Progressive Christianity: Progressive, but still super racist

Progressive Christianity: Progressive, but still super racist February 10, 2015

Christianity Never Not Progressive Andy Gill Patheos

[This is of course not about all progressives. There are many amazing progressives not-so-well-known and very well-known, I’m friends with both and. Having said that…] 

I’m not a “progressive Christian.” I think that I was drawn to progressivism because it was evangelicalism, just repackaged. It was the same people, same faces, doing the same things, with the same style, using the same exact culture.

They have conferences, they meet in churches, have their own celebrities… But they’re also majority-white, Eurocentric authoritarians, tokenizing minorities while leveraging the oppressed person’s life to build their own platform[1]. The only difference was that we preached a slightly different theology that claimed to be slightly more inclusive than it’s counterpart, conservatism.

When you give certain types of people power, the privileged authoritarian types, they will take it, run with it, and eventually use it for their own personal gain. I understand this, in the sense that we all want access, exposure, and essentially power – but in no way would I justify this simply because it is within our human nature.

“… They just want access. Be it White House, or be it publicity and it’s understandable, it’s a human thing, but it has to be called into question.” – Cornell West [on black journalists that “just want access” even if the price or cost is turning against their own family] 

Again, I want to re-emphasize, as I have before here, that I do not believe we’re all called as Christians to live an impoverished life. I am perfectly fine with those standing for the oppressed earning a fair wage in which allows them to live comfortably. But I become not okay with this when this particular person begins to oppress their own people in order that they continue to earn this so-called “fair” wage or to gain “access.”

Not to state the obvious, but when this happens, it becomes more about them, than it is about “the other.” They have sold out. They are then relinquishing their call to be nailed to their cross and instead imposing their cross onto another person’s back to carry for them. 

They have now become the oppressor.

Although I do not believe we’re all called to live an impoverished life, I do believe that we as Christians are called to dignify and stand in solidarity, with the oppressed.

One might hypothetically ask, “What if their life is being threatened and the only way to live is to side with the oppressor?” or “What if they need that money to eat?” My answer to this question is this: If they weren’t willing to take a hit for us then they shouldn’t have stepped into the ring claiming to be in solidarity with us. ‘Mind you, nobody is keeping them in this “ring,” the fact that they have a choice to step outshines light to the privilege they then possess.

Justice doesn’t pay the bills, and neither does it guarantee a healthy life [just ask MLK]. 

For me, this is what separates public figures from being counterfeit and from being authentic. I look at all the women and men throughout our given recorded history: Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela…

What made these women and men historically significant is that they were unquestionably authentic [2]. They sacrificed their lives for the betterment of mankind. MLK shot in the head; Gandhi lived a life of impoverishment; Rosa Parks, arrested; Mandela, unjustly imprisoned for 27 years; Mother Theresa, dedicated the entirety of her life to Calcutta suffering with and for the oppressed person.

Their justice was not their hobby. It was not their ministry. It was not something they just preached or wrote books on. It was their life.

You know how you can tell someone is involved in social justice for fame, or rather, to benefit him or herself? By how quickly they back out, run away or cower underneath their privilege when the cost is greater than the reward they’ve previously received for pursuing justice fame. Their mission is no longer to lift up the oppressed but to preserve the integrity of the privileged populace.

This is the issue I have with celebritized Christians – there is very little “justice” driven aspect to too many of their ministries.[3] It’s privileged white people using poor people to make a shit ton of money [as opposed to a fair wage]. Oppression was never their experience; it has only been something in which they’ve used to propel their career.

This angers me.

[You can read here, where I share my thoughts on making a profit off of ministry]

As someone who was born to a 19-year-old mother, never met his birth father, was later adopted, and in consequence, I had a white evangelical culture and Eurocentric theology inundated with normalized racism imposed upon me… I cannot just sit back and happily watch their oppressive tactics continue to marginalize the oppressed person while claiming to be on the same side as the oppressed person.

It’s dehumanizing. It’s undignifying. And it’s nothing like the Jesus we read about in scripture.

To be clear, and swing this all back around, I’m speaking about progressivism.

To me, it’s the same exact thing as evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and conservatism – possessing the same exact problems: authoritarianism, and normalized racism.

And in the words of my friend David, “It’s not about progressive or conservative. It’s about having integrity.”

It’s privileged white people, that are wounded, holding the keys to their kingdom falsely claiming it is the kingdom. It’s at best super racist. It’s more so disheartening because they believe that because they have blogged about racism or Ferguson, gone on that missions trip, or tweeted out “#blacklivesmatter” that POC and/or the general oppressed person somehow owe them something[4]. They believe that they are above reproach because they have achieved [or earned] a false sense of moral high ground.

Reinhold Niebuhr sums up pretty well how they react when challenged:

“For his generosity is at once a display of his power and an expression of his pity. His generous impulses freeze within him if his power is challenged or his generosities are accepted without grateful humility.”[5] – Reinhold Niebuhr

For me, progressivism was simply, and still is this un-relatable, exclusive authoritarian club, run by privileged white people [just with a few more tokenized people here and there]. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t abide by what they want and how they think or act, you’re out. For instance, their undying love for pacifism, and a disdain towards violence and coercion (which annoyingly enough leads them to [mis]quoting MLK or Gandhi and demanding all POC in the world adhere to a morality that lacks perspective).

To be honest, I’ve sadly discovered that race is not even on the progressive’s daily radar. Most of them don’t even realize that my not being white has made for a drastically different experience for me than it has for them, growing up in westernized Christian culture.

So when I tweet out something that to the POC clearly has to do with race and issues of unjustified oppression, they and the semantic police will virtually stone you to death.

I’m not progressive – I’m not even “post-progressive.” I like many of us millennial type, cannot be defined or confined to one single label. I’m accepting the fact that I don’t fit anywhere and the more I accept this fact, as counterintuitive as it might seem, the less alone I begin to feel.

[1] I have no issues with people building platforms. But I do take issue with building a platform at the cost of further oppressing the oppressed person.

[2] This is not to say privileged people did not question them in a failed attempt at silencing them.

[3] I’ve interacted with many celebrity Christians and well-known bloggers, and out of the ones I know well enough to discern, I would say only two of them are authentic – not perfect, but in it for the betterment of others.

[4] I say this is worse off because this mindset puts them on this “ivory throne” that is far, far above ever being reproached (i.e. authoritarianistic pride).

[5] Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics. New York: Scribner, 1960. Print.

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  • This is an awesome start of an awesome discussion.

    I’d also add that there are (to my knowledge) very few examples of POC being leaders and having white Christians being their followers and helpers and administrators and organizers.

    My knowledge is not extensive, and I can of course be corrected — I’ll point out someone I consider heroic and gifted and energized in North Carolina (William Barber), and there are others — but in my experience there is a solid color line between white progressive leaders and POC progressive leaders.

    I don’t have any answers. Just lots of questions.

  • BrotherRog

    There is a huge difference between progressive Christianity and emerging
    Christianity. They’re derived from different lineages and starting
    points. I would not say that either are particularly racist however.
    They do tend to be most compelling to those who’ve attended college and
    been exposed to postmodernism — and a majority of college educated
    persons tend to be white. That said, a strong case can be made that MLK
    was an early progressive Christian.

    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  • I do think it’s easy to say that neither are racist if you’re a white Christian male. #justsayin’

  • BrotherRog

    I think it’s even easier to make such cheap potshots without knowing who you’re talking to.