Tag Archives: aracial theology

Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

Tongue tied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I proclaim a raceless gospel when there is so much faith in race?  Why do I scribble over words in books that color- code our shared humanity and repeat the appropriate cultural designations aloud?  We are not black but African Americans.  We are not white but European Americans.  We are not yellow but Asian Americans.  We are not red but indigenous people who live in what has been renamed the United States of America.  We are not brown but Latino/a Americans (The racial category also includes Southeast Asian people, North African people and a few other cultural groups).  We are not beige, the color chosen for those who are bi- cultural but we share in the diversity of our humanity and represent what it looks like when cultures come together.  We are love bridges.

Because race will not tell me what I see or who I can see or how I must see others.

Because human beings are not colors, a collection of attributes and physical characteristics.  Because race does not even come close to expressing who we are in the world and in relation to each other.  Because race is not a witness to my human being or yours; it can never testify to seeing us.  I may not be colorblind but I am certain that race is blind.  Race captures what we feel about our flesh and its findings are literally superficial.

Race is not a hypothesis.  It is an uneducated guess about our humanity as its creators had no idea what they were saying or how their words would be used hundreds of years later.  And yet it is informed for the purposes of economic and political advantage.  Persons who use the racial categories to their advantage, use it as a means of oppression, as a leg up and a foot down on those who would attempt to rise above the fray.  Because who is willing to give up their privilege, their head start, to reject the title of whiteness?  Because we are not really taking away whiteness but social benefits, immunities and protections that go ahead of us, clear the way for us.

Because race is about competition and calling persons black slows us down.  Persons who are socially colored black are deemed lazy.  They cannot keep up and yet their ancestors built up this nation.  It doesn’t make sense.  One should cancel out the other and yet, we choose one over the other.  Because it serves us well and serves us best to think of another as less than us.  Because race is about pride, our insecurities and wanting to be so much more than human.  So rather than work hard, we think the worst of others to make ourselves feel better: lazy.

Laziness is a stereotype, a rock in the shoes of those who would attempt to make strides, who would try to cross the color line.  This is why it hurts when they have to “jump higher and run faster” than their counterparts.  Because they don’t have to deal with a word that is meant to trip them up and tie their tongue.  Because it is hard to say anything good about being black, which is why some persons talk white.

This need to be white is a mental transformation, a metamorphosis, a conversion of sorts.  Race has a life of its own, separate and apart from who we are and were meant to be.  Race is another story, a smaller narrative and a diversion.  It is not the way, the truth or the life (John 14.6).

Because the creature- created and run racial identities have no spiritual benefits and no eternal value.   Instead, the sociopolitical and economic construct of race is a kind of currency.  Our belief in race continues the need for this skin trade.  Nearly four hundred years later with the approaching anniversary of the first Africans enslaved and brought to the Virginia shores, we are still in bondage.  Tongue tied to race are most of us and me to the raceless gospel.

Doing justice to our bodies: How race wrongs us (Part Two)

See the source imageWith an increase in the surveillance of bodies socially colored black, I feel it necessary to talk about the valuation of the human body and the Church’s role in such a conversation.  With some persons feeling it necessary to call the police as if a customer service agency for humans they deem damaged due the social construct of race, it is important that we not only talk about race but speak to its theological implications.  Made in God’s image, it would seem like an easy one to have.  The silence around the visibility of whiteness and the socially desired invisibility of those labeled and socially assigned the identity of black is dumbfounding.

Thus, I submit a second section of the paper I presented at the Baptist World Alliance in Zurich, Switzerland just a few weeks ago:

There are several familiar passages of Scripture that praise the creation of human beings, namely the Genesis account: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”[i]  Noteworthy, the narrator does not describe any physical characteristics or distinctions, not even based on their gender differences.  Unlike our hyper- body conscious society, there are no measurements, no height or weight, no mention of size, shape or any other perceived physical trait.  Man and woman, animals and insects, trees and rivers, they are described the same: “very good.”

God praises the work of God’s hands and the psalmist chimes in, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; I know them very well.”[ii]  Made in God’s image and identified in Christ, the believer’s identity has divine boundaries.  Buried with Christ, our new life with Christ is not expected to resemble the old self or its nature.  In Christ, we are new creatures.  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”[iii]

Paul’s point cannot be overstated. Even though they knew Christ “from a human point of view,” even though they knew his mother, Mary and his stepfather, Joseph, his birthplace, his siblings, his habits and human needs, they don’t know him in this way anymore.  There is a change in the way that they relate and desire to know Jesus.  This new creation does not require the information that the cultural, personal or social self might need.

For the new creation, it is unnecessary and dare I say, irrelevant. And it is a choice.  While they have personal information about Jesus, that perspective is not helpful to the work of ministry that he has entrusted to them, to the community that they have been called to serve, to the gospel they have been charged to share with the world.  They must know him and consequently, each other differently.  This is not human being as usual.

While the early Church initially wrestles with cultural inclusion as recorded in Acts 15 at the Council at Jerusalem, revelations given by the Holy Spirit make the gospel’s goal clear: “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between us and them. Now therefore why are putting God to test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord, Jesus, just as they will.”[iv]

The presence of the Holy Spirit makes evident those who God has saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No physical marking of the flesh, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is a distinction not made with human hands but much like the children of Israel, it is a matter of the heart.  Anything more would be making salvation more difficult than it needs to be, harder than God has made it for them, the writer of Acts says.

They are identified by the Holy Spirit and found in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Galatia of their identity in Christ, which the outside world has nothing to do with it.  Baptized, believers rise with Christ no longer to be identified as they have been by society: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[v]  Baptized into Christ, there is a depth of identity to which all others will not survive.  This is more than an immersion; it is a death, a burial with Christ to rise to new life in him.

Theologian William Willimon makes a fine point in this regard,

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?

In baptism, the text becomes Scripture for us, canon, laid on us as a new story that illumines our stories. In baptism, we are adopted into the people who answer to this story and are held accountable to its description of reality… Scripture suggests that authority has shifted from ourselves to Scripture’s use of us… Baptism asserts that we meet and speak under an identity that challenges and endangers all other identities.[vi]

If we profess Christ as Savior and Lord, then there is no longer black or white, red or yellow, brown or beige people. There is no longer immigrants and strangers, marginalized and centered, minority and majority, privilege and oppressed people; we are now one in Christ Jesus. Like Paul, we are to count as loss all that brought us gain so that we might know Christ.[vii]  Accepting race and its socially constructed identities ensures that we “boast in the flesh” and maintains our confidence in it.[viii]  But, baptism erases the lines and destroys our boxes. T.B. Maston asserts, “God is not a racial, national or denominational deity… so there is no racial discrimination in God’s family.”[ix]

When we accept the transformative power of baptism, the social construct of race will lose its grip on our skin and slip away.

Because we cannot serve God and race.[x]  When we are baptized, we must die to our racialized selves, drowning out the voices of culturally justifiable hatred, prejudice and supremacy.   Race cannot go down with us and come up in Christ Jesus— because race has no resurrection power.  If we are baptized and remain people of color, then we may need to stay under the water a little longer.

The point is made again to the community of believers at Colossae: “…seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”[xi]

How then does the Church in North America continue to speak of God and God’s people in color- coded terms, to speak of people of color and people of God interchangeably?  Because we cannot credit two creators.  Why does the Church in North America continue to employ the social distinction of race though we identify ourselves as people who are “led by the Spirit”?  How does the use of the social construct and its progeny, namely prejudice, stereotype and white privilege, survive baptism and continue to participate in our life with Christ and with other believers in community?  How does race help us to sing God praises for our creation and the creation of our neighbor?

Known for having all the answers, the Church in North America and communities of faith across the world must begin to question its long- standing relationship with race.

_______________________________________

[i] Genesis 1.26, 27, 31a, NRSV

[ii] Psalm 139.14, NRSV

[iii] Second Corinthians 5.16-17, NRSV

[iv] Acts 15.8-11, NRSV

[v] Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV

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

[vii] Philippians 3.8

[viii] Philippians 3.2

[ix] T. B. Maston, The Bible and Race: A Careful Examination of Biblical Teachings on Human Relations, (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1959), 24-25.

[x] Matthew 6.24

[xi] Colossians 3.9-11, NRSV

Segregated Sundays: Conversations on Diversity, Hypocrisy, Race and Reconciliation

Image result for segregation and the churchFor the next few weeks, I will feature videos that discuss the plight of the Church in North America, which remains segregated– unlike the military, retail stores, hospitals and cemeteries, restaurants and movie theaters, bathrooms and water fountains, libraries, schools, buses and other modes of transportation.  While there are enclaves, it is illegal to discriminate and prevent persons from moving into a neighborhood based on the social construct of race.

So, why is the faith community not challenged, not held to the same standard?  Why didn’t we, as believers, integrate like the rest of American society?  Where are the protestors and the chants of “Hey, Hey/ Ho/ Ho/ Segregated churches have got to go”?  Why don’t we sit- in or boycott or march or write letters to our pastors and other spiritual leaders?

Worse still, many Christians don’t feel the need to change.  They sit comfortably on their pew, not discerning or discussing the need to challenge the assumptions of race in the practice of worship, in our demonstrations of leadership, in our understanding of discipleship, in our expressions of fellowship.  And they are not having the tough conversations about changing communities and demographics– at least not the courageous ones that matter, that challenge long- held positions of power and confront the loopholes in our nationalistic pride.

Segregated Sundays?  Jesus came from heaven to earth to save us but we will leave our church if the cultural or ethnic representation of the neighborhood changes.  Jesus stretched out his hands on a cross to die for us but we won’t stretch out of our hand to greet one another because we belong to a different culture.  What of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment?

“For God so loved the world” but we will have separate ourselves “in Jesus’ name.”  How is it that we can work together during the week but will not worship together on Sunday morning?  What of our faith makes this practice acceptable, agreeable, just, practical and right?  How can we be anything but hypocrites if we subject our relationships to the conditions of the social construct of race while proclaiming security in the unconditional love of God?

Books can take you places

Image result for ruth haley barton life together in christAs many of us gear up for summer vacations with flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen, I want to remind us of the journey offered in books.  Words can take us places.  Within their pages are invitations to journey not just to distant and magical lands but to places closer to home, to undiscovered holy sites within us.  Dependent upon our imagination, openness and receptivity to the Spirit, books offer more than an escape but a way in to the deeper places.

Recently, a book offered just that for me.  I was looking for a spiritual locale but not sure how to get there or if there was a guide.  The words of Ruth Haley Barton provided the transportation.  She writes in Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, “Community is the most ‘overpromised and underdelivered’ aspect of the church today. … There is another overpromised, underdelivered aspect of the church today that is equally disillusioning, and that is the promise of spiritual transformation. … I made the disheartening discovery that it is possible to hang around other Christians a lot, meet regularly for worship, study our Bibles, join a church and even call ourselves a community but not change at all in ways that count.”

She was not putting words in my mouth.  She was speaking for me, repeating what I had been saying to myself.  The disappointment and disillusionment were palpable and I was not alone in this feeling.  What a relief!  Because the work of Christ must not be confused with Christ’s witness in us.  Church attendance should not be confused with Christ’s being present and tending to us.

The disconnect between Christ and transformation that causes me to groan most is that of the social construct of race.  That we, as Christians, continue to color in his body, that we allow the social construct of race to segregate his members brings deep grief and disappointment.  The power of Christ’s resurrection and our baptism into his new life is mocked here.

Still it must be said and said again, there is no community as ‘races.’  No one holy race.  No one human race.  For race cancels out community and gets in the way of our seeing all as humans.  The social construct of race says that there is no transformation.  We are only and always socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white people.  The stereotypes speak for us.

And to make believing harder, we have no faith that God can change us when it comes to the social construct of race.  The reach of Christ’s cross falls short here.  But, it is simply impossible to be God’s people and colored people.

***

I have a deep longing for transformation in community.  I want very much to experience life in Christ in ways previously unexplored and unexpressed.  I want to be a new creature, changed by my travels with Christ.  Returning home not with trinkets from my daily walk but testimonies of the difference that Christ has made in my life.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I want my heart to burn when Christ speaks (c.f. Luke 24.32).

I carry a collection of what I refer to as journey words.  These are words that I have met along the way, that I have run into or have been introduced to, that speak to where I am supposed to be.  Not only are they a source of encouragement but they keep me on track.  These journey words remind me of my identity and place in the world.

Barton’s book has affirmed the aim of my life.  More than the trip of a lifetime, I believe that I will have arrived where I belong when I am in a community that is transformed, with me as its first member.

Now carrying journey books in addition to journey words, my bag will be much heavier but the load will be lighter.  Knowing that there are persons walking ahead of me, who have not only been there but remain has taken my spiritual life to new heights.  I will not return the same.