For a long time, ecclesial authorities have responded by decrying the erosion of traditional mores and taken a defensive posture against what it perceived to be the onslaught of the world. However, this deconstruction can have a positive, cleansing effect–it can hold a mirror up to the church and help it to mourn, then rediscover its identity and mission; to see a new future possibility; and reform for the sake of its mission. Indeed, deconstruction of its authority may be unavoidable if the church is to escape the fate of becoming a prisoner within its own walls, fated to a slow decline into irrelevancy, bleeding out its disillusioned young and those it failed to properly care for or protect.
We will then be able to reimagine the church as a beloved community of disciples living out the good news of God’s kingdom vis-à-vis the powers of this world–eager to share power and practice justice for the sake of upbuilding the other (especially those who have historically been excluded along class, gender, and racial lines), living in mutual submission, and sharing all our gifts to pursue a common calling. We will be able to see the church as a life in the Spirit and a transformative, alternative community on mission in this world.
Honestly engaging with #churchtoo and all its implications will be painful for church leaders (many will wish to avoid it; indeed, many have tried their best at it) but leaning into #churchtoo will be absolutely necessary for the health of the mission of the church moving forward.
The pieces in Journal of Urban Mission Volume 7, Issue 1 are offered with that hope for a church repentant and renewed (click on the titles to be redirected to the articles):
- Heather Evans and Hannah Wildasin, who have counseled #churchtoo survivors, train a trauma-informed perspective on sexual abuse, predation and coverup in the church in their article, “#Churchtoo Through the Lens of Trauma.”
- In “The Gospel Versus Patriarchy: Ruth and Esther Have Something to Say,” Carolyn Custis James invites the reader into the stories of these biblical women and find in them a gospel subversion of patriarchy, with important lessons for the church today.
- Tamika Holder’s Urban Voice contribution, “Jephthah’s Daughter and #metoo,” is an exhortation for those in the church, especially women, to be their sister’s keeper by advocating for each other within traditionally patriarchal spaces.
Three reviews of essential readings for #churchtoo are also included in this issue:
- Diane Langberg’s Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, reviewed by Susan Baker;
- Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, reviewed by Carolyn Custis James; and
- A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, reviewed by Julie Cowen.
Three additional “evergreen” urban mission-related articles round out the issue. You will notice their relevance to the issues surrounding #churchtoo, however, such as a lived theology of power in a diverse church, or the kenosis dynamic in the giving up of power that is at the heart of mentoring and discipleship:
- Dave Park writes about the intergenerational conflicts and losses that have characterized life in the Korean American immigrant church, and seeks a hopeful path forward in “Healing from the Bitter Past: A New Way Forward for the Korean American Church.”
- Bill Krispin shares lessons on mentoring from his decades of experience in urban ministry in his article, “Mentoring: Raising Up Leaders for the Harvest.”
- In “Case Study: Global Outreach in an Urban World,” two other longtime practitioners, Ernest McNear and Lin Crowe, offer a case study of global missions work carried out by the Church of God in Christ, and Pentecostalism in general, as an example of how the urban church in US might chart its way forward in light of the growing transnational missionary opportunities they have. They focus on the story of Bishop McNear’s ministry to share their insights.
As those of us in the US emerge out to the other side of the pandemic shut-downs, may we take this opportunity to reimagine how we do church, especially in the area of power and authority structure, to become remade to a body that is more faithful to, and fit for, the mission the Lord has for us here and now. May there be healing for victims of leadership abuse, reform in the church and Christian institutions, and glory to the God who calls us to join him on his mission of redemption.
Susan S. Baker