Tag Archives: racism

Why Christian calls for unity in the wake of Charlottesville may be both racist and theologically unsound

Whether it was the clergy in full vestments, arms linked facing down gun-wielding white supremacists or the torch-bearers chanting anti-semitic threats, it is abundantly clear that theology is not neutral in 21st century America.  And yet, in the wake of Charlottesville, many Christians have responded with opaque calls to unity and appeals to people of faith to “tear down the racial and cultural barriers that divide us.”

At first I thought such statements offended me merely as a cultural anthropologist.

You see, while it is powerful and poignant to condemn discrimination and racism, it seems a problematically ethnocentric, if not a positively white-privileged perspective to blatantly condemn “the racial and cultural barriers that divide us.”

Whose culture, whose race is dividing us?  Perhaps it seems like mere semantics, but when Christians posit that culture and race are problems that breed division, that they are the very evils that need to be stamped out, we reveal that our calls to unity run dangerously close to the rhetoric of those who rallied in Charlottesville last weekend (even if that was not the intent).

Even though race is a social construct, we do see color and it has socially and politically relevant power and effects that especially white Americans must grapple with rather than ignore.  The creative cultures that have emerged from communities of struggle and resistance among people of color in America are not barriers that divide us but rich resources to teach us about what America can and should become.

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Not only do we have to choose our words carefully from an anthropological point of view, but we have to do so because the ministry and the integrity of Jesus Christ is at stake here.  Countless Christians have boldly quoted Galatians 3:28 in the face of racial division: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”  But Paul uses this passage to argue that all are liberated from the law and therefore, we do not need to become like one another to be in Christ and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; rather, in Christ, we can live as one with those who are radically different from us.

Indeed, we often forget that Jesus came into a culturally pluralistic world and honored the cultural practices in communities and peoples who were different from him, while preaching a gospel that sought to unify.  There are certainly passages in the Bible that also justify slavery, genocide, and division, but when we look at the whole of God’s ministry arose history and in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I believe we do see that redemptive reconciliation does not damn culture, difference, and the sacredness of varied human lives, but the ways in which we human beings often instrumentalize these differences as division.

There’s nothing theologically unsound about unity, but unity that obliterates, objectifies, and undermines difference falls short of the vision God has for the fullness of humanity in Jesus Christ.  Unity that maintains inequitable power structures is false and faithless.  And unity that fails to listen and value the struggles of people of color in America is not only anthropologically unsound but theologically dismissive.

If you’re a Christian, especially a white Christian like me, seeking healing, reconciliation, and unity, I recommend you read the PCUSA’s statement on “Facing Racism,” adopted in 1999 by the General Assembly as a policy document to guide the pursuit of racial justice.  Or read this exegetical lecture on Acts, where Princeton Seminary Professor Eric Baretto powerfully describes how differences are gifts from God.  You might check out my post on “Embracing Difference as a Spiritual Discipline” and consider the challenge in a theology where we recognize and affirm that although we belong to God, God does not belong to us.  And check out Christina Cleveland’s “Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves.”

Of course, there’s so much more to read and do.  But at the very least, let’s check ourselves from parading around platitudes about unity at the expense of diversity, especially in the name of Christ.  Christians have got to stand for more than that.  We owe it to one another and especially to Jesus.

 

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Speak your truth (the whole truth), America

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Plymouth, MA.  All photos by Evan Schneider.

Last night, after yet another independence day celebration, yet another weekend of flags, festivities, and fireworks, I read a rather apologetic post from one of the new co-moderators of the PUCSA.  In it, she writes that although she doesn’t want to be a “Debbie Downer,” on the fourth of July, she is also painfully aware of the transgressions of our nation, especially with regards to slavery and civil rights, and our present problems like gun violence, torture, pollution, and racism.  She writes that while she will celebrate, she recognizes that others will grieve.

But I say, don’t apologize, Rev. Edmiston, for speaking your truth.  

We need voices of dissent in this country, even as we have those who cry out (and I would remark unapologetically, as well as uncritically) to “make America great again.”  We need  a fuller appreciation of our tattered history to find a more purposeful present.  In our zeal for patriotism, we often forget that our founders, flawed as they were, were hearty dissenters!

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Plymouth Rock.  

Why is it that we in America today are so afraid of the dissenters?  Why, despite years of good and bad, do we espouse to have all the answers?  Don’t we know that what makes America great is insight and innovation, change and adaptation, that can only come with critical reflection upon our very mistakes?

My truth this morning is that love is not enough.  We need justice.  We need change.

We need change because it’s not just in Medina and Baghdad and Dhaka and Istanbul but everyday, sometimes twice a day, that gun violence on American soil intervenes to take the lives of young men, mothers, and children.

We need justice because faith has been compromised; justice would choose a fast that breaks the chains of poverty, discrimination, and sexism, chains that we often prefer not to see even in our very history of liberation and our present struggle.

We need truth, because real truth, the ugly, full, challenging, meaningful, both star striped and tattered truth, does and can set us free.  Dissenters are part and parcel of that truth.

What is your truth to speak, America?  How will you go on, despite, in spite, to fight injustice?

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Native American protest at the Massasoit Indian Statue up the hill from Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day, 2012.

In the words of the poet, Langston Hughes,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!