THE WORLD OF RACECRAFT AS ROLEPLAYED BY WHITE “PROGRESSIVE” CHRISTIANS
“So many (and again, not all) privileged people (and, honestly, though I focused on two dudes in this piece this often includes privileged white women as well) who claim to be progressive Christians act like they want a world where everyone has a “seat at the table.”
But they want it on their terms.
They tell oppressed groups what they can and cannot say. They tell oppressed groups what words they can use to define their oppressions. They even dictate whether or not the experiences and thoughts of oppressed groups are valid.”
– Sarah N. Moon, Tony Jones, Peter Rollins, and the trend of “don’t call me racist!”
“He seems to write about his understanding of the gospel as if it’s objectively better, rather than experientially better. We should all remember that whether we like it or not, religious experience is subjective. The quality or value of a doctrine or belief is determined by one’s own context and experience. I think it’s okay to say that an interpretation of the Bible is more culturally palatable, more accurate (as is conceivably possible when translating from one language to another), or even more useful in one’s own context… But Jones’ progressive interpretation of the Bible is only “better” in the sense that we live in a society which is becoming more progressive.”
– Crystal St. Marie Lewis, White Men Can’t Jump Out of the Frying Pan that Easily
Today, I was just minding my own business at work when a friend sent me a facebook message informing me of his disappointment in Tony Jones’ latest blog post,I am Tired Of Being Called a Racist, in response to Cristena Cleveland’s first post in her series, “Diversity Repellent” “We Have a better version of the Gospel than you: Diversity Repellent.” Jones complains that he was misquoted, he said “better” not “best”: good better best, never let it rest, til your good is better and your better is best. Jones’ defense is that it is more of a referent, and not comparative. Fair enough, the correction was made, so what is the big fuss over anyhow?
One would think that when Cleveland editted her post, admitted she had editted at the bottom of the post (which is good Christian blogging ethics by the way), that should have ended the squabble, no? Does this change the problematic nature of Jones’ comments today or in the past? Um, no, it does not. Jones at Fuller Theological Seminary a couple of years ago was confronted for his problematic approach to the Global South Pentecostalism at a conversation of “emergence spirituality.” If you watch the video in its entirety, the framing of the discussion was very much Euro-centric, and void of any talk of place or context (except when historian Lauren Winner was speaking). Part of the invisibility of white supremacy in progressive groups is that whites do not have to talk about race or context or place at all. This is a big problem with much of the emergence Christianity literature I have ran into: see for example Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis.
On another level, by comparison, Tony Jones’ view that the Global South’s theology reveals a colonizing gaze for a few reasons I would like to discuss. When you have this idea that the West, North American religion/society in particular, has a “high level intellectual Christianity” with a “more sophisticated theology” than them down there, and YOU have to ask if it is colonialism or not, you are participating in the history of white supremacist propaganda against People of Color. The dark art of racecraft has a long history, but in short, as Frederick Douglass said, power concedes nothing, meaning it must continue to justify itself. White supremacy in even progressive mainline religious circles finds a way to rear its ugly head under the guise of concepts such as “People in the 2/3rd’s world are not intellectual enough,” they are economically poor and therefore need some of the West’s white theological fatness. Take for example Jason Richwine’s pseudo-scientific research that was exposed this week: he made the argument that Latin@s are less intelligent than whites, and therefore, we should have closed borders. If people of color from the Global South are seen as nothing but bodies, things without minds, they must be treated as a threat to the purity of white U.S. American society. Jason Richwine was making academic arguments, in fact, a PhD dissertation in working to justify white supremacy of the conservative sort.
Likewise, Tony Jones also made his arguments in an academic setting: “I made a statement of preference, that I think the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.” The defense of his position is not borderline racist; it’s just plain rank imperialism. The exchange is not mutual, and presupposes that there has been some theological vacuum in “Latin America.” Is good theology only owned by white male bodies? What about Leonardo Boff? Pope Francis the First? Gustavo Guttierez? Joao Chaves of Brazil? Are not these theologians who have a “developed” theology who were or have been placed in the “Global South” at one time or another? Why do “these people” need you? The invisibility of location and context that is glaringly familiar in white liberal Christian literature makes its way here once again. The Christianity of “high intellectualism” that Tony Jones is stressing here is culturally bound by an epistemology (way of knowing) grounded in the racist history of superior Western, white male rational subject.
FYI Mr. Jones, I’ve read that you have “global experience” and that you “have good friends who are Pentecostal” but Racism 101, heard it all before “but I have a black friend
“2. I have a black friend.
variant a. I have an Asian child.
variant b. I have a non-white boyfriend/girlfriend.”
OR ANY other version thereof does not excuse the exercise of colonizing gazes in the name of “theological arguments.” Just by even bringing up your context of American and Western, there is no such thing as a “purely” theological argument. But of course, as an “Incarnational” Christian you should know that.
Speaking of Incarnation, to get back to the root of the problem, the notion of the “highly sophisticated” and uber-intellectual white subject over and against the mindless Pentecostal bodies of color: 2 things: first, at the Incarnation, Christ does not let us forget our particularity, and we should very well remember Jesus’ place as well, where heaven and a 2nd century Jewish human are united and tied together for the sake of saving Jews and Gentiles together in reconciliation. Secondly, the Incarnation according to John 1, teaches us that people are more than bodies, that they are more than the good minds (Logos/logos/logic/wisdom) that God has given them. In that light, I am tired of black women being called emotional and angry, as you and your commenters suggested in the past and today. I am tired of women being silenced when they stand up to both institutional sexism and men’s personal sexism. I am tired of reading books by and listening to white progressive Christians who don’t want to talk about their own place or race or context.
Good better best. Never let it rest. Til your good is better, and your better is best.