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

Advertisements

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.

White Man’s Religion???

Did you know?

During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African.  Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.

In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria.  It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then.  Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.

Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa.  His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.

While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers.  In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse.  The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it.   Check it out for yourself.

Negro History Week – Once You Go Black…

Do you know the origins of black history month? it actually started this day (February 7th) back in 1926. It was initiated by Carter G. Woodson who wanted to make a concerted effort to incorporate the accomplishments and history of African Americans in the larger American story. Unfortunately, the black experience was systematically ignored as though black people were invisible and contributed nothing to society.  Well, I guess some things don’t change much, since a few blacks are hyper-visible while the majority of black people continue to live in the realm of dominant societal invisibility.  Anyway, Negro History Week was originally picked because it landed during the week of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Give us an inch and we’ll take a foot, give us a week, hey we are gonna take a month!

Black History: Focusing in on Bonhoeffer???

It could be seen as a bit strange to be focusing in on a white person during black history month, right? After all, the whole purpose of black history month is to finally learn about the experiences, culture, and heritage of black people in a culture that only values white history, culture, and literature.

Nonetheless, today on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday, we briefly stop and remember this man who literally gave his life because of his Christian convictions.  However, I will not spend most of your time on what he did to resist Nazi Germany (which you probably already know), but rather to remember his time in Harlem, NY.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and also attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Very few white Christians in America have been willing to place themselves under black spiritual leadership (the opposite is much more frequent), yet Bonhoeffer did just that and was shaped significantly by those experiences. He not only loved the Negro Spirituals and culture there (which he admitted he did), but he also had his faith impacted dramatically has he began to see life “from below”.  It was here that he  fully grasped the Church’s call to pursue justice and its unfortunate participation and perpetuation of racism and segregation.

So why Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Because he offers a model for what can be. People in the dominant culture can indeed emerge themselves into black culture and community, and more than that… they can actually learn and grow from that opportunity. So, I invite you to take the Bonhoeffer challenge, and immerse yourself in black culture, community, and history this month and see how it might impact you. Let me know if you are up for the challenge.

How will you participate in Black History Month?

While most months of the year our country is consumed in white history and culture, ignoring the contributions and culture of African Americans, February (yes the shortest month) is set aside for the purpose of learning and celebrating African American history and culture. For many this month is only Black History month in name, while in reality everyone just goes on as usual. However this month I invite you to actually be intentional, listening and learning from the rich heritage and history of the black community!

How will you participate in Black History Month?

Ecclesia National Gathering, 2010: Missional & White

For the last few days, I away at Ecclesia’s National Gathering. Ecclesia is a missional network that specializes in coming around church planters and church leaders to relevantly minister to a rapidly changing culture.

I had some great dialogue with many people while I was there and definitely left with a lot to think about and chew on because the teaching was so rich. However, like my stereotype suspected (yes, I admit I prejudged them before I knew them… guilty!) it was an overwhelming white constituency.  In fact, while I have been to many mostly white christian events, I actually think it was the whitest event I have ever been to. If you throw Blacks and Asians, (sorry, there were no latinos present) into one group it would total to about 1% of the group.

This reality is sad and unfortunate given that this new group of “missional” christians tend to see themselves as Evangelicals 2.0, who are supposedly more open minded and value diversity more than evangelicals do. While that might be in the teaching and vision, in reality, most evangelical events I have been to are closer to 5-10% minorities. I am not making that sound like that is a good number, but it is way better than 1%.

Despite everyone’s agreement through many conversations about the elephant in the room (lack of pigmentation), it didn’t seem hopefull that anything was really going to change.

What is going on?

Messiah College Hosts Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Feb. 25th

Messiah College Centennial Celebrations: Keynote lecture

Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Alphonse Fletcher University
Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for
African and African American Research at Harvard University

Messiah College Humanities Symposium Lecture
“Genetics and Genealogy” • February 25, 2010, 8:00 p.m.
Brubaker Auditorium, Eisenhower Campus Center

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Ph.D., will deliver the second keynote lecture of the Centennial year and the keynote address for the Messiah College Humanities Symposium. Professor Gates is editor-in-chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies and Africana Studies, and of The Root, an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture, and genealogy. In 2008, Oxford University Press published the African American National Biography. Co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, it is an eight-volume set containing more than 4,000 biographical entries on both well known and obscure African Americans. He is most recently the author of In Search of Our Roots (Crown, 2009), a meditation on genetics, genealogy, and race, and a collection of expanded profiles featured on his PBS documentary series, “African American Lives.” His other recent books are America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans (Warner Books, 2004), and African American Lives, co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Oxford, 2004).

Immediately following the lecture, audience members are invited to attend a public book signing by Dr. Gates in the Eisenhower Campus Center.

This event is open to the public. Seating is by ticket only; no charge. Tickets available beginning January 14, 2010 through the Messiah College Ticket Office, (717) 691-6036.

Happy Birthday Rosa Parks!!!


On February 4th, 1913, Rosa Parks was born. She is now famously thought of as the “mother of the civil rights movement” for courageously sitting down on that city bus, so that the African American community could finally take a stand. It was her faith and resilience that gave her the strength to make that courageous move. We remember her today, and her faithful commitment to God’s principles of love, justice, and equality. Happy Birthday Rosa Parks!!!