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JAMES S.

BIELO Miami University

Purity, danger, and redemption:


Notes on urban missional evangelicals

A B S T R A C T
In this article, I examine how urban missional evangelicals in the United States cultivate a sense of place. Being missional refers to the desire to be a missionary in ones own society, an idea that has spread widely through the Emerging Church movement. Proceeding from an ethnographic analysis of two urban pastors, I argue that being an urban missional evangelical means having an intricate, nuanced, but ultimately mediate sense of place. Grounded in a cultural logic that seeks distance from suburban evangelicalism, the urban missional sense of place exists as a lived critique of modernity, which I explore through Mary Douglass classic analysis of purity and danger. [U.S. evangelicalism, sense of place, anthropology of Christianity, modernity]

hat could be truer of placed experiencesecure or fragile, pleasurable or repugnant, comforting or unsettlingthan the taken-for-granted quality of intense particularity? Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso conclude the introduction to their landmark collection Senses of Place (1996:11) with this question. At stake is the fundamental difference between physical space and inhabited place. As an analytic, sense of place promises anthropologists that, through careful ethnography, they can trace, unpack, and convey local theories of dwelling . . . ways of fusing setting to situation, locality to life-world (Feld and Basso 1996:8). Or, as Basso says elsewhere, Dwelling [consists] in the multiple, lived relationships that people maintain with places, for it is solely by virtue of these relationships that space acquires meaning (1996:54). In this article, I bring that promise to an ethnographic site Feld and Basso may not have imagined: the urban frontier of U.S. evangelicalism. I focus on ethnographic portraits of two urban pastors, Kevin and Bart. Both men organize their efforts around the idea of being a missionary to their own societybeing missional, as they would have it. Their missional impulse is tied closely to a movement of religious and cultural critique that arose among U.S. evangelicals in the late 1990s, the Emerging Church movement (Bielo 2009a, in press). I begin with a description of this movement, setting the context for two neighborhood tours Kevin and Bart led me on during the summer of 2009. Through an ethnographic recounting of these tours, integrated with the culturalreligious biographies of my two guides, I pursue an integrated argument. Being a missional Christian entails having an intricate, nuanced, but ultimately mediate sense of place. That is, the model of dwelling these Christians cultivate, although rich in detail, is not an end in itself but a means to the well-rehearsed evangelical end of reaching the lost (Harding 1987). This sense of place serves as a lived critique of two dominant and related cultural congurations: conservative evangelicalism and the suburbanization of white, middle-class U.S. society. As a cultural logic, this critique extends to the conditions

AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp. 267280, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425. C 2011 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2011.01305.x

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of modernity. To unpack it, I look to the comparative work occurring among anthropologists of Christianity and to a verse from anthropologys scriptural canon: Mary Douglass Purity and Danger (1966). The priority assigned to place by Emerging evangelicals should also be read as a chapter in the ongoing story of U.S. Protestant interventions in civic society. In Weberian terms, evangelicals have always existed as innerworldly ascetics: seeking a level of deep spiritual commitment while still participating in the institutions of modern life (Pals 2006:173). Or, to use a reliable evangelical tagline, they seek to be in the world but not of it. But how does this inner-worldly posture play out in lived sociological contexts? Omri Elisha (2008b) and Jon Bialecki (2009) have offered ethnographically informed versions of how and why evangelicals become socially engaged (Elisha 2008b:155). I reference the details of Elishas case because the cultural response he describes provides an illustrative foil for individuals, like Kevin and Bart, and for communities that have internalized the cultural critique that circulates through the Emerging Church movement. Elisha focuses on the faith-based activism of white, middle-class, suburban, conservative evangelicals in Knoxville, Tennessee. He argues that the familiar condition of compassion fatigue gets regured among them as the gaps between ones moral ambitions and the conditions of existence that reinforce and simultaneously threaten to undermine them at every turn (Elisha 2008b:155). They manage this fatigue, self-consciously but uneasily, through the twin imperatives of compassion and accountability (Elisha 2008b:156). They direct their outreach activities primarily toward economically distressed inner-city residents, creating a situation in which they, as suburban churchgoers[,] interact with cultural strangers affected by conditions of poverty, distress, and marginalization (Elisha 2008b:156). To capture their dilemma, Elisha depicts the following ethnographic scene: the rst-ever meeting of the Samaritans of Knoxville, a faith-based activist organization founded by a former pastor. At one point during the meeting, a man named Howard stands up, the only African American in a room of 18 local church leaders. Howard proceeds to criticize what he has been listening to: Im the one who has to clean up the blood of the messes you make when your churches just drop in, drop off, and leave the community behind (Elisha 2008b:161). The white suburban evangelicals have little of comfort to offer Howard in response, and the meeting continues with his critique dismissed. The ethnographic case of socially engaged evangelicals that I present here contrasts with the version captured by Elisha and suggests the need for an alternative analytic, one that includes attention to the discourse of being missional and the sense of place that it travels with.

Emerging evangelicals
Kevin and Bart both see themselves as urban missionaries. This identity is central to their sense of self and works to organize their everyday religious subjectivity. Theologically, Kevin and Bart are far from twins. Both are evangelicals, if by that one means they experienced a born-again conversion; their understanding of history, morality, and eternity are channeled through Jesus; and they understand the Bible as Gods most direct and complete revelation to humanity. However, they interpret their Christ-centered faith quite differently. Kevin is committed to a Calvinistic Reformed theology that stresses human depravity and the doctrinal exclusivity of the event of Jesuss substitutionary atonement for eternal salvation. Bart is far more ecumenical. He identies as a post-Christian, afrming love and grace as the denitive attributes of God, and questions doctrinally centered soteriologies: You can be a Christian and believe all the wrong things. I describe both men more fully below, but I highlight their theological divergence here to recognize that the Emerging Church movement has inuenced a wide range of evangelical identities. It is through this movement that Kevin and Bart have rened their understanding of being missional.1 The Emerging Church appeared on the U.S. religious scene in the late 1990s as a gathering point for Christians convinced of a decided shift in U.S. society from modernity to postmodernity. Modern and postmodern are widely used by Emerging Evangelicals and are typically understood in epistemological terms: the former equated with Enlightenment philosophies of scientic rationalism and the latter with an era dened by collective doubt about the human ability to know absolute truth with absolute certainty. In 1995, Leadership Network, a popular evangelical institution among local church leaders, launched a project called Young Leaders Network (YLN). YLN consisted of pastors, youth ministers, church planters, and church consultants primarily white, male, well educated, urban, and under 40. It saw itself as addressing a single, detrimental problem facing the future of U.S. Christianity: a gaping dissonance between the youngest generations in the country and the organization, style, and interests of conservative evangelicalism. In short, they argued that Christianity as it had been imagined and practiced in the United States no longer worked. The YLN conversations quickly spread via conferences, informal networks, and Internet communities to other Christians dissatised with their church cultures. The critique at play quickly exceeded the trope of a generation gap and gathered under its umbrella scriptural hermeneutics, theological method, liturgical practice, witnessing style, and ecclesiological structure. All were cast as part of the same self-examining moment among younger

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evangelicals (Webber 2002). Divisions within these ranks soon appeared. Some thought the theological questioning unnecessary and sometimes heretical. Some were interested in one aspect of the cultural critique but not other elements. Others saw the effort as part of an unavoidable shift from a modern to a postmodern Christian consciousness. As the 21st century got underway, the rst intentionally Emerging church communities formed in a diverse collection of U.S. cities: Santa Cruz; San Diego; Minneapolis; Kansas City; Houston; Seattle; Grand Rapids; Washington, DC; Philadelphia; Raleigh; and Cincinnati. In 2002, the rst international Emerging Church conference was held in San Diego in conjunction with the National Pastors Conference (one of evangelicalisms most widely attended annual meetings). Christian and secular media consistently reported on the movement by 2002, with attention surging in late 2005. And the world of Christian publishing witnessed the same slow appearance and sharp increase in interest, evident in contracts for ongoing Emerging Church book series with three of the largest Christian publishers in the United States. Globally, the movement is undeniably transnational in the Anglophone world, and several inuential Emerging Church authors and practitioners are from Canada, the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand.2 Ultimately, I nd it no exaggeration to say that the Emerging Church has become the most vocal, inuential, and debated movement among U.S. Christians since the Religious Rights rise to political and cultural prominence in the late 1970s (Harding 2000). Unlike other recent evangelical inventionsfor example, being Purpose-Driven (Balmer 2006) or Seeker-Sensitive (Sargeant 2000)the Emerging Church is a thoroughgoing cultural critique of Christianity as imagined and practiced by the traditions (mainline, evangelical, and charismatic) that controlled the order of U.S. Christian discourse in the 20th century. Although Emerging Church ideas and practices have been consumed by a diverse body of evangelicals, an intensely common ground exists around the idea of being a missionary in ones own society. Emerging evangelicals most often trace the origins of the missional concept to Lesslie Newbigin (190998), a British Anglican priest who spent most of his life as a missionary in India. In the early 1980s, he began speaking and writing on the challenges of evangelizing in the West, which he considered just as difcult as witnessing to non-Westerners (if not more so). Newbigin attributed this difculty to the epistemological suspicions about religion produced by the Enlightenments colonizing scientic worldview. He concluded that all Christians are missionaries and that successful mission work in the West meant learning the language and culture of the local mission eld, wherever that might be and however familiar it might seem. Newbigin rst articulated this missiology in two treatises: The Other Side of 1984 (1983) and Foolishness to the Greeks (1986), the latter the more in-

uential in the United States (Goheen 2000). He describes modern Western culture against a Weberian grain: The result is not, as we once imagined, a secular society. It is a pagan society, and its paganism, having been born out of the rejection of Christianity, is far more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism with which crosscultural missions have been familiar (Newbigin 1986:20). The organizing logic is that Christianity is no longer the default worldview among Westerners. Quite the opposite: It is widely considered to be anachronistic, irrelevant, destructive, or worse. Emerging evangelicals have treated Newbigins missiology as a methodological critique of conservative Christian evangelism. They decry a wide range of common witnessing practices: street preaching, handing out Bible tracts, delivering nely tuned conversion speeches, using hyperlogical apologetics, and using weekly congregational events as the entr e to church. For those self-consciously striving to e be missional, these methods suffer from several problems: a failure to understand the shift in U.S. public consciousness from modernity to postmodernity; an inability to effectively use the mediums and idioms attractive to a postmodern audience; and the lack of meaningful, lasting personal commitments. Being missional, they assert, means seriously cultivating relationshipsnot before or after conversion attempts but in place of them. To accomplish this goal, they advocate mimicking the acculturating foreign missionary: settling into a locale and becoming intimately familiar with a place, its people, and their language. The issue I take up here is how this orienting identity of being missional produces a distinct sense of place among urban evangelicals, one that pulls together a consciousness of race, class, economy, history, and a host of other social dynamics. I begin with the stories of two pastors, whose everyday religious subjectivity involves them in managing their relation to place.

Two pastors
A catalyst for a hurting city Kevin is extremely affable. Actually, it is not so much geniality or sociability that makes him so disarming but gentleness. He projects this mildness despite a tall, brawny frame and a full brownish red beard that conjures Viking images. Perhaps his voice and speech temper his physicality: soft, measured, reective, articulate, but not overly intellectualized. I rst interviewed Kevin in January 2009; he was 28 and days away from being a rst-time father. Kevin grew up nominally Christian in a mainline Presbyterian church and experienced a born-again conversion through the neocharismatic Vineyard Fellowship in the mid-1990s. In his vocation as a pastor, 2005 was a turning point for Kevin. Two years earlier, he had graduated from

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college with a history degree and had been working as a regional director for the Young Life organization. As the director, he trained roughly thirty volunteers a year and organized Young Life ministries for ve high schools in the DaytonCincinnati, Ohio, corridor. Working for Young Life was satisfying but not the same as being a pastor for his own congregation, an aspiration he had had since the age of 16. This desire made the offer of a senior pastor position with a suburban church in Florida all the more tempting. It was the kind of offer he had longed for. But he declined. His deciding impression was that the congregationwhose worship space was located next to an afuent, residential subdivisionwas composed of wealthy, white individuals accustomed to paying for anything they wanted. He considered them beneciaries of comparatively enormous economic privilege and did not want to be complicit in extending this advantage to their religious life. In May 2006, with the support of his wife and three other married couples, Kevin decided it was time to start his own church. For several months, this group prayed for direction and, then, in August, started weekly Bible study in Kevins brothers home with six other married couples. Participation quickly grew to 30 people, and Kevin was convinced his decision was the right one. It was then that Kevin experienced a second conversion about his primary motivation in life. Prior to this point, if asked about his motivation, Kevin would have given a predictable evangelical response: To convert unbelievers. Now, his response is, To glorify God. His reorientation stemmed primarily from his exposure to an evangelical church planting organization, Acts 29. In late 2006, Kevin applied for inclusion in the organizations network. Acts 29 was founded in 2000 as a resource for those desiring to start churches that plant churches. As of October 2010, the network included 210 churches in 42 states. Although it is interdenominational, Acts 29 is not particularly ecumenical, requiring members to afrm a strict theological commitment to Reformed Calvinism. The networks About web page provides a 22-point set of belief statements along with an 18-point set of statements on what . . . Acts 29 churches [do] not believe. These lists are preceded by a pithy self-identication: We are rst Christians, second Evangelicals, third Missional, and fourth Reformed. The organizations summation of being Missional echoes Newbigins concern with the particularities of specic cultural contexts: We believe that our local churches must be faithful to the content of unchanging Biblical doctrine (Jude 3). We believe that our local churches must be faithful to the continually changing context of the culture(s) in which they minister (1 Corinthians 9:1923). We believe that our mission is to bring people into church so that they can be trained to go out into

their culture as effective missionaries. [Acts 29 Network 2010] Applying to join Acts 29 is nothing if not elaborate. In addition to Kevin, I interviewed seven other Acts 29 church planters, all of whom emphasized the intensity of the assessment process. Along with a rigorous theological interview conducted by existing Acts 29 planters, the hopeful pastor and his wife are interviewed together and then separately about their marriage and family life. In January 2007, Kevins church plant, the Oaks Community Church, was approved, and in September 2007 began holding weekly worship services. Its namethe Oaksis a reference to Isaiah 61:3 and Kevin understands it as a way to publicly signify church members concern with place: They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor (New International Version). As of September 2010, the Oaks had attracted roughly three hundred people for Sunday morning worship and maintained 12 small groups, each with 1520 participants, that met in members homes. Middletown, Ohio, is the home of the Oaks. This city will probably never be a tourist mecca. Aside from the absence of any natural wonders or historical landmarks, it is iconic of a failing industrial United States, that is, if Forbes magazine is correct. In December 2008, Forbes published a special real-estate issue on Americas Fastest-Dying Towns: Ten Spots Where Jobs Are Vanishing, Incomes Are Dropping and Poverty Levels Are Rising (Woolsey 2008). According to the U.S. Census Bureaus 200507 American Community Survey, Middletown ranks economically with the lowest of the low. A city of 50,000 people, it epitomizes economic decline. Among other disparaging statistics, Middletown has seen the seven-year poverty rate jump from 12% to 22%; only 12% of residents possess a bachelors degree or better; and the towns median household income is $37,000. Much of Middletowns distressin both statistical and popular imaginationsis due to declining production by AK Steel, a gargantuan steel factory that snakes along the citys southern and eastern edges. Though Kevin is a southwestern Ohio native, Middletown was not chosen for him. He chose it. Not far away are far more inviting, prosperous locales. Of all places, why plant the Oaks here? After all, it might be hard lling the coffers in a place like this. Middletown is one of ten communities within a tenmile radius that the Oaks hopes to draw people from. It is located on the Interstate-75 (I-75) corridor, roughly thirty miles south of downtown Dayton (also one of Forbess unlucky ten) and about thirty miles north of downtown Cincinnati. Kevins ofcial church planting proposalthe document that accompanied his acceptance into Acts 29 and that is used to solicit nancial sponsorship emphasizes the struggling quality of Middletown but also its strategic location. The proposal includes a map of the

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region, below whichin bold, italicized lettersare the words of the countys executive director of transportation: What we are doing is really thinking about what the whole I-75 corridor between the two beltways looks like and its impact on job growth in southwestern Ohio. Long range, that corridorthat handful of exitswill be the center of the universe. Next to these ofcial, authorizing words are Kevins, describing the logic behind planting here: Middletown is a very diverse region in many ways, and it currently sits under a cloud of depressionboth economically and socially. While surrounding cities are seeing steady growth, Middletown has seen little positive growth or development. The vast nancial and social needs of the city provide very real opportunities to serve the area, and to be a catalyst of growth, development, and change for a hurting city. If we can help enact a healthy change within the city of Middletown, we will most certainly have a positive impact on the surrounding communities. The missional attraction to Middletown begins by dening needs socioeconomically, playing off the Christian metaphor of being a beacon of hope and light. Effecting change in Middletown is promised to be a witness for nearby communities. The most signicant observation about those communitiesand the thread that connects Kevins ongoing efforts with his 2005 decision to forgo Floridais their status as upwardly mobile, suburban, insular locales. Most of the remaining nine communities in the proposals geographic radius emulate and approximate what Setha Low (2003) described as fortress America, a collage of gated and walled new-growth residential developments that fuel class and race segregation. Kevins decision to settle in Middletown was very much about bypassing the places that, in the conservativeevangelical megachurch imagination, are more likely candidates for starting a new church. All I needed was dinner Bart is a captivating speaker. It is hard for a listener not to hang on his words, get lost in story, move with steadiness to chairs edge. For an ethnographer, listening to him frankly borders on distracting. You sometimes wish he were slightly less engaging, allowing you to maintain your familiar routine of gliding between descriptive eld notes and analytical notations. A portion of his income comes from speaking at churches and public forums across the country. Imagine the energy of an enthralling stage presence, bottled and placed in a small room where you are the only audience. He is a storehouse of one-liners, not clich d or tired but inventive e and tied tightly to the details of your shared talk. Not overly tall or muscular, he is both. Now 45, he continues to move with the grace of a natural athlete.

Bart grew up near Philadelphia. His father was (and is) a well-known evangelical author and speaker, a kind of larger than life gure, but he was not Barts avenue into born-again Christianity. Not hugely popular in early high school, Bart earned hallway fame by leading the schools soccer team. But he remained suspicious of this social success, remembering the worst of how adolescents could treat one another. The only classmates he saw living counter to the tenuousness of fame and isolation were the evangelical students. He fell in with this Christian crowd and loved the way they were in community together. It was the only place where the strong took care of the weak. A year later, he had his own born-again experience. His conversion was not, however, the most signicant moment of his religious youth. The summer before his senior year of high school, he participated in a summer camp ministry in Camden, New Jersey. Living and working in the straight up ghetto, his rst real encounter with poverty was a life-changing revelation. The reality of poor living conditions was never broached among his friends and mentors at church, so he expected to return home the bearer of new, eye-opening news. He found, though, that his peers and the adults in his community were not unaware of such poverty. At best, they felt helpless to address it, and at worst, they were apathetic about it. Morally, he was disillusioned with what he perceived to be suburbias utter dismissal and lack of care. Theologically, the Calvinist emphasis on divine sovereignty he had been socialized into did not square with his Camden experience. At 18, Bart became convinced that his lifes vocation was to live and work with poor people. He spent his college summers doing mission work in inner-city Philadelphia. After college, he moved to Minneapolis to work for an urban youth ministry. He spent three years there before moving back to Philadelphia with his new wife to start an urban ministry aimed at helping congregations develop better youth programs. Despite the organizations success, Bart had a dawning realization that his impact was primarily, if not solely, on the people doing ministry, not those being ministered to. In 1997, Bart founded a more ambitious program. It placed teams of ve or six young adults in oneyear residential internships with inner-city churches. Their job was not to start anything but simply to volunteer in community agencies, become part of these churches, and intentionally form ongoing relationships with poor people. Bart oversaw this program in ve major cities for ten years. Three things became increasingly apparent to him as his tenure with the organization matured. First, although he was deeply connected to dozens of inner-city churches and communities across the country, his travel schedule and his focused energies kept him from genuinely knowing any of his own neighbors. Second, he increasingly saw his role as subversive because most of his volunteers were hard-core evangelicals who had expected their

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responsibilities to center on proselytizing but quickly (and frustratingly) learned that loving people was the goal. Third, he was no longer living the life of an inner-city missionary and, even more discouraging, hadnt really known a poor person for 15 years. The result was a retreat to sadness and the decision to step down as program director. After doing so, he and his wifeas well as their 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old sonmoved to a rich Philly suburb where he felt like a stranger. Two years later, in 2005, they decided as a family that they needed to recommit to the original idea of living with poor people and loving [their] neighbors. In the summer of 2005, Bart performed a wedding in Cincinnati. At the reception, two old friends asked what he was doing, and Bart explained his familys dilemma. The couple invited them to move to Cincinnati and pursue the original idea there. The couple lived in West Walnut Hills, an economically depressed, primarily African American neighborhood near the citys downtown.3 The place t the conditions of the original idea, and the familys decision was easy: Move to West Walnut Hills. Bart insisted on not starting a church. He wanted to do something that local residents needed and that would draw in community. His rst idea was to open a thrift shop, something he had seen done in other cities with success. Six months of planning produced only the unfortunate recognition that a thrift shop was not economically viable. His second idea, suggested by a local resident, was to open a laundromat. After three months of planning, the same recognition emerged. Frustrated, he and his wife decided to host a community meal, with the hope of drawing people together. Bart invited 20 of the local homeless and unemployed people he knew from nine months of living in the neighborhood as well as ten friends who were interested in being in relationship with this collection of people. In his words, It was a disaster. Local residents were encumbered by distrust and suspicion toward each other, their hosts, and the other guests. The other guests were at a loss for what to say to residents or how to say it. Undeterred, Bart hosted another dinner. And yet another. The Walnut Hills Fellowship (WHF) now meets every Monday for dinner. Its the most motley crew you ever want to see. Bart explained, I was so preoccupied looking for something to start, it turns out all I needed was dinner. As Monday night dinner became a regularity, Bart sought further ways for WHF members to support each other. For example, he started organizing housing for community members who need reliable residence. His group has remodeled four houses within a four-block radius. Each had been condemned by the city and cost about $10,000 to purchase. Forty men and women, a collection Bart describes as terminally broken, show up each week for the Monday dinners. These people cant be xed. Their life is already decided. But nobody should die without a friend.

That is what we are, professional lovers. Im like the father of one, big dysfunctional family. He recalled a woman in their community as a case in point: 52 years old, living with a disability and failing health, uneducated, formerly imprisoned for multiple felonies, no home, no car. Do you think anyone is going to hire her? Come on! Cutting back to getting drunk once a week and sleeping inside on a real bed, that is a success story here. Referencing her shift from homelessness to a $25-a-month Housing and Urban Development apartment organized and furnished by the WHF, Bart continues, Shell never be self-sufcient, but at least she has some dignity now. She is living on her own, in her own place, for the rst time in a long time. Kevins and Barts stories are not identical. As I note above in introducing the two pastors, their theological renderings of Christianity collide as much as, if not more than, they converge. Kevin settled in a primarily working-poor white city and Bart in a predominantly un(der)employed black borough in a larger city. Kevin intended from the start to plant a new church. Bart wanted as few institutional trappings as possible. Kevin is a paid clergyman, and Bart is not. In some ways, though, their stories overlap. Both are white, middle-class, family men who voluntarily moved into settings unlike those in which they grew up and where secular logics of upward mobility aspire. Both seem to embody a grassroots approach to idea(l)s of organizing, community, and change. However, I want to emphasize another similarity. Kevin and Bart both narrate a second conversion. Kevins entails a shift from converting unbelievers [to] glorifying God. Barts entails a reorientation of consciousness about privilege and despair. For both men, this change produced an antagonism toward the evangelical subculture in which their religious lives began and matured. Observe, for example, that both men are evangelistic, a hallmark of born-again Christianity, but neither proselytizes in the received manner of conservative evangelicalism. The tension they maintain with the evangelical subculture has prompted both men to start new ministries (albeit structurally distinctive ones). Finallyand this is crucial for the larger argument I am makingthe tipping point for both men is grounded in a dissonance with U.S. suburbia, itself an index of the conservative evangelicalism they want distance from. (This is a tipping point as both a narrative device of self-presentation and an orientation for ongoing practice.) Their moves into Middletown and West Walnut Hills emerge from a self-conscious desire to escape suburbia. This desire and the cultural critique of evangelicalism that it trafcks through are actualized in the sense of place Kevin and Bart cultivate as urban missionaries.

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Two places
My job is not to x Middletown On June 25, Kevin led me on a three-hour, winding, but ultimately circular driving tour of Middletown. The weather was staggering: 90-plus degrees, high humidity, little cloud cover, no breeze. It was perfect for swimming. The previous week, along with 13 other pastors and community leaders, Kevin had attended three three-hour workshops on racial reconciliation hosted by the city council. Details of those workshops were fresh in his mind and clearly occupied his attention, as he frequently connected them to our roaming conversation. Kevin already knew the racial demographics of Middletown (about 10 percent African American, a very small constituency of Hispanics, and the rest white); in fact, he had gathered these data as a matter of course when planting the Oaks. Much of the councils discussion had turned political, which Kevin kept a distance from. He is not, he continually found occasion to tell me, very interested in the political commitments conservative evangelicals typically foster.4 The main lesson Kevin took from the workshops was the idea of white privilege. This, he felt, was what he and his congregation most needed to hear about. Toward the end of our drive, Kevin turned onto Minnesota Street (the Sota). This is the worst street in Middletown, he noted, referencing various forms of known and undiscovered criminality. It also runs directly through the largest African American neighborhood in the city. Kevin turned the car around at Douglass Park: a modest, partly grassy affair with a jungle gym and a dozen or so water streams that shot up from the ground. It was busy but not diverse. Everyone milling around, from adults carrying picnic baskets to children splashing and laughing in the water, was black. We paused for a moment, and Kevin reminded me that 15 minutes earlier we had passed Sunset Parka much larger complex, quite verdant, with a large community pool (large enough to require two lifeguards), and nearly all white patrons. He explained that the city used to fund two community pools, until a massive state budget cut forced one to close several years earlier. The recompense for Douglass Park was the series of water spouts sporadically shooting through half-dollar-sized holes drilled in the concrete. He offered this as case-and-point for the councils focus on privilege and an example of precisely what his congregants should pay attention to. Soon after we left, proceeding down the Sota, Kevin pointed to a large football stadium on our left. The hosts of the racial reconciliation meeting claimed that high school football games are the only consistent occasions when whites and blacks occupy the same social space in Middletown. Kevin, who tries to attend every home game as part of his missional work, afrmed this and went on to say that seating is not segregated. Everybodys mixed up together. Its great.

Central Avenuedowntowns main dragis two miles from the Sota. Since December 2007, a two-story unit on this strip has been the rented home of the Oakss weekly worship services and church events. As you ascend the wide, steep, wooden stairwell to the second-oor worship space, a series of black-and-white photos line the wall to your right. They are artfully composed. The rst shows a sign reading Middletown, one of several marking various entry points into the citys corporate limits. The nal picture, aligned with the last step, captures the high school football stadium, lit brightly for a night game. The space is not particularly ideal for the Oaks. It is surrounded mostly by empty storefronts and struggling retailers, not a generous scattering of dining options for Sunday, lunch-hungry churchgoers. It has several size-related problems. The stage for the worship band is cramped. The acoustics are mediocre at best. There is no open, communal area for people to congregate in after worship services. The back rooms for nursery and Sunday school are too small and crammed close together. The temperature is not centrally controlled. In the summer, two large vents in the worship area pump in plenty of cool air, accompanied by a distractingly loud HUMMM. In winter, a single small heat vent near the ceiling must be opened on Saturday night to make the space bearable by Sunday morning. Still, Kevin wants to stay. Apart from the very reasonable monthly rent, he emphasized values of stability (Every other church has left downtown. We dont want to do that) and distinction (We have 300 people down here every Sunday. When else does that happen in Middletown? It doesnt). Earlier in the tour, when we rst pulled onto Central Avenue, Kevin described the urban landscape along the strip: like a bomb went off downtown, the further away you get, the nicer things get. This became evident on our way to eat lunch, as we drove farther down Central, past the worship site. Kevin wanted me to eat at his favorite restaurant, a locally owned Italian-themed place. When you hear people talk about being missional, he waxed reectively, one thing youll hear is nding places to be a regular. Kevin eats at the restaurant about eight times a month, brings out-of-towners (visiting pastors, friends, family, and hungry ethnographers) there, and has it cater church events. He recalled with no small amount of fondness the rst day he was greeted there by name. The ownerwho spoke familiarly and in detail with Kevin during our visithas worked hard to improve the buildings exterior, one reason Kevin likes to support the business. He has, however, been unable to purchase an adjacent, clearly bedraggled house. Kevin described it as a crack house or something, lots of drug deals moving through, using the ostensible illicit epicenter as an example of a pervasive problem in Middletown drug abuse. Marijuana is huge here. Even middle-class folks are pretty big pot smokers; its just part of the culture.

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Lunch cost $20 and consisted of two Italian sandwiches and two drinks. We ate inside, escaping from the midday heat. Most of our talk focused on how Kevins coming to know the culture has affected what he does as a pastor. He mentioned two examples that especially excited him. First, Kevin has become much more self-conscious about his sermon writing. Acts 29 pastors, and others tied to the revival of Reformed Calvinism in America (Hansen 2008), are well known in the Emerging Church movement as expository preachers. They tend to explain scriptural texts week to week with incredible deliberateness (critics might say tediousness). Kevin once spent ve months teaching 1 Peter, a New Testament epistle of only ve chapters. On an average Sunday, he aims for 40 minutes of preaching, which distills 15 to 20 hours of weekly preparation. But the longer he preaches in Middletown, the more he worries this style is too linear, too academic. Tim Keller is a church planter in Manhattan and a hero to many Acts 29 pastors. However, Kellers approach has proven to be an inexact model for Kevins preaching. Kellers audience does well with New Yorker and Economist references. Time, Kevin suspects, would be a stretch in Middletown. He also haggles over words in a new way. Things like glory and gospel have all this meaning for Christians that other people are missing. His solution has been to recruit a proofreader who is not stingy with correctionshis wife. She diligently scans each sermon for words, phrases, and references that might exhaust the knowledge and patience of poorly educated Middletowners. Kevins second example frets about class and race more than education. When he rst planted the Oaks, Kevin drove a baby blue Honda Accord. The longer he drove in Middletown, the more he worried about looking like too much of a yuppie. After consulting with his wife, he made a change: to a black Chevy pickup truck. Our mode of transport that afternoon, it is no small-bed, comfort-rst, low-sitting, S-10 model. It is a bulky, metal, step-up-to-get-in, grumbling-engine, move-it-or-lose-it kind of truck. Kevins anxiety has shifted recently to appearing too redneck to African Americans. This is precisely the kind of missional dilemma he presents to his congregants. How would we feel if we pulled up and the church parking lot was lled with BMWs? If you were going to be a missionary in Africa youd pay attention to these things. When we left the restaurant in the black Chevy, Kevin drove to a house he and his wife wanted to purchase. He and his family live six miles from the worship space on Central, outside the Middletown city limits. He is anxious to move but cannot afford to buy a new home until the familys current one sells. Most pastors in the city, he reported with a tone of deep regret, commute nearly 20 miles from West Chester or Mason: largely afuent exburbs of Cincinnati and places Kevin intentionally avoided when planting the Oaks. The house of interest was located farther down

Central, away from where the bomb detonated, in an area where average, everyday, working people live. The neighborhood did, indeed, have an averageness to it. It was no Sotaless than ten minutes awaywith its rusty, broken fences and crooked, crumbling gutters. But there was nothing ashy or extravagant about it either. The house Kevin and his wife hoped to buy was a two-story brick home with a small veranda upstairs. The small front yard boasted a large, canopied oak. The back yard was much bigger and included an ample kitchen garden and covered back porch. The asking price was $130,000, a considerable bargain so long as things like electric and plumbing were in good order. Kevin used the house as an opportunity to explain the Middletown housing market. A steep economic decline tied to AK Steels downsizing of labor and production had sparked a sizable emigration and a large dip in housing costs. One result has been an inux of young, rst-home-buying families. This is good news for the Oaks. Kevin consistently encourages congregants to buy homes in the city, and, as of May 2010, about half of the Oakss members had done so. Throughout our drive, he pointed out houses that church staff and lay members had recently moved into. As we toured Middletown, Kevin made two comments that seem appropriate bookends for his sense of place. Driving past the AK Steel plant, on our way to the Sota, Kevin said after a moments silence, To be a church planter, you have to be an economist, you know? You have to be a sociologist and a demographer and an urban planner. I asked in response, Did you get more than you bargained for? He replied, Absolutely. I wasnt really prepared for this. Indeed, Kevins intimacy with Middletown has formed through a process of learning local social, economic, and historical details. Not only did he seamlessly rehearse housing uctuations, racial residential patterns, and employment trends but he also touched on voting patterns, homelessness, urbansuburban trends, and union culture. As the tour ended and we headed back to where my car was parked, Kevin explained with focused intensity, My job is not to x Middletown. As much as I would like that, thats not what Im here for. My job is to nd out what these peoples deepest fears are. And, my job is to nd out what their greatest hopes are. And then I need to show them why Christ is more than either one of those. Thats my job. Kevins sense of place is mediated by a clear idea of purpose. All his observations and understandings pass through the lter of his primary motivation . . . to glorify God. If you are going to care for people, you have to care about what they do On August 7, Bart led me on a two-hour, winding, but ultimately circular tour of West Walnut Hills. The weather was pleasant, nothing like the oppressive heat six weeks earlier in Middletown. I arrived at Barts ofce around noon. He

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was nishing his prior appointmentan amateur journalist had own from Colorado to interview him. When we left his ofce a few minutes later, Bart turned to me: Were just gonna take a walk. Okay? We had gone just a few hundred feet when Bart paused on the sidewalk next to a one-way, three-lane road. His nger in the air, he traced the boundaries of the neighborhoodmajor street arteries going east and west, freeways going north and south. The streets, houses, businesses, services, people, and lives in this area set the everyday context for the WHF. After walking for about ve minutes, we turned north on a quarter-mile-long residential street, where Bart lives with his wife and teenage children. Their house is half of a thin, tall, two-story brick duplex. The couple that rst invited them to Cincinnati live in the other half. The house directly north of theirs belongs to a WHF member, as do two others on the street. Numerous houses are abandoned, their emptiness signaled by grossly overgrown grass, shrubs, and trees. An older couple who have been in the neighborhood most of their lives live toward the end of the street. Bart and his wife know them well and have invited them to Monday dinner several times. But the couple remember when the neighborhood was a prosperous place and want nothing to do with its current state of disarray. Bart, in what would become a familiar conversational routine, had a ready explanation: When you get involved in [residents] lives, their chaos gets all over you. Thats why middle-class black families are so hard to get involved. The suggestion is that racial obstacles are hard enough to overcome in a segregated city without inviting others burdens. We turned the corner, and Bart immediately pointed to a nearby apartment complex. He called it the worst building in the whole neighborhood, by which he meant it was the scene of crack-cocaine dealing, violence, and the species of traveling mayhem that trails such activity. It was there, two years earlier, that two ministry interns working for WHF got caught in the middle of gunre on their way home one night. Luckily, the souvenir bullet holes were restricted to car doors. We turned south, heading back in the direction of the ofce. After a hundred yards or so, the rst instance occurred of what would become a repeated chorusBart encountered a familiar face. This time, it was an older black man in a motorized wheel chair, accompanied by a small dog. They greeted each other warmly and shared a brief informational exchange. While walking away, Bart explained that the man rents out several local houses and is a good guy. He had barely nished speaking when we paused again. Bart pointed to a sardine line of six two-story townhouses, all built within the last three years. Most were painted a oral tone that sharply juxtaposed the nondescript beige, white, and gray surroundings. They seemed an untainted sore thumb. All but one remained unoccupied. Bart, again, rescued me from confusion. The city had

used a government subsidy to build them, then placed economic restrictions on residencyone could not make too much or too little money to qualify. The asking price had already dropped $20,000, and Bart suspected the decline would continue, as well as the units vacancy. He reckoned the whole thing a parade of governmental stumbling. A few hundred yards farther, we reached the main artery that travels east. On every visit I have made to West Walnut Hills, irrespective of the time of day or day of the week, a congregation of young black men has lined this street one block west: milling about, talking, and rarely laughing. Before I could pause and ask, Bart said knowingly, We need to keep moving. (Later, he would add to his verbal mapping of this corner, I dont walk that direction with people I dont know . . . the place is drug central, anything you could want.) We continued for a half-mile or so, encountering a series of businesses and a urry of sidewalk socializing. Everyone was black, but we saw multiple generations and equal numbers of males and females. The businesses, Bart was quick to say, are not real businesses, pointing out wig shops, a dollar store, and a check-cashing service. I saw a CVS drug store one block east and, intending a bit of irony on the ubiquity of chain retailers, quipped, I see CVS found their way in. Before I could attempt a laugh, Bart responded, Thank God for it, drawing my attention to the economic and consumer stability offered by a corporate entity. He gestured toward a Kroger grocery store a block farther east, assigning it the same signicance. He explained how the Cincinnati-based Kroger Corporation tries every year to shut this store down, but community response keeps it open. (At lunch, Bart would compare the abundance of the stores alcohol aisle to its minuscule vegetable section.) The sidewalk bordering the Kroger parking lot was the busiest scene of the entire tour. A small corner of the lot hosted a man selling jewelry from a wooden stand. Bart greeted a middle-aged black man and exchanged a few quick words about nding a place to live. Mixing regret and hope, Bart informed the man that one-bedroom apartments are hard to nd but that, if he could secure a roommate, a space would be directly available. While departing, Bart reminded him of Monday night dinners. The man said he would be there (though his tone and manner immediately suggested that promise had been made before). The downtown corridor of West Walnut Hills begins two blocks east of the Kroger. The condition of the buildings looked no better than that of the ones we had already passed, but the architecture was markedly different: older, larger, more aesthetically creative. Bart explained that, in the 1920s and 1930s, this part of Cincinnati was popular and prosperous. Eighty years later, it is vacant and decrepit. Bart pointed to a massive building across the street, occupying nearly the whole length of the block. It is owned by a local rich man who repeatedly turns down buyers but

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refuses to make any improvements. It seems a gigantic brick monument to neglect. Just as Bart was telling me about it, a middle-aged black woman walked by and afrmed his description: That man is crazy, she said of the owner. She informed us that he was recently hospitalized and not expected to live much longer. Walking away with her head tilted back toward us, she added that he also hordes all manner of things, the back door is never locked, and we could help ourselves anytime. Everyone else does. We walked farther east, then south, then east, then back north. We stood on the sidewalk of the major east-traveling artery, and Bart pointed to a collection of buildings just over a not-too-distant hill: East Walnut Hills. Bart carefully distinguishes East from West when talking to local Cincinnatians, so as not to be confused for one of the rich, white populace over the hill. He turned his indexing nger to a closer object, a high-rise brick building across the street from where we stood. Formerly a nationally known hotel, it had been shut down for a lengthy period. A private company bought it several years ago, using Housing and Urban Development money, and turned it into Section Eight housing. Rent is income based, and the unemployed can get a room for $25 a month. Several WHF members live there. When their life falls apart, we nd a place for them there. Bart described the everyday happenings in and around the building as not all that violent but still terrible. We resumed walking, now heading west. We passed an elementary school to the north. Bart identied it as another governmental blunder. The building is only a few years old. Its multimillion-dollar construction had occurred in lieu of increasing teacher pay, increasing faculty size, and improving pedagogical resources. Its the same crappy school, it just looks pretty now. A few hundred feet more, we turned south to nd a public library. Part of Andrew Carnegies national library program, the building is 150 years old and the entrance is framed by two ornate pillars. Inside was an armed, black police ofcer. The library is not very spacious, but it is connected to the citys other public libraries and most book requests are lled within a day. In a reading room, Bart saw a black woman he knew who looked to be in her early thirties. She was reading books by Joyce Meyer and Suze Orman. Bart greeted her, assessed her small pile of books, and smiled, Prayer and nancial freedom, I need both of those. She laughed appreciatively. Much as he does the CVS and the Kroger, Bart considers this library a positive space and a crucial sliver of infrastructural hope for West Walnut Hills. A quarter-mile southeast of the library is a diner, the only one in the neighborhood. We dined on a sandwich and salad bar for a combined $12. Bart is a regular there and was immediately recognized by the waitressa slightly overweight, beaming black woman in her early twenties. Most

of the customers are not local residents, but all of the staff is. Our lunch conversation heaped more details and stories onto an already dizzying afternoon. We traversed local employment rates; the neighborhoods heavy reliance on government aid; family and gender dynamics; sexual and familial expectations for adolescent females; the cyclical nature of urban poverty; and the psychological trauma of love, need, neglect, and fear. As lunch neared its end, Bart spoke explicitly about the idea of place. He knows people who really care about locations, about architecture, green spaces, community development, and so on. He is not one of them. Place is a means to an end of building relationships. But he believes those relationships will never happen without a knowledge of place. It contextualizes those he wants to reach. They could bulldoze the whole thing and it wouldnt really make that much difference to me, but it would matter a lot for the people I work with on a daily basis. He concluded, If you are going to care for people, you have to care about what they do. We left the diner and headed west, back toward the ofce. Across the busy street, Bart received a wave and a friendly shout from a middle-aged black man walking the opposite way. As we walked, Bart returned to themes of place and stability. He recalled how, when he and his family rst moved to Walnut Hills, they lived in a bare apartment, cooking off a hot plate and sleeping on the oor. The forced intimacy had taken a toll on their relationships, and he realized that if youve always had stable housing you can never understand this. We turned the nal corner, onto the street where my car was parked outside of Barts ofce. As we neared the ofce, he greeted three people sitting outside a dilapidated house in rickety lawn chairs. An older black man introduced Bart to a black man and woman in their twenties, both drinking 24-ounce cans of Budweiser. After some small talk, we continued to his ofces front stoop. We rested for a few minutes, trading reections on the barrage of images and stories he had presented, and then shook hands good-bye. These two ethnographic accounts of neighborhood tours illustrate the sense of place cultivated by urban missional evangelicals. Their sense of place has three primary characteristics. First, it comprises a diverse body of knowledge that stresses intricate, nuanced details. Kevin and Bart nurture a competency in a wide range of affairs: racial privilege and disenfranchisement, local government decisions, high school sports, restaurants and other businesses, performances of social class, drugs, violence, literacy, automobiles, residential patterns, housing markets, employment, long-time residents, retail and commercial activity,

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building history, infrastructure, masculine and feminine expectations, and federal governmental aid. Second, their sense of place features an integrated, multifaceted consciousness. Kevin and Bart demonstrate an attentiveness to multiple histories, social dynamics, and social semiotics, including race, class, economics, education, geography, gender, language, residency, criminality, and stability. In this way, place and religious subjectivity intersect, creating a lived experience of space that does not distinguish between enacting ones faith, supporting community improvement efforts, awareness of social problems, and local memory. The unique familiarities Kevin and Bart foster of Middletown and West Walnut Hills recall the intense particularity that Feld and Basso (1996:11) consider so crucial for placed experience. Finally, and what most clearly distinguishes an evangelical attachment to locale, this intricately dened sense of place is mediate. It is, as Bart pithily stated, a means to an end. Sense of place is not the goal, nor does it dene the conditions of the game; it is a tool for reaching people. Evangelism always takes precedence. Indeed, for urban missional evangelicals, place is only signicantly useful when it helps strengthen religious community. The sense of place evident here is not, as Basso describes it, a form of cultural context that the ethnographer strains to piece together. The urban missional evangelical sense of place is not vaguely realized most of the time, and rarely brought forth for conscious scrutiny (Basso 1996:83). Rather, it is a strategic, and strategically made, lived reality in the ongoing attempt to, as Kevin would have it, show them why Christ is more, or as Bart would have it, be in relationship with people. This sense of placeintricately detailed, socially conscious, and mediateis epiphenomenal. It occurs through the everyday performance of a missional identity. The most remarkable thing about Kevin and Bart is that there is absolutely nothing anomalous about their sense of place. The desire to be missional has spread widely through Emerging Church networks and institutions. Ministries in places like Middletown and West Walnut Hills are regularly featured in periodical articles, blogs, sermons, conference plenaries, and podcasts. Acts 29, in particular, is an institution that creates and circulates a large body of resources specifically devoted to explaining what it means to be missional and why the particularities of place matter. Ethnographic portraits of Kevin and Bart reveal a form of socially engaged evangelicalism that is distinct from the kind of suburban evangelical activism described by Elisha (2008b). Recalling the words of one of his ethnographic subjects, Emerging evangelicals work to not just drop in, drop off, and leave the community behind (Elisha 2008b:161). To conclude, I set the everyday religious subjectivity produced by being missional within the larger ideological contexts that frame this model of social engagement.

Purity, danger, and redemption


I have sketched the contours of how urban missional evangelicals dwell in place. Their emplacement in an urban setting occurs, in part, as a desire to separate from its symbolic opposite: suburbia and the conservative evangelical connotations associated with that locale. But there is more to the story than this. The missional-inspired sense of place is also a critique of modernity. Anthropologists working on the comparative study of Christianities, capitalizing on Max Webers classic analysis of Calvinism and capitalism, have devoted a good deal of attention to the relations between Christianity and the cultural conditions of modernity. Joel Robbins (2001) and Webb Keane (2002) have inuentially argued that Western Protestant missionaries are bearers of distinctly modern conceptions: for example, a language ideology morally grounded in sincerity, which indexes Michel Foucaults (1981) reading of modernity as an era obsessed by a will to truth. Susan Harding (2000) takes a similar stance in her ethnography of U.S. fundamentalists. Even though these conservative Protestants are frequently accused of being, and frequently claim to be, antimodern, they make ample use of modernist discourses, institutional congurations, and technologies. Elisha (2008a), in his reading of suburban evangelical activism, sees a clash between their forms of organizing and modern, liberalizing notions of humanism. Bialecki et al. correctly conclude that Christian communities manage a complex negotiation: Christianity can serve at once as a vector for modernity and as counter-narrative to modernity (2008:1151). Emerging evangelicals, at least in their desire and strivings to be missional, hope for the latter. In doing so, they reveal some discontents as late modern subjects. Given the various social science narratives about modernity, which is best suited to the case of urban missional evangelicals? I offer an unlikely candidate, one that has yet to be explicitly incorporated into the comparative study of Christianities: Mary Douglass Purity and Danger (1966). I say that Douglas is unlikely because her analysis focuses on primitive and archaic religions. But, on a closer look, she is clear in her assumption that there is no special distinction between primitives and moderns: we are all subject to the same rules (Douglas 1966:53). What rules? Douglas argues for the existence of an organizing binary: puritydanger. Purity subsumes order, control, sanctity, and holiness; and danger connects dirt, disorder, and pollution. As we know it, Douglas says, dirt is essentially disorder (1966:12), and Gods work through the blessing is essentially to create order (1966:63). Reading puritydanger as a narrative of modernity is afrmed by Ralph Cintrons ethnography Angels Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and Rhetorics of the Everyday (1997). Cintron identies discourses of measurement as a domineering

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condition of modernity. Measurement values directly echo Douglass analysis of purity: coherence, control, completeness, precision, balanced form, order, and of course, cleanliness. Being modern is about embracing that which is clean and orderly and purifying that which is dirty and disorderly. I play on this general impulse that Douglas assigns to moderns and ask how it aligns with the Emerging evangelical critique of conservative Evangelicalism. In thinking through the effort to embrace what is pure and purify what is dangerous, Douglas writes, Though we seek to create order, we do not simply condemn disorder (1966:114), and we must, therefore, ask how dirt, which is normally destructive, sometimes becomes creative (1966:188). Disorder is not simply rejected or quarantined; it marks desired change and prompts creative action. How, then, do the dynamics of purity and danger gure into Emerging evangelical strivings to be missional? The answer begins with suburbia. Since its Levittown beginnings in the late 1940s, the land of ticky-tacky has held a special spot in the U.S. imagination. Consider the venerable presence of the suburb as a contextualizing symbol in U.S. popular culture. What would the TV series Leave It to Beaver (195763) or The Donna Reed Show (1958 66) be without their iconically utopic setting? Less happily, Richard Yatess novel Revolutionary Road (1961), ostensibly about the difculties of modern marriage, entertains the psychological torment of living in the land of the setoff. Malvina Reynoldss folky tune Little Boxes (1962) humorously invited a negative view of how suburban houses all look just the same. The kind of dark comedy hinted at by Reynolds is fully exploited in the lm The Burbs (Dante 1989), in which Ray (played by Tom Hanks) wrestles to maintain the sanity that defeated Yatess protagonists. Suburbia serves as the structural opposite of all that is interesting, exciting, and dangerous in the nal scene of Goodfellas (Scorsese 1990). The lms main character stands in his bathrobe, nally safe and unambiguously bored on his front porch, after having stood under threat of immediate death from New York wiseguys. Themes of psychological unrest and broken families continue in the lm American Beauty (Mendes 1999), and a more whimsical version of suburban struggles plays on a loop in TVs Desperate Housewives (2004present). The Showtime series Weeds (2005 present) delights in hyperbole, using an underground marijuana ring headed by a seemingly together soccer mom, to unmask suburbias facade of contentment. To ensure the message is not mistaken, the opening credits roll while Little Boxes creaks in the background. As a cultural symbol, the suburb is both purity attained and danger thinly veiled by the false claim of attainment. With pop cultures double-voiced interpretation xed in the background, conservative Christianitys relationship with suburbia began to solidify in the late 1960s. Eileen

Luhr argues forcefully for the close coupling of evangelical suburbanization, youth culture, consumerism, and conservative politics: The suburban home came to be viewed both as the sentimental repository of established [family] values and economic success (2009:6). This occurred alongside two demographic trends: a massive movement of Americans from the cities to the suburbs (half of the U.S. population called the land of cul-de-sacs home by 1990 [Luhr 2009:8]) and the racialization of that relocation, what Luhr and others call white ight (2009:9). The most notable (and visible) evangelical response to urban emigration was an organizational invention: the megachurch. The formula seems simple enough. Find an area of new residential growth and economic boom, provide a conveniently situated, ample building, and watch while people ood in. Roughly sketched, this is what happened. Megachurches proliferated on the U.S. religious landscape throughout the late 20th century, and suburbia became a promised land in the conservative evangelical imagination. These two late modern developments, the suburbanization of conservative evangelicalism and the rise of the megachurch, have become primary targets for the Emerging evangelical critique. Kevin, Bart, and my other 88 consultants articulate no shortage of objections to these trends, shifting attention from the suburb as purity attained to the suburb as danger thinly veiled. For them, the suburban megachurch is Tenuous. The money and resources needed to keep these institutions running is massive. They require constant maintenance and nancial support from congregants. Any large decline in membership threatens a crumbling effect. Exaggerated. The hugeness that denes megachurches falls prey to the same logic that produces Wal-Marts and civilian Hummers. Size matters, and bigger is not better. Commodied. Megachurches are yet another iteration of conspicuous consumption. They fail to distance themselves from a pervasive social ill: the never-ending impulse to brand, package, mass produce, and generally plot everything in terms of buying and selling. Isolating. Intentionally set off in suburbia, adherents are removed from the conditions of urban need. This removal is tantamount to racial and class connement and a gradual disappearance of nonmainstream experiences from everyday consciousness. Inauthentic. The size and easy anonymity of the megachurch is at odds with a hallmark of evangelicalism: the desire to cultivate spiritual intimacy (Bielo 2009b:7392). Being deeply committed to a shared religious community becomes merely another option. Spectacle. The epicenter of megachurch life, the weekly worship event, is a mass-produced production for the masses. It is a show, in the worst sense of the word. It

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plays into the U.S. preoccupation with the cult of fame by turning singers, musicians, and pastors into local celebrities. The Emerging evangelical attraction to being missional is closely coupled to this critique of the suburban megachurch. The desire of missionals to separate from conservative evangelicalism prompts an escape from suburbia. Unlike Elishas (2008b) evangelicals, who missionize the inner city via intermittent outreach, urban missional evangelicals seek to self-consciously dwell in their evangelizing contexts. One consequence of this is that the cultural logic guiding evangelical practice is altered. The two main categories identied by Elisha, compassion and accountability, do not disappear, but they are displaced by the ideal of being missional. This does not mean the kind of psychologicalemotional struggle described by Elisha is absent among Emerging evangelicals, but it does mean that other cultural artifacts are more immediately visible. The example I have sketched here, cultivation of a sense of place, was most evident in my ethnographic eldwork. This lived critique of the suburban megachurch is also, returning to Douglas (1966), a critique of modernity. Emerging evangelicals are discontent with the purication efforts of their conservative brethren. For them, the suburbanization of evangelicalism is a failed project of purity attainment, disorder mistook for order. By extension, long-distance urban evangelism that focuses strictly on the personal circumstances of the missionized subject is a misplaced attempt to purify what is out of order. In response, Emerging evangelicals seek to purify by attaching themselves to the disorder they hope to change. Redemption is the endgame. Kevins urban dwelling is directed toward showing Middletowners why Christ is more than their greatest hopes and fears. Bart is less convinced that everyday conditions can be dramatically changed. His urban dwelling is directed toward individualized relationships with people in an ongoing effort to care for them and restore some dignity to their lives. Emerging evangelicals do not simply condemn disorder (Douglas 1966:114); for them, the matter out of place, the dystopic conditions of urban decay, becomes creative (Douglas 1996:188). The sense of place they cultivate in the midst of seeking purity is always mediate, a vehicle for the change they desire. The irony that Douglas helps reveal in all of this is that Emerging evangelicals rely on a distinctly modern script to enact their critique of modern, suburban evangelicalism. To return to Bialecki et al., their escape from suburban disorder and embrace of urban disorder leaves Emerging evangelicals seeking a faith that is at once [a] vector for modernity and [a] counter-narrative to modernity (2008:1151). The case of urban missional evangelicals highlights an important dynamic that other anthropologists of Christianity will likely confront in their own ethnographic

contexts. As Christian communities develop discontents with late-modern cultural conditions, they will respond by creating institutions and organizing modes of public engagement. What changes will result from such Christian encounters with perceived modern failures? What about place makes it a likely candidate to mediate these discontents? If the example of Emerging evangelicals like Kevin and Bart is instructive, these questions will have signicant consequences for the future of late-modern places and the future of place in late modern Christianities.

Notes
Acknowledgments. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their careful and insightful readings of this article and Donald Donham for his editorial guidance. Lydia Manning, M. Cameron Hay, John Cinnamon, and students in the spring 2010 sections of Anthropology 185: Cultural Diversity in the United States at Miami University also provided helpful feedback on a draft version. I enjoyed entertaining and insightful conversations about the place of suburbia in the U.S. imagination with Christopher Hensey and Brandon Ney. 1. I conducted research with Emerging evangelicals for three years, beginning in October 2007, including eldwork in Michigan (Lansing, Grand Rapids), Arizona (Phoenix), and Ohios centralsouthwest corridor (Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, and their metropolitan statistical area outposts). This included three forms of data collection: (1) I collected primary texts produced by Emerging Church advocates and critics as well as secondary texts from secular and Christian media sources reporting on the movement; (2) I collected and transcribed podcasts, video posts, and rebroadcasts of interactions among and between Emerging Church advocates and critics; and (3) I conducted repeated formal and informal interviews with 90 individuals (representing 40 local communities and 11 denominations). This sample included lead and assistant pastors, lay scholars, church members, and Christian publishing agents. In 20 cases, I tracked individuals weblogs, a signicant media form in the Emerging Church. In most cases, interviews led to observations of place and collective religious practice and the collecting of congregational materials. 2. A nagging problem for researchers and practitioners alike is calculating just how extensive the Emerging movement is. The only studied estimate I have seen claims 181 local churches of a denitively Emerging character in the United States (Flores 2005). Unfortunately, this count employs a far too restrictive criteria list, does not include Emerging constituents in established congregations, does not measure the number of practitioners in those 181 places, and focuses only on the local, congregational model of religious belonging. My own tally, a compilation of several Internet listings run by Emerging practitioners, produced roughly one thousand Emerging communities in the United States. 3. The 2000 census for West Walnut Hills recorded a population of 7,790, 85 percent of whom were black. 4. See Harding 2000 on conservative evangelicalism. See Bialecki 2009 for a progressive critique.

References cited
Acts 29 Network 2010 Doctrine: What We Believe and Why We Believe It. http://www.acts29network.org/about/doctrine/, accessed December 27.

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Balmer, Randall 2006[1989] Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. New York: Oxford University Press. Basso, Keith H. 1996 Wisdom Sits in Places: Notes on a Western Apache Landscape. In Senses of Place. Steven Feld and Keith H. Basso, eds. Pp. 5390. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Bialecki, Jon 2009 Disjuncture, Continental Philosophys New Political Paul, and the Question of Progressive Christianity in a Southern California Third Wave Church. American Ethnologist 36(1):3548. Bialecki, Jon, Naomi Haynes, and Joel Robbins 2008 The Anthropology of Christianity. Religion Compass 2(6):11391158. Bielo, James S. 2009a The Emerging Church in America: Notes on the Interaction of Christianities. Religion 39:219232. 2009b Words upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study. New York: NYU Press. In press Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity. New York: NYU Press. Cintron, Ralph 1997 Angels Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and Rhetorics of the Everyday. Boston: Beacon Press. Dante, Joe, dir. 1989 The Burbs. 101 min. Imagine Entertainment. Beverly Hills, CA. Douglas, Mary 1966 Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Penguin Books. Elisha, Omri 2008a Faith beyond Belief: Evangelical Protestant Conceptions of Faith and the Resonance of Anti-Humanism. Social Analysis 52(1):5678. 2008b Moral Ambitions of Grace: The Paradox of Compassion and Accountability in Evangelical Faith-Based Activism. Cultural Anthropology 23:154189. Feld, Steven, and Keith H. Basso, eds. 1996 Senses of Place. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press. Flores, Aaron O. 2005 An Exploration of the Emerging Church in the United States: The Missiological Intent and Potential Implications for the Future. M.A. thesis, Department of Religion, Vanguard University. Foucault, Michel 1981 The Order of Discourse. In Untying the Text. Robert Young, ed. Pp. 5177. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Goheen, Michael W. 2000 As the Father Has Sent Me, I am Sending You: J. E. Lesslie Newbigins Missionary Ecclessiology. Doctoral dissertation, University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. Hansen, Collin 2008 Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalists Journey with the New Calvinists. Wheaton, IL: Crossways Books.

Harding, Susan 1987 Convicted by the Holy Spirit: The Rhetoric of Fundamental Baptist Conversion. American Ethnologist 14(1):167181. 2000 The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Keane, Webb 2002 Sincerity, Modernity, and the Protestants. Cultural Anthropology 17(1):6592. Low, Setha 2003 Behind the Gates: Life, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness in Fortress America. New York: Routledge Press. Luhr, Eileen 2009 Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. Mendes, Sam, dir. 1999 American Beauty. 122 min. DreamWorks SKG. Glendale, CA. Newbigin, Lesslie 1983 The Other Side of 1984: Questions for the Churches. Geneva: World Council of Churches. 1986 Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. Pals, Daniel L. 2006 Eight Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. Reynolds, Malvina 1962 Little Boxes. Berkeley, CA: Schroder Music. Robbins, Joel 2001 God Is Nothing But Talk: Modernity, Language, and Prayer in a Papua New Guinea Society. American Anthropologist 103(4):901912. Sargeant, Kimon Howland 2000 Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Scorsese, Martin, dir. 1990 Goodfellas. 146 min. Warner Brothers. Burbank, CA. Webber, Robert 2002 The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Woolsey, Matt 2008 Americas Fastest-Dying Towns. Forbes Magazine. http:// www.forbes.com/2008/12/08/towns-ten-economy-forbeslifecx mw 1209dying.html, accessed December 27, 2010. Yates, Richard 1961 Revolutionary Road. Boston: Atlantic-Little, Brown. accepted November 11, 2010 nal version submitted November 14, 2010 James S. Bielo Department of Anthropology Miami University 120 Upham Hall Oxford, OH 45056 bielojs@muohio.edu

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