In case you don’t know: in Evangelical Christianese, there is something called a “seeker sensitive church.” It basically means that the main focus of a church is to get people in the room and keep them there at all costs. A main reasoning behind this is that if you keep people around, you have a chance to effect a change in them. There is some logic in that. You can’t have productive conversation with people who won’t talk to you.
In order to keep people in the room, many times seeker sensitive churches will be super careful not to say anything too challenging, ask too many uncomfortable questions, or push people too far too fast. Therefore a main criticism of seeker sensitive churches is that they tend to produce Christians who never mature in their faith.
I’m seeing this as a trend across several areas of social justice work, especially since the election. Look at all these new people! Caring about All the Things! How can we keep them engaged? The biggest and most obvious example was the often chaotic unfolding of the
Million Women March Women’s March. I have been to a handful of white people anti-racism meetings where we spent the first 10 minutes clapping for ourselves simply for being there. Why are we doing that? I don’t go there to feel good about going there. I go there to do the work. Leaders of social justice work, hear me if you have ears to do so. Please, please learn from the fact that seeker sensitive evangelical churches are no small part of what led to a significant number of American Christians who are so disconnected from what the Bible actually teaches that they will vote for Donald Trump.
White people new to thinking about this stuff: we don’t have time to sit around indefinitely theorizing in abstract ways about how racism may or may not be present in our lives. Here’s a spoiler alert. It is present. Racism is all around us. At our dinner tables. In our inner ring suburban schools where middle schoolers are telling concentration camp jokes at the lunch table. In our anti-racism meetings. In our book clubs and passive-aggressive conversations where we all try to be the best at not being the smartest anti-racist in the room. Racism is the toxicity in the water we all swim in. Please swim anyway. People are dying. Asking them to be patient so you can work on your butterfly stroke is….inappropriate.
I’m not saying we as white people shouldn’t analyze or think deeply about how our whiteness affects the way we walk through the world, and how it affects people around us who are not white. We absolutely should be doing that. As we go. In a way that allows us to get rid of our nonsense, not wrap it up in other nonsense and keep carrying it with us. It is essential to this work that we find ways to cultivate a stillness inside us that doesn’t need to disregard the voices of oppressed people in order to exist. We are all bombarded with the false idea that we can only be one thing at a time. We are acting or we are thinking. We are reacting to what happens now or we are considering the long-term implications. If that is the way we understand the world, it is so hard to take the long view in a way that doesn’t erase the people right in front of us. Please try anyway. There is work to do.
I am not without compassion. I get that many people are shocked. The world is a shocking place. Here’s the thing. If your body goes into shock you have to find out why and deal with that. A good first step in most cases of physical shock is to huddle under a blanket and call for help. But most of the time, you have to seek further treatment or your body will go deeper into shock until you die. I repeat: you have to huddle under a blanket and call for help. When help comes, you have to accept it. Very often you have to find the underlying cause and treat that or you will not get better.
Creating a seeker sensitive social justice movement runs a high risk of just putting a blanket around ourselves and never seeking further treatment. I know it’s hard to move when you feel small, scared, and trapped. I spend time feeling that way too. But to quote our favorite misanthropic tv doctor…
Patient: I just want to talk.
House: About nothing. If you talk about nothing, nothing will change.
Patient: It might.
Patient: Time. Time changes everything.
House: That’s what people say. It’s not true. Doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were.