Recognition, Redirection, and Renewal is the answer. What’s the question? Here it is: What should appear in a progressive race narrative?
Here’s the backstory question. Why is it that America, like a family car stuck in a Minnesota snow, only spins its wheels on matters of race? Here is my answer. Because of the absence of a progressive race narrative–or worldview–with the traction that could move the society forward toward a healthy democracy?
This post is the first of a Patheos series, “A Progressive Race Narrative,” within a larger series on public theology within a still larger series dedicated to Progressive Christianity. This includes an interview with African Public Theologian Mwaambi Gideon Mbûûi and Asian public theologian Paul S. Chung as well as prominent American public theologian Katie Day. Now, let’s turn to the challenge of constructing a progressive race narrative that will give us hope.
Our Near, Medium, and Long Range Futures
I recommend we construct a progressive race narrative out of existing materials–that is, out of selected values already alive in our culture. I recommend we lift up a vision of the near, medium, and long range futures. Discourse clarification and worldview construction are in the futures business.
First, in the near future we lay a foundation of recognition. This recognition revises America’s story to include an objective and realistic account of the role racial injustice has played in the course of events. It also includes confession of the sins perpetrated by white supremacism.
Second, for the medium range future, we redirect institutional policies to consciously embrace racial diversity, even cultural diversity. Affirmative Action programs in recent decades were largely effective, despite pockets of resentment. For the time being, affirmative policies could help redress imbalances that have led to institutional racism in mortgage finance, law enforcement, imprisonment, and corporate board rooms.
Third, renewal for the long range future is predicated on a colorblind vision of a single universal humanum. Yes, I’m aware that the term, colorblind, is controversial. Even so, nothing less than colorblindness is requisite for reconciliation, justice, and filial love.
This long range vision, like a rainbow, should include all colors. It’s a mistake to continually formulate the race question in binary fashion as either white versus black or white versus non-white. The American family includes adoptees from every clime and continent.
If we are to keep our democracy from dying of racial cancer only to be trumped by totalitarianism, a progressive race theory becomes as urgent as emergency surgery. (Heart photo from Keith Giles Patheos column where a black American, Kyle Butler writes, “Racism: My Answer To It.”)
The Public Theologian’s Emergency Therapy
Might the public theologian provide emergency room therapy? The public theologian has high motivation drawn from two sources. One is scripture. St. Paul in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Can such a biblical mandate be translated into a cultural vision?
The second source for the public theologian is the traditional triad of confession, repentance, and reconciliation. Might we translate this triad for the wider public as recognition, redirection, and renewal? Recognition plus repentance are prerequisite to redirection and healthy renewal.
In recent posts I have described public theology as conceived in the church, critically honed in the academy, and meshed with the world for the sake of the world. Might the progressive Christian contribute to an inclusive progressive race narrative that inspires unity rather than division?
The frenzied question of race is one of the most urgent on the public theologian’s agenda. In our series on public theology, we have tried to clarify the confusion over Critical Race Theory in contemporary discourse. We’ve appealed to God’s identification with us in the incarnation as a divine conferral of dignity on each of us, regardless of race.
Will the Christian Center Hold?
Turning from the wider public back to the church for a moment, it’s distressing to find the same divisiveness within the churches that are fracturing the wider society. Worse. We find the same competing ideologies generated in the public sphere ripping apart the communal fabric within the church sphere.
Evangelical theologian Roger Olson throws up his hands. “I find the condition of Christian ethics absolutely appalling and sickening. It lacks any center, anything like doctrinal orthodoxy. Highly respected, allegedly devout Christian ethicists disagree radically with each other over questions such as war, capital punishment, poverty, abortion, biomedical ethics, and just about everything where there should be some kind of at least rough consensus.” (Art: Jesus and the Children by John Lautermilch)
Progressives have contributed to this disintegration by judging as immoral other Christian communions. Fundamentalists and some evangelicals have not done any better, constantly complaining that liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics are no longer Christian. What St. Paul called “party spirit” continues to dismember the one Body of Christ.
What this means is that a new Progressive Race Narrative for the wider public should look for healing divisiveness within the plurality of Christian communions in the process. Healing by leading.
What’s coming in Part 2?
For the discussion that follows in Part 2, I will prosecute discourse clarification of the narratives touted by the scolders  and the deniers. These two narratives dominate the self-interpretations of today’s Americans. Like piranha fish in a frenzy, the scolders and deniers eat up the minority narratives of the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Should the public theologian join the frenzy? Yes.
—–The ELCA Racism Controversy of 2021.
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus seminary professor. His one volume systematic theology is now in its 3rd edition, God—The World’s Future (Fortress 2015). He has undertaken a thorough examination of the sin-and-grace dialectic in two works, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Eerdmans 1994) and Sin Boldly! (Fortress 2015). Watch for his forthcoming, The Voice of Public Christian Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.