Category Archives: Race and the Divine Image

Acceptance

See the source image“Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

| Romans 15.7, NIV

Spawned by reports of the current American president’s remarks on immigration, which included speaking of Haiti and the entire continent of Africa (i.e. some 54 countries and two de facto territories) in terms unbecoming of a human being– much less a president, the national dialogue has returned to an old argument of race theory.  Race says where we are born determines our social value, that persons are inherently worthy or worthless based on their appearance.  It is a simplistic claim: goodness on location.  Acceptance based on appearance, this is as superficially good as it gets.

Incompatible with the unconditional love of God, “who so loved the world” and inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, still persons claim that the kingdom of God is “white” and is a single country- the United States.   Today, there are those who continue to believe that God sees the world through blue eyes.  They honestly think that God has goldilocks and only spends time with those people who are “just right.”  Clearly, they have their stories mixed up, adding in a bit of fairy tale into sacred writ.  It is obviously self- serving since only those socially colored white have the right to live happily ever after.

So proud is whiteness that it claims that God desires it, needs it, that God’s power is determined by it.  God must be white if God is to be accepted as all- powerful.

Made of earth, it has always struck me as odd that some dirt, some flesh, some people are perceived as inherently better.  “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”  Made by the same God, some persons are thought to be created “a little lower than” others.  Not surprisingly, the purpose aligns itself quite neatly with persons who espouse these views and their capitalist goals.  It also matches their will and supports the idea that they are God’s gift to the world.  Thanks but no thanks, Jesus.  What religion is this exactly?

Because the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be racialized. The kingdom of God is not segregated, color- coded, divided up into people groups.  And God is not a Person of color, the trinket of culture, to be accepted if the divine image matches our own.  God is good if God is with us– and not them.  No, God is Spirit and those who worship must worship spiritually and truthfully (John 4.24).  And the truth is, we are not accepted conditionally but gracefully.  “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

Questioning Race during Advent

IMG_0103.JPGChrist has come! This first Sunday of Advent reminds us that power was found in a cradle– not a crown.  Like persons in Jesus’s day, we are guilty of looking for him in the wrong places and among the wrong people.  As outlined in his stories, Jesus came to rearrange and change the order of things, beginning with himself.

The first will be last (Matthew 20.16). The greatest will be the servant (Matthew 23.11). Love your enemies (Matthew 5.44).  God becomes a human being.  A virgin will give birth to God.

In order to bring salvation to the world, God runs to a woman’s womb– not for office. God is with her.

Creator God becomes “Infant God” as described by Francois Mauriac in his book The Son of Man. So, how is it that the Divine is capable of such humility and we are not?  The only supreme power, God did not need skin, the social coloring of it or a cultural affiliation, because it is not needed for the image of a God.

The Word became flesh; the transformative power then rests with the Word and not the flesh.

God did more than meet us where we are; in Christ, God became one of us.  So, how is it that we are so different?  God is divine and yet, without obstacle in maintaining a relationship with us. Still, we cannot seem to get around race.

If God is with us all, then why do we use race against “them”?  Jesus came as the Savior of the world so what about us allows for self- segregation? Coming in the flesh to save us, why do we continue to deny the humanity of our sisters and brothers who can only be human?

God is with us, looking on and listening in as we make some people invisible and unheard of. Why do we do that despite the fact that Christ has come?

 

Making God in the Image of Whiteness

Image result for god as a white man imageHow did the invisible, immortal and eternal God become a blonde haired, blue eyed socially colored white man?  Who approved of this gross social reduction and theological diminishing of the Divine?  And why do we continue to go along with it?

Why do we worship whiteness as if the God of the Christian faith?  Why do we look to those we have made socially colored white as saviors and deliverers?  Why do we place our hope in them?  Why do we celebrate this image above all others– even God’s?  And why does the Church cherish, celebrate, form its doctrines, write hymns, start churches, do missions based on this idea?

I have so many questions as to why whiteness became the answer to the human condition.  Why do we believe that whiteness is the solution to all of our problems?  That whiteness is the cure and our saving grace?

Surely, if our hands are too short to box with God, they are not long enough to paint God white.  So, it is our imagination.  In our minds, God is ‘a white man.’  But, what does this private confession mean for the practice of our faith, the nature of fellowship, the command to love and live as Christ did?  How does our belief in whiteness impede our conversations about God and with God?  How has the social construct of race gotten in the way of our relationship with God?

Now, if we think that God is just fine with this arrangement, then our assumption is false.  God is self- existent; consequently, our attempt to paint God in, to hold paint brushes, crayons and markers as if we can not only see God face- to- face but know exactly how it looks (or perhaps, should look), goes against this truth.  Because God is self- existent, God can and does live without human needs, especially the human and acutely American one to identify with a race.

God is not made in the image of whiteness because God is not made with human hands, that would be a reversal of the creation narrative.  This attempt to describe God in colors suggests that we have a kind of insider knowledge about the Divine, that God is really one of us.  But, this is simply not true.

God is not white because we are made in God’s image; God is not made in ours.  So, God is not coming back for a “race” of people, a particular culture, only one country or continent.  Color may dictate our will but not God’s.  It may be a part of our imagination but that has no bearing on the image of God, where God can be seen and who God walks with in the world.

Making God in the image of whiteness blinds us from seeing God altogether.

Before God Was White: The Rumblings of a Race-less Theology

Image result for Jesus White House“God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

~ John 4.24, NRSV

Halloween is over and yet, it seems nearly impossible to remove the mask of whiteness from the face of God.  Now a spooky, to be avoided, death- wielding deity, this socially colored white God has it in for all oppressed people.  But, this is a trick of race.  God is not a white man.

The social construct of race remakes God in the image of whiteness.

Instead of the Church placing race under the scrutiny of sacred Scripture, she allowed Scripture to be scrutinized by and rewritten from the perspective of race.  Bad Church.  In most if not all cases, our personal theology does not inform our understanding of race but race determines our understanding of theology.  In our minds, the eternal, immortal and invisible God can be colored in.  In our minds, the omnipotent God can be told who to love and to hate according to our prejudices.  In our minds, the omnipresent God can be segregated, partitioned off, cornered by one community of “color.”

But, when did color become all- powerful?  Greater than God?  Greater than us?  Greater than God could ever be?

When did “the future of our race” become the historical narrative and present aim of the Church?   And what of our faith in a past filled with putrid, hateful relationships with ourselves, members of our family and those we would define as “the enemy” reflects the nature of our fellowship? When did the will of race become the will of God?  Why do we color- code our theology?  Why must God be socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white in order for us to believe that God is with us and for us?  And in turn, that God is with them and those people too?  When did we begin to worship race and to identify God as a colored human being?

I know that this may be hard to believe but there was  time when God was not socially colored white.  God existed (and still does) outside of the segregated categories of race.  God was (and still is) omnipresent and thus, unable to be confined to a community or culture of people.  “God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  To color- code power, that is white power, black power and so on, is to limit God’s supremacy.  It implies that the Spirit of God can be restricted and somehow harnessed by human hands.  God’s identity wasn’t, isn’t and never will be the sum total of racial attributes.  To racialize God is an attempt to stereotype Mystery.

A theology that is racialized, that describes God as a beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white man, is not talking about the God of the Christian faith but the God of the American faith.  It is faith in skin, white skin mostly and not in the salvific work of Jesus Christ achieved on a cross more than 2,000 years ago.  God is not involved in a race war but is fighting for our salvation.  God is after souls not the social coloring of skin.

 

Reflect on the statements below and consider where you may have painted God white.  May they cause a rumbling in your theology as well.

God is not a white Person.

God’s goodness is not whiteness.

God’s power is not white supremacy.

God’s blessing is not expressed in white privilege.

God’s love is not based on the social coloring of skin or any other real or imagined physical attribute.

God is Spirit and consequently, cannot be segregated, redlined and thereby, captured by one socially colored group, particular community or culture.

God is not a member of a race.  It is a social construct and God is self- existent.

The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

[viii] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7.