Why I Stopped Talking about Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking about White Supremacy

Recently people have asked me, “Why isn’t talking about white privilege enough, why white supremacy?” There is an obvious discomfort with the term by white and Asian American people. The one exception to that is when things like Charlottesville happen. When people march around with Nazi flags,

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. August 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via REUTERS. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

most folks I know feel comfortable saying, “I’m not down with that.” Which is a pretty low bar, but ok. However, when the term white supremacy is used for anything less obvious than tiki torch wielding nazi flag waving people, lots of folks get uncomfortable. Most of my crowd was taught to use the terms white privilege and racial reconciliation. Here is why I no longer focus on them and instead teach on white supremacy.

When I first learned the term racial reconciliation in the early nineties, I found it very helpful and exciting. I was passionate about issues of race and justice, but had never heard those things discussed in Christian circles. Suddenly there was a Biblical basis and communal energy towards this value. When I came on staff with a Christian non-profit I was taught that racial reconciliation consisted of a three strand rope- ethnic identity, inter personal relationships, and systemic injustice. Though the focus was almost always on the first two.

Beginning with the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman and gaining momentum with the murder of Michael Brown Jr. in the fall of 2014, Black Lives Matter revealed the limits of the racial reconciliation model espoused by many evangelical organizations in nineties. Watching white Christians and POC submitted to whiteness respond again and again with

– denial of systemic injustice

– disregard for the lived experience of black people

–  silence in the pulpit

– a deeply ingrained superiority regarding issues of race

– a fixation on intentions over outcomes

I had to ask why those discipled by the racial reconciliation framework were so ill equipped to engage, learn from, and respond to a movement focused on systemic and institutionalized racial injustice.

Bad Theology

            The term racial reconciliation serves the dominant culture, it serves white people and those who align with whiteness. The term reconciliation is relational in nature. And though relationships are important, it is anchored in white theology’s pathological individualism.

Jesus died for my sins.

Jesus went to the cross for me.

I know the plans He has for me.

Though there is a place for the individual in theology. White theology, in profound syncretism with American culture, has distorted the Bible to be solely about individual redemption. So it is blind to the reality that when Scripture says, “I know the plans I have for you.” The you is plural and addressed to an entire community of people that has been displaced and are in exile. All Scripture has been reduced to individual interactions between God and a person, even when they are actually between God and a community, or Jesus and a group of people. As a result, white theology defines racism as hateful thoughts and deeds by an individual, but cannot comprehend communal, systemic, or institutionalized sin, because it has erased all examples of that framework from Scripture.

Secondly, white Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual images-11reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt. For the citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when it is studying Scripture, is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society- and it has made them blind and utterly ill equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.

pontiac-michigan-men-pray-at-a-promise-keepers-rally-at-the-pontiac-AGD4M1

Pontiac Michigan Men pray at a Promise Keepers meeting at the Pontiac Silverdome

            All of this put together creates a profoundly broken theological framework. It explains why people love a photo of a cop hugging a black person, but dismiss claims of systemic racism in policing. It pretends that injustice is resolved when individuals hug. This was actually something that people were encouraged to do at Promise Keeper events in the nineties- go find a black person, hug them. It confuses white emotional catharsis with racial justice. The two are far far far from each other. BLM insists on addressing systemic issues, and white Christianity is pathologically individualistic. And since white Christianity is also characterized by a lack of humility, it is not prone to learn from POC, who would clearly be the experts on issues of racism in the church.

Bad History

            Racial Reconciliation assumes an innocent reading of history. This is a term I learned from theologian Justo Gonzalez. An innocent telling of history is foundational to maintaining unjust and racist systems. When have white people ever been in just relationship with black people? During slavery? During Jim Crow? During the War on Drugs? What are we RE-conciling? It pretends that there was a time when everything was fine, we just need to get back there. However, that idyllic time has never existed.

tumblr_on500ja6Hx1ut6liuo1_500

White high school students cursing black students during the integration of schools. Montgomery, Alabama, 1963

Even when the civil rights movement is taught, it is framed as a discussion of the courage of black people. Which is true, their courage was amazing. But why did they have to be so courageous, what were they facing? The rage, racism, and violence of white people. Rarely is the profound hatred and resistance of white people taught. The evil of white people is downplayed, or minimized, to a few racist exceptions in the South. But white people, all across the United States, resisted any move towards racial justice with fury, rage, and violence. Our history never tells the true story of whiteness.

In her brilliant book on the Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson describes a riot that broke out  in Chicago, in 1951, when a black family attempted to move into a white apartment building. After being driven from the apartment, white people destroyed everything they owned, and over the course of the next day the crowd grew to over 4,000, eventually burning down the entire building. White people would rather burn a building than see black people live there. Or looking to the West coast “When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926…Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.” (Matt Novak)

And hence, white people don’t believe it when white racism is pointed out in the present. They’ve been told a fairy tale about themselves. Even when the history of POC is told, white violence is erased, and the consequences of historical injustices is minimized. White people do not connect themselves to history, once again because of pathological individualism. They simply want a friend in the present, with no acknowledgement of the past or present injustice.

 

White Comfort

            Racial Reconciliation centers language with which white people and its allies are comfortable. Racial Reconciliation moves at the pace that whiteness dictates. It focuses on making sure white people don’t feel guilty, but not on the systemic disenfranchisement of black, Latino, and Native people. It will talk about redeemed white identity without teaching about white supremacy. It will lament but not repent with action. It is comfortable with POC being displaced and paying significant mental and emotional tolls for the work, but asks little to nothing of its white people. It is profoundly anxious about white discomfort, and is always trying to control the narrative.

            In the racial reconciliation model POC are commodities.  People of Color exist to teach and educate whiteness. When white people are ready to learn, POC must share their story, our pain is for consumption. Whiteness listens, feels superior to other white people who aren’t as “woke,” but does not change. Recently, I talked with a twenty four year old African American woman. She shared that she was  expected to learn her job with a ministry, educate her peers, educate her supervisors, and educate up the line to leadership with twenty years more experience than her. While those leaders congratulate themselves for their openness to listening, they never wonder why there are no people at their own level of management to teach them. And the 24 year old white guy, her peer, is left to simple learn his job and carries none of that responsibility and exerts none of that emotional labor. This is the Racial Reconciliation model. But if POC become angry, frustrated, tired of this dynamic, they are labeled as uncommitted to the cause, immature, or not a right fit. When that 24 year old realizes this dynamic is exploitative and wrong, her leaders can’t believe it, they had the best of intentions.

The Racial Reconciliation model perpetuates white privilege because the pacing is centered on the dominant culture, the language is white centered, and the implicit audience of teachings and content is always the dominant culture. In the racial reconciliation model, POC are expected to show up whenever the topic of race is addressed, even though the implicit audience is always the dominant culture. The time is not really FOR people of color, but they must be there to validate that “real” work is happening. Again POC are a commodity.

            The role of POC in Racial reconciliation is to feel grateful, be loyal, educate ( but nicely, and without anger) and conform to white culture. People of Color are to bring just a sprinkle of color- without ever pressing for deeper cultural, organizational, or systemic change. POC must always “trust their leaders” and be satisfied with intentions over outcomes. Whiteness controls the narrative at all times. And let me state for the record, one does not need to be white, to be working for whiteness.

 

White Privilege

The term white privilege can be helpful, but it is still located in pathological individualism. It assumes that issues are resolved by how an individual white person handles their privilege. Hence, it cannot be considered a term that is sufficient to address or resolve organizational or systemic white supremacy. It can not dismantle white supremacy culture in a denomination, organization, or church. It is useful, and it is real. It is often a first step for people of privilege. It is important that they realize that they participate in unequal systems, even unintentionally. However, it is not enough for anyone in a position of leadership or influence.

Shifting to the term white supremacy, and understanding that it means more that flag waving Nazis, is a move away from pathological individualism. It puts responsibility on white people to stop supporting white supremacy versus putting the responsibility on POC to educate and provide diversity. Racial Reconciliation often views POC as the problem that needs to be solved. White supremacy locates the problem in the right place. Racial Reconciliation, because it is so preoccupied with the good intentions of whiteness and its allies, considers POC leaving sad, but no reflection on them. In the canary in the mine analogy- the death (departure) of POC, particularly Black, Latino, Native, and SE Asian people is sad, sort of confusing, but is really an indicator that the bird was just

canary_art22 not a good fit for the mine.

White supremacy says- “HEY! That bird died cause your well intentioned mine is toxic. It is on you, it is on the mine, to stop being toxic. It is not on the canary to become immune to deadly fumes.”

The term white supremacy labels the problem more accurately. It locates the problem on whiteness and its  systems. It focuses on outcomes not intentions. It is collective not individual. It makes whiteness uncomfortable and responsible. And that is important.

 

 

 

 

 

121 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Talking about Racial Reconciliation and Started Talking about White Supremacy

  1. You bring up a number of good points, but I’m frustrated that you exclude Asian-Americans, particularly East Asians, from the conversation, aligning us with whiteness. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to anti-miscegenation laws to Japanese-American internment in prison camps to Vincent Chin, we’ve been the subject of both systemic and individual racism too. It does Asian-Americans no good to pretend we’re not POC – white people don’t forget, and separating us from other POC was originally a very deliberate move to divide and conquer on the part of white supremacy.

    • Hey Dawn,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you. It does not do Asian Americans any good to pretend we aren’t POC, to participate in anti-blackeness, to pretend that the model minority myth isn’t part of white supremacy, and to ignore history. I grouped East Asian Americans with white theology, not because I think of us as white, but because the vast majority of East Asian American Christians that I have encountered align themselves with white theology and a white worldview on race. I think there is a small amount of movement in certain pockets, but of the hundreds and hundreds of East Asian Americans I interface with each year, most have adopted the dominant cultures theology.
      I think there are understandable reasons that it has happened, but I wish it would stop.
      I think that East Asian Americans have said yes the divide and conquer strategy you mention. And until they step away from that, and stand in real solidarity with other POC I can’t ignore their complicity in white supremacy.
      So yes, of course there are exceptions. But in general this is what I observe of East Asian American Christians. Have you seen differently?

      • Hi, I just read this article through a Facebook post. I don’t know you either (someone as mentioned that here). First of all, well-written and well thought out. I’m in agreement with Dawn. I think there are more and more AA Christians who are standing up and asking not to be lumped in with white theology. Our theology is not white. It never was and never will be. I know that there are many who align themselves with white theology, but I think that tide might be changing.
        I’m with you. It needs to stop. The model minority myth doesn’t serve us AA’s respectfully and never will.
        Thank you,
        Nancy

        • I do think there is some movement among East Asian Americans and for that I’m grateful. I think we are still very young as a group in this country and are still finding our voice in the race and justice conversation and haven’t had the time to develop a truly contextualized theology. With gratitude I learn from and sit at the feet of Black, Latino, and Indigenous theologians that have been doing this work for longer. And I’m eager to see what a theology that is truly Asian American and decolonized looks like.

        • The book you open and utilize to worship was piece-wised together by the very white Roman Catholic church…how could it not be a white construct? Putting up a picture of black Jesus doesn’t stray away from this.

      • You should clarify that it is East Asian American Christians that you’re talking about. Otherwise, you are complicit in simplifying a very complicated history and political reality that is important to understand with regard to white supremacy and the opposition to it. One of the hills Asian Americans political activists are pushing the large rock up is the idea that we are indistinguishable hordes acting in a way that is deterministic based on either race or culture or both.

        When you say “until THEY (my emphasis) step away from that and stand in real solidarity with other POC …” you are simultaneously grouping all East Asian Americans (because you don’t specify otherwise) and individualizing them into people who must do something outside of political movements.

        I also want more Asian Americans to take an explicit stand against white supremacy, and I have been involved for decades in political organizing to make that happen. In the process, I have learned that it makes as much sense to expect individual Asian Americans to transcend their own political/social/historical place in the cosmos without leadership and political movement than it does to expect any one else to do that. If you want Asian Americans to do something, then you should be taking the responsibility to aspire to leadership and do what it takes to make it happen. Anything less is just impotent complaining and in the case of your opening paragraph, inadvertently (probably) making the case against it.

        • I was assuming that it would be clear that I was referring East Asian American Christians due to the nature of the conversation, which was about Christian theology. But I understand your point. Though I don’t address it here explicitly because it wasn’t the focus of this post, I believe that I engage sympathetically and with challenging leadership towards my own community.

      • I do have to interject that one of the best churches I ever attended was a multicultural church in San Diego near the University of California campus in La Jolla. It was truly a multicultural environment, with worshipers from literally every racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background. And it was founded and led by the Asian-American pastor, his wife, and their friends from college. So there is definitely a segment of Asian-American Christian leadership that is wiling to address (and redress) the issues you have raised here.

        For the record, I am mixed-race black, white, and Native American in an interracial marriage (and with five children).

        • I’m so glad to hear about your positive church experience! So important in these times. There are Asian Americans that are rejecting white supremacy. I hope it become the rule and not the exception.

    • I’ll be honest with you. I have been in conversion with several Asian-Americans that have decided for one reason or another to remain on the sidelines as it relates to social justice.

    • Agreed. I am part of the Invisible Asian community… we Indians are claimed neither by Asians nor the Middle East. We are however in more hate crimes daily being confused to be middle eastern and or just outsiders taking American jobs. We also face the model minority syndrome and make up quite a large population. I liked your points in this article as well as your, why don’t asians and black peoples talk, article. Finding that we need to prove our brown minority stripes to Asian people, Black people, and White people.

      Indians have experienced slavery and trafficking much like black people and have been forced to build infustructure for white nations like East Asians and Latino populations. We were free from colonial rule only 70 years ago. My grandparents fought for freedom from white supremacy. We can all engage in this conversation and the question now is how? What would it take? How do we best support all peoples struggling against white nationalism?

      • Ida thanks for reading and adding your experience. In just two paragraphs you express a lot of complex layers to the South Asian experience, I’m grateful to listen and learn. It is complicated to figure out where we fit in the conversation. I am a big believer that POC need to be in real dialogue and sharing stories with each other. Finding ways to hear each others experiences with compassion, and care about liberation for each other is important. Lets keep the conversation going.

    • As a 2nd generation American, 1st generation American-born, Chinese American woman Presbyterian pastor, my experience is as a POC. My 1st 24 years of life were spent in southern Indiana where I could sometimes “pass.” My parents raised us to be as middle-class “white” Americans. However, I can’t say I was ever accepted fully as a “white” person. I think that lumping East Asian Americans in with white supremacist, Christian theology denies the East Asian experience. I too have worked on the issue of Anti-Racism education for many years & also yearn for racial justice. Please don’t lump me in. It denies all the past injustices done to Asians in America that includes the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese-American internment, exploitation of Chinese labor, etc.. When push-comes-to-shove, the colonialist attitudes of White America use East Asians as their less than equal props as we are held up as the “model minority.” The fact that we may not act for racial justice does not mean we are any less the victims of the white supremacist economic & political system. We’ve just been trained or figured out how to play the ever so tenuous game of being a “well behaved” American.

      • I hear you. And I believe that East Asians have an important history and experience. I wrote my thesis on anti- Chinese sentiment that lead to the Chinese exclusion act. I group East Asian Americans with white theology because the vast majority of East Asian Americans I encounter align themselves with white theology and adopt anti-black positions. So I am simply articulating what I have observed. I would like it to be different. I would like us to reject white supremacy in our theology, and come up with a contextualized theology. I would like us to reject the model minority myth more vigorously and reject all alignment with anti- blackness. There are small pockets of movement, but for the most part, the hundreds of East Asian American Christians I encounter need to do decolonizing work when it comes to their theology.

        I do not lump our history or culture or narratives into whiteness, but I think many in our community are self selecting alignment with whiteness, and that is what I was naming.

        I hope that distinction makes sense.

  2. We don’t know each other, but I want to say thank you for this piece. As a white, 54-year-old Christian pastor, I’m in the bullseye of what you wrote (I’ll be wrestling with Disney Princess Theology for a good long time). Blessings on you and your ministry, and on mine, too, as I change it because of what you’ve shared here.

    • John,

      Thanks for reading and thanks for being open, I can’t ask for more than that. Blessings on you and your ministry and the work God is doing in you and through you.

      Erna

  3. disney princess theology. brilliant. as an east asian-american growing up in an east asian-american church and still connected to them through friends, even getting them to talk about racial reconciliation at all is some work. we generally don’t like conflict. Jesus, help us.

    glad i read the whole article in context cuz i saw the quote “White supremacy says- ‘HEY! That bird died cause your well intentioned mine is toxic.'” and i was like “wut!? white supremacy doesn’t say that!” but then i realize you meant “Naming white supremacy says – ‘HEY!…”

    in any case, this is all good stuff to think through. trying to “de-colonize” my theology these days not just from strains of white individualism but also from asian (at least japanese) avoidance of speaking truth to power. thanks for sharing erna.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting.
      I’ve been pondering how the East Asian American relationship with authority shapes our view of social justice. And how our choice to immigrate shapes what we feel like we can expect. There are a lot of cultural reasons that draw us toward alignment with those in power and your point about avoiding conflict is true. (Though Korean churches are sort of legendary for reaching conflict gridlock and splitting. I’m not sure what to do with that.) Blessings on the journey.

  4. ah yes, that korean “han”. i think japanese colonizers contributed to that a tad (to put it mildly). but it did also contribute to that fierce “crying out to Lord” (early in the morning and well into the night in the mountains), like the israelites under the heel of egyptian oppression, that i have learned a lot from.

    • Yes. Its always humbling that when I drive by a Korean church at 6am, the parking lot is always full. I missed that intercession anointing.
      I think that Japanese Americans and their experience with the concentration camps, and the choice of people to come forward now, has so much to teach us. I’m trying to do a lot of listening to my Japanese American elders.

  5. Thank you. Your clarity and push to shift to labeling white supremacy as the real problem opens my own process to tackle the race problems. As an AA, it’s not always so clear cut.

  6. Is it possible that American Individualism is a existential position only approachable by those already enthroned in the priviledge of the ruling ethnic group? Could desire for collective justice be as unappealing to caucasian americans as confronting the revision of the historical fairytales (Columbus, Confederacy, Cowboy mythology, etc)? Asking for a friend ;P

    • Excellent article. Thank you.

      @Nick, I’d like to respectfully offer a response to your question re the “ruling majority group”.

      I think euro-centric individualism (as referenced in this article) creates a world view cobsyructed of binary oppositions; you/me, black/white, good/bad… The maintenance of supremacist ideology requires the supremacist individual to be on the “good” side of the binary. Both overt and covert white supremacists maintain their “goodness” through denial; either denial of the humanity of poc, or denial of their own complicity in supporting white supremacy.
      For the movement toward collective justice to amplify and accelerate I believe we need to lift the veil on our individual and collective denials. This is a painful process for most white people, and we are understandably, and most regretably, reluctant to give up our privilege of not feeling that pain. Peace.

      • Hi Martin,

        I appreciate your response, and I see little to argue with. I’d only like to perhaps add a wrinkle and suggest that saying ‘euro-centric individualism’ is a bit of a misnomer, because although the mythology of the ‘rugged individual’ certainly was born from American descendents of Europeans, I think you’ll find that the kind of individualism touted by our American mythos is not found in Europe. It is born out of our own desire to create a narrative that exonerates the psychopathy of the individual and makes the walls of denial sacrosanct. Why were these erected? When your country is formed on the blood soaked earth of Native Americans and upon the labor of African and Sino Americans, you need a well guarded psyche to prevent the horror to creep in.

        • Hi, Erna, Thank you for an excellent and thought-provoking article! These are critical issues for our nation and for white people–especially white men, like me. Language is so tricky because it’s really an artistic medium, I think, and we can’t really express everything we would like to as well as we want, because we are stuck with the rules of the grammar and the vocabulary, as well as the entire cultural worldview/imaginary of the people that developed that language. A prof of mine, Tommy Givens, said language is one of the powers that dominates us. Your points about the term “racial reconciliation” are well-taken.

          I would like to add a couple reflections on white supremacy that help me participate in the struggle against divisiveness, hate, and injustice. I have been using that term more intentionally for a couple years now, for several reasons. I was offended when I first heard friends using it 20+ years ago, because I thought of hate groups and extremists. I didn’t have the categories for systemic injustice, social sin, and so on, and I had no idea those concepts course throughout the Bible. It took me a while to grasp its meaning.

          Racial reconciliation was helpful to me, and despite the weaknesses you point out, as well as the glaring issues with the term “racial,” I am thankful for those who taught me about it and modeled it–people of many ethnicities, both women and men. I am not sure whether the weaknesses you point out are all inherent in the term itself, or whether some of that has been “done” to the term. When my friends who were Korean-American and Japanese-American spoke of Korean-Japanese reconciliation, I think it was more corporate and much deeper than hugs. But white Northern European-Americans see, feel, and imagine everything through our individualistic lenses, especially men. It’s just our imaginary, so we don’t even know we’re doing it. For those of us who use the term white supremacy, or any other term, we will probably find ways to use it individualistically, ways that shield us from pain, responsibility, humiliation, and suffering. But at least for now it seems to resist individualism. Like all language related to oppression, minoritization, and so on, we’ll probably need to find new terms in a few years that haven’t had their sharp edges blunted.

          Meanwhile, white supremacy is extremely helpful to me. It helps me remember that being white isn’t evil. What’s evil is hegemony, imposing my culture in order to maintain power and control. The attitudes that “white is right,” and judging all others through our white (and male) lenses, as if we were the ones creating the universal standards, is evil. As the community of God’s people and serious study of Scripture have shaped me into someone more like Jesus, I find myself longing more and more that our organizations, local churches, and nation would gain the strengths of becoming truly multi-ethnic–not just in terms of population or integration, but at deep, structural levels, like the kingdom of God itself, where the leaders of every tribe, tongue, and nation contribute the gifts of their peoples to the well-being of all. This is something worth losing our lives for, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I hope many white men will join me in working to see real change and the end of white supremacy, even if not until the upside-down kingdom of Jesus comes in full.

  7. Thank you for writing a powerful and much needed condemnation of White Supremacy thinking and inaction. Your “Disney Princes” analogy is accurate and thought provoking, to say the least. I plan to use your article to promote much needed discussion in the dominant white community in which I live.

  8. This post is very eye-opening and convicting, and I know I’ve been guilty of all the issues you mentioned. I would at the same time love to hear your thoughts on two matters.

    First, I wonder if the vices you pointed out–individualism and “Disney Princess Theology” (excellent label, btw)–are really the sources, rather than the symptoms of whiteness. I.e., whiteness is a form of self-centered, individualistic ways of looking at the world; the root issue is self-centeredness before it is ethnic-centered. Even as I have typed this, I know that this is kind of a “chicken or egg” issue, as the functional and practical result remains the same–white supremacy. In that sense, maybe it doesn’t really matter which is the source and which is the symptom. Either way, white supremacy needs to be clearly identified, repented of, and both continuously. At the same time, I believe it’s valuable to understand root causes vs. symptoms when it comes to sin.

    Secondly, what would it look like for a young, white pastor in a pro-military, pro-police, pro-gun, nationalist-ish, and predominantly white town to preach about and against white supremacy? What are some specific applications from sermons (i.e., actions the average congregant could do in the week following the sermon as well as longer term actions and attitude changes) that you would expect to hear, based on your experiences and newfound perspective? I feel like I’ve tried to address this in the pulpit and out of it, but I know I’m barely scratching the surface. I genuinely want to do more. Thanks for your article!

    • Thanks for your great questions.
      Addressing your second question- your context is very different than mine. But I really appreciate that you want to bring these categories. I find that it has to be done in steps and using language that doesn’t push people away. When I’m working with students who are new to these ideas I rarely open with the concept of white supremacy,but I build to it.
      I would begin by expanding theological frameworks without connecting them to race. Seeing community and collective theology, compassion for stories and experience different than their own, examples and stories of POC. Build a skill set and then begin to build bridges towards race.
      That’s a quick two cents.

      Glad to dialogue more.
      Blessings on our minsitry.

    • Regarding white supremacy, I think there is an easy answer to the chicken-and-egg question you pose: white supremacy came before individualism. There was white supremacist thought in custom, law, and theology in the Spanish colonies of the Americas, white supremacism that justified the horrifying atrocities described in Bartolome de Las Casas’ History of the Destruction of the Indies.

      The discrimination against Native Americans (and later blacks imported from Africa) was justified in terms of their recent conversion to Christianity, and how their impure moral status transmitted itself to black, Native American, mestizo, and mulatto children for three to four generations (as per Biblical tradition). That standard had been applied to Muslim and Jewish converts in Spain within previous generations, as well as descendants of persons who had committed infamous crimes or who had been born of an adulterous relationship (adulterinos) or of a priest under vows.

      The standard was a communal one applied against people of color, a standard which exempted “old Christians” (i.e. white people), except for those whose conduct placed them outside the community of “good people.” (Conquistadors who committed massacres were still admitted within that community, however).

      To be sure, some white Spaniards did take extraordinary pains to attempt to mitigate injustices against Native Americans (Las Casas was one of them). However, their decision to treat Native Americans as children, never capable regardless of age of proper moral understanding or responsible conduct, was a key foundation for ongoing white supremacism to permeate European thought, custom, law, and theology for the next 500 years (and counting). Naming white supremacism (the beliefs that justify white supremacy) as the pernicious, poisonous force that it is is a step in the right direction.

      • Sjahari, excellent points. These are stories we need to remember and tell, and—especially for white European-Americans like myself—to embrace. I think there is a back-and-forth or dialectic process as well. Descartes led the revolution in thinking of the so-called Enlightenment in Europe by locking himself into a dark room and doubting everything except his own thinking. Can you get any more individualistic? This is a far cry from what African mentors have taught me–“I am because we are.”

        The Enlightenment looked back to the “Golden Age” of the Greek and Roman civilizations as its model. The Romans saw all cultures as inferior to their own and imposed hegemony–Roman supremacy–across a huge portion of the world. The Greeks before them had done the same, in quite brutal ways. The individualism of the Northern European peoples seems like it got mixed in with the cultural supremacist thinking of the Greeks and Romans. Greek philosophy and Roman approaches to justice, peace, law and order all contribute to the European thought, custom, law, and tragically, theology, as you mention. I think we need to remember all of this when we think of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Washington, Lincoln, and Edwards. Lord, have mercy on us.

    • Z, I have wrestled with kind of question myself. A friend suggested teaching clear “kingdom of God” theology from Scripture as a basis. I thought that was brilliant. Establishing a clear understanding of the counter-cultural kingdom where greatness is serving the least; a kingdom that welcomes everyone and scandalous offensive hospitality especially including the poor, outcast, and pariahs; a kingdom where justice is defined by how the fatherless, widows, and immigrants are treated–all of these can be taught from almost any book of the Bible, and practiced during the week. Over time, kingdom sensibilities and discernment will get built up (Rom. 12:1-2) to give enough context that maybe some of these topics can be broached.

      An African-American/Cherokee woman taught me a lot, and one of her answers is to teach Shalom, from Genesis through Revelation. God’s intention for all of creation to thrive in interdependent harmony with one another and God is a beautiful, attractive picture, which then has implications for all these questions we’re grappling with in our nation. I have found many people respond well to this.

  9. Pamela,
    Thanks for reading and being so open. I’ve participated in it too. The best we can do it learn and let it change us.

  10. Beautiful thoughts…thank you. I am a Filipino pastor who came here to finish my doctoral studies. I got frustrated with the double standard getting sick of the reality that POC (Asian in my context) is being regarded as lower or weaker than the “white” (I do not want the term “white” also because it also sound discriminatory and separating, I am using the word with discomfort) I am about to go home and pledge not to come back here. But, I just realized that I can make at least a tiny dent of the solution to this problem. I am now trying to locate myself in this dialogue so that I can re invent myself and be a valuable part of the American community (I mean a community of diversity and not white alone) I hope I will be able to help.

    On the other hand, I also feel sorry that the people who have white skin are being characterized as oppressors, bigots or supremacists. Many of them are also victims of history and do not know how to locate themselves in this new emerging America. I am a confused when I set foot in this land and I don’t like it. Now, how much more difficult for them that they were born here and they are now confused. Open discussions such as this in a civil and Christian manner is very important steps in finding a solution. I hope this issue will be continuously discussed in a cultural discussion to seek to understand and not in a political context that is now dividing this country.

    • Oni,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. I can imagine that coming to this country and trying to navigate our bizarre and complicated racial dynamics is very difficult. I appreciate that you are wanting to engage, that’s a big step. I have always thought that we have a lot to learn from those who have worked for justice in the Philippines.

      Blessings on your season here.

  11. I think you set up “tacial reconciliation” as a straw man to hold together a contrast to the points you want to.make. I have never thought of reconciliation as a way of living that did not necessitate addressing the idol of white. supremacy . Switch gears to curiosity question: If you set aside people you think rame these issues in the most helpful way, and just think about a context where you felt a genuine hope around race–what was that?

    • I’m simply presenting it as it was taught to me, which is a form that I think was pretty common.
      I felt hope when I was deeply loved and seen in who I am, a friend crying with me when my Korean mom disowned me for being in ministry, my Asian American staff community coming around me and welcoming me as a biracial person and holding me during that difficult season. Watching my Latina and Chinese American students have a conversation where they realize they have so much in common. Being in Ferguson one year after the murder of Michael Brown Jr. in a Black led and Black centered space. Watching my students be open and change over the course of a summer. Watching women of color realize they are valuable and beloved and not a commodity for the Christian cause. Gatherings of Women of Color where they realize they aren’t alone and they aren’t crazy- and we become sources of deep helping for each other.

      Those are a few.

  12. Can we Asian Americans acknowledge it is not either-or? Yes, white supremacy works against us. But ever since we were invited back as Model Minorities to be used against black people, we also have received a lot of benefits of a system of white supremacy. Despite being targets we also have relative privilege. One need look no further than the Asian American man who decided to provide hosting services for Daily Stormer after GoDaddy, Google, and the rest of the Internet rejected them.

    In terms of helping defeat white supremacy, it is my belief that efforts arguing against black people who acknowledge the reality of our relative privilege and in some cases complicity with white supremacy is wasted effort. What does that accomplish? I prefer to acknowledge this truth and spend my fighting efforts on dismantling the white supremacy that has us at odds with each other in the first place.

    • I feel you on this. I know that as a community we are in the middle, maybe just at the beginning, of a journey of what is means to be us. How do we reject the black white binary in racial conversations, without diminishing the prevalence and violence of anti-blackness? How do we amplify issues of justice that impact our community, without make false equivalencies?
      Asian Americans often think I’m throwing them under the bus because I group us ( east asian americans) with white folks theologically. It isn’t because this is what I want, it is simply what I have seen to be true.
      And its hard to acknowledge that its complex, we do have privilege, we do experience marginalization, we perpetuate anti-blackness and align with white supremacy, we suffer because mental healthy and poverty issues in our community are overlooked both because of our own cultural values, and the model minority myth.
      Its complicated.
      But I agree- I want to fight the dehumanizing power of white supremacy in all its forms.

      • I love this conversation and want to add something that is nearly always forgotten or overlooked. As a Black clinician living and working in “The Whitest City in America” (The Atlantic), I started a nonprofit focusing on addressing health disparities from a public health risk standpoint. Therefore, we started a campaign to force CDC to recognize, acknowledge and respond to their mandate that racism meets their own criteria for a threat to public health. Here are the criteria in the letter I wrote to them: http://right2healthus.org/campaign/letter-to-the-cdc-and-their-response/

        Since (as you can see in their response) they refused, we then started a Moveon.org campaign here: https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/racism-meets-criteria.fb52?source=c.fb&r_by=16228964

        The issue we are missing is that ALL racism is a threat to ALL public health and by distracting our populace with the relatively superficial issues of which “minority” has suffered more or in what way or by what means, etc. we miss the larger picture that “Race-ism” is truly a gateway drug to hate/fear/inequity of all “others” irrespective of which issue one chooses to eschew.

        Please follow this hypothesis/scenario: Hundreds of years ago, a small group of wealthy families saw the tremendous economic potential of the “new world” and pondered how to assure their descendants unlimited and secure wealth sustained. They decided that, by using the human capital they brought (slaves), found (natives) and potentially would co-opt (immigrants) as nearly free labor, they could tap that limitless potential and therefore wealth, sequestering it for their own “White” few at the expense of the many for generations to come. What would that look like today? I submit that, while those of us in the lower economic sector are arguing – as is logical to do – over which “minority” is more disenfranchised, these wealthy elite buy legislators, adjudicators and policy-makers to their ends and against the public’s best interest, deny climate change and economic and ecologic realities for their own means.

        We are distracted not only by our own pain, but by the – reasonably concerning – portends of the future. Meanwhile, the greedy are making off with the “bank” – literally.

        Join us and don’t be distracted by ANY of these amoral vectors of the cancer that racism represents.

        L. Gregory, MSBS, PA-C
        Right To Health, Inc.

        • Thanks for this really interesting addition to the conversation . I agree that addressing racism as a public health issue has its merit. I don’t agree that it should be the sole lens for engaging the topic. And though I agree that it isn’t about fighting over who is more marginalized, I think acknowledging the different ways communities are marginalized is important to respecting them and supporting their road to liberation and wholeness.

  13. This article is SO DEAD ON!!!! My husband and I are the “girl in ministry” you described! We left because they thought we were “losing focus,” and not a good fit! Man!! I loved the bad theology section. That was helpful for me to read. I’m not always sure how to articulate what I’m seeing and feeling biblically…so thank u for that. This was really good!

  14. “When we refuse to see our own fears and darknesses for what they are, and instead project them onto others, this is what we create. When we refuse to acknowledge the consequences and details of what we are doing, when we refuse to remember that these are human beings like ourselves, this is what we create. When we remove the face and see some race, some religion, some culture as ‘other’, this is what we create. Suffering. Death. Destruction. A grief beyond measure…And if you are foolish enough to believe that this does not mean you, that you are somehow finer and exempt, then I will tell you: this darkness lives in you as well, because you are human….Do not imagine that you are different. And do not shy away….say without flinching: This is mine too.” -From the book Blood Brothers by David Reid.

      • I believe Ellen’s quote is meant to connect with your points about pathological individualism. As applied, we, the aforementioned white people, need to accept responsibility for the darkness present in this society built upon the scaffolding of white supremacy.
        At present, we are refusing to acknowledge our responsibilities and, instead, project those responsibilities onto others.

      • Your response to Ellen’s recitation is very different from all your other response to comments. That fact, combined with your actual words, leads me to believe that in fact you DO know how to connect it with wht you had written.

        She is pointing out what you so blinding are ignoring…you are projecting and refusing to admit that you are not exempt…you are not different as you propose that you are.

        • Without any context or interpretation I did not want to assume that I understood how she was offering the quote.

          I would not say that I am exempt in any way. I talk often about the privilege I experience in this country as a biracial Asian and White woman as well the marginalziation I experience in white evangelical spaces.
          I write this article as an expression of my own decolonizing work and growing understanding of white supremacy and the ways it has shaped my theology.

          And in terms of how different I am. Well…. that’s a mystery. I might secretly be the Mother of Dragons.

    • I believe this is the True cause of dissension among people. I’ve been ready many blog posts by POC about their experiences…and I really identify and commiserate with their experiences. In 95% of cases, I’ve experienced something very similar to what is expressed by the blogger…but I’m a white woman. People of all colors, genders, religious affiliations, etc are discriminated against on a daily basis. It is because there is this Us verses Them mentality in society. If you’re not that mythical ‘perfect’ person in someone else’s eyes, then you have struggles ahead of you. We can separate ourselves from one another by calling each other names (white supremacist, BLM, POC, white privileged, etc) and joining groups of like-minded individuals trying to squeak the loudest to get the grease (squeaky wheel analogy). Yet, the very nature of these groups is to cement the differences between the group and those outside the group–to pit those within the group against those outside it. Pretty soon everyone besides your group is the enemy. Even people that identify with most of your group’s criteria are labeled as less than group members if they have a dissenting opinion (Ben Carson, Avelda King, Alan Keyes, etc aren’t ‘real’ blacks because they hold conservative values according to most in the media and in the streets). So all this labeling does is further isolate everyone and inflame those prone to stupidity and violence to commit their atrocities. Blaming all whites for a white individual’s bad action is just as bad as blaming all POC for a POC’s bad action. We are individuals & while we all belong to one community, when that community has a billion people in it, the other 999,999,999,999 people aren’t guilty of one person’s bad action. Just as all people that share a visible characteristic with that bad actor aren’t all guilty of that action. The person that committed atrocities against me had blue eyes, but I don’t automatically think all blue eyed people are going to commit those same atrocities. Their accomplice was bald, again, I don’t think all bald people are guilty of those 2 individuals’ crime. Sure I have panic attacks when I think someone could treat me the same way they did. Yes, I have suffered much because of their actions and I will never forget what they did. Yep, I’m concerned that my children will suffer repercussions from these individuals or those associated with them. I could still sceram and rant, report the organization and expect reparation, but in the long run, all that does is commit me to reliving the terror again and again and painting innocents within the organization and associated with those people as bad actors. However, I do my darnedest to rise above my fears and accept everyone based on their own merits, not through the color of my experience that limits them to being like the worst examples I’ve ever seen. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and honestly try to be the person I wish to meet in all situations. I’m sure many POC may disregard my opinion because I haven’t walked as a POC, but they haven’t walked as me either.

  15. The true problem is the heart! Until we deal with our own hearts, people will not truely change! We can demand change thru creating laws, tearing down statues, and giving POC speeches! BUT, true change comes from the heart, through relationships, tough conversations, reflection of thoughts, and love! Leaving it right here!!!!

    • I agree and disagree. People do need to be influenced through personal learning and transformation. But systems and institutions are also broken and we need solutions that address that as well. Changing laws is important, changing public discourse is important. We can see that Trump has tremendous impact on the state of public discourse at the freedom that people feel to express hate. True change comes from changing people, laws, institutions, and culture. Jesus says he was bringing the Kingdom of GOd- an entire system, culture, and way for people to be, he did not say I am bringing an opportunity for personal transformation alone.
      In addition most people I know who use this argument are rarely actually doing significant engagement, teaching, and speaking up to bring about all this heart transformation that they emphasize.

  16. The post is interesting and provocative but sad in that as a white guy born and raised in the south it seems the color of my skin is more telling than the content of my character. Is that the message? What is the solution;scapegoating white people? Supremacists of all colors exist throughout America and the entire world and have so throughout history. Genocide and slavery(Estimated in excess of 30 million) still exist and perpetuated by supremacists of all colors and religions- the most oppressed are women and children who are victims of unspeakable inhumanity and in most cases not due to white theology, whatever that means.

    Speaking up for injustice, demonstration and standing up against hatred has many heroes- not all of them poc. Despite all of the injustice, the American power structure has created an imperfect mechanism with contributions from a wide ranging cultural, religious, ethic and colorful people and established imperfect peaceful mechanisms for change;voting. Everyone needs to get involved, become informed and vote. Identifying a problem is important, lasting solutions require co-operation and higher purpose. I thank God(whatever his or her color) for individuals like MLK and Mahatma Gandhi and the clarity and morality of their purpose and decisions to act. However if all things deemed to be “white” are to be destroyed at least explain with what they are to be replaced ….perhaps we could all agree.

    • I hear in your comment the tension that many white people have with engaging systemic issues. Because everything is processed through such a personal and individualistic lens it is hard to understand that there are systems of whiteness that exist and are perpetuated in spite of individual good intentions.
      Though the journey is difficult for white people, I think courage to engage can be found in shifting the focus back onto those who are experiencing profound injustice. Unarmed black people being killed by the police, Muslim Americans on receiving end of profound hatred, families being torn apart by unjust immigration policy. I would hope that the content of your character would be that in seeing the suffering of others, realizing that there are systems of injustice that you are connected to historically, systemically, and institutionally, you would join your heroes in courageously fighting to dismantle them.
      Of course evil has been perpetuated by people of all ethnicities, but I am addressing the history of the Unites States, and in this country white people must look soberly and honestly at history and the present and see that white supremacy is a real and terrible reality. Beyond flag waving nazis, in all its expressions. I hope the content of your character is not to flip to self pity, but learn and engage in courageous resistance.

      • I fundamentally agree with much of your assessment but you have to recognize a bit of intellectual arrogance and racial bias in your own perceptions and journey. I believe the basic weakness in your premise is that systemic racism is only a product of white supremacy and not broad based economic exploitation and supremacy that was dominated by white European culture in the US but is increasingly perpetuated by all people of all colors in the US and throughout the world.

        If you sense tension in my comments they are a product of having extensive engagement challenging and fighting systemic issues of racism and economic injustice and doing it long enough to know that it is more complicated than simply being an issue of a misperception of a white only power structure….I am connected by genetic descent to white racism but I am also connected to children of color through a marriage to a woman of color connected to a brother shot by a white racist after having integrated a college of color in the pre civil rights days and for playing on a men’s sports team of color and thereby ending his own career. The answer is not for people who have legitimate grievance to gravitate or to build a new system by changing the color of the proponents of economic supremacy.

        Personally, my biblical identification is closer to Paul than to Peter; “a wretch like me” who has gratitude for undeserved grace. I believe the solutions to the problems of men rest in forgiveness and recognition that none of us are without weakness or sin and all of us are doomed to repeat the failures of history if we do not learn from its lessons.

  17. What have you been learning in your Christianity that makes you need to solve the jots and tittles of your racial sins, but not how to prefer one another in love, regardless? Only that will change the world. Why do you need more examination of the corpse of the passing world and its political frame of division? Get busy. Get out from your church seat and go visit your neighbor. Be compassionate to all, because all are oppressed by sin more than any person, system, or ideology. Jesus died for THAT oppression and that makes each of us equal. Nothing else, no other insight, remark, or outright control will make us wiser, more loving, more compassionately equal than, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

    May God have mercy on me, a sinner.

    • The one positive thing I can say about your comment it that you introduced me to the idiom – jots and tittles. So thank you for that.

  18. Hi Erna. Thanks for this article. Wanted to ask if you would abstain from using the word “blind” to describe the mechanisms/effects of white supremacy. I think ableist metaphors impede anti-racist efforts.

    • Hey Ester,
      Thanks for your comment. This is a growth area for me so I would appreciate any help you want to offer to help me understand better.
      I agree with the sentiment that ableist metaphors impede anti-racist effort. However, I am speaking literally about people’s inability to see certain systems. And the bible is full of examples of people who have spiritual blindness and deafness. Which is a really issue in the church in the US today. What language would you suggest I use to make this point? What do you do with language in the bible?

      I know I can also do research on this online. So if responding to this is too tiring I understand.

      Thanks
      Erna

  19. Thank you so much. I was first exposed to the term white privilege way back in early 2000 as a seminary student. Up until then I really had never thought about it. I was a child growing up in the 60’s and saw a little of the civil rights movement but never really focused on it. I took the cleansed hx that was taught in school and never truly questioned it. My parents were just average white americans who did not like what they saw but were so complacent and did not want to make waves. It was only as I struggled through seminary and worked in the health field as a nurse and studied parish nursing did I begin to understand the struggles of all minorities and our complacency in it. It was embarrassing to know that I was complacent by birth and immersion, not by intent. The more I learned , the more I realized I needed to be willing to speak out. Having children and a spouse who society labels disabled due to neuromuscular weakness, and then being adjunct faculty attempting to help what society has labeled minorities break out of generational poverty has been a very huge revelation to me and I am becoming an outspoken advocate. Thanks for writing a well thought.out article

    • Thank you for sharing your story. “I was complacent by birth and immersion, not by intent”- that’s a great quote. What I appreciate is what you’ve done with that realization. Thank you for your story and initiative.

  20. Pingback: Racism and Canada | "As I mused, the fire burned"

  21. I get the feeling from most of the rhetoric about white supremacy from POC that the solution is to replace it with POC supremacy. That is equally damning and reprehensible. Trying to motivate me, a white male, to examine the system in terms of my inherent whiteness is ludicrous. I’m not emotionally invested in the symbols and culture of white supremacy as an individual, and wholeheartedly advocate a system of social justice that promotes the general welfare of all races in my country. But at every turn it seems I am being indicted as an individual for my whiteness. I am being prosecuted in the court of social ideas and presumed guilty by association. I can no more help being white than POC can help being victims.
    As a white teacher in a predominately black school system for many years, I met resistance from students, parents, administrators, fellow teachers and politicians to even discuss the issue authentically, my credibility bring dismissed outright by the fact that I am white and affluent. My contribution to the dialogue is often hindered thereby.
    So, I silently try to make that contribution by establishing relationships on an individual level and voting my conscience. I don’t know what else to do. My only haven is a regular poker night with my friends: a Lebanese doctor, a Mexican chef, a self-proclaimed Tennessee redneck veterinarian and a Saudi Arabian pathologist.
    And then I go into my classroom of underprivileged white children and try to teach my conscience.
    I don’t know what else to do among all this sounding brass. I refuse to have conversations about white privilege. I can engage authentically in dialog about white supremacy. Thank you for framing the conversation this way. It will help.

    • I’m glad that the category of white supremacy is helpful. I would offer a suggestion. An aspect of white supremacy is white people thinking that they should have the authority to shape conversations around race and pick the language they prefer. Part of repenting of that is to follow the lead of those who have most been impacted by an injustice, to use the language they prefer. Even if you are uncomfortable with it, humble yourself and follow their lead. I think this is part of bearing the fruits of repentance, and living into the first will be last and the last first.

  22. I think the issue of pathological individualism is dead-on. It really is a root of a lot of our cultural issues, and more importantly, addressing it as a problem in itself is a great way to enter into the discussion of cultural or systemic white supremacy (to distinguish that from individual white supremacy- tiki torch bearers, for example.)

    I once heard a preacher talk about “the problem of the preponderance of the perpendicular pronoun,” in other words the overemphasis on “I” in current teaching. He suggested trying to go a week avoiding any worship song or hymn that include I, me or my in its chorus. It made me aware of the rampant egotism of modern American Evangelical Christianity: “I am so special and precious that Jesus died for me!” (Lord, how I hate that song about how Jesus “thought of me above all” as he sacrificed himself for ME ME ME!)

    But you’ve finished that message for me. As toxic as the Gospel of Personal Elevation (AKA your brilliant “Disney Princess Theology”) is to us, it never occurred to me before how much it enables and facilitates systemic injustice. Thank you for closing that loop for me.

    • As a worship leader I’ve done a lot of thinking about how our worship songs and style reflect and carry our theology. What is currently sung in most white churches singing contemporary worship is totally indiviualistic and absent of themes of justice and collective repentance. A word study of the top 50 songs sung in contemporary white Christian churches would reveal a lot.

      Thanks for reading and charing your thoughts.

  23. Your article helps! I have felt for some time that trying to get the majority of us white people to buy into the concept of white privelege was a waste of time. Most white people do not feel priveleged. Focusing as individuals, we can think of all of our hardships, of all of the ways ouf lives have not been easy. Priveleged? Hell, no! You’re so right! The notion of privelege is individualistic. Ah, but, white supremacy? That forces me to look up, at the group, at all of us!
    Whites are now and ever have been supreme in our society. We have and have had the upper hand. That’s clear to each of us, isn’t it? When each of us look upward for help,look in your mind’s eye. What color is the face you see?
    Those of us who are white and who have been working at understanding and working on understanding ourselves in this picture, we know, we know the necessity of helping other whites see how they can promote understanding and change is where the rock hits the hard place. That’s a key focus that we, that I need. Thank you.

  24. MaryKate, you come very close to identifying a causal issue in your first point (Bad Theology). The gospel as proclaimed by the Jesus of the New Testament both identifies the root of social brokenness and the solution. Our broken society is in desperate need of the Gospel, proclaimed and lived by people of the Kingdom. We need less of symptom analysis and more of Biblical diagnosis and Jesus style application.

  25. You hit the nail on the head. The history of Civil Rights, racism, the Civil War and every other aspect of the dilemma of race in this country always is framed as the struggle and bravery of Black Americans. The discussion rarely if ever considers white Americans deep and profound complicity in the problem. Whenever I offer the observation, “Racism would not exist if whites weren’t racist,” you can hear white folks shorts bunch up! You can’t even use the words “racism, race” and “white Americans” in the same sentence without them immediately locking up. This is precisely why the problem persists. Whites DO NOT and seemingly, CAN NOT accept ownership of their deep responsibility for the problem. And when you can’t accurately diagnose the problem because people are in denial, than a cure will never be attempted much less discovered. The country is in deep trouble.

  26. Got a headache reading this article and responses. I conclude from this that minorities will not be content until they are no longer the minority and white people are the underdog. I will not apologize for being born a white American. I have nothing against people who are different than I am.as long as they treat me the way I treat them. I do have a problem with people who come to America because it is so great and once they get here they want to remold it to make it like where they came from.

    • I think that marginalized people want to be treated with dignity and respect. And I believe part of being the people of God is to treat others as if they are really made in the image of God. Most injustice is anchored in diminishing the image of God in another person or group of people. I don’t believe it is about making whites the underdog. ( Though Scripture talks about the first being last and the last being first. That has implications within the bounds of our country. And it has implications for us as people from the United States in regards to the rest of the world. I don’t know exactly what it means, but Scripture speaks of positional reversal all the time.)
      I don’t think that you need to apologize for being white. But all of us need to engage with responsibility, humility, and love in response to the world and our position in it.

  27. A gripe about terminology: you repeatedly uses the term “whiteness”.

    Another thinker defined their usage of the term (which seems to be the same way that you are using it) along the following lines “When I refer to “whiteness” here I am not necessarily referring to the pigmentation of one’s skin, but rather “whiteness” refers to a political economy, an ordo or a social arrangement, that is a locution for the modern/colonial world-system which was inaugurated by those who held to an obtuse Eurocentrism.”

    http://www.groundmotive.net/2015/07/everything-will-be-alright-overcoming.html

    Given that this term isn’t strictly intended to signify skin colour as such, why not just use “racism” or “white supremacism” , instead of “whiteness” then?

    • Thanks for you question/ gripe. I find Whiteness to be a useful term, it continues to press against a purely individualistic understanding of the world. This article reflects some of why I find the terms useful.

      http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/whiteness

      Below are some quotes from the article.

      As with the term ‘race,’ it is important to clarify the differences between “white” (a category of ‘race’ with no biological/scientific foundation) and “whiteness” as a powerful social construction with very real, tangible, violent effects. Here are some useful definitions of ‘whiteness,’ followed by a list of its key features:

      Racism is based on the concept of whiteness–a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white (Kivel, 1996, p. 19).

      ‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67).

  28. If you don’t diagnose a problem correctly, you will never solve it. You say Michael Brown was murdered, but even the Obama justice department didn’t find that he had been murdered. He was killed in a struggle for a police officer’s gun. And under the same system that labeled Obama the first black president, George Zimmerman was a Hispanic man. Every problem is a manifestation of white supremacy, to you. So the nuanced and difficult real problems will remain unaddressed.

    The Disney princess theory is interesting and worth further thought, but with facts so twisted to support your ideas it’s hard to take anything you say seriously. Try to be part of a true solution, not just a deepening divide between groups in this country.

    • I use the word murder deliberately. There is a myth that the way white people view and interpret the world, particularly race issues, is more objective and neutral. A myth, that the justice system they invented is “blind” and fair. These are myths of white supremacy. The Ferguson report shows that residents of Ferguson lived under constant police harassment, and under a very exploitative, unjust, and racially biased system.
      The plethora of unarmed black people dying at the hands of police is systemic. The “wait for all the details” “Each and every case is totally unconnected to any other situation that has every happened” is a white narrative of the world.
      I believe that those most impacted by an injustice should shape the language used to discuss it. Those most impacted by an injustice are the experts on it. When it comes to racism in this country, POC are the authority. And because our racism is so rooted in anti-blackness, black people are uniquely positioned to be the authority on racism. And because of anti-blackness a Latino man like Zimmerman can perpetuate and participate in white supremacy.

      To me, not every problem is a manifestation of white supremacy. But it is pervasive. For most white folks white supremacy is never real, never an explanation, never at play. And that is a false diagnosis, without nuance, that does not address the real problems in this country and in our theology.

      • Thanks for your comment.

        You seem to be misunderstanding me: I agree with your diagnosis that

        -black people are often unfairly victimised by the police and justice system.
        -systemic violence exists
        -people often underestimate the impact of white supremacy

        What I’m challenging is your use of the term “whiteness”.

      • You said, “I use the word murder deliberately.” I want to address the shooting death of Michael Brown. In your view, what did the officer do wrong and how does his actions linked to white supremacy?

        Thanks,
        d

        • There are lot of articles out there that discuss the shooting in specific, and I don’t want to dig into the details of that incident because I hold his death as a part of larger thing that was at play in Ferguson.
          I use murder to press white people to engage differently with the narrative. Because within the intellectual gymnastics of white supremacy almost nothing counts as murder by law enforcement when it happen to a black body.( A boy sitting on a swing in a park, a man shopping in Walmart, a man standing on the corner selling cigarettes, a man running away, a man in handcuffs riding in a van.) And I see the death of Michael Brown as connected to hundred of others deaths including lynchings and mob violence. Anti-blackness assumes the guilt of black people. And until the dominant culture acknowledges the system, I’m not going to agree to the attitude that bad things don’t happen to black people, white people don’t do racist things, no incident is racist unless the person is yelling a racist slur and holding a nazi flag.
          Its connected to white supremacy because the chances of Michael Brown being alive are about a million times higher if he had been a white man.

          I would suggests questions like
          – How did the people in Ferguson experience the shooting of Michael Brown Jr.?
          – What is the history of police relations with the community in Ferguson?
          – Would I be asking different questions if this had happened to a white male swimmer attending Stanford?
          – How can I listen to the experiences of black people and law enforcement with humility, compassion, and teachability?

          The specific incident fits into a larger narrative. But the dominant culture always locates it into a narrative of white innocent and black guilt. Trying to understand how it fits into a long connected history for black Americans is the starting place.

          • Let get this part out of the way. Sometimes black people are guilty, sometimes white people are guilty, bad things happen to black people, bad things happen to white people, some whites are racist, and some blacks are racist.

            “I see the death of Michael Brown as connected to hundred of others deaths including lynchings and mob violence.” This is not the way US justice system works. We need to look at each case you listed on its own. Regarding Michael Brown, he physically assaulted Officer Darren Wilson and tried to grab the officer’s gun while the officer was in his SUV. When Brown couldn’t get the gun, he walked away. Wilson, then, gets out of the SUV to arrest Brown, at which point, Brown rushes Wilson. That is when Wilson shoots him and kills him. You have to read the full report, there are physical evidence and eye witness testimonies verifying this. Do you think this was race related? Remember, this case destroyed Darren Wilson’s career.

            “Its connected to white supremacy because the chances of Michael Brown being alive are about a million times higher if he had been a white man.” This is false. Washington State University study found that even with white officers who do have racial biases, officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects. There were about 7000 homicides of blacks in 2015. 96% were committed by other blacks. Of all the violent crimes in US, blacks commit about 50% of them even though they are 13% of the population.

            “I would suggests questions like
            – How did the people in Ferguson experience the shooting of Michael Brown Jr.?” Do you remember “Hands up, don’t shoot”? That was based on a lie. Instead of people allowing justice to take its course, series of lies lead to riots in Furguson which cost the people $6 million. Riots in Baltimore cost $20 million even though the top officer was black, city council was all black, mayor was black and 46% of Baltimore is black. Do you think the death for Freddie Gray way race related? Do you think the riots were justified?

    • Angie, if you read the article closely you will see that any fact deviating from the narrative will be disputed. He lumps Asians with whites? The same Asians that were often treated as slaves. Did he know that some white were treated as slaves? Michael Brown was killed breaking the law. I guess he can call that murder if it makes him feel better.

  29. Wow! That is very strong! I have read “Cry the Beloved Country” of Alan Paton and shared him his worries about the future of South Africa by then and look forward to reading “Between Heaven and Hell”. However, seeing what is happening in USA in the 21st century, the leader of democracy and the advocate of human rights in world per se and pla pla pla….. is really alarming about the future of humanity on earth.

  30. You make a lot of fair points, which challenge me. I question some of what you say, but assuming all your main points, are correct, what is racial justice then? Can you speak to that?

    • Great question. And probably not one I can really answer here. At its heart I believe a just world would be one where all people are treated as if they are in the image of God, and those with power would use it to serve those on the margins. I can’t really imagine a world without any power structure, so I like to imagine a redeemed one.

      In the short run I think it requires telling the truth about history, telling the truth about the present, repentance individually and collectively, and real labor towards shalom. ( Randy Woodley talks about this in his book Shalom and the Community of Creation- good read)

      I read this article once on how social justice is science fiction because its not a world we’ve ever seen. I’ve been chewing on that.

  31. I have simply stopped asking, “where is the white church”. I once thought that surely they will be the ones who “get it”, because they are reading the holy-book, seeking to better themselves, and they must know that the savior – they SAY, they believe in – is a person of color (its right there in the book). While a member of a LARGE white church that I was “prayerfully instructed” to join – I learned first-hand, that narcissism, is not to be penetrated (even when a person attends church). I learned that a kind of group-mentally, supersedes truth, humility, and justice-for all. That people can occupy the pulpit, and still practice an “us vs them” mentality. I’ve seen the harshness of the south up-close and personal. I’ve attended schools and was the only black-person in the class, and I’ve witnessed the mentality, that says it is superior, while it seeks to frame truth, in its image. When the bible says, what you do to the least of these – its not talking about the people in Cambodia; its referring to the people you keep in ghettos denying job opportunities, and advancement. Its talking about the systematic laws that jail black-men, for the same crimes your sons and husband commit. I don’t believe I’ve become jaded about the KRST, and his walk; only about a society that refuses to do right, because money and power are the only god (little g), you want to know. Unfortunately (we both know), that won’t be enough, in the end, because you’ve chosen this position and attitude at the beginning of this nations history, and today – you choose it still…(you are closer to Pharaoh than you think)..

    • It seems you’ve experienced a lot and seen a lot. I really sympathize with the cynicism that can come from those types of experiences. Finding places with women of color has been so critical to be finding hope and joy again.
      Thank you for sharing your story and experience and insight.

  32. This is a very troubling and disturbing OpEd. Maybe you should understand what a stereotype really means. It doesn’t just apply to those you feel are your ‘oppressors’ but using stereotypes, yourself, doesn’t make you any better than those you decry.

    Stereotyping includes making sweeping statements about any group. You lump all ‘White Christians’ together and paint a very un-educated, ill researched portrait of a whole group. Maybe you should delineate whether you are talking about White Male Evangelical Fundamentalists, or are you talking about The Quakers as well? There’s a big difference in theology.

    Fundamentalists take the Bible literally, period. Other ‘White Christians’ do not. The Bible was written by men and edited, books deleted, due to whomever was King, or at the Council of Nicaea, when it was basically decided by a group of men what would be allowed in the Bible and what would not.

    How you twist the thrust of the New Testament about a personal relationship with Christ–meaning you do not need a sacrifice anymore, as Christ was the ‘lamb’, whether you believe that literally or figuratively, and you are able to communicate with Christ without a priest or giving a sacrifice. How you twist that into ‘it’s selfish’ is one for the ages.

    That illogical thinking aside,your stereotypes are just as ugly as you feel your marginalization and that of ‘POC’ are ugly. That’s the bottom line.

    As well, you are sure quick to tell all white people what they felt about Ferguson. Yes, the POC in Ferguson were under siege for a very long time, before the murder of Michael Brown. No excuse for what was going on, period. And from that event, Black Lives Matter. Thank ‘God’ (not White or POC God, just God) for that.

    Reading this is like reading an essay from a student who used Cliffs Notes to read a book, instead of actually doing some true research about all of your assertions concerning the correct interpretation of The Bible, if there truly is a correct interpretation.

    And I love how George Zimmerman is now part of the ‘White Supremacy’ when he’s Hispanic. Good god. No, it’s about two POC, both marginalized, and one was a murdering, abusive asshole, and the other was an innocent kid who did not deserve to lose his life due to a hot-headed psycho. Yes, it is a travesty that he was not found guilty, and that not guilty verdict was, indeed, based on White Supremacy. But, no, Zimmerman is not part of the ‘white supremacy’ himself, when he is POC, right?

    Get your categories and stereotypes straight. If this is the new level of discourse on race politics, we are in so much trouble. You might as well just get used to the fact that the GOP fascists in charge now, will continue to truly perpetuate your ‘white supremacy’ as you, and folks like you, are alienating your allies, in exchange for your own narcissism and blind focus on ‘me me me me me.’

    Respectfully, and amidst all of my damaged ‘whiteness’ I give you some advice: Grow up. While you, and those like you, are running around letting all of us know we are part of the ‘white supremacy’ the REAL white supremacy is sitting back, laughing, as you’ve done the work for Steve Bannon, and you have assured fascism to win, win, win again in elections. But thank God you let all of we old ‘white progressives’ know what shams we are. Because, you know, that’s all that matters, right?

    • So.. I’m sensing you didn’t like my article.

      In terms of Zimmerman- POC can participate in anti-blackness and align with white supremacy.

      I can’t imagine I can offer much to change your mind. So I will say that since the writers of Game of Thrones lost there source material the show has grown weaker. Perhaps we can agree on that.

      Thanks for reading.

      • .I have to say that I do love your response. Sometimes, the caffeine kicks into overdrive. My apologies to you, but thank you for posting my rant.

  33. Seems like you have a lot of beef with the organization you work for, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. A little more humility in presenting your *ideas* and a humble tone of voice would benefit you greatly.

    • There is so much about this comment that is amazing.
      First of all- someone has signed in as me, using my IV email to troll me.
      So its like my own inception.

      I do have issues with my organization. I also love it. I have worked with them since 1999. Its like suggesting that I don’t love my husband if I see his faults.

      And I have no doubts that more humility would greatly benefit me. Pray for me.

  34. This was refreshing to read. As someone who wrote off white Christian culture a long time ago, I am heartened to hear these conversations are going on. For the AA that feel erased by being lumped in as reinforcers of white supremacy, is the response usually “not all Asian Americans?” This seems to reinforce your point about individualism and sounds a lot like what white fragility sounds like.

    • I understand the angst that East Asian Americans feel. And I think that its hard to acknowledge that many East Asian American Christians are aligning with white theology while some of us are fighting to amplify our history, and bring attention to our experiences of oppression and marginalization in this country. We’re at a really tender moment in our identity. This post wasn’t a statement about our place as POC, but I understand the tension people feel when I don’t take time to clarify things like that.

  35. As a white woman, what I have observed is the syncretism that you mentioned. I think one reason that it is so scary and painful for white people to really examine, or re-examine, our history is that our identity is wrapped up in the goodness of America. Viewing America as a Christian nation, patriotism and Christianity have become one and the same. If the goodness of America is destroyed, then our identity as Americans is taken away.

    What you say about being taught a fairy tale is true. For example, I learned about the Tulsa Race Riot almost by mistake three years ago, and I am 42 years old. I had never heard of the incident in Chicago that you mentioned.

    For Christians, the reality is that our identity and salvation come from believing in Christ’s death and resurrection. With this as our foundation, we can begin to wrestle with and be honest about our sinful state and the sins that white Americans have committed in the past and continue to commit today. Because there is no condemnation for the Christian, there is no need to fear being brutally honest about our sins. We also can be humble and take into account the points of view and experiences of other people, rather than being defensive whenever someone mentions something that is wrong with our country.

    I hope this makes sense. Thank you for writing this

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.
      It is odd to me that a religion founded on acknowledging that we are sinners is full of people profoundly afraid of acknowledging sin. There is a lot of fear. And it is really important that white people help other white people work through that fear.

  36. Whew! That was exhausting. I would suggest that individualistic theology and white supremacy is the Roman Empire instead of the Pharisees. The Pharisees fit into the analogy, just not where you put them. Thank you for your bluntness and clarity.

  37. I am a white man, who has truly tried to treat all POC– including the color white, equally my entire life. Have I done it perfectly- NO. I am also soon to be the proud grandfather of my first grand child who is biracial – black and white.

    I am extremely saddened by the hate speech of the Neo Nazis and all the like. However I am equally or even more saddened by all the extremely divisive communications by individuals who espouse ‘love’, ‘no hate’ and are ‘anti-racism’ and perpetuate division through lumping all whites as white supremacist (especially republicans) or all democrats as liberals, and now through your post adding ‘white theology and white Christanity’. At least the Neo Nazis are not pretending to call hate love. To be clear, I have seen racism in action — against all POC– including the color white and it is UGLY.

    I implore you and others of influence who have an audience to consider a new tactic with me — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I don’t think this theology has a color as it is the words of Jesus. This tactic doesn’t demand ignoring the problem, but it does demand the release the greatest power that will ever be available to eradicate hate — forgiveness. Jesus also said “And when you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive them, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” We are all made in the image of Christ (saved, non-saved, racist, non-racist, all colors) and the problem is all the voices are shouting ‘Crucify ___” -fill in the blank for whoever we think is wrong.

    We will never create the future of hope that we long for as long as we hold onto the offenses of the past— whether that past was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or 5 minutes ago. This does not mean to forget the past, but it means to refuse to let the past control our future.

    What might deploying this tactic look like? Here’s one idea. Instead of showing up at protests with signs that say ‘No more hate’, Trump=Hate, Black Lives Matter etc, why not show up with signs that say, “Please forgive me if I have wronged you. I forgive you” or “Forgive me, I Forgive you”, “All lives are matter- including your life”. One additional tactic might include “praying for all who are in authority [even President Trump], that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

    I do not question your heart and desire to see these wrongs eradicated. I support the cause. I pray for more wisdom to be imparted to find a better way.

    Respectfully submitted for your consideration.

    • I would say that it is those who have been oppressed by a system that should shape the journey towards justice. So it isn’t slave owners that should shape the journey towards liberation, it is those that were in slavery. It isn’t the colonizer, it the colonized. So In some situations it is my job to submit to language of those who have been impacted. I submit to the language offered by Native American leaders when it comes to Indigenous issues, land rights, and decolonizing theology because they know it best, and I am a guest on this land and benefactor of colonialism.

      I listen to and learn from the black community about mass incarceration and state sanctioned violence because they are impacted by it and hence the authorities.

      John the Baptist says that repentance is the way to prepare for Jesus. Instead of starting with how others should forgive us, I would suggest, we begin with how we should repent and one practical step of that repentance is letting others shape the parameters and language of the conversation.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      • Finally, a mention about Native Americans! Native Americans who continue to live in true ghettos of reservations, with a suicide rate twice that of rest of the US population Poverty, Land stolen by true ‘white supremacy’

        Alcoholism rampant, high school drop out rate equal to other POC. Who remembers Wounded Knee? Who remembers Leonard Peltier? Who remembers Ira Hayes? Who remembers Billy Mills?

        Hmm. I do. Fresh on my ‘white’ mind after Standing Rock as well.

        Yes, ‘you listen and learn from the black community about mass incarceration and state sanctioned violence, because they are impacted by it and hence the authorities.’ Such ‘exceptionalism’….bravo!

        So have I. Yes, before leaving organized religion behind me, I helped organize, along with a POC feminist organization, a lecture given by Angela Davis at our ‘white supremacy’ UMC church sanctuary. Filled with POC, including the new Black Panther organization, etc. Ms. Davis gave an excellent speech about the lack of rights for women, specifically women of color, in our prison system. Her presence in the state of Georgia had to do with the Draconian practice of shackling the ankles of pregnant female inmates to the bed, while they give birth.

        So, I, too, ‘listen and learn from the black community about mass incarceration and state sanctioned violence’ but only you, and other POC can be the true ‘saints’ of understanding, and can speak in gilded gibberish about how you ‘get it’ and no white person can, really.

        Yeah, just like you are an automatic Bible scholar too. Looking forward to that ground-breaking book about the “Disney Princess Theory” of White Christianity and the Bible. Will it come with “Joan D’Arc” doll from Disney? White doll, I am sure, complete with stake, torches, but matches not included.

      • I am not sure how the first 2 paragraphs of your response are related to my post– maybe it gave you an opportunity to continue to expand on your concepts.

        I agree with your concept of repentance. Repentance is acknowledging an issue, turning from the action/direction and asking forgiveness.

        I wish you the best.

  38. Hi Erna! My husband and I are former IV staff (New England region) who are, Lord willing, planting a multiethnic church in Boston with the ECC. I am totally on board with your incisive and much-needed critique of white supremacy and how it infects our theology, communication, our well-intentioned racial reconciliation model. My question is this: as someone who’s been schooled in a four-circles model of racial reconciliation, I am wondering if you think racial reconciliation is still a viable model given the pervasiveness of white supremacy and, if not, what would a way forward be? I understand our ministry contexts and training are different. But do you think overall the reconciliation project is misguided and needs to be totally shelved, or does this dismantling of white supremacy fit within a reconciliation framework? Based on your post, I’m led to believe the former, but please tell me if I’m wrong. If that’s the case, I’m curious to know where you see this movement going.

    Thank you so much for your leadership and for your courage.

    • Lisa,
      Blessings on you in your endeavor. We need communities of believers that are trying to do real work in this area.
      I think that we all need a vision of where we are headed, many in activist circles talk about the beloved community, others Shalom ( Randy Woodley’s book on this is great). Even though its not very sexy I still think that the Kingdom of God is a compelling image because it is an entire system of laws, values, economics etc. that is in total contrast to our current “kingdoms.” I think that being a community that committed radical redistribution of power, prophetic humility, long term labor towards making things right in the deepest sense, is always a kingdom goal. I think that the language of racial reconciliation may have run its course, and I press for the language of white supremacy because it corrects for some of the weaknesses I see. But seeing white supremacy isn’t the end goal. It is a necessary step to arrive at radical reconciliation. ( I really appreciate De Young and Boesak’s book by that title.)

      I’m ready for new language, but you may find in your context that you can still use it and reach a just end.

  39. Pingback: The Idol of Unity – The Intentional Life

  40. This post was recommended by a friend, who encouraged all of her “white Christian” friends to read and reflect upon.

    I am appalled that she did so.

    What a complete mess of ideas, random conclusions, and completely unfounded proclamations and stereotypes about Christianity and racial reconciliation. From beginning to end, this post confuses complex elements of history, culture and religion and distills them into sweeping assertions about all “whites” who are Christians, regardless of any other demographic, including sex, age, ethnicity, social class, location across the globe, and denomination, not to mention lumping all people of color into a homogenous blob.

    The “analyses” presented are fundamentally problematic, beginning with the definition of racial reconciliation:

    “When I came on staff with a Christian non-profit I was taught that racial reconciliation consisted of a three strand rope- ethnic identity, inter personal relationships, and systemic injustice.”

    This is not THE definition for racial reconciliation, nor is there universal truth to your personal experience of “the focus was almost always on the first two.” Your categorical renunciation of racial reconciliation is based on what you describe as “Watching white Christians and POC submitted to whiteness respond again and again with

    – denial of systemic injustice
    – disregard for the lived experience of black people
    – silence in the pulpit
    – a deeply ingrained superiority regarding issues of race
    – a fixation on intentions over outcomes”

    Where did this “watching” occur, which led you to the conclusion that this was a universal “truth” across all of “white” Christendom? Based on your sentence, I can only conclude that it was from casual observance on your part, within your own circles; you do not make any mention of having researched, even in the most casual way, to assess whether this was a systematic response (then again, what research could you do to support these claims? How do you know that there was silence in pulpits? I suppose you mean “white pulpits” by white clergy? All “white this is meant to include ALL white churches and white pulpits worldwide. Therein lies one of endless problems with sweeping stereotypes. And yet, it is this “watching” that serves as the crux of your entire blog post, including a series of bizarre, unsupported assertions, which move willy-nilly from structural-level to individual-level “analyses” of baseless “white theology,” “white Christians,” and “white Christianity.”

    The next sections are so problematic, I hardly know where to begin.

    “white theology’s pathological individualism.
    Jesus died for my sins.
    Jesus went to the cross for me.
    I know the plans He has for me.
    Though there is a place for the individual in theology. White theology, in profound syncretism with American culture, has distorted the Bible to be solely about individual redemption.”

    Where to begin? I’ll start with “white theology”? Definition, please? (Yet therein lies the problem; how can you define a term that lacks any inherent veracity?) I am particularly intrigued, as it is remarkable to learn that “white theology,” or any theology for that matter can be pathological. This is one for the annals of psychiatry. More importantly, where is the evidence for these claims, beyond random opinion? It is presented as grand truth, but it is lacking in all substance. Where is the evidence of this white theological distortion of the Bible? The whole Bible????? That’s incredible. And why is it limited to whites? If your assertion has any truth, why would whites (alone) be the only ones with this distorted theology? Your arguments make no sense at all, whatsoever. Every sentence is problematic.

    Next: … “white Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology.” In the previous paragraph it was “white theology.” What is white Christianity? Oh well, terms, schmerms, what difference does it make when you are making gross generalizations.

    Onward to the Disney Princess Theology: “As each individual reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story.” What? Moving from the structural to the individual level of analyses, the claim here is that all “white Christians” interpret scripture—ALL Scripture—from the point of view of a Disney princess, that Christians who are white—interpret all aspects of the Bible from an entirely (pathologically—no wait, the pathos is with the theology, right?) individualistic perspective. This is utterly puerile.

    “They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt.” And this overarching conclusion is based on…? You want this to be about structure, but your analysis is about individuals. It doesn’t work.

    “For the citizens of the most powerful country in the world,”
    So, here it is revealed that you are only speaking of white Christianity/Christians/Theology in the United States. That’s a wee bit important. More importantly, now it’s “citizens”? Or “white Christians?” Are you talking about whiteness in America more broadly? The arguments are all over the place.

    “…who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself…”
    First it’s citizens, now “itself,” the country? This does not make sense.

    “…as Israel and not Egypt when it is studying Scripture is a perfect example of Disney princess theology.”
    If the implied “itself” is the country, how does a country “see itself” or “study Scripture.” Is this about “white Christians,” citizens of the United States, or the United States? This is not a perfect example of anything because both sentence, and the reasoning, are nonsensical

    “And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society- and it has made them blind and utterly ill equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.”

    Since it is unclear whether you are talking about citizens of the US, the United States as a country, or “white Christians” (the previous sentence indicates both citizens and the country, but here it seems to be back to “white Christians”) readers are left to guess at who “they” are in the above sentence. Moreover, since “they” is not clearly specified, how can “they” “have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society”? The lack of precision in identifying who is even being discussed makes understanding the meaning of this sentence, as well as the following sentence, impossible. The last sentence, “It is some very weak Bible work” is a complete mystery. Since “it” is not identified. Earlier, “And IT means that people…” is not the same “it” here. What is IT? Who knows! If “it” is unspecified, how can IT be some very weak Bible work?

    “All of this put together creates a profoundly broken theological framework.”
    No, it does the arguments are fundamentally flawed.

    “It explains why people love a photo of a cop hugging a black person, but dismiss claims of systemic racism in policing.”
    What people? “White Christians”? All American whites? This is all so muddled.

    “It pretends that injustice is resolved when individuals hug.”
    Again, what is the IT here, and how does said IT pretend?

    “BLM insists on addressing systemic issues, and white Christianity is pathologically individualistic.”
    No case has been made for this statement.

    “And since white Christianity is also characterized by a lack of humility, it is not prone to learn from POC, who would clearly be the experts on issues of racism in the church.”

    The first sentence is equally outrageous, most notably because no case has been made for some monolithic “white Christianity” in the way you are using it here. Moreover, the sentence does not make sense: “white Christianity” cannot “learn,” so once again, your levels of analysis (individual vs structural) are problematic, at best.

    The “Bad History” section is aptly name, but not in the way intended. The first sentence, “Racial Reconciliation assumes an innocent reading of history.” No, it doesn’t. “Reconciliation” of any kind does not require “a time when everything was fine, we just need to get back there,” that is a fallacy. True, reconciliation CAN be about a resumption of harmony between two groups, but, you have chosen to be highly selective in your definition. Reconciliation can (equally) be defined as the ESTABLISHMENT of harmonious relationships, as well cooperation, understanding, détente, and bringing together.

    The remainder of the Bad History section once again moves away from “white Christianity” to whiteness (in the US) more broadly. This muddling of themes continues throughout the “White Comfort” and “White Privilege” sections, making it difficult to take any of the arguments seriously. One blanket statement after another is made about Racial Reconciliation (RR), despite a dearth of any substantive information about RR beyond a brief subjective glance at your own history with RR in your own Christian circles. What is the basis for any of the following claims?

    “Racial Reconciliation centers language with which white people and its allies are comfortable.” Evidence provided? Zero.

    “Racial Reconciliation moves at the pace that whiteness dictates.” Evidence provided? Zero.

    “It focuses on making sure white people don’t feel guilty, but not on the systemic disenfranchisement of black, Latino, and Native people. It will talk about redeemed white identity without teaching about white supremacy. It will lament but not repent with action. It is comfortable with POC being displaced and paying significant mental and emotional tolls for the work, but asks little to nothing of its white people. It is profoundly anxious about white discomfort, and is always trying to control the narrative.” Evidence provided? Zero. And on and on with blanket claim after blanket claim.

    Next, the discussion moves to the “racial reconciliation model.” Yet, no “model” has been provided up to this point, unless you are referring to three tenets of RR that you learned “on staff with a Christian non-profit.”
    How can conclusions be drawn from unsupported claims and nonsensical arguments? They cannot.

    • Well at least you did a very thorough reading of the post.
      I gather from your reflections that you don’t agree.
      Thanks for taking time to let me know.

    • A lot of the things you claim she did, she did not do. If I am misrepresenting the author, I hope she corrects me, but it seemed she was using generalizations to describe patterns of behavior she and others have observed regarding white Christians and white theology. Generalizations do not mean that what is said is true of every single person in the group. No one has universal knowledge of the thoughts and opinions of every individual in a group. It’s unfair to read it that way. It’s not a personal attack.

      This is a blog post, not a research thesis. Expecting her to produce evidence for every claim is unreasonable. Perhaps instead of assuming she has no evidence because it’s not mentioned here, you could politely ask what evidence she has of the claims she has made if you are skeptical.

      I didn’t agree with everything she put forth, but overall I think she did a very good job of explaining her position. It was well organized and well reasoned.I didn’t find it hard to follow at all. And even though she was talking about white Christians, a lot of these things didn’t describe me personally, but it did not offend me that she made a generalization. I’ve observed many of the same patterns she has.

      The subject of this post was problems with whiteness and white supremacy, particularly in the white American church. That is why she described the pathological individuality of white Christian theology. She may believe that there are problems with other theologies, black theology, etc., but it wouldn’t make sense to bring them up here because that wasn’t the subject of this post. She’s not claiming that POC are perfect. You can’t argue from silence. The fact is that we don’t know her opinion of other theologies because she did not discuss them here.

      I’m not sure why you think that theology can not be pathological, at least in part. There are many theologies that are pathological. Prosperity theology is one example. Many churches operate under a theology of extreme submission of women and children to husbands and men, to the point of condoning abuse. This is obviously pathological. Since we are sinners and not all knowing, any theology is going to have issues. The best we can do is to be humble about it and be able to learn from one another and take correction when it’s needed.

      Finally, she did not say that white Christianity “cannot” learn, she said that it tends to not learn because of a lack of humility. Have you taken a humble stance while reading and responding to this?

    • I believe the evidence is incredibly visible to those who do not have the privilege to look away and to those who choose to look with an open mind at the experiences and stories and history of not only our nation: the creation of it’s laws, policies, and current state of affairs for non-white minorities, but also the world and the effects of White Empires and the residual and very real effect colonialism, imperialism, and neo-imperialism have on the majority of the non-white world. As different as each group of POCs might be sadly we have all experienced a collective injustice at the hands of powerful and wealthy white people. I recommend reading Richmond’s Unhealed History (written by a white man/ Episcopal Reverend — if that helps — and focuses on systemic creation of laws and the concept of whiteness in the United States–and surrounding yourself with people you don’t understand if you want more understanding. Whiteness is a social construct. Once not that long ago, the Italian people were not included in that, nor were the Irish. It has over time expanded to include those ethnicities into American whiteness. As a seminary graduate, Christian, and a person of color I have experienced white Christianity here and every other place in the world. I have experienced White theology here in the US as well as other post colonial nations. It is real. It is a measuring stick by which we non-white people have been measured by and certainly one that does not fit us no matter which particular context we come from quite a large blob if you ask me. This is not to say there is no place for white theology or Christianity but it is to say that the place of power it currently is given is not very Christian. God is impartial and that is certainly not what a majority of people of color experience due to systems of injustice and power created by a largely Euro-American monopoly that is still in play both in the realm of theology and secular endeavors. If you want evidence look at the curriculum that is taught in every seminary — all the authors and theologians studied are white from Bonhoeffer to Grudem. Non-white (sad large blob that we might be) have no place in leading theological thought even though we have been writing, thinking, praying, loving and following Christ in most cases long before Christianity came to Europe — yes even in all those non- US or European seminaries around the world regardless of denomination. If you are looking for evidence, I am that evidence. The author is the evidence, and so are hundreds thousands of non-white and white peoples who are in constructive conversations about race and injustice with each other realizing together that we have a long, hard, and often unfair journey before we find true and vulnerable reconciliation in Christ.

  41. Just for intellectual on this entire posting journey which would seem to be in complete accord with the teachings of the “Nation of Islam”- What is your perspective of that movement and the murder of Malcolm X by them?

    thank you.

  42. Wow. Wow. It is like you truly lifted the veil from my eyes and put into words concerns I have had for many, many years.

  43. Erna, this is a fantastic, thoughtful, and well-nuanced blog post. I appreciate your reflections and can tell you have been reading, thinking, and struggling a lot. Your insights make a lot of sense, and I appreciate your humor and your creativity in presenting it–and in responding to the comments here. You are a model for all of us.

  44. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Mat 6:14-15

  45. Thank you so much for a profoundly important article. As one who has benefited (and continues to benefit) from about every possible form of privilege, I confess that in forwarding this to others I originally included that you were a woman (and nearly that you were Korean-American as well) before realizing that I was using these words not as identifiers, but as qualifiers. I have a lifetime of work ahead of me, but at least for now you have helped me to become aware. It is only the first step, but I pray that I may become a more compassionate person – and a more active participant in the effort to confront all forms of privilege – because of your words.

  46. Erna, thank you for writing this. I believe you are rightly seeing things in our culture but here is where I have some questions. While I might actually see individualism as a result of western thought and not necessarily just white culture the observance of individualism as a problem in breaking down systematic racism is important. It appears to me that calling it white supremacy might be very accurate but it also carries with it some language that doesn’t seem to help us build systems together but actually seems to be moving us further away as individuals. What would you see as actual solutions to help break down systematic racism that also helps us build trust and love as individuals? Does fixing systemic racism require us to change the individual thought? Can both be done and is that the desired outcome? I appreciate your article quite a bit.

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