One month ago yesterday, I wrote an email to the facebook page run by The Gospel Coalition. During the 2007 national conference, TGC co-founder, D.A. Carson gave two inaugural addresses, entitled, “Plans and Purposes of the Gospel Coalition” and “What is the Gospel.” In these, he reported the 2 main reasons that they chose to bring their organization into existence;
1. To define and protect the Gospel from those who would distort it (postmoderns).
2. To reverse the fragmentation of Evangelicalism and shore up its boundaries.
Because I was a student at the grad school that shouldered much of the start up energy for TGC and hosted many of their earlier events, I got to see some of the first days of this organization’s existence as well as volunteering for two TGC conferences. As such, I’ve followed them since then and have been both thankful and concerned for the work they’ve done – though I would confess, mostly concerned.
One month ago, I became more than concerned, I became angry. After following a Facebook post to their Facebook page, I saw this banner photo donned at the top of their page;
Instantly, I felt something was wrong with this photo and the implicit hegemonic messages it sent. I immediately wanted to expose what I thought lacked wisdom, cultural intelligence and inter-cultural sensitivity. After pondering on it for awhile, I decided to hold onto my initial angst, write them a letter and then wait for some dialogue. To this day, I haven’t received anything back from them and so with a month passed, I decided with some encouragement to post the letter I sent.
Conversation started June 21
To Whom It May Concern:
I recently came across your new banner photo while checking out another post. To keep it simple, I am sincerely disappointed and even angry at seeing the TGC logo spread across the globe. Each of us can do what we want with our globes and maps, but this picture saddened me when I first saw it.
It may have been posted with different intentions than to offend anyone, but if you will allow me, I would like to mention some reasons why it is not helpful to the church.
1. It seems to suggest an expansionism of the ideas and influence of TGC. It is not wrong to seek to bless the world with the resources that you have as I understand TGC has been doing as of late, but this picture provokes something beyond that. It suggests a monopolizing, expansionist agenda as much as anything else. Whether that is the intention or not, it can be communicated by the picture.
2. There are numerous global organizations and indigenous communities of faith that TGC will have to work with in order to bless the world with your resources. This picture ignores those relationships and at worst demeans those whom TGC will need to depend upon. I have worked for an international organization, Operation Mobilization, which is present in more than 110 countries. While working with them, I traveled to nearly 40 countries, served in a number of churches and ministries started and funded by indigenous leadership. Some enjoyed being a part of the OM network and would proudly display the OM logo because of the resources OM had helped to give them. OM has made many mistakes but I can assure you that the leadership there would never think of donning a photo like this, especially on a public forum for the reasons stated among others.
3. The reputation that TGC has garnered as struggling with being exclusive to Reformed type circles is not helped by this photo. I would hope for TGC’s sake that they would seek to honor the nature of the Church’s universal diversity and understand that TGC is not for everyone. Good intentions aside, this photo could suggest that TGC really does believe that their tradition/expression/theological vision ends up being “better” than everyone else’s.
There are many other reasons that I could go into as to why this picture is damaging, but I’ll end with the fact that this was painful to see because there are so many other traditions and theological visions present within the global church that are needed for the Gospel to go forth, some much larger and with more influence than TGC has or will ever have. This picture suggests that those traditions are not needed or at least the relationships and partnerships that we need are not required for TCG resources to spread around the globe.
Again, I’m addressing what this photo suggests, not what the original intentions were.
My suggestion is to take down the photo and to not use TGC’s logo in any capacity that suggests expansionism, exclusivity, solo ministry efforts, etc. I believe this photo suggests all of those problems and more and will be painful for some and angering for others.
As stated, I haven’t heard from anyone yet representing The Gospel Coalition. I do desire to dialogue with someone representing their interests and their choice for this photo. It seems it would help them to reach out to people with similar concerns. If they are unwilling to do so, well then there may be a myriad of legitimate reasons – I tend to think there aren’t enough.
It was only three years ago, that I wrote an open letter to Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Souther Baptist Theological Seminary and a strong proponent for Neo-Calvinism and The Gospel Coalition, encouraging him to reconsider or change comments he made on a TGC video. I didn’t expect a response then, but his conclusions about how we all should end up being neo-Calvinists…or will be regardless of our consent, were shocking and distasteful. This hegemonic sentiment does make its way around the neo-calvinist world and photos like the one being discussed do not help. They hinder.
So, until I hear back from someone, I am more inclined to think that the definite article in their title should be changed to “That” rendering them, “That Gospel Coalition” or with the indefinite article – “A Gospel Coalition.” As they represent only a faction of the voices who express what it means to live out the Gospel, it makes more sense for them to be a “That” or an “A” versus “The.”
My question: Does this photo elicit anything similar or same to the reaction that I experienced for you? If so, what would you have done, if anything?