There is a lot of miscomprehension of data going on as it relates to police killings of unarmed citizens in America, especially in relation to race. Time to clear some things up. I keep seeing many white people posting things like “more white people have been killed by police than black people”. In saying so, they seem to assume that they have magically dismantled the whole reason why #BlackLivesMatter exists. Of course it does no such thing. While that simple fact is true, clearly people are not taking any time to think about basic demographic proportions in the United States when making their statements. A little less repetition of conservative media quips and a lot more openness and a true desire to seek understanding can go a long way. Here is where that basic math course available in college, you know, “practical math for life” or something like that, can help us all.
So, 578 white Americans were killed by police in 2015. To understand the actual meaning of this number we must remember that white people are over 60 percent of the American population. BUT 578 white fatalities, while still a problem, only represents 50% of the 1136 total killings of Americans at the hands of police in 2015. That means white people are disproportionately not being killed. They are actually significantly underrepresented in police fatalities. If things were spread out equally they would make up 60% of the total deaths by police not 50%. So yes, in whole numbers there are more white people that have died at the hands of police than anyone else but each individual white person is less likely to die at the hands of police than an individual black person.
For example, black people are only 13 percent of the population and yet they make up over 26% of the people who were killed by police in 2015. This means, for those that are not math inclined, they are ridiculously over-represented in police fatalities. Look at the chart below. Yes, white people have a higher number of fatalities, but as the largest racial demographic group that is expected. What we must keep track of is the proportions, which you can do by looking at the “difference” in the chart. You will see that these numbers make all the difference.
(Full text available at Christian Century where it was originally posted). Having an opportunity to peak into the life of the early Church is always intriguing. Doing so is not for the purpose of discovering some pristine perfect community, which never existed, but it is helpful when considering the historical domestications of Church teachings around what is expected of Christian lives. While diversity existed in the early Church, there certainly are strong currents of overlaps that existed as well, like the fact that there are no examples of Christians participating in the military until about the late in the second century, and that even beyond that the official teaching was always nonviolence. That some shifts took place in the dominant ethical witness of the Church is impossible to argue against. While the churches embodiment of these teachings still would have been complex and dynamic in its pursuit and shortcomings of following Jesus, it is pretty clear that the Church teachers in the first few centuries sought to take Jesus seriously… Read the end of the post here.
Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People
By Austin Channing Brown, Christena Cleveland, Drew Hart and Efrem Smith
So God created human beings in his own image. Genesis 1:27
As black evangelical leaders, we believe it is important to respond to The Gospel Coalition’s publishing of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Thoughts on Ferguson, a perspective we deem to be extremely anti-black. First, we condemn The Gospel Coalition’s editorial leadership for its moral and pastoral failure in publishing such an anti-black viewpoint. No Christian organization should ever participate in dishonoring the image of God in black people, especially at a time when so many black Americans are in pain. Second, we lament the internalized anti-black racism that Pastor Voddie conveyed in his article and the fact that it has been used to further support White-on-Black violence among Christians. Here, we offer a different perspective, one that we believe honors the image of God in black people.
A Brief of History of White-on-Black Violence
Racism is White-on-Black violence.
In 1619, the first twenty Africans were brought over as labor for the new colonies. Within one generation the white majority had defined black people as permanent slaves and non-human property. This created a social order in which black people were only valuable for their ability to support a white dominated society that was economically prospering off of the stolen land of Native Americans and the stolen labor of African Americans. Consequently, a system of White-on-Black violence was born.
This system of White-on-Black violence has defined the last 400 years of American history. For example:
Millions of Africans died during the middle passage journey from Africa to the so-called ‘new land’, even before ever stepping foot in America.
Slavery lasted for 246 years, beginning in 1619 and ending in 1865.
From 1865 until 1945, well over one hundred thousand black people were re-enslaved through the convict-leasing system, in which whites arrested blacks for minor crimes such as changing employers without permission, vagrancy, engaging in sexual activity or loud talk with white women.
Simultaneously, white (mostly Christian) Americans sought to retain white control through racial terrorism. About 5,000 African American men, women, and children were lynched by white mobs.
Jesus, who was both the Son of God and a poor Galilean Jew living in solidarity withthose under Roman occupation and those vulnerable to crucifixion, has been transformed into a powerful white man. This image is a form of idolatrous systemic white violence against black people and all people of color.[i]
Despite such White-on-Black violence and much more, black people have always resisted. For example, dissident voices like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass rejected ‘the Christianity of this land’ in its complicit endorsement of white domination over black bodies, proclaiming that it had nothing to do with the true peaceable Christ. Protests like these continued until the 1970s, always triggering systemic white backlash.
In the 1960s black consciousness arrived in mainstream public discourse, affirming the value of black people in the face of historical and ongoing White-on-Black violence. Not surprisingly, the system in which Whites were always on top, responded. Taking a cue from the convict-leasing system, White law enforcement began arresting black men en masse for nonviolent drug crimes. Since the 1970s, the prison population has boomed from about 300,000 inmates to beyond 2 million people caged like animals, a disportionately large number of them black men. Black bodies continue to be controlled by this system of White-on-Black violence.[ii]
Now in the present, black people in Ferguson and around the country are fed up. We are fed up that 1 out of 3 African American males will be arrested and go through the American injustice system at some point in their lives[iii], primarily for nonviolent drug charges, despite studies revealing that black youth and white youth use drugs at comparable rates. Research also tells us that black males are 21 times more likely to be killed during an encounter with the police than their white counterparts.[iv] Just as critical, schools are being defunded all around the country in many black neighborhoods while prisons are being expanded — another example of systemic White-on-Black violence.
Black-on-Black Violence is an Extension of White-on-Black Violence
The historical and current system of White-on-Black violence sends messages that are so powerful that many black people succumb to them, ultimately becoming defined by them. Internalized racism, a term first coined by black scholar W.E.B. DuBois in 1903,[v] involves accepting a white supremacist social world that places black people at the bottom, and adopting society’s negative stereotypes about African Americans concerning their abilities and intrinsic worth.[vi]
An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”
Indeed, a research study conducted in 2011 found that internalized racism significantly predicted black male teenagers’ propensity for violence. In other words, the more internalized racism a black male teen possessed, the greater his aggressive behavior, the more positive his attitudes toward guns and violence, and the more at-risk he was for engaging in violent behavior.[vii] Based on these findings, the researcher concluded that a lack of self-respect and/or negative views toward their own race (e.g., internalized racism) result in black male teens’ greater propensity to engage in violence. In essence, “Black-on-Black violence” is simply an extension of systemic White-on-Black violence.
Pastor Voddie’s Internalized Racism is Black-on-Black Violence
Black-on-Black violence takes many forms. Propped up by the mighty platform of The Gospel Coalition and the many white people who frequent the organization’s online space, Pastor Voddie was quick to point out the physical Black-on-Black violence that exists in America. However, despite the fact that he is black, Pastor Voddie failed to see the ways in which he engaged in a form of verbal Black-on-Black violence that mirrors White-on-Black violence. By conveniently omitting any discussion of the ways in which the long-standing system of white domination contributes to fatherlessness in the black community, police brutality of black people, negative societal perceptions of black people, the systemic disempowerment of black people, the internalized racism of black people and even Black-on-Black violence, he assaulted the character and worth of black people, suggesting that black people like Michael Brown deserve to be killed. In doing so, he made a statement in support of White-on-Black violence, an argument that many whites have used throughout history.
Just as we are presenting a historic look at the system of White-on-Black violence, the Bible also shows us — from Exodus to the Gospels to the 1st Century Church — the forms of systemic violence perpetrated upon the people of God by those in power. In this light, all Christians today should grieve with a people group that has been and continues to be victimized by such systemic violence. Blaming one Black young man for the sowing of such sin is a great disservice to the very people to oppressed people of the world, to whom Jesus consistently showed mercy.
We encourage you to read Dr. Alan Noble’s point-by-point response to Pastor Voddie’s article. Given the long history of anti-black violence in this country, all followers of Jesus must be committed to engaging in the transformative and liberative work of Jesus, which means affirming the image of God in black people and resisting all White-on-Black violence in word or deed.
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Austin Channing Brown, M.A. is a Resident Director and Multicultural Liason at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.
Christena Cleveland, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart.
Drew Hart, M.Div. is a pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
Efrem Smith, M.A.. is President/CEO of World Impact, Inc. and the author of The Post-Black and Post-White Church.
[i] Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
[ii] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York, N.Y.; Jackson, Tenn.: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2012).
Brothers and Sisters, the time for justice and truth to break loose in our society has always been right now. We cannot afford to merely remember the courageous actions and words of our heroes of the past like Martin Luther King Jr. and Ida B. Wells, we must embody the spirit of that struggle of love and hope, but for our time and in solidarity with this new emerging movement of justice that is clashing with the death-dealing powers that keep crushing the most vulnerable. We are called to speak up for those that have no one to champion them. The truth right now is that Black people are being killed on the street without consequence. The rise of executions of unarmed black people, and the equally alarming silence of the Church that claims to worship the Unarmed and Executed One, is a sign that we have lost sight of our calling to stand in solidarity with the victims of state dominance.
However, it is never too late to repent from our alignment and complicity with the very evil forces of worldly power & state violence that crucified Jesus, and we can now instead participate in the life-giving, mercy-filled, and justice practicing, way of Jesus. And for those that are in the DC area, you are in luck, because my friend Ched Myers pointed me towards an important protest that is happening on Wednesday, 11/12/14 in your area! Here’s your opportunity to walk humbly with God along with masses of people who are willing to speak truthfully to our society about who we have become, and how we can actually begin to be a just and righteous people. Check it out:
“We can’t all be in Ferguson but we can be in DC!”
“When future generations of Black children ask, ‘where were Black people during state sanctioned murders and why did it take root, what will you say?’ When future generations of White progressive youth ask White progressives, ‘where were you when they moved on Black people… why did you let it take root?’ What will White progressives say? When future generations of Latino children ask, ’where were you when they moved on our community and the Black community?’ What will Latinos say? When future generations of lesbian and gay children ask, ‘where were you when the police murdered members of our community, most of whom were Black?’ What will you say? These are the questions of today. Where are you standing? Did you ignore the issues because the largest numbers of state sanctioned murders are of Black people?”
“As state sanctioned murders reach an unprecedented high and creep up in all communities throughout the nation, where will you say you stood in the face of this militarized state killing machine? Stand is an action verb. As for me and the SpiritHouse Project, history will show a clear and dedicated commitment to breaking the silence on modern day lynching. Our history shows, that even in the face of insurmountable odds as a small organization, we stand on the right side of history when we convene a national memorial service on Nov. 12, 2014 at Freedom Plaza at 12:30pm in Washington, DC for the 1000 Black people murdered by police since 2007.”
“1000 murdered victims by the police make it clear that this is not relegated to sporadic crimes against a few individuals. Rather, when we call the names of the 1000 Black dead, it is clear that state sanctioned murders go beyond sporadic murders of individual Black people. State sanctioned murders target and profile entire communities.”
“We are clearly in the grips of an American epidemic predicated on racism and state violence. Unless we halt the spread of this epidemic, history will write that good people remained silent and failed to act. Nov. 12th is an opportunity to act. We cannot all be in Ferguson, but we can be in DC!”
For more details of the protest please click here. Let’s stand in solidarity with those that have been murdered and collectively say “No more”!
I woke up in the morning to some interesting dialogue on Twitter. Apparently Scott Mcknight has a new book, which I have not read, and it is getting some attention for his polemics around “skinny jeans” and “pleated pants” Christians’ understanding of the kingdom of God. It is not those categories that was controversial, but rather his actual claims about what the kingdom of God is, or isn’t. This is not a review of his book, I do not plan on reading or reviewing the book, so you must go elsewhere for that. However, I did want to problematize the main point I saw in a review David Fitch, a friend and seminary colleague of Mcknight, brought attention to in his book. The claim Mcknight supposedly made was that the kingdom of God is the Church, and that there is no kingdom of God outside of the Church. That is an echo of Cyprian from the 3rd century, but applied in a new way, to the kingdom of God in this contemporary case, which needs brief responding to.
It should be no surprise that I see this read as both irresponsible and problematic as an interpretation. I will argue based on my reading of the Jesus narratives in scripture and with strong support from an early Church teaching, pointing to a different understanding of the kingdom of God than Mcknight does. Furthermore, by attempting to make such a claim, I suggest it diminishes the particularity of Jesus’ own poetic descriptions of the kingdom of God in the parables, the very content I assume Mcknight is mostly drawing from in his book to come to such conclusions.
Before the primary critique, it should be said that Mcknight is not completely wrong on everything. First, my take is that he understands that there are very real spatial realities to be considered when discussing the kingdom of God, though “geopolitical” is problematic because it moves us back to a place of dominating land and space. The kingdom of God is something present in particular spaces.Secondly, a kingdom inevitably does include both a king and a people in particular spaces. It seems that Mcknight does not want people to lose sight of the King and people that make for a kingdom. These points are not insignificant, and to completely lose sight of those things does cause room for other problems. However, we cannot draw a clean line from the realities of earthly kingdoms to that of the kingdom of God. It is precisely the fact that the kingdom of God, as it was revealed and announced by Jesus, surprised and shocked many, helping us understand that it must not be assumed or predicted ahead of time as though we can expect from general common sense what it would be. Rather, only after careful attentiveness to the gospel narratives, read alongside the least of these in community, can we begin to venture to say something meaningful about the kingdom of God.
One of the big stumbling blocks for McKnight seems to come out of him falling into ‘churchology’. That is, McKnight here is operating out of a weak Christology and Pneumatology in relation to his understanding of the kingdom of God, which inevitably slips him away from ecclesiology and into churchology. Ecclesiology is about being called out, to gather around Jesus the crucified One as his people, and to embody the life and teachings of Jesus together. On the other hand churchology takes for granted the presence of Jesus, as a matter of fact (for whatever theological reasons), and the alignment of God’s mission and will, with any particular gathering or institution. Churchology is dangerous. It is a new-Christendom for the 21st century, in which a community assumes that they are part of what God is doing in creation, just because they think so.Ecclesiology realizes how easy it is to lose Jesus along the way (Luke 2:41-52), to have him on the outside of what we’ve got going on (Luke 3:19-20). The kingdom of God is not automatic for a gathered people who call themselves Christian, nor is it confined by the limits of Christian gatherings.
Simply put, the kingdom of God is anywhere King Jesus is present in any particular place.The most important thing to remember about the kingdom of God is not the Church (though there is close association between the two) but it is Jesus himself. For this reason Origen famously described Jesus as “autobasiliea”. Jesus embodied the reign of God all by himself! That means that wherever Jesus is present, the kingdom of God has come near! Now certainly the Church should be a place that Jesus is truly present, a space in which people are reorienting their lives and social arrangements according to the reality of the Messiah. Yet we know that is not always the case.
“for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest, possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked.” (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)
It seems like everywhere you go Christians in one way or another are talking about Christendom. Actually, the word being used most is post-Christendom. At the turn of the 21st century we are still in the cloudy shadows of a post-everything society. Postcolonial. Postmodern. Post-Christendom. In most cases, there is no agreement about what exactly is to come. Postmodern thinkers, for example, do not have one agreed upon theory that they are all working out of. The only thing they can agree to is that modernity and its tools of reasoning have failed to deliver what it promised. Similarly, most postcolonial thinkers do not think we have really fully left colonialism behind, and so the future form is still merely pencil sketches. It is no surprise then that there isn’t consensus on what it means for us to be going through a post-Christendom shift in western society.
DIFFERENTIATING POST-CHRISTENDOM VISIONS
As I write this, I can imagine at least three different ways that people broadly use the term post-Christendom. I am going to risk being overly simplistic and brief, in what could potentially be a book given the topic, but I hope to differentiate these positions some, so that there is clarity around what exactly is being said. The challenge with words is that people can use the very same words and yet mean or imply different things. I for one have found the language of Christendom and post-Christendom helpful at times, but not always congruent with other people that might think we are sharing concerns. Hopefully with just a little more clarity around our disposition towards Christendom itself, we can create more appropriate partnerships and alliances as our trajectories align. Likewise, we might find that some partnerships indeed have been faulty and must be dissolved because of conflicting goals. Lastly, I might also add that though I am sketching three approaches, my goal here is not to do so in a manner that advocates for some ‘halfsies’ middle ground and mediating position between the two radical stances, as some are prone to do. Those hierarchical power games that sketch an artificial center from which one just happens to find themselves in every discrepancy, is not only convenient, but it is deceptive as well. That said, I can’t promise that my descriptions are fair or objective, in the sense that those that hold to them will probably differ some on the descriptions. You are welcome and encouraged to descriptively elaborate your own position in the comments if you would like.
THE LAMENTED SHIFT
There are some that talk about post-Christendom shifts as a dreaded moment in Christian history. For this community Christendom is the way things ought to be. The Church is supposed to control and encompass all of society. That Christianity should be expressed seamlessly from the top-down, through every institution, political body, and social entity, is common sense. Christendom is good. If that is the case then the possibility that we are entering a post-Christendom era is a terrible thing. It is a failure of the Church and a sign that our society is currently on a steady decline. These advocates of Christendom lament that we are losing power and influence in society. Given that this undesirable reality is out of control, the understanding is that we must prepare ourselves for this new grim context that is on the horizon.
THE OPPORTUNISTIC SHIFT
While some want to hold on to the 1950s era, when Christianity still seemed to dominate the landscape, others have been much more skeptical and have readily been inviting this new context. For them Christendom involved a series of co-options, diversions, and missteps for the Church. That was unfortunate in their eyes, but hey, they can see more clearly now, and they can identify how exactly the Church failed in the Christendom era, to live up to its name. It merged with state and governing powers too much. The Church confused the gospel with western culture too much. And it lost a sense of distinctiveness as a Church community. Rather than be sent out, it called people to come in. Rather than disciple people it developed powerful institutions. Rather than yielding to the spirit it yielded to capitalistic and militaristic forces. This group however doesn’t want to judge or take sides against Christendom either, because they are our ancestors and they make mistakes, just as we are likely too. Rather than condemning the past the focus is purely on examining and engaging the new future context, in which a plethora of possibilities reside. These post-Christendom Christians are excited and pumped about jumping ship from the now failing methods of Christendom to the new post-Christendom praxis they are discovering.
We are endlessly being misdirected in search of the crude “hate crime”. After centuries of racial oppression and violence, our society eventually became uncomfortable with the overtness of the racism of the past. Slavery is taken for granted as a horrific thing, something that couldn’t be assumed a few generations ago. For mainstream America, to be accused of being racist is to have been labeled something despicable. Few would willingly accept this charge upon themselves, defending themselves adamantly against such accusations. However, even worse than the racist label for those within the dominant culture, is for a person to be accused of a hate crime. Hate crimes have been created to isolate the most heinous of offenses that have been committed because of prejudice.
Hate crimes are things that terrible people do, or so that is the way we like to think of it. Hate crimes are believed to be done by the non-human. It is done by the coldhearted, malice, evil, apathetic, and sadistic monster. The hate crime is done by the KKK bogey man. That is, in hegemonic imaginations, hate crimes could never be committed by everyday regular white American Christians. This type of deed cannot be committed by oneself, by one’s close network of friends, or by one’s family members. Hate crimes is done by the super-evil. The one who commits such crimes are what evil villains are made of.
Read the rest of the post where it was originally posted by clicking here.
(Reminder: My blog home has moved. However, here is the first half of my recent post. The link to the full article can be found at the bottom of the post. Don’t forget to add my new blog home “Taking Jesus Seriously” to your RSS feed to keep up, which can easily be done from my new home page on Christian Century.)
Speaking about race and racism generically hasn’t done anyone any good. Though white men dominate and control an unjustly disproportionate part of the church’s leadership, face, and voice, many white men in the church and broader society also are the quickest to cry “reverse-racism” and at the slightest mention of racial inequities, many have dismissed concerns as merely “playing the race card”. I would be rich if I got a dollar for every time I had a white man quote Dr. King’s statement about the content of one’s character not the color of one’s skin as the basis for judgment, out of context to me in a way that went against the very logic of the “I Have A Dream” speech, which focused on righting the racial and economic injustices and disparities in America. It seems that the more one is squarely situated in the center of dominant culture, having gained advantage from it, the more likely one is to live in a state of denial in regards to the actual past 400 years, and the continuing white hegemony and racial oppression that pervades our society.
However, people’s beliefs and actions are not determined by race and gender in some fatalistic manner. I’ve known hundreds of white women and men that have opted out of aligning themselves with white dominance, and instead affirm the humanity of all people and have chosen to live lives that resist white hegemony while coming to struggle alongside those that have been most directly impacted by the ungodly racial systems, practices, and beliefs that have morphed and flourished in new and often mischievously subtle ways (though sometimes they have not been so subtle). Regardless, there is a tradition that goes back to slavery up to the present day, of white people challenging racism and oppression, and to not acknowledge those rich and beautiful stories as a parallel narrative to the black determination and struggle for justice and liberation would be a dishonest account of America’s troubled history.
One of the inherited terms that arose along the way that has gotten a lot of mileage in aiding white people to become aware of their own complicity and accommodation to racism is the language of “white privilege”. Basically, through various means of sharing, talking about invisible knapsacks, and confession times, white folks have wrestled with the various ways that the current racial order offers white people in general, and them in particular, certain advantages and privileges as a white person. For some people, this has created a moment of awakening for them. They suddenly looked at their life, built on generations of white advantage. They considered G.I. Bills and Homestead Acts by their ancestors, loans received, opportunities to live where they wanted to, access to social networks that included people of means, and on, and on, it went. White privilege has been the banner and primary rhetoric for engaging white people about racism in America.
However, there have been a lot of challenges to this language, especially highlighting its weaknesses and limitations. I noticed that this issue was revived in the midst of Christians discussing the Michael Brown execution and the protests and demonstrations that followed in Ferguson and around the country. Not only in response to this moment, but in general, I have witnessed the deployment of white privilege ideology in ways that I found not helpful, and at times simply disturbing.
It shouldn’t be surprising though. The idea that telling white people that they have privilege as the solution to fix our racial woes was short sighted and bound to fall short of the radical creative transformation that Christians articulate when we speak of God’s reign breaking into our world. I actually don’t blame white people for messing up. If I were white, and someone told me I had “white privilege”, I don’t think I would necessarily know what to do with that. For some people, they find themselves in a perpetual state of guilt and shame, but never finding a new mode of being. They are mentally stuck within a state of awareness of their white privilege, without a new path forward. Another response that could leave someone stagnant in white privilege is to think about it as a positive. I mean, in America, most citizens want all the privileges they can get. It gets confusing for a culture with such individualistic values, to actually decide that the privileges one has, whether the result of racial inequities or not, is a negative thing. Some might think “good, I’m going to take full advantage of my privileges”!
The Church is filled with divisions. For the most part people have simply accepted this as a given and an inevitable reality. Hardly do people find themselves with enough Christian instincts to be deeply troubled with what’s going on. Even more rare than that, it is almost impossible to find followers of Jesus committed to doing the hard work of having honest and hard conversations in hopes of discerning a more truthful way.
I’ve been glad to find some communities and networks that are trying to do just that. These Christians are not doing the liberal ecumenism which ignores differences for the sake of unity, or conservative ecumenism, which sees its only faithful role as conquering ‘the other’ in debate. Instead, I have witnessed genuine attempts at true dialogue; speaking honestly and listening attentively in a manner that often (though not always) results in clarified disagreement and demonstrable growth in common understanding and renewed solidarity. This only happens through perseverance and ‘stick-with-it-ness’ because our one faith, one Spirit, and one baptism that we belong to under the One Lord, Jesus Christ. Many of these conversations are not for those that desire to avoid conflict (fake peace) at every turn, but instead demands vulnerability and a desire to pursue truth while guided by the Spirit. I can personally say that I have learned and grown much from many of them.
What is particularly interesting is that this group is able to discuss politics, atonement theory, racism, sexuality, gender, and a whole range of social concerns, always with people present coming from different perspectives and experiences on all of these concerns. That conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive, and marginalized perspectives can come together in pursuit of mutuality despite at times having varying theological commitments and diverse experiences is a great testament to the possibilities latent in the Church that are scarcely attempted.
However, things aren’t all roses. Certainly any number of concerns could be brought up, however, I believe that one important factor that often does not get taken into consideration is the “around the way” factor. While race is spoken of often, it does not always expose the power-dynamics of cultural logics at work that often set the rules and norms of engagement. Because of this, there is constantly an unfair burden for folks from “around the way” to utilize their “code-switching” skills while operating in these 2nd cultures that they have been forced to learn, but never seeing reciprocity. The result is that dominant cultural logics (which are predisposed to accept civility only by its own definition and terms) hegemonically shape and limit the nature of the conversation, and hence forth its outcome. This is not because it limits the topics being discussed, but because it dismisses the validity of “around the way” ethics, considering it as inferior to the dominant culture’s sensibilities.
More clarity is most likely needed here. Many middle class and suburban (in formation, not necessarily current geographical residence) Christians that engage in dialogue on race or class, for example, tend to only engage “bi-cultural” code switchers. That is people that have been formed “around the way” (aka the hood), yet also by necessity have learned how to embody dominant cultural norms in speech and behavior when necessary as a strategy and tool for gaining access. These folks move back and forth into various cultural communities engaging fluently on the terms of both their original communities that formed them culturally as well as the dominant cultural space they had to learn. They are, in a manner, bi-lingual. The middle class and suburban Christian engaged in “reconciliation” work, often in reality, only engages with people on their own suburban and middle class terms. What seems to be lacking is any effort from those brought up in dominant culture to become fluent and formed by “around the way” ethics and norms. When will “Peter and Jane” so to speak, who claim to want “reconciliation”, begin to immerse themselves (not just physically but in cultural logics) in the poor urban centers, which would demand that they also code-switch and embody a different set of norms? It is one thing to converse with someone like me, whom has been conditioned to play by the behavior rules and speech norms of dominant culture when I occupy those spaces, and it is something else for Peter to do “life together” with ‘Jamal, Puddin’ & dem’ on the block. If someone is intimidated dialoging and listening to me (who is committed to doing it in truth and love because of my faith and code-switches culturally), how will you engage my neighbor who doesn’t want to have anything to do with white people because of the way this country has treated him?
The truth is that both the ethics on the corner as well as majority and mainstream sensibilities are culturally and contextually biased norms. Neither are better examples of civility than the other. The only reason so many unconsciously assume otherwise is because they have bought into a dominant cultural framework rooted in American Civil Religion. From there, dominant culture is universalized and moralized as right. No longer recognized as a cultural expression it is deemed sacred and holy culture. (Western European civilization has always been erroneously conflated with being Christian culture, which explains western colonization practices historically).
In relation to the specificity of the Incarnation of God found in the birth, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, the universal claims of civility in American dominant culture are exposed as false, and instead we are forced to re-situate it beside every other cultural context including all its societal norms and ethical claims. By fixing our eyes on Jesus (of scripture and present among us) we can keep sight of all false claims of universality that our society tries to disciple us into rather than after the particularity of Jesus’ life, which is the only full revelation of God. EVERYTHING that we assume and take for granted, especially our “common sense” values, outside of the revelation of Jesus is speculative. Jesus is the Truth that entered in our finite historical moment so that we could see the Universal God. And yet, this type of discipleship that subversively follows Jesus, is never done in a social and cultural vacuum. Just like Jesus participated in custom and engaged concrete Jewish practices, so too must we embody our ‘followership’ in varying geographical & cultural spaces that are always accompanied with power dynamics that are not being named. One unique practice of Jesus, that I believe helped forge true Kingdom solidarity was his habit of entering into people’s own spaces and then speaking to them on their terms. Whether living water for the woman at the well, a word of liberation to an oppressed people, or utilizing shepherd language to communities that understood about grazing sheep, Jesus’ engagement was ‘fluent’ and adaptable because of his willingness to occupy marginal spaces and their modes of being.
I have briefly named “around the way” ethics and dominant cultural sensibilities in still very broad terms. Hopefully, at the very minimum, I have helped to begin to name and unveil an existing problem that is rarely addressed. True Christian solidarity and ‘togetherness’ in Christ is fragile and cannot be controlled. And yet as followers of Jesus it always remains “at hand” when we yield to the Spirit and reorient our lives through constant immersion into the only honest story, the good news of Jesus as Lord and Messiah, and as we open our eyes to the truth about our societies violent and oppressive history and current state. In response, when we collectively repent and join the Messianic struggle for liberation and shalom, committed to truth and love, Christian solidarity is not only “at hand”, but it can be experienced “among you” as well.
We had an excellent conversation on Race, Racism, Injustice, Reconciliation, and how following Jesus should make a difference in a racialized society, while specifically considering how Anabaptist communities have been wrestling with these issues in North America. We dialogued about how we were all living and learning into a new way that renounced and resisted the current practices that support white control and domination in our Christian communities and movements. It was an excellent discussion with diversity of thought and insight that made the time rich and meaningful. Be sure to favorite the video and then find sometime to watch it (maybe in parts) or in one long sitting. And please share it with others, we hope it can be a resource to the Church at large, as it wrestles with these realities as followers of Jesus. We were also truly grateful for the great dialogue and questions we received from people through various social media forums. Excellent and sometimes difficult questions were asked. Likewise, look forward to other #MennoNerds conversations to be taking place in the future with other excellent voices chiming in on a variety of important topics that need to be taking place.