Revolution of Niceness: Differentiating Between Good and Nice

Revolution of niceness Andy Gill PatheosI’m not sure anyone else within white Americanized Christianity, is saying it so I will: The predominantly white Christian institution is terrifyingly bigoted. Within the Church racial caste has not come to an end; it has only been redesigned. Unfortunately, many will selfishly be taken back by this statement, offended by my blunt acknowledgment of racism within white privileged churches. Inevitably, I will be accused of furthering division, being a reverse racist, and many other things in which I can’t yet fathom until they’re spoken.

“I’ve covered a number of these incidents here over the years, from VBS curriculum, to youth skits, to general Christian trade books, in which Asians have been mocked, caricatured and stereotyped in the name of… I don’t know what. Jesus? I didn’t see a whole lot of Jesus in any of those things.” 

Within Americanized Christianity, but not limited to, there seems to be this overarching assumption that in order to be “good” you must also be nice. Implying that if someone is not nice, then, they are automatically viewed as someone who is also not good. 

This conflation of good and nice is one of the reasons for ongoing division and a lack of racial reconciliation within the Church. For instance, the unspoken demand that the oppressed still must be “slow to anger,” despite the amount of suffering they’ve faced, and by slow to anger, in Americanized evangelical terminology this means one must never get angry.

“For example, the “tone” argument, the favorite derailing tactic of bigots everywhere, is quite clearly a demand that the oppressor be treated “nicely” at all times by the oppressed – and they get to define what “nice” treatment is. This works because the primacy of nice in our culture creates a useful tool – to control people and to delegitimize their anger.” – via The Social Justice League Blog

To not acknowledge that in our society men are more privileged than women, whites are more privileged than POC, and/or heterosexuals are more privileged than non-heterosexuals is to turn one’s back on injustice.

Side note: The most important thing in which a person of color [POC] reading this can take away is that there’s no such thing as reverse racism.

Niceness vs. Justice…

This not only silences and delegitimizes the reality of the oppressed while obfuscating away from justice being had, but it is simultaneously perpetuating division[1]. Sadly, in consequence, we’ve found ourselves fighting for a revolution of niceness as opposed to a revolution of justice.

Growing up in the white westernized church I’ve seen a fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly oppression and privilege are. We need to debunk this ongoing belief that hurting someone’s ego is of equal moral harm to that of systematic oppression. To be clear, oppression is not getting one’s feelings hurt. Oppression is living in a constructed system that leaves you at a cultural, social, and therefore, economic disadvantage.

This is why calling a racist person “a bigoted asshole” is not nearly as equally immoral to calling a POC a racial slur.

In other words, when someone is being mean to you this does not mean someone is oppressing you[2].

Christians, we’re not called to be “nice” people, we’re called to be just and loving people. The disconnect within white Christian America, but not limited to this, seems unwilling to acknowledge that our systems are set up to privilege white males at every conceivable juncture possible – socially, politically, and economically.

The least of our concerns should be hurting the feelings of the privileged American pastor.

Jesus Wasn’t Focussed on Niceness…

Let us keep in mind, one of the last things Jesus did was storm the temple, violently rebelling against the religious leaders of his time all the while overturning tables. Jesus in this instance was not being nice. He was making a statement, that arguably cost Him His life. What Jesus did was good, right, and just, but it was far from Him being nice.

The thing is, Christians [privileged or not] we are not called to be nice so much as were called to be HOLY. What if the white Church, instead of being burdened by guilt and shame, chose to be filled with compassion and mercy, leading them to lives of justice? To ignore injustice is to live a life that is meaningless. What good is a life lived that is vacant of loving the other? We must, like Christ, be quick to excoriate an oppressive and exploitative socially constructed system that favors, ‘mind you, the global minority. This reformation, revolution, and age of information must never be silent, nor should its main concern be “niceness.”

[if you enjoyed this post head over and check out my Facebook Page to follow along with other and future “-ish”]

[1] This is why if you are a Christian and happen to be white you should probably never accuse a POC of dividing the Church.

[2] Instances such as these are referred to as victim blaming.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Seth Little

    Thanks for another challenging post, Andy. I find this one to be especially thought-provoking; maybe I’m simply understanding you better. I’m thinking more about the relationship between “good” and “nice,” and I’d like to submit a question.

    The words that came to mind in light of this post are from (white, male, Christian, pastor) Richard Foster. In Celebration of Discipline he writes about a “service of courtesy”, as I recall, and the classic Christian discipline of service becomes his basis for defending common cultural courtesies like this:

    You, smiling: “How are you today?”
    Me, smiling back: “I’m fine, thank you very much.”

    Some find it morally difficult to give this answer because it would be dishonest and inauthentic to do so when they aren’t really “fine.” Foster suggests a different reading of such an encounter and along with it a different moral starting point. Instead of honesty vs. falsity we find service vs. selfishness. It is a loving service to be courteous, says Foster.

    It wouldn’t be a leap to use this line of reasoning to defend niceness as a form of service as well. Of course, your point is well-taken that to be nice is not necessarily to be good or to be just. Neither is good necessarily nice. But nice is not never good, right? Nice may be good. Right?

    You make an excellent point in highlighting the raw, not-so-nice goodness of Jesus, and I really appreciate your call for his followers to reorient our priorities to care most for that which he cares most, namely, love and justice. But as our interests are realigned they needn’t be seen as opposites.

    Thanks.

  • I think what Foster is referring to is courtesy, as opposed to being simply nice, but being courteous depends on the culture. Which culture do we choose in light of racial reconciliation and a historical white southern agenda?

    I also think we must take into consideration Foster’s audience. He’s writing towards an American [privileged] pastor/Christian. I think this is mostly the problem. Much of the voices/authors/books/speakers/pastors on “larger” platforms are coming from a white, privileged, Eurocentric position and experience. So when we take a Foster and apply it to the experience and life and walk of a POC it doesn’t work. It can be rather offensive when it begins to culturally demand assimilation… at the cost of continued injustice. I hope that makes sense…

    Thanks for your comment

  • Jason Wood

    This is definitely something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I’ll be the first to admit that when I was younger I was naive about the privilege I enjoy as a white man. And it’s really hard to think outside that box because that box is really, really comfortable. But my wife and I are currently in the process of adopting and the adoption will make us a mixed race family, so now I see how POCs are treated and think about how that could be my kids being treated that way. And it’s definitely a problem, no one should be treated in that manner.

    There seems to be a movement that you can’t disagree and be “nice” and I think your policy on comments captures the heart of it. We can disagree and still be respectful. For me, I remind myself that all people are created in the image of God, but not all ideas/opinions/thoughts are. Culturally there seems to be a lot of trouble separating the two, if you tear down my idea, you are tearing me down as well. Somehow that has to stop because you’re right, it’s not divisive to tell someone you are being oppressed.

    I’ve rambled enough, but thanks for writing this and trying to push people outside their box.