Tag Archives: race and theology

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.

The theology of race

theology-570x420Why I am so adamant when it comes to my position on race and its position behind me?  Why can’t race represent me or introduce me?  Why do its prejudices not speak for my neighbor, the stranger or the immigrant?  Why can’t its stereotypes inform my understanding of human beings?  I’m glad that you asked.

I don’t like the social construct of race because its ways and will for humanity and our relationships conflict with my understanding of God.  Frankly, I don’t like what race says, suggests, infers and implies about God.  And it frightens me, disturbs me what we will do for race, what we say about God in order to support the social construct of race.

But, race is not a theologian.  Race is not a believer.  Race is not a Christian: righteous, set a part.

Race is an idol, hand made, fashioned with our tongues.  Race is a false god who spreads lies about the true and living God.  What lies?

Race says that God creates no one new, that God is a copy cat, that we are all the same in our cultural groups, members of a boxed set, a collection of social colors.  Race teaches us that God stereotypes.

Race says that God sees each culture according to race, that God uses race, condones its practices and endorses its beliefs concerning our humanness.   Race implies that God treats us according to the social coloring of skin, that it is a part of God’s plan, purpose and will, that God is pre- judging us according to the image that He made us in.  Race teaches us that God is prejudiced.

Race says that God is colored, that God is socially colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ white/ yellow, that we can create God in our own image, that God is not the Spirit, that God is somehow more human, more of a social color than divine (John 4.24).  Race teaches us that God is flesh and thereby limited, unable to be omnipresent.

Race says that we can put God on our side, the side of the oppressed or the privileged, that we can discern based on the outward appearance who God loves and hates, who God accepts and rejects.  Race teaches us that God is predictable, that we can know His ways.

Race is the false teacher, an instructor without credentials, a messenger.  We make it up as we go along.  We must stop teaching race.  It is a learned behavior that neither edifies us nor glorifies God.  Being a member of a socially constructed racial group does not mean that we will get extra credit.  In fact, it is the wrong answer to questions concerning our identity for those who believe.

We are who God says we are not who race says that God says that we are.  That’s gossip.  That’s hearsay.  That’s not the truth.

So, when race enters a room, don’t sit down and pull up a chair.  Don’t listen because race knows nothing about God and consequently, race knows nothing about you.

Race and the Irresponsible Self

Race allows you and I to look away, to not look at ourselves fully or completely.  We do not have to face ourselves alone and a part from its insecurities that make us feel safe.  We want race to tell us what we see and who/ what/ when/ where/ why we should ignore.  We need race to do for us what we do not have the courage to admit that we want to do to our selves: hide.

We simply do not want to acknowledge the diviseness within us and so we look outward.  We seek an enemy that is farther away, not wanting to face the enemy within, that fights against the advancement of the true self, the new creature created in Jesus Christ.  Frankly, we don’t want to be “born again”, we have no confidence, no hope in regeneration and we would rather not address the fact that we are strangers to ourselves.  Instead, we close our eyes, fold the arms of our souls and turn away.  It is because it is so much easier to stare at others than to look ourselves.

And it is not long before we begin the internal and cyclical self- dialogue that concludes with determinations like “They made me this way.” “They did this to me.”  Or, “I had no control over the color of my skin.”  Ultimately, we are saying that we cannot be held responsible for our actions or our inactions.  We do not want to be held accountable for our lives and so we give them to race, its prejudices and stereotypes.  But, what have we received in return?  In giving our hands, our minds, our bodies to race, what has race put into them?  Nothing.

Race has only put things onto them: burdens.  Who else will remove them or do we not want to be held responsible for this either?

One Minute Apologist: Dr. Anthony Bradley

In one minute, Dr. Anthony Bradley discusses black liberation theology and its attempt to substitute the good news of Jesus Christ and the spiritual deliverance from sin that is offered to humanity through his sacrifice on the cross for liberation from social and political oppression.

Additional Reading

Anthony Bradley, Liberating Black Theology