Yes, you heard that right, my white church. Why not just the church? In fact, I bet the title alone will set up some keen anticipation for me to address everything that’s wrong with the white church and how it’s whiteness is harming people of color, how silent the white church is on issues of social justice and generally are wielding it’s power of white supremacy against the health of the church. Sure, there will be some that will roll their eyes, shake their heads and wonder why people keep being divisive with race labels and such. But I’ll get to you later.
Because of this anticipation and it’s increasing prominence in our present day discourse, I’m provoked to ask some questions. They are not easy questions nor are they questions meant to be dismissive. They are questions that have been bubbling up for some time as I observe the landscape.
Now, I have no doubt that there are prejudicial attitudes among some churches that have all white or predominantly white congregants, a lingering remnant of an ugly and rather lengthy historical legacy. We can’t be naive about the historical trek that subjugated black and brown skin to an inferior status such that people who possessed these attributes were not even worthy of being called citizens or even fully human, but slaves and second class citizens who dared not pollute the purity of white culture. We also can’t be naive about the role that the American evangelical church played in supporting this mindset and actually used the Bible to justify such twisted thinking. Yes, this actually did happen.
I get that. I get that church still has some ways to go with respect to racial reconciliation. I get that despite all the progress–and there has been progress–there remains a level of ignorance that still needs addressing. Even though we’ve come a long way, I get that some are unaware of their own unconscious biases that do need challenging if we are truly going to live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Because, if I’m not mistaken, that is the goal to live together as the family of God.
But there is something else going on, it seems. Something that has moved beyond simply wanting for non-white Christians to experience equal valuation, that wants to address any persisting prejudices that may still keep minorities from fully participating in the life of the church, whose specific issues are equally considered. It’s something that moves beyond reconciliation.
Dismantling white supremacy is all the rage these days. It seems like every logging into my FB or Twitter account brings me face to face with yet another treatise on how white supremacy must be eliminated and how white people need to repent of their whiteness. A friend recently said that it is like the new prayer of Jabez.
So please allow me to ask some questions. What exactly do people want to see with respect to this dismantling of white supremacy in the church? Is it simply wanting for non-whites to have a seat at the table, invited to have a voice and valuable contribution? I think that’s an admirable goal and in line with Scripture if we truly are regarding others as more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3). Or is it ensuring that white leaders are removed from power over the church and transplanted with people of color? Do we want to remove their presence altogether?
Is this a power struggle? Because it’s one thing to actually want reconciliation. It’s quite another to want to subjugate a group to an inferior status in the interest of dismantling white supremacy. Is the goal for our white brothers and sisters to suffer the same plight of marginalization that minorities suffered? Is our goal to silence their voices unless they capitulate to every sociological demand, including support of groups like Black Lives Matter that have no foundation or roots in Christian orthodoxy and prescribe anti-Christian sentiments? Because it is possible in the course of dismantling this domination, to turn the tables. I was struck by this article from a few days ago from a self-professed social justice activist regarding concerns about present day activism; social justice activism;
Postcolonialist black Caribbean philosopher Frantz Fanon in his 1961 book Wretched of the Earth writes about the volatile relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, and the conditions of decolonization. In it, he sharply warns the colonized against reproducing and maintaining the oppressive systems of colonization by replacing those at top by those previously at the bottom after a successful revolution . . . The experiences of oppression do not grant supremacy, in the same way that being a powerful colonizer does not. Justice will never look like supremacy.
He speaks from a non-Christian perspective, but there is a warning there, I think.
This leads me to ask questions about the code language that is so easily employed and generically applied as if all white Christians are guilty of the same transgressions. And the code language is important and not to be challenged: whiteness, white supremacy, oppression, marginalization, colonization. Try pushing back on any of it and you will be branded as endorsing whiteness and maybe even treated like an enemy…like them. You would think that all churches everywhere are guilty of oppression of people of color, are ignoring people of color and generally just not considering their issues, wholesale.
When I go into my white church, how does this impact how I see it and the people there? Ok, so it’s majority white with a small presence of various ethnicities. And for the most part, many have been thoughtful and hospitable to me. But still, since whiteness is the problem, it seems I should have a problem walking into my church and gathering with all these white saints. I should have my senses heightened for microaggressions, you know those ignorant jabs that clueless white people give…yes even the hospitable ones who have embraced me as their sister in Christ. To be sure, since I’m going to a white church, as opposed to simply Christ’s church, these senses will be heightened and my suspicion of them provoked.
How does this all cause me to even look at those white people in my church, and white Christians in general? How can I now not be suspicious of them? Are they now not those who oppose me, who oppose blackness and the struggle that has existed for so many years? What do I do with the all those Trump supporters since they are the ones upholding white supremacy? Oh but wait, there is only a fraction who actually supported him because many have expressed to me the angst in that decision and lamenting the choices we had. I know this because we have lamented together, as members of the same body, committed to the same Gospel and it’s obedience, exalting the same work and person of Christ who is the one who binds us together.
And that leads me to the biggest question as I observe the landscape, the shout downs and generalized calling out of what all these white Christians need to do: are we undermining Christ’s supremacy? Has all this attention on white supremacy maybe pushed down central issues to being part of the kingdom of God together, with its discipleship mandates and being salt and light in the world? Because it seems to me, based on what I read in Scripture anyway, that only through him can true reconciliation happen. It’s only because he has broken down the walls of hostility that keep people of different racial and ethnic orientations at odds with one another and gives us a greater orientation in himself that we can’t even see through the maze of our own angst, and hurt and lingering historical memories. It is only through his supremacy that all other supremacies and identities must be subjected, yes even black ones. Because I’m left to wonder with the all the talk about white supremacy and castigation for churches, especially those white ones who don’t give support of the Black Lives Matter movement if there’s not a desire to trade one supremacy and identity for the other.
Does this make me less of a person, or rather less of a black person because I raise these questions and am not outright repudiating my white church? For some, it might. But I’m hoping it doesn’t make me less of a Christian because that’s the identity that matters the most.
And so I can’t help but find myself increasingly in that group that rolls its eyes and sucks its teeth. Not because I don’t care about issues or care about addressing prejudicial attitudes, but because I care about Christ and his Bride more and hate to see her being pulled apart the way she is.