(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.” 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.
 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
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.
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?
What do you think about the idea of supporting the President, while also critiqueing him and keeping him accountable? Blind and biased critique or support will never be good, especially in a democracy, right?
Unfortunately, lynching is as much an American symbol as applie pie. You don’t have to teach people about a noose, because even if someone doesn’t know the details, a noose’s meaning is embedded deep into America’s core. It’s an ugly part of our history that most want to ignore or forget. That is because lynchings were so prominent in America. In fact, nearly 5,000 African Americans were lynched in the United States between 1860 and 1890 alone. Lynchings continued to be used as a means of control and fear over blacks well into the 1900’s. We will never know exactly how many black men were murdered this way, since not all lynchings were even recorded.
Here is a quote from the book Divided By Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith.
‘The racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness, and where “we are never unaware of the race of a person with whom we interact.”
In short, and this is its unchanging essence, a racialized society is a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.
A racialized society can also be said to be “a society that allocates differential economic, political, social, and even psychological rewards to groups along racial lines; lines that are socially constructed.”
They go on to show throughout the book, how white evangelicals and black evangelicals although they share a common faith are actually more racially divided in all those categories defined above than the rest of society.
Why is this so? Freestyle with me…
Powerful talk on race and privilege from Tim Wise. Thought this video would add to the discussion nicely. Freestyle with me, what ya think?