Tribe, tongue and nation means more than race

Anyone who has followed this blog knows I typically write about theological topics and cultural engagement. This is one of those rare posts where I will talk about what I do for a living. For the past three years, I have served as Executive Director of a nonprofit arts and culture organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic and cultural heritages from around the globe. Our mission is prominently seen in our annual festival in May that brings many different cultures together for performances throughout the day that shows the various art forms from around the globe, including martial arts demonstrations. Dozens of vendor booths are present with cuisine, crafts, and cultural displays. It’s like a “It’s a Small World” festival and one of the largest in this area. There is no preference or prominence of one group over the other. You’ll see displays from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and everywhere in between.

Because our goal is to highlight different cultures, we also have culturally specific events for Lunar New Year and Hispanic Heritage Month. Recently, we added an event for Nowruz (Persian New Year), a significant celebration in Iran and Afghanistan and we’re gearing up for a celebration of African cultures in collaboration with another arts organization later this year. So you can imagine that with our festival and the other events, people and their cultures are identified with a national heritage, i.e., cultural heritages that come from a particular region that has certain customs and cuisines.

I’m trying to imagine what it would be like if we categorized the different groups according to skin color and use the black/white binary or even black, white, or brown people. Of course, it’s easy to speak of Europeans as white or Africans as black. But but what does that mean for the distinct nationalities and their accompanying cultures? How do you distinguish the Italians from the Germans from the Greeks if everyone is just white? And where do the Middle Easterner’s fit into this categorization? And if a person is just black, what does that say about the black person from Ghana vs. the black person from Brazil or the Caribbean who have completely different cultures? The ethnicities would get erased. Continue reading

Anti-woke should not mean sleeping on racism

I get the concerns about what has been labelled “wokeness” as the product of secular ideologies that are sweeping the broader culture and infiltrating the church. In my opinion, these ideologies are unmoored from the scriptural witness of how we are to view and value each other. Even as a tool, I do not think CRT and anti-racism premises and methodology take us to a healthy place to actually be reconciled with each other as believers in Christ as the other-cultural entity that are we. In fact, as I wrote about here, they are likely to have the opposite effect and create unwarranted division in the body of Christ.

However, I have another concern some Christians are so adamant about refuting wokeness and CRT that any discussion on race and justice gets dismissed as a product of liberalism and a sign that the koolaid from the broader culture is being imbibed.

The problem is that actual racism does exist where mindsets deem the “white” race as superior even in subtle ways. I’m not saying this is true of white evangelicalism as a whole and I personally have a disdain for those generalized accusations. Nor should we impose the weight of historical injustices on to present circumstances and paint dishonest pictures. But we really aren’t doing Christ’s church any favors by ignoring racism where it actually exists. Unfortunately, anti-CRT campaigns have the tendency to do just that and will give cover to racial partiality because “wokeness” is deemed the real enemy.

In 2020, I learned of a story that happened in my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. The story was published in Faithfully Magazine and the link is here. In a nutshell, a couple of families had moved from Idaho where they had been involved in white supremacists organizations. Even though they had come out of this affiliation, they convinced the pastor they left those kind of teachings behind. Apparently not, since the men became elders and began teaching racial superiority precepts in bible studies such as the “black” race doesn’t have the capacity for complex thought. The article is rather lengthy but here is the relevant portion to my point;

Continue reading

We’re really not making this up: a personal tale about CRT’s impact (guest post)

Not a day goes by that I don’t open up social media to find some kind of spurious rebuttal of concerns about CRT, labeling it as a boogeyman conjured up with hysteria by people who really don’t want to address racism in this country. And yet, stepping back from the battle over CRT, which in my opinion, has turned into a battle over words that obfuscate the real issues about the ideas in play, even the casual observer has to see that something has fundamentally changed about the way race is not only being addressed but also the way racism is being perceived. In the past 5-6 years, we have drastically shifted from a desire to mitigate racism through fair treatment of individuals to making everything about race that actually works against the desired goals of the long struggle for civil rights.

To quibble over words and technical definitions of CRT severely undermines what has been taking place with the social justice paradigm over the past few years. Whatever you want to call it, real people are being swept up in this ideology and regurgitating its doctrine that unfortunately is even impacting the church and relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. On that note, please consider this post from guest contributor Kevin Briggins that he originally posted on his Facebook page.  I think it really spells out why so many people are raising concerns and why I wanted to host it here. It’s a bit longer than my usual posts but definitely worth the read. 

By Kevin Briggins, Guest Contributor

It has been brought to my attention that I haven’t been very clear on my engagements on race and culture. Some have said my engagements have been one sided, so I feel the need to clarify some things and to paint a broader picture of my engagements on race.

The 2016 presidential election was a major turning point in the life of our church in Augusta. This coincided with our church moving from a suburban setting to an inner-city setting in late 2015. This change in setting put us in closer proximity to poverty and with the reality of true historical racial division. The church we merged with was a dying church that had become the victim of “white flight” and unfortunately had not engaged the new community around it. This was something we desired to change as we didn’t want to be a church that drove into the inner-city for Sunday services and then drove back out with no community engagement, which is the practice of many predominantly black and white inner-city churches. We had several church members and pastors move into the community and we were also thinking of ways to engage the community. At the time our church was predominantly white and middle class with a mixture of black, Hispanic, and Asian families. We were also a Reformed (non-traditional) Southern Baptist church. I’m saying all of this to lay the context for what begin to happen in 2016. Continue reading

On Christians and elitism: maybe we are all guilty

Former Christianity Today (CT) executive editor, Mark Galli, recently wrote a pretty honest piece here about the ways in which the culture of CT promoted a kind of elitism that cozied up to American culture to appear respectable. The implications being unlike those other Christians who rail against the world. The response was interesting to see, especially with chants of “I told you so,” indicating that of course that is what CT does.

Daniel Darling chimed in with some insightful commentary about elitism itself in this piece here. I think it deserves some attention because it transcends the specific charge that Galli is getting at;

In other words, elitism is more of a posture than a position. This tendency shows up in a variety of ways and tempts people across the political spectrum. It can be folks who like to broadcast on Twitter or in op-eds or bestselling books about how terrible evangelicals are. It can be furrowed-browed fans of certain Bible teachers who think nobody ever preaches a Bible passage correctly (except for them, of course). It can be “above-it-all” types who rightly eschew left and right extremes but are insufferable in communicating both their own heroism in this and their discovery, after 2,000 years of church history, the perfect model of cultural engagement.

Right. Elitism is a posture of superiority that proclaims the upper moral position while throwing disdain on that group or those Christians that just aren’t measuring up (like me and my tribe!). So elitism also shows up with our posturing over how well we are able to comprehend what is right and take others to task for not really getting it, for the sake of the kingdom. To be honest, I’ve seen quite a bit of this in the social justice wars. Pro-social justice, CRT friendly advocates denigrating those who have challenged the anti-racism and CRT paradigm as compatible with a Christian worldview as not really being concerned about justice (like them!). On the flip side, I’ve seen posturing in opposition that loves to point out the errors of the social justice warriors and their lack of commitment to scriptural fidelity, how those Christians are destroying the church (not like us!). That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate critiques to be had. There certainly are! The issue is more about the posturing that sticks its nose up on those unfortunate rubes that just aren’t getting it. And you can be sure this applies as much to those chanting “I told you so” as the charges Galli brings up with CT. As Darling writes; Continue reading

Beware of the boldness idol

Let me say right out the gate that this post is not a slam on boldness. I think in our present cultural moment there is a need to be bold and stand on Christian truth. There are cultural pressures at work that seek to undermine the fabric of Christianity and an increased hostility towards an historical witness of the Christian faith.

In recent years, I’ve observed how positions on issues are more determined by what is felt, particularly with a group identity at stake, than what actually is, especially when you have Christian doctrine and ethical applications at stake. People, even Christians, are being swayed by the mood of arguments, over objective reality. It can be hard to speak into this paradigm but necessary nonetheless.

Scripture calls us to speak truth in love. That means we should be willing to say what needs to be said in the face of opposition particularly when we believe an erosion of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy is at stake. We should be willing to defend the faith against people and ideas that oppose it. Continue reading