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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