White Theology, Part I

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Evangelical theology in the United States is often racialized. Racialization pertains to race’s impact on education, health care, job placement, place of living, urban planning, and so forth.

When I speak of Evangelical theology as racialized, I am not thinking primarily of what we say and write about race, but of what we don’t articulate and possibly assume. In other words, it is not always the black print, but the white backdrop on the page that makes a theology white. Such racialized theology can occur in various ways.

A given theology might not address the issues of race. It may be the case that the theologian in question assumes that race has nothing to do with theology or that we live in a post-racialized society. To the contrary, theology had everything to do with America’s heinous, historic capitulation to racism and slavery. The Bible and theology were used as justifications for the promulgation and promotion of slavery. Moreover, if we don’t address race, but think that we live in a post-racialized society or that by addressing the subject, we only make matters worse, we fail to account for the tendency to proceed by way of our predominant, homogeneous tendencies and inclinations.

It is worth noting that according to Michael Emerson and Christian Smith, racialization does not proceed by way of “constants,” but rather “variables.” And yet, many Americans view racialization not in terms of its evolving nature, but in constant, static terms. Thus, Americans tend to limit racialization to a specific timeframe and do not comprehend that racialization is very adaptable and undergoes an evolution over time. Emerson and Smith maintain that there are “grave implications” for failing to recognize that racialization evolves over time. The failure to recognize the evolving nature of racialization has “grave implications”: the more we fail to account for racialization or think that we live in a post-racialized society, the more entrenched racialization becomes (Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000], p. 8).

Race has everything to do with theology in American history and if we don’t address it theologically today as Evangelical theologians we reinforce dominant sociological patterns that shape the Evangelical movement… To be continued.

This piece is cross-posted at The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and at The Christian Post.

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About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Chaplain Chris Haughee

    So, here is an added wrinkle I have been mulling over… not only is theology in Evangelicalism racialized, it is also socioeconomically bound. Most of the theologians that have defined orthodoxy for the rest of us were coming from positions of power and influence, thus they could define the norm, and all other permutations got labels that coincided with their “minority” position… feminist theology, liberation theology, etc.! As evangelicalism loses its position of power and influence in Western European and North American culture at large, it is quite possible that we will see a shift in the locus of power in who gets to define orthodoxy. When the majority of the worlds Christians no longer share a cultural heritage with Luther or Calvin… or any other Reformer, well… then a different tale may be in store for the telling. How willing will the church in North America be in allowing itself to assume a position of humility and a posture of learning FROM the world-wide church, rather than dictating TO the world-wide church? That will be a key aspect of any revitalization of Evangelicalism among those who have historically been in the positions of power and authority. We need a little more “servant” posture in our servant leadership…

  • Tom Steers

    Hope this gets flushed out further. We need help in our walk with GOD and with our inherited socio-economical and cultural DNA. There’s so much we just don’t see.

  • danallison

    Another witch-hunt to scapegoat white people.

  • CruisingTroll

    “The Bible and theology were used as justifications for the promulgation and promotion of slavery.”

    a single name suffices as reply: William Wilberforce