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

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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?”

Empire of Sacrifice

Today I finished a book by Jon Paul, called Empire of Sacrifice. He is a professor at Lutheran Seminary here in Philly, and one of the people I plan on connecting with to see if our academic interests line up enough for me to work with them in doctoral work. The book is primarily more in the field of Religion, and I am a bit more in the field of Theology, but there seem to be a lot of similar interests nonetheless in our intellectual thought process that it could possibly be a good fit.

Not Different but Faithful

I had a great conversation with some friends and our discussion found its way to the discussion of church. I know, me talking about the nature of the Church, surprise surprise!!!  Anyways, one friend knowing my long term goal to do a church plant, asked how I would ensure that I did not fall into the routine of what most churches fall into, and how I would ensure I would be different.

I am satisfied with the answer I gave, I basically said that my goal is not to be different. My main critique of some of the emerging dialogue going on is not with approach or style, but with the goals it has. This is not the first person to articulate a desire to be different. And I know beneath that there are stronger convictions that recognize that the church indeed has not always been faithful nor relevant to God and the communities it serves. However, it still seems to be a reaction centered type of thinking to me.

I too am very frustrated with the Western Church as a whole and especially American churches. However, my main focus is not on how to be different than them, it is more on how to be faithful to God. For me I must ask the question, “What does a faithful Church look like in the 21st Century?” And after continually going back to God’s Word, praying, and being shaped by other believers in Christ who are asking the same question, a Kingdom imagination breaks forth, from which the Spirit gives discernment on what that might look like. And then I repeat the process again.

For me I want to make sure that I am lined up with what God is doing, and do not become just another approach that happens to be very different. I desire that God direct me on how I and my ministry can align with what God is doing. Everything centers around what God is doing first, and then me being a faithful participant in God’s doings.

Lynchings: Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday

Here is old footage of Billie Holiday performing her classic song Strange Fruit. Strange Fruit is a powerful and vivid song describing the henous lynchings that took place in the south. The strange fruit was the dead black bodies that were left hanging on the trees. This practice of lynching black bodies (especially black males) became prominent AFTER slavery was over, to maintain control and fear over the black population.  Sometimes we gotta look back and understand where we have come from to better understand where we are headed.

I Never Expected This… What An Honor!

Well I didn’t win a noble prize… but another blogger and frequent guest to my site has awarded me with this GBA award!!! Speechless. Well I don’t want to thank God first for the inspiration, my Mom and Dad who believed in me, my wife for all her support, and all the other little people who made this possible!

Thanks Pam (from Notes Along the Path blog) for joining the cypha over at freestyle theology and for your generous award!

Rush Limbaugh… Need I say more!

If only Michael Steele and other republican leaders would stop cowarding down to Rush, they could begin reforming and repairing this party that once stood for equality, freedom, justice, and affirmative action (a long time ago).  Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter (and all of Fox News) exist because they are a reflection of the subtle racism and sexism that exist throughout our country.  I wonder if a third more moderate party might eventually split the republican party in two leaving behind their extreme conservative counterparts.  I’ve always believed that the 2 party system hasn’t worked, and a strong third party might be just what this country needs. Flow with me on this, what do you think?