The Tony Jones Blog at Patheos
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Below the fold, find the video referred to in my last post.
Emerging Spiritualities in the American Church from Fuller Seminary on Vimeo.
Ok…well, now that I’ve seen it. I think her point was well made and you can see why she felt she really needed to say something. I think ‘racists’ was a huge leap however.
I also think that your gracious response would have made Brian McLaren proud. I think it was civil (except the unnecessary racist comment).
I do think you were honest about your comments being your own emotional, vulnerable response to Pentecostalism in the Global South, but I can also totally see that when you start off with “it scares me” and go on to talk about “can we give our better theology to them” (even while acknowledging how that possibly reflects a colonial attitude), those kinds of words could definitely incite an emotional response in return. Later on, I felt like your own response to her was pretty gracious under the tense, ‘on the spot’ circumstances.
I think the questioner’s emotions were understandable, and I don’t think most of her comments were over the top. I think most of the concerns she brought up were ones that you actually acknowledge. It’s specifically the use of the ‘racist’ term, of course, which takes the conversation to a different level, but I think part of that has to do with different ways of using the word. Growing up (as a white guy in the mostly white city of Spokane Washington), “racist” means “especially hateful in your prejudice against people of color” or “you consciously hate people of color and think they are less than you”. I would say the majority of white people hear it as an attack on our individual attitudes and the state of our hearts. But ‘racism’, more broadly, really refers to the underlying reality that the white people’s (European, western) culture and way of thinking are felt as a ‘norm’, a kind of standard by which other cultural forms of thinking and living are felt to be inferior, or at least as “other” relative to the main game in town.
In your previous post, you ask about the assumption that criticizing the theology of people of color is the same thing as racism toward that group of people. I don’t think it necessarily is, but I think we (“we” being white men in particular) need to be constantly doing extra hard work to question our own assumptions, and ask ourselves how many of our theological critiques are intertwined with our cultural biases and our privileged status. As the questioner pointed out, all theology is contextual and located, something that you obviously understand very well since you have taught and blogged about it (I mean that genuinely, not sarcastically). And I think it is fair to say that the theology of white Europeans and Americans has been the major game in town throughout the centuries, so much so that when we think of “high level” theology, or “real intellectual” theology, we are instinctively thinking of western ways of categorizing and articulating thought, and assuming they are higher level than more ‘emotional’ ways of experiencing God, or even than different cultural ways of expressing wisdom, be it oral tradition or other enacted ways of passing on understanding. Even Phyllis’ response (which I mostly liked) fell into this a bit when she was talking about the ‘baby’ of Holy Spirit theology since Azusa Street vs. the “adult” of the intellectual Ph.D. (I know she was simply making a point about how recently Pentecostalism came on the scene, but the metaphor still made me cringe a bit)
Even though we (white westerners) would never say, or even consciously think, that academic intellectual theology is inherently better than other means of experiencing God, I think we still have an underlying, intuitive bias that that is where the ‘real maturity’ lies, and I would suggest that is in itself a Western European modernist cultural bias, and could therefore fall under the broader category of ‘racism’. Or at least, it is racism if we don’t see it as a cultural bias, and assume a kind of normative status for that way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that I devalue intellectual theology, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in seminary myself, and I love reading and writing about it. But I believe that we white western intellectual types need to proactively start seeing ourselves as one kid on the block, relative to the other cultural expressions of global Christianity, and not the center of the conversation.
Which brings me to Lauren Winner’s answer, which I agree was very helpful and constructive. Her example of what certain ‘developing world’ churches want in theological education (‘Greek and Hebrew, Bible, agriculture, water technology) shows an integrated mindset that doesn’t suffer from the same ‘spiritual life/embodied life’ split that we in the west are needing to spend so many decades and books to get out from under. We have much to learn from them. Is some of our critique of their theology valid? Probably some of it is. But maybe some of our discomfort comes from our own bad theology, which we can’t see as clearly because we haven’t spent enough time learning from communities of color to better see our own biases. Are we desiring to ‘learn from’ as much as we are wanting to teach?
Yikes, now that I see it in full, that was probably more a blog post than a comment. Sorry about that.
Do you think the title “racist video” is appropriate?
Having watched the video, I do think some of the things you said about Pentecostalism weren’t said very gracefully. There was indeed (as you say) a lot of colonial-minded things going on there. I myself felt a bit offended, and I’m a white educated male American just like you. And you really can’t glaze over things by saying “I’m just saying how I feel” or “trying to be vulnerable.” That’s OK in a counselor’s office but not in a public forum. It’s basically a “no offense but…” statement.
I also don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be drawing her out for a public flogging on your blog. Your original post made her sound a lot less gracious than she was. Even your response to her came across a bit arrogant in my ears. The statement “anything I say to that will sound defensive” was passive-aggressive and unnecessary.
I think I’m responding strongly because now that I’ve heard what you actually said and what she actually said I would say that she was quite justified. The “racist” accusation maybe was over the top because of the weight it carries in our society, but I can tell she wasn’t eager to use the term and I wouldn’t fault her for it. Ethnocentric might have been more accurate.
Fair enough, Luke. You may not like how I phrased it, or how I responded to her charge of racism. However, I think that the burden of proof is on her to show how indicting a particular theological position makes me “racist.” Pentecostalism is practiced by many, many people of my skin color. Honestly, race was the furthest thing from my mind when I asked my question. Call me theocentric, but not racist.
I think the idea of saving another people is clearly paternalist, though–and clearly you know that–and that’s the part that has racist undertones. Global South + paternalism raises colonialism and that does have a connection to race.
First, let me say I respect you greatly and I really enjoy your work, I’ve just never had anything to say until now. So please don’t think I just came here to riff on you. I appreciate and am honored that you’ve taken the time to respond to my comment.
I do think that racism is a two-way street. I do think the word has become far too much of a buzz-word and I do think that the accusation is too often and too easily misappropriated. I agree with everything you said in bold in the first entry. I do agree that the burden of proof is on her to show that.
However, I also feel that, as I have stated, she was a bit misrepresented in the first entry. I was under the impression she had gone off on a tirade. I suppose that’s subjective though.
Second, having prefaced your original statement by saying that you acknowledge it could offend some people, it is my opinion that you abandon the right to defend yourself if someone says ‘yes that does offend me.’
having not yet watched the video a few thoughts pop to mind
when we say, think of or accuse ‘racist’ there’s allot of baggage and thoughts going round
there idea’s about hatred of difference, ignorance of difference, the privilege of difference, present reality’s of difference, disagreement or criticism of difference
and really it’s difficult to understand what someone might mean by using the term racist and it’s probably pretty unhelpful to any meaningful discussion. You know it’s a conversation closer when the R word gets wheeled out.
Saying that there’s nothing wrong with being made a little hot under the collar either
Not sure about racist, but you certainly sounded elitist.
So I understand her response. You essentially asked how you can you possibly reconcile your “high-level intellectual” faith with that of those ignorant people in the southern hemisphere.
Combined with your bullying approach to Phyllis and the question of whether Anglicans are Protestants, I’m not surprised you rubbed the questioner the wrong way.
Just a note, this is EXACTLY why I would never attend Fuller or send my children there. This is pure and utter nonsense. Your re-writes of Church history are far off the mark. Here is an idea. If you want to be Catholics, join them! It is really that simple.
Living in Memphis, the by far most racially divided city I have ever encountered, this particular playing of the race card seems all too familiar: emotions run high and racism is employed to give validity to a counter-argument that has no real substance. (This happens on both sides of the racial divide)
There may be a substantial counter-argument to Tony’s thoughts on Pentecostalism not being intellectually sophisticated, but playing the race card in no way supports her position. It’s nothing more than a playground argument that denigrates into name calling when one party has their feelings hurt and has nothing to retort with. Simply put, disagreeing with someone who happens to have a different racial profile than you doesn’t make you racist, nor does it imply any racist undertones.
My impression of her reaction was that she misunderstood Tony’s remarks and her emotions got the best of her. It seems that she took Tony to say that Pentecostalism has nothing to offer, while she has clearly had a different experience. What I heard, and correct me if I’m wrong Tony, was that you think Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on emotionalism, is lacking in the theological (perhaps also academic) sophistication that is seen throughout the other major traditions of the faith, i.e. Catholic, Orthodox, Wesleyan, Reformed, etc.
In terms of material produced i.e. articles in academic journals, participation in scholarly conferences, publication of systematic theology books, etc., I don’t see how it can be argued that the Pentecostal movement is severely lacking in theological sophistication.
I find it interesting that Tony is critical of Pentecostalism, saying it is weak, or as Zack says, too emotional; when the Emergent Conversation/Fog (depending upon your perspective) is all about “the experience”. Sounds very similar to me. You can drag out all the ancient rituals you want, but unless they have a foundation in Biblical truth, you’re just playing games. You can get whacked in the spirit, contemplate till the cows come home, walk a labyrinth in circles, bebop to jazz while allowing your prayers to ride to heaven on the insense of the music, and live with poor people to make yourself feel like you are ministering, but until and unless you have something Biblically based to offer them it is all for naught. I cannot believe you all make a living at this! But the sad part is, you and your fellow emergents may very well being leading some to hell.
Cindy, if praying, meditating on God, experiencing God, and serving the poor aren’t “Biblical things to offer”, then I’m not really sure what Bible you’re reading. Have you ever read through the Gospels? It’s really amazing reading. Lots of interesting stuff in there about praying, being with the Father, loving people, serving the least of these and so forth. You should check it out sometime! Seriously, it’ll change your life!
First, let me commend you on a really interesting panel discussion. (I was actually far more uncomfortable with the jabbing back and forth between you and Phyllis about Anglicanism being or not being Protestant… though it inspired me to look into the issue, since like you, I’ve always assumed it was.)
Though the whole discussion was really informative, having read your post, I listened carefully as the video hit the spot in question. What I heard you say was “I’m uncomfortable with this.” I took that at face value — but (to borrow your phrase from another post), I don’t have a dog in this fight. I mean, yes, I’m theologically educated, and I’m in favor of theological education for every believer. I find certain elements that have historically appealed to those in Charismatic circles (e.g., prosperity teaching) to be gravely concerning, especially with regard to the global south; I think those elements might have less traction if people were more theologically educated. That’s how I took your comment — as an honest confession of “maybe it’s just me, but I’m uncomfortable.” But then, I’ve read some of your work, and I’m a little familiar with the way you express yourself. And because I’m familiar with your work, I’m inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the woman asking the question didn’t know anything about you before that discussion. That could make a difference in her approach.
When she came to the mic and made her comment, it was like watching someone who had been sitting on a wasp sting for an hour. However your words were intended, they stung her, and she spent the next hour with that swelling and pain growing worse. Then once she got up to the mic, there was no holding it back anymore — though it took her a few sentences to ramp up to the “R” word. (And I saw you react to that word — I could tell that really hurt.) But, coming from the outside of the whole thing, I didn’t hear her words as an accusation that your intent is racist, necessarily — I heard it more as an indication of a comment that happens to be unintentionally sharp hitting a spot on the hearer that’s exceptionally sensitive from previous encounters. (I might feel and react similarly if a man makes a comment that strikes me as even slightly sexist. In fact, I probably have.)
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THIS IS the emerging new spirituality and future of the Americanized church.
Sitting around debating endlessly about who is correct vs. who is in error.
It started out in the beginning as a group of ragamuffins sharing their food, clothing and shelter with the alien, stranger, widow and orphan and is now an endless debate based argument or argument based debate, then some singing and quiet time, more endless debate through the week and then on again and round and round it goes.
Endless debate means politics, politics means worldliness, worldliness means seeking power to end the debate with force.
That means round and round it goes, endless cycles ending in what?
What she is saying is, “away from me you evil doers, I’ve never known you”.
That’s all she’s saying and I agree. Hooded mystics wandering around with the mantra “know the Lord, know the Lord”, will be done away with.
It will be replaced with a question. “Does the Lord know you?”
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