Vincent Harding and Phyllis Tickle —
Racial Identity in the Emerging Church and the World

What might words like repentance or forgiveness mean, culturally, in this moment? These are questions of the emerging church, a loosely-defined movement that crosses generations, theologies and social ideologies in the hope of reimagining Christianity. With Phyllis Tickle and Vincent Harding, an honest and sometimes politically incorrect conversation on coming to terms with racial identity in the church and in the world.

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is chairperson of the Veterans of Hope Project at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he's also Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Transformation. He's also the author of Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement.

is founding editor of the religion department of Publishers Weekly and an authority on religion in America. She's the author of many books, including The Great Emergence.

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A humorous, enjoyable speech peppered astute observations about the ways in which discussions about race and racism often devolve into matters of good and bad.

Selected Readings

'Is America Possible? A Letter to My Young Companions on the Journey of Hope' by Vincent Harding

Harding suggests in this essay that the dream is never finished but endlessly unfolding. He suggests that America's most important possibility for the world is not to dominate, threaten, or compete with, but to help each other in a search for common ground. He suggests that when we simply attempt to replicate our free-market materialism, we miss our most vital connections. From this, he opens the possibility that a new conversation may begin — one that might initiate a deeper journey concerning the possibilities of human community across all geographical lines.

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Why do we still use the word race since science has proven all life the same except for about .10%? Please address someday. I live in Hattiesburg, MS.

"Race" remains a valid Linnean taxome. It refers to populations with SMALL genetic differences within the larger species.

Kristy, I love you and I love your show, I've listened since its inception but today December 1st he was excruciating. I don't know what he said because I could not listen to him.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Rick, could you say a little bit more about why it was excruciating for you? Criticism is good for our work, and we need constructive feedback that will help us do better work.

Again, inspiration from the Wild Goose Festival. Praise and thanksgiving on the end of our American Thanksgiving week. Over and Over I hear from fellow friends and neighbors that this was their favorite holiday---one relative joyfully praised the church Thanksgiving Mass and celebration that she claimed was the best she could ever have attended. As a septuagenarian, young old woman born before the mid 20th century I have come to believe only two things need to be taken care of until the end of my time, connections and love. Love of all people and find connections everywhere. I've been doing it for a while and it is such a comfort. Long life to Krista Tippett and the people she finds to show us the best, most productive WAY to find this world and our country work for us.

Perhaps I'm wasting my time here, but I'd like to at least try to share why I was dismayed, saddened and a little angered over the contents of your December 1 show.

1. Your guests seemed to be proponents of the "emerging church." I find the notion of an emerging, evolving (improving?) church disturbing... not because I like the old churches in any way: they long, long ago lost their way. And it is easy to understand why: the original gospel message includes repentance and overcoming, and that means changing, leaving your comfort zones. Given that leaving your "zones" has never been and never will be a popular message, we should look suspiciously on any church/message that is popular or emerging in popularity: they too have most likely lost hold of the original message. There is no need to "reimagine" Christianity: we need to re-educate and get back to the original...

2. Christianity in not about changing the way we act and it is not about going out to do good deeds. It is about changing what we ARE. It is a one-on-one thing between each of us and God.
Forget the social movements: there is no substitute for becoming the "new man" the apostle Paul wrote about, being modeled after Christ as we repent and overcome, as we let Him dwell and walk in us, as we grow in love. As we grow and change who we ARE, we will automatically produce good works...

3. I did not hear Bible prophecy mentioned on the show. Too bad, because there is a lot to be learned from it. An essential learning is this: there are no movements, no causes, no political or religious schemes out there that will save us from ourselves. We will come to the end of our rope (the "great tribulation", Matthew 24), and then God will intervene to save us from self-destruction. We will learn - the hard way - that there is no substitute for individually changing as outlined in 1 and 2 above. There are no man-made schemes that will bring us to an utopian Kingdom of God on Earth. Realize this and you will realize that philosophies and movements - including communism, socialism, capitalism and even "emerging churches" - are shams.

4. A comment on progress. Built into the modern mind there seems to be a concept that social progress is inevitable, that mankind will always improve via an inevitable evolutionary progression. Sorry, but outside of each of us, one on one with God, becoming the "mew man" there is no solution...

5. I'm glad On Being seeks to be "a spacious conversation... about the big questions at the center of human life." So I'll throw in my two cents worth. What's the purpose? Why are we here? God wants - and is looking for - men and women He can live with forever. Read about it in Revelation 21:3-4. God wants family and He has a plan for attaining it. Actually, He is doing much more than looking: He is CREATING family. Creation is in process even now as we let Him dwell and walk in us and we overcome and change and grow into the "new man" - the special people God would like to live with forever. "He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Revelation 21:7).

6. Okay, I'll step down from my soap-box now.

I think we are "saved" in community. I don't buy Revelations" G-d savagely wiping out the planet for a few elites.

"There is no way to be serious about following Jesus without calling for concern or compassion for the enemy." Gotta love Vincent Harding's voice! This comment in the 18th minute of this segment sums up what we need to do to make this world a better place.

I found it interesting that towards the end of the segment Harding mentioned Detroit as a situation that most people push to the side and not give a second thought about. For me personally, I always figured it was someone else's problem. After all, I don't live there. If we start having conversations about these types of things, Harding says we may be able to make a positive difference in the world.

He was also spot on when speaking about how we need to be more mature rather than childish about our problems. Its OK to apologize for mistakes we've made, and move on. If everyone had this thought process, we wouldn't necessarily be in the same position we are right now.

I really enjoyed this segment, which aired almost two years ago to the day. Missing my friend Vincent, who was a giant for peace and justice.