Miguel A. De La Torre discussed his new book on Crackers and Grape Juice a few days ago. Decolonizing Christianity is not written for me. I read it anyway. I am a southern white protestant male who is a descendent of Confederate soldiers and supporters of Jim Crow era segregation. The book is written to people who are victimized by the system that produced me. I own that. I would not be where I am today except for it. And I mix loathing it with that peculiar form of nostalgia that is part of knowing where you have come from. It is weird.
The Decolonizing Project
The word decolonizing reaches back to European colonialism. People from European nations found sources of wealth in lands that were not their own. It did not matter that the lands were already inhabited. The colonizers decided they could make better use of the land’s resources and the people.
Colonization is Europe’s legacy. European flags still fly all over the world. European countries exist outside of the European continent. Countries like Canada, Australia, The United States, and Israel are examples. Former European colonies are organized into European-styled states. The mindset of the inhabitants these conquered territories is European. Their Christianity tends toward European or American forms and structures.
How would life look without these mental and social structures? None of us really know another way for doing things. Reverend De La Torre doesn’t offer an answer to that question. It is clear these structures are unjust and destined for collapse. He specifically refuses to tell white Christians what to do to fix it. The teachings of Jesus already are available to correct White Christianity.
I often wonder what the Faith of Jesus would be like without the present mental and social structures. It is a little mental exercise. Suppose we knew the basic teachings of Jesus without having the Bible? What would we assume? Some European thinkers decided that Jesus gave an ethical system for personal behavior. Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth is the most famous example in English. The colonizing and colonized mind want to know how to get along. Slave Bibles in the old south were published just for that purpose. It may not be a noble desire after all.
White Christianity in 2021 is more apocalyptic in nature. Many white churches are concerned about preserving the status quo. They always have been. But now the threat is believed to be closer than ever and absolutely destructive. Hate groups promoting White Supremacy have preached this apocalyptic message for some time.
An episode of the late 70’s to early 80’s sitcom The Jeffersons title “Sorry, Wrong Meeting” aired in 1981. The appeal to the teachings of Jesus, “pray for your enemies,” is the premise for the response the Jefferson family and their friends to the Ku Klux Klan. Remember, this aired 40 years ago.
De La Torre uses a similar model for “becoming badass believers.” This model is the prophet Jonah. In this model of a “badass prophet,” the author makes me and my kind the Assyrians. Honestly, I have always put myself in the place of Jonah. I and people like me were the ones who should go to our enemies. I never before considered putting myself in the place of Jonah’s enemies. The hard question is, “Am I willing to listen to someone who may justifiably hate me?”
Racial reconciliation and other well-intentioned attempts by white people to offer repentance fall short, the author explains. They fall short because we fail to acknowledge how we benefit from the oppression. We admit the wrongs of the past. We are not ready to give up the benefits that have come from it. It is hard to envision life without them. Demanding forgiveness from a person I have abused demonstrates the privilege. The middle-eastern brown Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount does not make forgiveness that easily obtained.
Being a Repentant Colonizer
I understand how it is not easy for white Christians to claim, “we should have a worship time where we forgive all hurts.” It should not be that easy. De La Torre does not allow me to forget I am a colonizer. The difficulty is overcoming the desire to dismiss his claims. But, the claims are too obvious to ignore in the light of recent US history.
Decolonizing Christianity Becoming Badass Believers. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Copyright 2021 by Miguel De La Torre.