Dr. Smith told a story about sitting under two professors while in grad school, a couple of overt moral relativists. One was an African American woman, the other was a Jewish feminist. He, at certain times, would engage in conversation with these women, asking questions and prodding at the root of their convictions. Once he expressed to one of the women that he was surprised by her moral relativity. She was equally surprised at his surprise, and asked, "And why does this surprise you?" He answered by telling her that he would assume there were definitely somethings that she would see as moral absolutes, rape, for instance. She replied, "Well, if that is true, then why isn't rape within marriage illegal?" To which he replied, "Well, if it isn't, I think it should be." At this point his professor got uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation and said, "I'd love to talk to you about this sometime later."
After telling this story, he started talking about the history of relativism as a response to absolutism. He said that it was his personal opinion (and one with which I tend to agree) that much of how these women got to this place of moral relativity is due to the misuse of absolutism in history. After all, both of these women are part of a culture or race that have been, historically, overrun with prejudice and hate towards their people groups. The disgusting institution of slavery and the holocaust run rampant with justifications on the basis of "moral absolutes." And though there is such an obvious correlation between absolutist principle and gross misconduct, to insist that that there is a causation is to fall prey to a fallacy. As I am reminded by my Intro to Psych professor, "Correlation does not imply causation."
And this is true.
Moral relativism is not a valid conclusion following from the simultaneous existence of absolute principles and gross misconduct. And though it seems and probably is natural to rebel against principles that in any way partook in social structures that served to demean, dehumanize, and destroy people based on race, that does not mean that we do away with principle altogether. What is does mean is that we stop misinterpreting principles that are, in fact, worth something and we rid ourselves altogether of those which serve no good purpose at all.
And now let me make my comparison.
In the same way that relativism is an invalid conclusion because its "causes" are really not causes at all, but correlations, so too with emergentism and those things that have "caused" it. Some of the most obvious result of the emergent movement include a rejection of doctrine and an exodus from traditional church bodies. It is my aim to use the above example to draw a sharp comparison between the overreaction of those offended by various absolutist principles and those (primarily within the emergent movement) who have also, seemingly, overreacted to the offense of "failed" doctrine and stagnant church bodies.
There is no doubt in my mind that the emergent movement is calling good things into question. Why is the church not more concerned with social justice? With engaging culture? With using the arts, and thus our creative natures, to engage in acts of worship? These, as I have mentioned much before, are valuable critiques, not to be ignored. However, it does not follow that doctrine or the church structure itself are to blame for these things. Just because churches follow tradition and endorese very specifict doctrines within their bodies, we cannot thus imply that their lack of social conciousness or altruism is a result of the dogma they claim to adhere to.
It is possible to ignore those things you don't want to deal with the implications of within your doctrine. It is possible to ignore the mission of the Church.
It is possible misinterpret doctrine. It is possible to misinterpret "Church".
It is possible to have incorrect doctrinal statements. It is possible to have incorrect views of what Church is intended to be.
Do we blame the doctrine? Do we blame Church?
When we find absolutist principles that we don't concur with, we don't give up ethical systems all together. We enact reform. We change it. We don't leave ethical studies, we engage them all the more to flesh out what exactly is right.
In the same way,
When we find doctrine that we don't agree with, when we find churches that seem dead. When we find a part of our mission as believers that is absent from the every day lives of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, we don't give up on doctrine. We don't give up on church. We don't give up on people. What an overreaction that would be, and is.
I suppose my charge is to the emergents (and the relativists alike), don't overreact.
Enact change from within.
Don't allow those who would misuse truth to triumph.
Don't reject truth.
To me this seems the most loving thing to do.
Let's make this the "love movement" ok?