The Church, Embracing Grace and Racism 2

Let us define racism as an ideology of superiority in which a person, due to a biological or physiological or cultural condition, which are tagged as inherent to the person, is systemically considered inferior, leading both to ideas and policies of exclusion. Thus, as is found in Emerson and Smith’s influential book, Divided by Faith, “a racialized society is a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships” (7). In the USA, they demonstrate, this means low intermarriage rates, de facto segregation, socioeconomic inequality, and personal identities and social networks that are racially distinctive (154).

Now let us posit that there are at least four salient New Testament themes that undercut so radically such an ideology that it ought to bring the Church shame even to participate in such things indirectly, and it ought to cause the Church intense remorse and repentance not to end such an ideology from its midst.
First, the kingdom vision of Jesus that begins with Zechariah’s brilliant song, The Benedictus, moves on to Mary’s song, The Magnificat, and finds brilliant exposition in Jesus’ own inaugural sermon at Nazareth in Luke 4 and the Beatitudes in Luke 6 and the comments to John (Matthew 11).
Second, the fundamental role Pentecost plays (or is supposed to play) in recreating humans into the people of God through the dynamic power of the Spirit as seen at Pentecost, Acts 2, and in the egalitarian and reconstituted community of Acts 2–4.
Third, the theme of justification, which while being a fictive relationship with God in that there is a verdict given by God that is not fully manifest in human life, is also clearly and importantly (brought to light in the New Perspective of Jimmy Dunn and Tom Wright) the act of God in which he simply “makes things right,” including racial relations. That’s right, in the New Perspective justification has a racial component (a social axis, if you will).
Fourth, the Spirit-inspired dynamic found in Pauls’ magna carta of Galatians 3:28: in Christ (and this, my friends, is not just a spiritual thing) there is neither Jew nor Greek — a clear and unambiguous assault on ethnic pride and division.
With Anthony Smith, I will ask, are we practicing Pentecost? Are we performing Kingdom? Are we “making things right”? Are we living “in Christ”? Are we, as he says, denying Eucharist in racial divisions that foster tapas ecclesiology, or melting pot ecclesiology or jambalaya ecclesiology?
Now let us ask, will it be tapas, a crock pot soup, a salad bowl, or a jambalaya?
A purple ecclesiology is a salad bowl ecclesiology.

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  • Wow! This definition of racism pretty much nails everyone. It causes me to wonder if the definition is so broad that it is impossible for anyone to avoid the guilty verdict. I even wondered about Jesus recently after reading his response to the Syrophoenician women in Mark 7 (“it is not good to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” vs.27). I have not read the whole context of the quote from Emerson and Smith’s book but I am interested/suspicious.

  • Bill,
    I’m not so sure this definition is catch-all for all problems. I see racism to be both personal (an attitude and ideology of superiority)and systemic (where that ideology become “en-structured” into society). In the latter sense, we can’t escape with “I’m not personally racist,” but bear responsibility for the whole — which is nothing other than the commitment to the Kingdom Jesus summons us to.

  • This racialized society (and the denial of it among the dominant culture) can be easily seen in barber shops. Go to your average anglo barber shop and you’ll find that there are any number of ethnicities including blacks able to cut their hair. Listen to the conversations…sports, women, politics. Go to your average black barber shop and you’ll find blacks, but not whites, cutting blacks hair. And the conversation sports, women, politics and RACE.
    Rod Garvin said, on my blog, that African-Americans have born the brunt of racism and we now bear the burden of reconciliation.
    I have been critical of the emergent movement for it’s homogenaity, but what I have discovered is an incredible willingness to have this discussion. I am grateful to start sharing this burden.
    Mr. McKnight, I am only familiar with you from your book, Jesus Creed, and a few posts here on this blog, but I am deeply grateful for you and your heart.
    And take it from me, your a true Jazz Theologian!

  • Jazztheo,
    Is a Jazz theology the same as a Purple Theology? (This is an in-house joke for those who read this blog.)

  • Could the common goal of a new church help to unify? I don’t know, but I do know that if you enter a professional locker room, you will see everyone getting along regardless of color, race, or even language. Race is not even a thought in most minds. There, it is the common goal of building a better team that binds everyone.

  • Lukas,
    I am not so sure that would translate well, as the objective within sports is clear and “performance” is based out of skills and training. Within the Church, “performance” (a poor word, I admit) is much more rooted in identity. I think a common goal would be helpful, but as the post mentions, I think that part of that goal IS responding to this issue.

  • True.

  • I don’t think you can address racism without also addressing classism. Racism is rarely an issue in societies or situations where economic class is not also a problem. This explains the example above about the professional sport locker room. We have tried to solve the race problem without effectively addressing the class problem.
    Without economic considerations the ingredients don’t mix. Borrowing your earlier metaphor, it is like adding rice and spices to a pot but not adding water. No matter how much heat you apply the rice will not absorb the spices. The economic distance between the cultures invalidates all attempts to create harmony. We can attempt to change our accepted language or try and create artificial environmental changes to simulate equality, but without substantial changes in our class structure we are cooking without water. This is not an issue of tolerance or attitude that can manifest only on an individual spiritual level. It is a class issue and must be addressed on social and political level.
    The issues are magnified when we see the effect of the misguided priorities of Christian values in the politics of the United States. Can anyone honestly tell me that racisim is a high priority for Christians when the values of economic success, international superiority, and protecting the status quo of our class system are at the forefront of the typical Christian political view?

  • Mr. McKnight,
    I’ve picked up on the inside joke about “purple theology” and have been trying to figure it out so I don’t know if it is the same as jazz theology.
    As to what jazz theology is…it is my search for an African-American contribution to postmodern Christianity. It’s more about seeing what I call, Convergent Church.
    As you know, jazz is a unique sociological & musical contribution of African-Americans. But it is also a unique American approach to life. And I believe to theology and church as well.
    All that to say, that it is what my blog about, searching for a convergent approach to missiology, ecclesiology etc. from one who lives life on the hyphen between African and American.
    blessings to you,

  • I think the posited definition hits the nail on the head. Jesus has so much to say about people using various parts of themselves or others as leverage against each other that when the disciples ask him in Matthew 18 the infamous “who’s the greatest?” question, he pretty much blows them off.
    As I’ve been reading the New Testament and the Prophets recently, I’ve noticed that one of the themes they keep coming back to is the necessity of dismantling both the mindset and the structures of superiority. I wonder if that would lead us to yet a different model of being:
    This model would create a convergence of culture, but not in the “crock pot” model. Instead, all the parts would be modified to remove the “superiority structures” as they all collaborate together. I’m not sure I know of a soup that does that, but then there’s always that “Body” thing that we can talk about…

  • I’m with Lukas that a common mission work can minimize differences and blunt the force of racism. Nothing here is simplistic, and it silly to suggest that this is anything other than a colossal problem, but common goal and missional efforts toward that end can help.
    On classism — at this point I must admit that my post is concerned with the issue of race and the Church and its gospel, and not just with the social sense of class. I do know that class and money is essential — so I’m tracking with you daNutz. But the issue here for me is how the Church needs to become a beachhead for society, setting the pace, etc..

  • Scot,
    Not sure if your affirmation of Lukas’ suggestion was a response to my reply to it, but I hope it didn’t sound as though I dismiss common mission as unhelpful. On the contrary, I think I could be enormously helpful.
    That being said, common mission doesn’t address the systemic problems of racism directly enough to be a central solution. I have to be careful in saying this, as much of it comes out of my frustration in seeing intended common mission become in practice dysfunctional, damaging, etc. as the core issues were left unchallenged.

  • Jamie, the core issues, if I read you right, are sin and need a different kind of dealing with. And, I agree, common mission alone will not address the issues. I am not in a racially diverse congregation (not much anyway) but I see the future and the future is diverse. How do we deal with the sin and the systemic issues, given our biases and prejudices, even amid our good and kingdom-centered intentions? These are hard questions for me, as I think they are for us all. We desire the Kingdom, but do we really know what the Kingdom will “cost” us?

  • emerging church research » Blog Archive » Race and the Emerging Church

    becoming a multiracial church, part 8
    Some great recent conversations in the blogosphere about church diversity, or the lack thereof. Don’t have the time to add my own thoughts and comments, but I’m tired of holding back all these links in my draft folder. Here’s some I&…—–
    […] Here are some of the discussions ongoing: Scot McKnight The Church, Embracing Grace and Racism part 1 The Church, Embracing Grace and Racism part 2 Anthony Smith Civitas, Friendship, and Practicing Pentecost Practicing Pentecost Phil Sinitiere Accosting White Privilege, Interrogating Racism, and Practicing Pentecost General Discussion Between Hauerwas and Constantine, cont’d (see specifically the comments) […]

  • Emerson and Smith make a distinction between “racism” and “racialization.” While I, as a white evangelical, do not feel that I am a “racist” (“Hhey, I love black people!”), I contribute to racialization through simply not recognizing the systemic problems in our culture that contribute profoundly to differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.
    Until we whites recognize these issues, we are de facto racists.