Tribal Talk: Exorcism and White Supremacy (Guest Post By Kevin Sweeney)

(I am thankful for the opportunity to have a guest post from Kevin Sweeney. He is a true follower of Jesus, intellect, theologian, and friend of  marginalized people.   I have been personally encouraged by his transparency as he discusses, exposes, and confronts white privilege and systemic racism as a white male himself. His honesty, courage and knowledge on the subject are deeply needed within the Christian Church. Enjoy! – Drew Hart)

What Should We Do?

In the last section of his book, Tribal Talk: Black Theology, Hermeneutics, and African/American Ways of “Telling the Story” Will Coleman describes what some of the main characteristics of Tribal Talk are. The two that are most vital for understanding the nature of tribal talk are tribal talk’s commitment to liberation and exorcism. Coleman states “It is committed to the liberation of persons of African descent from the legacy of white supremacy—and of persons of European descent from the same.” Anticipating the question of why from his readers, Coleman goes on to say, “It (white supremacy) is a stubborn demon, but it can and will be exorcised. Constant exposure (the naming and sending away) of its false powers is the key to its exorcism.”[1] Although white people may have a visceral reaction to Coleman’s referring to white supremacy as a demon that must be exorcised due to its violent nature, it does not require much historical research—especially in our own country, the United States–to end up confronting the unspeakable violence that is the result of white supremacy and racism. Examples of this white supremacy include, but are not limited to the enslavement and dehumanization of Africans, the burning and lynching of black bodies, and the systematic discrimination against blacks in housing, healthcare, and employment. And if “constant exposure” is key to exorcising this demon, then we must develop the vision to see the ways in which this demon still operates, name it as the demon of racism and white supremacy that it is, and enact the courage to confront it and send it away. But the question remains, who is this we that I am referring to as I write?

The “we” that is being referred to in this response is the white church in the United States of America. And for the intent of this post, the white church refers to any individual white person who professes Jesus as Lord, any local, white homogenous church, and any institutions of higher education that are still harboring this demon of white supremacy—my school, Fuller Theological Seminary included. The critical response is not focusing on the white church in the United States because it is the only instantiation of the body of Christ that has racist sensibilities; rather because it constitutes the geographical, religious and socio-political context that I inhabit. Our brothers and sisters in the African Diaspora have invited us to participate in this tribal talk, and in order to be faithful to this legacy we have a responsibility to exorcise this demon of white supremacy wherever we see it, including the depths of ourselves. In the early 20th century, Ida B. Wells said, “American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hell-fire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.” Since another element of tribal talk is listening deeply to our ancestors, we—the white church—must listen deeply to our sister Ida B. Wells and allow her to challenge us so we do not continue to embody the same demon of white supremacy that our predecessors did.


[1] Coleman, Tribal Talk, 194.

Kevin Sweeney studied sociology and world Religion at the University of Hawaii, holds a BA in biblical studies from Life Pacific College, and is currently pursuing masters degrees in both theology and intercultural studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a mystic, a poet, a student of black theology, and an unmasker of institutional racism, white supremacy, and white privilege. His greatest joy is being married to (and surfing with) his wife Christine.

Follow Kevin Sweeney on Twitter @kevinsweeney1

Prophetic Priorities for the Poor and Democratic Duty Dichotomies: A Spin Off

One area for me that makes the discussion concerning Christian responsibility for the poor more of a complex one, is the reality that we do not live under Caesar and the Roman Empire, but rather in imperial America we have a democracy, which means we (everyone not just politicians) in some form take the place of Caesar (as the government). This means that we are accountable for the policies and laws of the land as individuals, in as much as our small voice, vote, and communal activity has influence. And it is clear that laws and policies can systemically have favorable or adverse consequences on the lives of poor people (and everyone else).  How does this play into the discussion of Christian responsibility for the poor? As Christians, as has already been stated, we are responsible to sacrifice, serve, and find solidarity with the poor as a part of our faithful witness. This responsibility is not to be a dichotomy in our lives where aspects of us are concerned for the poor and other aspects are not, rather it is a holistic totality of our being. By this I mean that we must consider our spending habits, our social circles, our speech/deed enactments, our exposure, and the various means that we have accessible to us as Christians to impact the lives of those who are socio-economically disenfranchised. One of the means available to us, as I began to discuss, is that of democratic influence. Certainly none of us are Caesar, and therefore we cannot snap and get whatever we want to be manifested. However, that does not remove the responsibility for us to do what we can faithfully. That is where the prophetic tradition and the Anabaptist tradition have been extremely helpful for me, given the reality that most Christians traditions have not been holistic in their response to those most marginalized, and likewise most Christian individuals politically are puppets for our imperial political parties, having nothing else to add other than their particular political parties ideology (of course with their Christianity-ism slant).

The prophetic tradition, evident in the likes of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Martin Luther King understood (even without democratic opportunity) that as Christians they have a responsibility to impact the fallen broken social order that they are a part of through a violent clash of ethics, values, and theological vision. It was their faith that shaped and motivated them to seek political change inspired by God’s revolutionary Kingdom.

On the other hand, the Anabaptist community is one of the few Christian communities in America that have continually been holistic in its understanding of our responsibility to the poor. They give generously, serve continually, and they even teach to sacrifice luxuries and comforts so they are able to give as a basic tenet of Christian faith and identity. Sacrifice and service (for the poor rather than one’s own church’s institution) is rarely one of the ABC’s of most church’s teachings.

In America, the closest thing to modeling the life and teachings of Jesus, as it relates to ministry to, for, and with the poor is seen clearest in my opinion when we do not get excited about which tradition has the best doctrine and systemic theology, but rather when we are ecstatic about traditions that have faithful theological vision and are obedient in embodying this divine narrative concretely in their communities and contexts.

The thing that is great about the gospel is that it is comprehensive. It is about Newness; New life, New Humanity, New Jerusalem, and New Creation.   The gospel is that Jesus came and ushered in a new social order in the midst of our old, decaying, and fallen social order. And in Christ, we can be a part of and experience this divine renewal of all things right now. So yes, as the Church it is our responsibility to be salt and light and our responsibility to care for the poor, which means we must be faithfully bearing witness and making a difference in all spheres of our influence, including our democratic system through prophetic  stance.  So sacrifice, give, share, vote, speak out, and stand alongside the poor as the active implementation of God’s gospel is rehearsed in your lives.

Politics of Poor Plight and Prophetic Priorities: A Brief Response to Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney recently made an interesting comment about his lack of concern for poor people. According to him, we need not care about poor people because America has a safety net. Rather, he is concerned with America’s middle class because they are the ones who are struggling. Yes, that’s right, the people with more resources than poor people are the ones who are hurting most in this economy, according to Mitt’s logic.

While I am thankful that we do have a safety net in America, considering the thousands who have died from the famine in the Horn of Africa in the past year, I can not fathom how one could argue that poor people are doing well in America and the middle class is the group suffering most. This is so ridiculous that I won’t spend any more on that point.

However, as a Black Anabaptist Christian shaped by the Israelite scriptures and it’s fulfillment in the person of Jesus, I have particular priorities that shape my own ethics/politics. My Jubilee-Shalom-Kingdom of God politics must always prioritize “the least of these” among us, to not do so would be to disregard God’s  intervention and revelation in the world, particularly the Bible. The Bible clearly keeps watch of, defends, and centralizes the concerns of poor people throughout the entire narrative. To be in continuity with the God of scripture, and specifically Jesus the Crucified One, we must embrace the same ethics concerning poverty that is consistently woven throughout scripture. It compels us to embody Jesus’ story now in our own contexts. A faithful reading of scripture demands from us particular prophetic priorities to enact if we are to claim to be Christian (Christ-like), and they are not really optional. One of those ethical priorities is our care, sacrifice, and provision for the poor. To state that you do not care for poor people is to reject the Israelite narrative and ultimately to reject Jesus, that is assuming we can not slice him up and then choose which parts we like and which we do not like as if Jesus were a buffet line.

Sorry Mitt, but you have absolutely no credibility with me. (Neither do any of the other candidates, so please don’t take this as an endorsement for anyone). Finally, let me make myself clear by stating that as far as I am concerned, both major political parties in America are off the mark when it comes to the issue of poverty. One party (in my eyes) is aggressively against poor people, and the other (again from my perspective) pays lip service and offers a few minimal government programs, however each fall drastically short of the Jubilee paradigm from the Old Testament that Jesus continues to echo in his own ministry. As Christians, our ethics and political priorities ought not be confined to the arguments of the day between two imperial political parties, but ought to begin and end with theological vision rooted deeply in scripture and particularly in Jesus the Christ, as they are manifested in love for God and others.

Here is a tiny fraction of the biblical passages that remind us that we ought to prioritize the poor as a part of our Christian ethics and witness.

Psalms 82:3 “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!”

James 2:5-8 “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor! Are not the rich oppressing you and dragging you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme the good name of the one you belong to? But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

Dueteronomy 15:11 “There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.”

Proverbs 14:31 “The one who oppresses the poor insults his Creator, but whoever shows favor to the needy honors him.”

Luke 6:20 “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.”

Ezekiel 16:49  “‘See here – this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.”

Galatians 2:10 “They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.”

1 John 3:17 “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow brother in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”