A couple of years ago, I penned a piece, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church, that got a bit of attention. The piece was the product of growing concerns I had regarding where the racial reconciliation was headed. I had questions of whether we were legitimately seeking reconciliation or was an agenda being imposed on the body of Christ that actually is driving a wedge through it. And now that I’ve seen the movement morph into an anti-racist and social justice paradigm that adopts a worldview that seems to run contrary to a Christian paradigm in doctrine and practice, I stick by every word I wrote in asking the questions I had.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of discussion on Critical Theory lately especially with the denouncement of whiteness in our churches. Neil Shenvi has done an excellent job in examining this theory and asking if integration is possible. Check out his website here and this hour talk. What I most appreciate about his work is that he doesn’t ignore the issues that Critical Theory is attempting to address given the very lengthy history that the false of construct of race has produced. We can refute Critical Theory as the means to bring correction but we can’t refute the annuls of history whereby the white “superior” race dominated every aspect of culture that subjugated those of the so-called inferior race (namely those of African descent) to a sub-human classification. That white superiority complex also has denegrating views of Jews as well.
So we do have to be honest with history and particularly churches’ complicity in maintaining this false construct. However, one of my concerns is how we imposing the weight of history on to the present as if slavery and Jim Crow are very much enforced and we’ve made no progress at all. Surely, we can recognize changing attitudes that have weakened the hold of racism on institutional and cultural infrastructures.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are still issues, particularly with prevailing mindsets that uphold some kind of racial superior mindset and wants to preserve white heritage…against Blacks, Latinos, and even Jews. And yes, even in our churches. Continue reading
The past few days, I’ve been observing the kerfuffle over the Sparrow Conference and the interview delivered by Ekemini Uwan. She spoke boldly about the need for white women to divest in whiteness by embracing their ethnic heritages and rejecting the power structure that whiteness created. She briefly explained that race was a false construct devised to create a classification of people and the result was whiteness that is rooted in plunder and theft. Unfortunately, the YouTube video was removed and her presence erased from the conference because some people couldn’t handle what she was saying. I personally believe that people weren’t hearing what she was saying and concluded that she was making racists statements against white people.
Moving past the conference and how issues related to race today are being addressed, I can see why some responded the way they did. We are bombarded by racialized sensitivities and the propensity to shut down any kind of pushback even when there are legitimate concerns about the way issues are being addressed. I do notice this tendency to create hyperbole and conflation especially around current events, political ideology and public policy. I get that those classified as white people are persistently told they are the problem and they need to bow down in silence and repentance to every jot and tittle of demands or else they are complicit in the perpetuation of racism. Nobody wants an accusatory finger pointed at them at all times. Particularly with Christians, I can see how off-putting this can be. I do observe that sometimes the focus on race can supersede our focus on Christ.
But we can’t deny the fact of how and why the false construct of the white and black race was created. It was constructed to create a hierarchal system whereby one class was deemed superior and one inferior. This hierarchal system emerged out of Europe based on economic trade that soon evolved into a full blown denial of personhood towards those of African descent. One only needs to look into the annuls of history to see how this resulted in power structures whereby one group of people, those classified as the white race, set the standard by which all else was subjected to including people deemed inferior solely because of the melanin and places of origin. Continue reading
For the past week or so, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over a special gathering of women of color sponsored by Legacy at the TGCW18 conference. (see their write up about it here.) The meeting is for women to come together to discuss their shared experiences (a phrase I will definitely be coming back to) and encourage one another. Why? Well, because being a minority, where minorities are very much the minority, trying to navigate through predominantly white spaces can be tricky and trying. If you don’t understand that, try talking to some minority women in those circumstances. But the upshot is that some women feel the need to retreat and gather among themselves apart from those who don’t really understand what it is like. They have a shared experience.
Of course, I get that there are varying degrees of sensitivity. Especially in these times of heightened racial awareness, I can see how those who are quick to racialize every aspect of every environment and interaction might feel the need for separate spaces. But let’s not be too quick to make those assumptions that explains what is going on here. And let’s not be too quick to attribute this acute awareness only among racial lines. Consider those who experience being a very small minority representation of whatever is the majority group: parents of small children in a church full of older couples; singles in the midst of married people; men in the company of a majority of women and vice versa. It’s not that you’re repudiating the majority group but there is a heightened sense of awareness that you kind of stand out and open to varying degrees of misunderstandings, misperceptions and prejudices.
This special gathering has spawned a bit of an uproar with charges of gospel-denying racism. I have even heard that the noise has caused the FBI to make some inquiries. Some folks are concerned that this kind of segregation has no place in the body of Christ. I do understand and appreciate the sentiment that oneness in Christ should preclude any kind of racial or ethnic superiority or exclusivity. As I wrote about in Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to my White Evangelical Church, I too have concerns that racial animus is creating a divide in the body of Christ. After all, Christ broke down the walls of ethnic hostility so that we can hold our identity in him first and foremost, bearing with one another and learning to love each other in spite of the extensive legacy of racial hostility. We do have to be cautious of creating unnecessary divides in the body of Christ, resisting the urge to retreat into separate enclaves because working out our salvation with fear and trembling is simply too intolerable. Continue reading
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 follows;
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
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