(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.
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.
Read the end of the post here.
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.
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…
“The myth is that we don’t live in a highly racialized and white-controlled society, and that the Church isn’t complicit. But the truth is that race and racism affect all of us,” says Drew Hart, who blogs at drewgihart.com.
What can Christians do and learn about racism? How do we name, explore, and critique violent systems, and navigate the tensions where we are complicit in racism–to whatever degree? How can the white majority in the North American church live in vulnerable community with persons of color, and how can persons of color be heard in the church? Can we envision change for white majority, white-dominated churches, institutions, schools and seminaries? Where are there examples of Anabaptist communities, bloggers, theologians, and networks modeling a more faithful way?
These questions and others will be explored during a special upcoming livecast panel discussion entitled “Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community” produced by MennoNerds. The diverse range of panelists include Drew Hart, April Yamasaki, Tim Nafziger, Katelin Hansen, and Osheta Moore joined by Tyler Tully in conversation around race, mutuality, and Anabaptist community.
The first production of its kind, “Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community” will include input from its viewing audience using online social media tools of Twitter and Google+. “Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community” is a free event, slated to appear on Thursday, June 12th at 6:30pm CDT at the following link: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/cijmuktoreof2ipakii3q035j34
Tyler M. Tully (@the_Jesus_event) is an Anabaptist writer, activist, and theologue based out of San Antonio, Texas whose work has been featured in local and national news sources. Proud of his indigenous American and European roots, Tyler is studying post-colonial constructive theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing an M.Div. You can follow his blog The Jesus Event at http://thejesusevent.com/
Katelin Hansen (@BTSFblog) is the editor of By Their Strange Fruit (BTSF), an online ministry facilitating justice and reconciliation across racial divides for the sake of the Gospel. BTSF explores how Christianity’s often-bungled relationship with race and racism affects modern ministry and justice. Katelin also service as Director of Music at UM Church For All People, a multi-class, multi-racial church in an underprivileged neighborhood of Columbus, OH.
Drew Hart (@druhart) is a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa, studying the intersection of Black theology and Anabaptism. His research is shaped by his own formative experiences within both streams, having been raised in a Black Church and then spending 4 years on the pastoral staff of a multi-racial, urban Anabaptist community after college, and prior to jumping back into graduate school. He is currently a part-time pastor and professor speaking regularly to churches, conferences, and colleges, primarily around the themes of discipleship, ecclesiology, and Christian ethics.
Osheta Moore is a stay-at-home mother of two boys (Tyson and TJ) one girl (Trinity), the wife of T. C. Moore (Theo Graff host), a ‘Naked Anabaptist,’ and writer/blogger at ShalomInTheCity.com. She is passionate about racial reconciliation, peacemaking, and community development in the urban core. She likes to take the “T” in Boston and listen to the amazing street performers at every stop. At the top of her bucket list is to dance in a flash mob, all the better if it’s to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Pharrell’s “Happy”.
Tim Nafziger is passionate about gathering people with shared values to work together for change in our communities and our world. One such space isChristian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) where he has been part of the support team since 2008. He also blogs for The Mennonite magazine, administrates Young Anabaptist Radicals, designs web sites and does photography. Tim lives with his wife Charletta in the Ojai Valley in southern California where they connect with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.
April Yamasaki (@SacredPauses) is a pastor and writer in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada. She is lead pastor of a congregation that includes people of various backgrounds including Russian-Mennonite, Kenyan, Korean, Vietnamese, and others, still growing into its multi-ethnic and inter-cultural identity. Her latest book is Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal (Herald Press, 2013) and a book of sermons, Ordinary Time with Jesus (CSS Publishing), will be released soon. She blogs at aprilyamasaki.com.
Ryan Robinson (@Ryan_LR) is the Digital Development Coordinator at the Canadian Bible Society, working primarily with website design, eBook publishing, and the Bible Journeys devotional framework. He blogs at emerginganaptist.com and maintains the website for MennoNerds.
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I am concerned that many Anabaptists have unconsciously and unknowingly adopted a model for social action and ethics that is problematic because it cooperates with our racialized and unjust society. Therefore, I figured I would offer an “in house” discussion on the subject. This all flows out of listening to the language and comments of my brothers and sisters (though mostly brothers) as they talk about engaging society (or not) in relation to various social issues we are confronted with in the U.S..
More specifically, I have observed many talk about desiring to remain “local”, “contextual”, “on the ground”, and “ecclesially” oriented when it comes to dealing with social realities. Let me be clear, I believe it is essential that we are rooted and grounded in local communities. When I hear these terms being used, it is often done so in great contrast to the Christendom logics for social engagement that is so common in American Christianity. Many seem to only imagine their social options for responding to injustice as being limited to the so-called democratic electoral process. More specifically, every four years, Christians pop blood vessels and gain grey hairs stressing over who the next president will be. This is the only active engagement that they will have socially, so I guess their limited options impose on them a certain manner of stress that cannot be released through daily resistance and activism. So, I am in agreement that our Christian imagination should not merely be defined by citizenship and the options given to the ‘good citizen’. However, there are also some serious consequences for swinging the pendulum all the way in the other direction, and again, they have racial implications, as well as others.
The first thing we must remember is that we live in a racialized society. By that I mean that race shapes how our societies movements and organization. Basically, race manages us socially and geographically. Unconsciously, most people are “patterned” by race in various ways. Most people go to a church where the majority of people are of the same race. Most people live in a neighborhood where most people are of the same race. Most people attend a school where the majority of people are of the same race. Most of the people that we call to actually chat with are of the same race. Most people regularly invite only people of the same race over to their homes for dinner. Based on race, we often have a sense that we “belong” in certain spaces and not in other spaces. In a sense, race has a sophisticated way of managing us and segregating us, despite that it is not legal segregation. This is no surprise, given that we are working with 400 years of deeply racialized laws and practices in this land. Those types of responses, if not intentionally resisted, will be unconscious and inevitable practices in our society.
If we take seriously the depth of our racialized society, and how it impacts our lives (which I have only unveiled a tiny fraction of), then we must consider the racial outcomes that flow from limiting and only concerning ourselves with “local” & “contextual” realms. For example, lots of research has been done exposing national racial issues that demand massive response. A perfect example is Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow. She exposed the national crises and confirmed with data what African American communities have been experiencing and prophetically speaking out against since post-civil rights era. Her simple point is that at every stage of “law and order” from policing, stops, arrests, trials, sentencing, and even after release back into society, the process is racially biased against Black people. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to order it and read it carefully. Anyway, if you live in a primarily white, suburban, middle class neighborhood, that is not vulnerable to these practices, and instead actually look to the police and judicial system expecting it to provide protection and law and order, then what are the implications of deciding to limit your social engagement to your local situation.
You see, by looking down and limiting your social engagement, you create for yourself an artificial social vacuum. It is as though your community and social life has nothing to do with what goes on regionally, nationally, or globally. That isn’t so. The reality is that our way of life always has direct implications beyond our local contexts, because we are interconnected much more than we realize. Only from a vantage point of privilege and comfort, blinded by the logics of dominant culture, can someone think that an ecclesial ethic is sufficient on its own, when it has not taken seriously its own social location and complicity in social systems. This is precisely why historic Anabaptists streams have a complicated history as it relates to slavery and racism in America. On one hand, most Anabaptists did not participate in slavery, unlike almost every other Christian tradition and denomination. On the other hand, unlike the Quakers whom many eventually became great abolitionists, Mennonites did very little to actively confront and challenge slavery and later racist manifestations like Jim Crow, Lynching, the convict leasing system, etc. So, it definitely is important to have a formational community that produces people that can resist participating in things like slavery. But it is also important to produce people that are willing to head towards Jerusalem and accept the consequences that come from confronting a social order that does not align with God’s Kingdom.
In 1963, Martin Luther King decided to protest in Birmingham, which was not his actual residency or home. In the process, he was arrested and thrown into solitary confinement over Easter weekend (which is probably the most faithful observance of that weekend that I have ever seen). However, some moderate yet influential white ministers, who were supposed to be “for” integration, critiqued King and the movement while he was sitting in jail. One of the big critiques was that the civil rights movement was moving to fast and was being provoked by “outside agitators”. They argued that it needed to be dealt with by local Birmingham citizens, not outsiders. Dr. King in contrast, understood the danger of limiting one’s social responsibility merely to one’s own local context. Here is just a small portion of his response, in his now famous, Letter from Birmingham Jail:
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.
So, in wrapping up, I hope to stretch the focus from merely being ecclesial ethics and local concerns. We do not want to fall back into Christendom logics, where the only options are from the top down, but nor can we disconnect between what goes on in Nazareth with what goes on in Jerusalem and Rome. I encourage us all to continue to practice an ecclesial ethics that is simultaneously a socially located and marginalized ethics. I’m not sure the Church collectively can truly follow Jesus faithfully in the world if it isn’t exploring the world from the vantage point of being in solidarity with the crucified among us. And if one suffers, we all suffer, therefore, as King argues we are no longer outsiders because everyone’s suffering pertains to us.
 King, A Testament of Hope, 289–303.
I wrote a book review, or more accurately a book recommendation for Biblical Seminary’s faculty blog, on Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ that came out in IVP at the end of 2013. Here’s a sample of my thoughts on the book:
Jesus’ prayer for the Church was that we would be ‘one’, yet it seems that oneness couldn’t be any further from the current reality of the Church in our society. Every imaginable division possible seems to be wreaking havoc in the Church. The Church is divided by race, socio-economics, partisan politics, education, theology, geography, and the list could go on and on. While we all know that we are called to unity in Christ, it seems that we are helplessly lost, moving towards a trajectory of deeper and deeper division. Why can’t the church live into its calling, so that we can be a distinct and visible alternative to the normal patterns of division found within society?
**Cue for Christena Cleveland to enter the dialogue**
For those who do not know, Christena Cleveland is a Christian leader, educator and author. She also happens to be a social psychologist. With that particular skill set, coupled with her strong commitment to the unity of the Church, she is situated quite nicely to help the Church understand many of the “hidden forces” at play in our every day interactions that unknowingly divide us. Thankfully, she has written that exact book in Disunity in Christ. In an accessible, thoughtful, and often entertaining manner, Cleveland weaves together social psychology research and theological principles on unity, with effortless grace. She manages to breakdown complex concepts, time and time again, with everyday illustrations and encounters as her teaching tools. Far from a highly theoretical text, Disunity in Christ will leave its readers with a basic yet usable foundation of social psychology when they are done. Yet, much more than that, they will walk away more committed to the unity of the church, and better equipped to actually live out such unity in their lives.
Click over to read the second half of my review on Biblical Seminary’s site. . .
I am supposed to be reading about Constantine and his relationship to the bishops in the 4th century. H. A. Drake turns the discussion away from merely looking at Constantine and his actions, and whether or not he was genuine or not, you know the old Constantine scholarly debates. Instead, he looks at the Bishops and their role in the emerging form of Christianity, and their complicity in shaping a coercive Christianity. This is so important. For me, the issue of Constantinian Christianity (as Anabaptists often describe it) has less to do with Constantine, because heck, he is an emperor. Christian or not, he has imperial interests. Nothing surprising about any move or decision he makes.
What I am much more interested in is moving the discussion away from Constantine, to towards the way that the Church apostasized itself by displacing Christ as central and allowing Constantine to take that place. One must go no further than looking at Eusebius’ Church History to see that many Christian leaders were seeing Constantine rather than Jesus, as the new David. That Constantine presided over councils rather than the presence of Jesus, and the imperial edicts mandating and coercively enforcing orthodoxy following that council is not surprising when the way of Jesus is no longer normative. In fact, as people have noticed, even images of Jesus began to change after that point. Jesus himself begins to no longer be portrayed as a humble man, but as an imperial figure in art post-Constantine. The imperial figure, then is centralized, has the right to make calls on orthodoxy, and enforces those boundaries, reigning supreme over the Church. It is the Bishops and the Church, and their gazing on “Christian” emperors that give them this power. It is a choice to fix one’s eyes on Jesus or the imperial figure.
Yet, can we really make huge distinctions between the past and the present, like we are above such problems? While no Roman Imperial Image reigns over us today, hasn’t the center still been occupied by something other than the Jewish anointed, crucified, and resurrected One? Certainly in America, that dominating figure since the 1600s has been “the White Male Figure”. The supremacy of the White Male Citizen as the standard to be measured against runs at the heart of the American experiment. When it was “self-evident” that all men were created equal, didn’t it really mean all “white men”? Were not black people subjugated to the status of property? And finally, wasn’t Jesus himself recast and refashioned into a “white male figure” which remains on the walls of churches and homes even today?
When people want to learn about theology, there stands “the White Male Figure”. The White Male Figure has occupied the center, playing the role of the theological police for everyone else. Though western and American forms of Christianity have participated in some of the most atrocious and violent acts within Church History, the White Male Figure claims clarity and objectivity, accusing other ecclesial traditions without that violent baggage of actually being the violent ones or of transgressing faithful witness. Speaking from a position of power, those labels stick and stigmatize marginalized Christian groups. The White Male Figure, sees himself as apolitical, but in actuality, every statement, every accusation, involves strategic power moves and claims, that re-affirm hegemony and shut out dissenting voices.
Given the longevity of western Christianities tradition of exalting the White Male Figure as the standard of perfection and the model for citizenship and discipleship, it becomes the norm to see the White Male Figure at the center. Once people are accustomed to that norm, it is no longer seen as a violent practice, but instead, the one that points out this form of domination is the one accused of participating in violence. It is the irony of people becoming mal-adjusted to injustice and white supremacy. In fact, to even call out white supremacy in relation to mythic “White Male Figure” is in itself seen as heretical and anti-Christian.
However, what must be understood is that as long as the “White Male Figure,” in its mythic and legendary glory, stands at the center, then that inevitably means that the Jewish Messiah and Lord over all creation, Jesus the Victorious One, does not stand in the center. The Jesus that has been manipulated to look like, think like, and bolster the agenda of “the White Male Figure” is not the Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but is an imposter and enemy of Jesus. The Living and Resurrected One does not take the mode or disposition of the oppresser, but rather his disposition is found in his being crucified by earthly authorities that found him to be a threat to the status quo. Two moves are necessary for the Church to get back on track:
- The Church must decentralize “the White Male Figure”: Unlike popular opinion, this is not an attack on “the White Man” but instead it is a humanizing project. The “White Male Figure” standard demands people to be apathetic to the racialized other, to gaze on them with contempt and see something other than someone who God found to be worth dying for in the person of Jesus Christ. When one succumbs to playing this role, it is unfortunately them that become monstrous, being enslaved to the elemental forces of this world and the dominion Satan. Only through being transferred from that dominion to the Kingdom of the Son in which humanity can do “life together” through the Spirit in solidarity and mutual sharing of love, can the humanizing project be accomplished. This means that those that have stood in the center must step off the table as referee and are now free to sit around the table sharing and embracing God’s beloved as equals, no longer enslaved by the logics of race and white superiority.
- The Church must centralize the Jesus of scripture and encounter the Resurrected One. This is a human and fleshly Jewish Jesus. Jesus of Scripture (who is synonymous with the Real Living Jesus that we can encounter and follow) moves on the margins, making those spaces the Main Stage of God’s mission. This Jesus must be followed. What is interesting when we encounter this Jesus, is that he opposes the option of both the Imperial Figure & the Dominating Figure for his followers. Check Luke 13:31-35, Jesus is on the move among the broken and oppressed but Herod wants to kill him. Jesus prophetically unveils Herod’s mythic foundation as a ruling figure to be respected, by naming his problematic praxis. He calls him a “Fox”! Let’s be clear, in Jewish tradition and Jesus’ usage there, it is clear that Jesus is not complimenting him for being smart, but rather that he is in actuality small, deceptive, and a predator. Likewise, when Jesus’ own disciples aspire for greatness, like that of Roman rulers, Jesus cuts that mimetic desire off as an option and says “not so” for you. He explains that the Gentiles dominate and “lord over them”, but his followers instead are called to be servants in the way he himself has served the least and the last of society. In following Jesus and centralizing him in the Church, God’s people will find an alternative response to racialization and white supremacy in our society. Right under the nose of our racist society a space is created for “Beloved Community” and “Life Together”. And from that solidarity, a prophetic movement that is a light to the dark corners of our world can begin.
But do we have the courage to follow Jesus faithfully in this way, or will “the White Male Figure” remain centralized in our Christian communities and movements. The challenge before us, given our long history of faltering, is great, but our God is able!
I had the privilege of being interviewed by Shane Blackshear on his excellent ‘Seminary Dropout’ podcast. It posted this week and I wanted to share it with my readership. In the podcast I discuss my own theological journey, the significance of Anabaptism and Black theology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and offer a challenge for how the white Church can begin to respond to racism in our society among other things. Head over to Seminary Dropout and check it out.