Some more questions and a few thoughts on the church, race and social justice

A while back, I penned some thoughts about questions I had as it relates to issues of race and the church found here. I specifically directed my questions at those who feel like the cause of battling white supremacy takes such precedence that it becomes an overpowering force and actually defeats the purpose of reconciliation. I confess, I was a bit pointed and may even seemed to reject any lingering issues.

To be honest, I did not expect to be writing so much on this topic. I’ve been compelled to write because of concerns that I’ve had regarding the polarization of how issues of race were perceived in such disparate ways that increasingly, many in the church are decrying an urgency in addressing. I suspect that this is partially due to extended weariness and concern that things will never be right.

I want to wrap up some concluding thoughts as I don’t anticipate writing on this topic for awhile. As I’ve indicated recently, I’ve joined forces with a couple of other Christians who like me, are ethnic minorities who want to thoughtfully address these issues with honesty and through a Christ-centered lens at Kaleoscope. We don’t all agree but we do strive to prioritize the gospel above all else.  Please do check it out! Meanwhile, here’s a few more thoughts.

First know that I do not want to be dismissive of concerns, especially where legitimacy still exists. I am reminded on a regular basis that prejudices of all kinds still abound, not just on race.  Sometimes it is in your face, like the alt-right gathering at Charlottesville. But certainly more subtle and subversive can create standards around acceptably that is centered in Anglo culture. Yes, implicit bias does exist whereby a deviation from the standard is deemed to be inferior and even unacceptable according to that norm as this survey highlighted by a New York Times article points out. Surely, this can happen in churches to varying degrees whereby minority perspectives are disregarded and/or dismissed. I personally know of cases where this has happened.

So I do not want to undermine the very real frustrations that people of color can experience in predominantly white environments, especially in our churches. Though I am still left to ask about the collective conscious of “white evangelicalism” that pervades the church such that people of color are harmed. I continue to see the cries for white evangelicals to disrobe their “whiteness” so minority Christians can feel safe and welcome. But what exactly are the expectations in this regard? What exactly is the extent of harm? Continue reading

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In defense of color-blindness (sort of)

There is an impetus today to reject color-blindness and the reasons are quite valid.  If someone says, “I don’t see color” or worse, “God doesn’t see color” rebuke is the natural impulse since God himself created a beautiful array of shades. So when we look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and the broader world, we should see this sovereign creativity at work that lends to the picture in Rev. 7:9-a conglomeration of people from every tribe, tongue and nation the Lord calls to himself.

But there exist an even deeper concern to reject it. Color-blindness has typically meant that the concerns of non-white people are diminished or dismissed. Because in reality there has been an racial and ethnic primacy at work in the church, and particularly the American church, for a long time.  That is when a person is considered first because of their skin color and second by their Christian status. One would have to have their head buried in the sand or be in complete and utter denial to not recognize this is precisely what happened with black and brown people in America. To distorted minds, the melanin determined the human value, casting those with darker shades into a dehumanizing existence. Even worse, that such views were egregiously supported by myopic renderings of Scripture and harsh development of theories like curse of Ham and that relegated melanin richness to an inferior and sub-human status.

In this reality, we see the ways in which  melanin richness has met with inconsistent and disparate treatment and the church was not exempt.  Consequently, segregated enclaves became a harbor of spiritual comfort. So it naturally concerns many today, particularly people of color, that persistent marginalization occurs and there is a natural rejection towards the concept of color-blindness because of it.  No, we don’t want to deny or dismiss these concerns of partiality that have plagued, not only in the larger society, but particularly the church for so long.

Black and brown Christians feel this angst, particularly being in spaces where they are acutely aware of being the minority. It’s natural to walk into a predominantly white church or other white spaces and see white people first. Prejudicial attitudes exist to varying degrees among some white Christians where the presence of minorities create a heightened sense of dread because they first see a minority first.  The temptation to evaluate the other first on the basis of skin tone remains. Skin tone is just a manifestation of a deeper cultural crisis, historic infractions and sinful inclinations. Where black and brown people have been rejected in various forms from consideration of church life, where prejudicial attitudes have and do exist among white Christians, we are tempted to filter another’s presence first through this reality, and then second as Christians. Continue reading

My step back from the hostility of racial reconciliation

Recently, I penned a post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church that drew a bit of attention. To be honest, it was a post that had been stewing for several weeks and one in which I reasoned I did not have the courage to write. The reason is quite simple: by doing so I knew I would lose something, an affiliation with those who deem race dialogue to be of utmost importance. I’ve been working on a follow up with a focus on the issue of social justice though it’s been slow going. I hope to parse out some issues that I think are getting conflated with a gospel centered response of the church’s relationship to the world. Hopefully, I will get to that.

It occurs to me there are there are two kinds of people who positively reacted to that post. One group really does not want to face any kinds of infractions and easily dismisses those who would raise any issues. These are folks that don’t want any discussion of racial issues or take any opportunity to examine where in fact there still might be discrepancies. On the other hand, and where I hope these questions resonated, concerned people like myself, who are deeply cognizant of historical infractions and want to, at a minimum, bring awareness to how racial prejudices have had a long standing impact. But they also don’t want to lose sight of what it means to be united in Christ and keep our union and identity in Christ as the overarching priority. Like, me they having growing concerns that this priority is getting lost.

If you’ve known me personally, or followed me on Facebook or Twitter for any length of time, you’d know that I have been squarely on the side of this second group. I have tried to provoke an honest examination racism, racial bias, white privilege and yes, even white supremacy.

To this end, I’ve had some intense on-line interactions with those I have at least perceived to be in the first group. I’m finding something really interesting happens when that perception is present. When you are on the bandwagon to show how these issues still prevail, it doesn’t take much for that agenda to take on a life of its own. I was reminded the other day of an interaction I had a couple of years ago on the topic of white privilege. A white sister tried to assert how her mother experienced extreme poverty and that the idea of white privilege does not account for white people who have suffered. Aside from the fact that this sorely misunderstands what is meant by privilege in that it’s not contingent upon economic circumstances, the reality is I really didn’t care to hear it. I was only interested in showing how black people have suffered under the hands of white people because of what society deems as acceptable. But it also made me reflect on other such conversations I’ve had where the overarching agenda is to prove how subjugated black people have been. Continue reading

Another question: on being woke and Christian

I’ve been pecking away little by little on a follow up to my last post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church. It occurred to me that there are some more questions I’ve been chewing on but didn’t get out in that post. But I also wanted to parse out the concerns I raise from real interest and needs with respect to Christian engagement with issues of social justice, for what it’s worth. My goal with all these questions is not to criticize for the sake of criticism and it’s certainly not to dismiss legitimate concerns. I wish to honestly evaluate if how we are going about the task of racial reconciliation is counterproductive to the cause of Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, Darrell Harrison over at Just Me Thinking wrote this fairly piercing piece, How Woke Theology is Hurting the Black Church. The heart of his concern is that present day social justice movement efforts are subordinating, if not undermining, the root of a Christian response to the ills of this world–that is, the need for redemption and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Highlighting the work and influence of James Cone, a noted Liberation theologian who Harrison believes is captivating the mood of the current discourse, Harrison writes;

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of a particular ethnic people, to whom salvation is viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

I’ve observed that a common retort to present day social justice efforts is describing it’s adherents as embracing a social gospel and liberation theology, not holding to biblical theology or maybe not even real Christians. In other words, it’s easy to reject efforts as simply being a social gospel. To some extent, this can be true. But this low hanging fruit can become a much too easy way of dismissing sincere Christians who are looking to live out the gospel in their lives. Here is where I would caution haste assessments of what’s actually going on with the present day movement and those who espouse it, less we unjustly accuse brothers and sisters of Christ of being heretics. Continue reading

Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church

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 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. Continue reading