I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist

I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist May 16, 2013
Is posting this image race baiting?

Loyal readers will remember an incident from two years ago. I was speaking at Fuller Seminary — an academic institution, it should be noted. In my remarks, I spoke honestly about my view of Pentecostal theology, and how I do not think that it’s the best theology out there. [Video here.] An African-American woman in the crowd stood up and, at the end of a lengthy comment (that was more of a lecture), she called me a “borderline racist.”

Here’s her statement, as transcribed by me (you can see her comment at about 1:31:00 of the video):

“To say that the Pentecostal theology is weak and that the American theology is sophisticated, I just, I cringe at that. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned here at Fuller…I’ve learned that all theology is contextual, and to say that your American theology — and you have to think about the fact, I mean, I hate to bring up race, but, I can’t avoid it, I’m sorry but, as a Caucasian man living in America, to say that your theology is sophisticated and to say that the theology of Latin America and South America is weak, I mean, it’s appalling, it’s shocking for me to hear that, it’s offensive, it’s borderline racist, and it’s very closed-minded.”

So, there it became clear to me that stating a theological opinion in an academic setting was not wholly acceptable, at least to this interlocutor. I made a statement of preference, that I think the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.

I bring this up because of another African-American woman who, more subtly, accused me of racism on her blog yesterday. I met Christena Cleveland at Subverting the Norm 2 in Springfield, Missouri last month, an academic conference at which we both spoke. I posted my notes from my talk here. Here is one of my points:

5. Be loyal to this tribe. We have a better version of the gospel than the regnant view of the gospel in the West today. If our version of the gospel is to stand a chance, particularly among the “nones,” then we’ve got to stick together in spite of our doctrinal/theological/philosophical differences.

Yesterday, Cleveland posted, initially misquoting me saying, “we have the best version of the gospel,” which she amended only after I contacted her. She wrote, “As a minority group member sitting in the audience, I found his statement to be unfriendly to diverse voices.” She continued,

Most blatantly, the statement violates the metaphor of the interdependent and multifaceted body of Christ.  How can a gospel that is mostly (if not entirely) interpreted and articulated by a homogenous group of people (in this case, white, well-educated males) be the “better version”? But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices. We’ve already got the best version of the Gospel and we only needed white, well-educated men to figure it out. Diverse people need not apply.

Right next to that paragraph, she posted the image above. Are her words, combined with that image, meant to imply that I am a racist? The answer can only be yes.

As you can see in that last sentence in her paragraph, Cleveland didn’t quite get through the post with her corrections. Her entire post is premised on something that I did not say and a sentiment that I do not hold: that progressive Protestantism is the best version of the gospel.

In my live comments at that conference, I made a point that I’ve made in several public addresses over the last year: conservative, Reformed, penal substitutionary, anti-gay, anti-women evangelicals have been consistently kicking our asses in the public square. They proudly proclaim their theological convictions with certainty and volume.

We progressive Incarnational Christians, on the other hand, too often pussyfoot around our convictions. We’re afraid to proclaim anything too loudly, for fear that it won’t have the requisite humility, or to say anything at all because there aren’t yet enough “people at the table.” Getting all of the right people at the table is, as WOPR discovered with Tic Tac Toe, an unwinnable game. Instead, the better posture is to do the best we can, to always be invitational, but to not let the imperfection of our diversity chill us into never speaking boldly.

Let me make it clear here as I have in many posts and several books: I believe that my understanding of the gospel has benefited greatly from the diversity of opinions that I’ve encountered, from the wide variety of books that I’ve read, and from my global travels. Much of my theological career is premised on constantly expanding my own horizons in order to better understand the gospel. And I could say the same thing about the emerging church movement as a whole.

When I said, “We have a better version of the gospel,” that statement had a clear referent. Grammatically, you cannot (or at least should not) use the comparative “better” without a clear referent. If I had said, “We have a better version of the gospel” out of the blue, the natural response would be, “Better than whose version?” But the thing is, everyone at the conference — except, it seems, Ms. Cleveland — knew exactly to whom I was referring.

The same does not hold for the statements, “We have a good version of the gospel,” (which I would say), or “We have the best version of the gospel,” (which I would not). Those statements can have a referent, but they do not demand one.

Grammatically, I used a comparative, not a superlative, and I did so purposefully. To use a comparative like “better” without a referent is called an “empty comparison.” It happens all the time in car commercials, but not in my talks.

So, what Cleveland did was not only misquote me, but took my meaning exactly wrong. I was developing a critique of one particular version of American Christianity — one that is, I might say, dominated by men and exclusionary of women — and I was attempting to rally the crowd to fight against that version in the public square with our more progressive, open, inclusionary version.

Cleveland responded by painting me as a racist — or at least as someone who “idolizes” my own “cultural group identity.” And anyone who is paying attention knows that calling someone a racist is the most discrediting of all epithets these days.

Except maybe calling someone a misogynist, which I’m also sick of. I’ll post about that next week.

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  • psdear1967

    I agree with your article. Sad to say racism still does exist in America and throughout the world. However, even sadder is the fact that accusations of racism are now being made by many against those that they disagree with. These accusations are made about those who disagree with the President Obama on down to the most minute of issues. What this does is make it much more difficult to speak open and honestly about racism. Which only leads to racism being perpetuated.

    • Really, it’s sadder that people are called racists then it is that people are racist? You do realize that the effects of racism are poverty, violence, and rape, and the effects of being called a racist are… blog hits?

    • Sarah

      No. Accusations of racism are not sadder than racism. That is not the correct hierarchy of sad things.

    • Marie

      I disagree with your usage of “sadder” but largely agree otherwise.

  • Unfortunately there’s no room in public discourse and particularly internet discourse to acknowledge the validity of both sides. Tony is undoubtedly racist… as am I. Acknowledging our own racism and privilege, and publicly, would be a helpful step toward dealing with injustices and inequality of our time.

    On the flip side, it is clear that Tony is on the side of the oppressed in many ways, marching for marriage equality and holding “progressive” views. So demonizing allies isn’t helpful either.

    I’ve always been fond of something John Perkins said about reconciliation at a CCDA conference. He said that reconciliation is not about blacks and whites sitting down to have coffee together. It’s about having the difficult conversations, like this one, about what we really think.

    So, the most helpful thing would be to sit down at a table and discuss why I don’t think I’m racist and maybe discover that I am more racist than I thought. On the other hand those labeling people racist might be more careful when they know someone on a more personal level and see them as allies.

    Simply defending yourself as “not racist” doesn’t move the conversation forward, because “the other” has not been heard. Simply labeling people as racist doesn’t lead us toward acknowledging the deeply ingrained nature of our own racism.

    In all of this I feel the internet does more harm than good for the discourse.

    • I hear what you are saying, but I disagree with this more sophisticated and humbling understanding of racism that you are describing. Like we’re all a little racist by virtue of our contexts that are out of our control.

      The other day my sister in law got into a conversation with another person about pit bulls. They connected over their mutual dislike of the breed. Then the other person said their just like black people. My sister in law was appalled.

      My best friend was riding with a friend of his when he was cut off by a black teenager, the driver exclaimed, “little nigglet!” My best friend was appalled.

      As long as this kind of racism continues, it’s not fair to call Tony, yourself, or me as racist, a word that sets us in the same group as the people in these stories.

      • Jonnie

        It’s not fair to use a word that has a range or spectrum of meaning that very in degree? I completely understand how the racist card can quite easily be used as a scarlet letter, but claiming that we cannot use the world for the lesser cases while the more egregious ones are still around is completely unreasonable. The vast majority of descriptive words (politicized or not) are degree’d notions. The argument that people using the “N” word deseve the term but those with more subtle dispositions against ‘the other’ don’t just doesn’t hold water.
        I agree that Tony’s comments are totally contextually clear and the post (let alone photo!) seem a bit irresponsibile and disregarding of the context. But that is a completely different case by case judgement than the slippery “as long as X kind of thing exists, then why can’t be that thing” logic here.

        • I agree that words come in spectrums, but the broader range a word can be used, the less helpful or meaningful it becomes. So, if racist can be applied to Tony, myself (I’m bi-racial, belonging to a “model minority,” and usually miscategorized as “caucasian”), theologians like Robert Jensen, and people who think black people are on par with a hated breed of dog, then the word “racist” is extremely unhelpful.

          I agree that two things (X and Y) can be in the same category (racist), but when A and Z (which seem to be very far apart from each other) and everything in between can fit into that same category (racist), the name of that category loses meaning to the degree of its broadness.

          • It really ought to be pointed out, too, that this post was not occasioned by the use of the word “racist.” It was occasioned by Tony interpreting that another person’s statement was carefully coded so as to call him a racist. These are very different things, and it renders this complaint that somehow Tony was having people casually hurl around the term “racist” a little bit facile. No one called him that until he started trying to defend himself by turning another writer’s words into something they weren’t, while at the same time complaining about that writer performing a similar operation. The meta at play here just BLOWS my mind.

            • I was responding to Lucas saying that both him and Tony are racist, a description that is completely unhelpful.

              • Well, we have a different conception of “completely unhelpful,” then. When we can’t deal with the lesser gradations of racism than the outright racial animuses because people are more concerned at being called racist than they are at dealing with the way their racial privilege hurts others definitionally, well, I’d call that “completely unhelpful.”

                Look, whenever someone makes an off-color joke about race or class or sex or sexual orientation, the standard response is “it’s just a joke, stop being so sensitive.” Turnabout is fair play: stop being so sensitive. Learn to understand that racism means different things in different contexts, just like every other damn word in the world, and then learn that when it’s applied to you in certain contexts it doesn’t mean someone thinks you are a Klansman.

      • danhauge

        I do think there is a confusion of how terms are used here. For most people involved in racial reconciliation and justice conversations, we do use the term ‘racist’ to describe the inherent assumptions and cultural dynamics that keep white people in the assumed power position. This does cause some confusion, because probably the majority of the population hears the term ‘racist’ to mean “I personally hate and vilify people of color”.

        But I think the term is still important to use in the broader way, because the widespread structural racism in society actually does more to harm people of color, at large, than the isolated acts of personal hate and prejudice. White privilege is the water that we swim in, and it is precisely that dynamic in society, the unexamined assumptions about how acceptable it is that white voices still largely frame the conversations, that more fully fits the definition of ‘racism’ overall.

        • But when we charge people publicly with racism, we know full well what connotations are carried with it and what kind of light is cast. And with that photo? Come on. It was far from a sophisticated commentary on unexamined assumptions and white privilege. It was a jab, with a word charged with too much emotion to be as critical as you hope it can be.

          • Eric Boersma

            I think you’re confusing the idea of charging someone publicly with racism (neither of the comments in question were public — Cleveland’s quote was anonymized) and saying that something someone said was racist.

            The first is confrontational, the second does not need to be.

          • You know, I really do marvel at people who think that the psychological damage to a white person who has said or done something that others have perceived as racist is somehow on the same order of magnitude in terms of importance as actual honest to God systematic racism. I’m gonna go with systematic racism being a worse thing in the world than having a behavior or statement pegged as a little bit racist.

            If you smart at having your identity merged with that of someone who would casually hurl an epithet at another driver, the answer is to find the stick in your eye and remove it rather than complain that someone with less privilege than you got hurt by your behavior and had the temerity to suggest as much.

            • Are you saying that I am racist?

              • I don’t know, am I? Are you? Answer the question for yourself.

                I mean, honestly. It’s a Christian blog, right? Can we at least raise “original sin” as possibly having bearing on how someone can be a good person and still be a reprobate? While you were still a racist, Christ died for you.

                • Ric Shewell

                  Look, I’m a sinner. I’m ready to admit that any day of the week. But do I commit every sin? I don’t think so. I might, but I don’t think so. Was I responsible for the bombing in Boston? I will firmly say no. But, the broader we make “responsibility” the more people get included. Maybe I am responsible for the bombing because I participate in a country and a religion that has a history of exclusion that has bred hatred and violence. But if I’m included in the responsibility for the bombing in that way, then so are the victims. That is something I’m uncomfortable with. I will never say that victims are responsibility for violent acts against them. I will never do it. So I will not define responsibility so broadly that it will include the victims.

                  That’s what I see happening here. Racism is being defined so broadly, that it requires all kinds of nuances and modifiers, but in the end, Aaron (below) defines racist for this conversation in a way that *necessarily includes* those that are suffering from racism. In this definition of racism, victims are responsible for their own suffering. I cannot accept that definition. I hate that definition. It requires too much nuance, and in the end is unhelpful. Use white-privilege, its much clearer.

                  Now, about myself. I don’t know if I’m white. That might sound stupid, but I’m living it. Depending on my context, the uniqueness of my racial-identity is either ignored or amplified. In a particularly diverse school or city, I’m white. In a particularly white school or city, I’m other. But that’s my bag.

                  In any case, I’m glad that for you and Aaron using the simple word “racist” for those who participate institutionalized/systematic/passive racism is good and helpful. But for those who suffer from racism and are included in the definition of racist, and for people like me from multi-racial families, grouping all these people under the same banner of “racist” just isn’t that useful or helpful. Sorry we don’t see things the same way.

      • Yes, I’m definitely a “little racist by virtue of my contexts out of my control” (disclosure: I’m a white heterosexual male). Because correct, I didn’t pick my parents, country, and a lot of other characteristics of difference (like skin color) that are more societally valued (in the US at least) than others.

        The problem for me/us as I see it is two-fold. (A) With our language: we need to always modify “racist” because as you correctly observe, there’s a difference between active-personal-individual racists (like those you describe above) and me as a passive-social-systemic racist (on my best days) who does little to change societal patterns that benefit my characteristics over others. I AM A PASSIVE RACIST* BECAUSE U.S. SOCIETY IS HIGHLY RACIAILIZED. (*to some varying degree unless I constantly, reflectively, self-critically choose and act to change the status-quo patterns – which is a near impossibility so it becomes a goal I aspire towards.).

        The second challenge (B) is distinguishing the difference between intent and effect when evaluating my actions (spoken or acted). Yes, motives FOR my actions matter. In fact, it’s this that makes prejudice/ discrimination apart and different from passive racists/racism. And effects OF my actions matter too. (I don’t know which matters more though). Seeing these as different and not conflating them means I AM A NON-RACIST WHO SAYS AND DOES RACIST THINGS. Meaning my words/actions can have racist consequences if by this we mean their effects serve to maintain a status-quo U.S. society organized in ways that privilege (benefit) me more because of characteristics I possess or achieve relative to others who are different from me.

        None of this is surprising, given my cultural surroundings, social circumstances, and what’s needed to avoid this. I don’t need to feel guilty. I may not be at fault for active racism (prejudice, discrimination). I am responsible for my support of passive racism with my actions as soon I’m aware of the connection between my individuality and larger societal system I must exist within. This realization is not fun to make and is a cost of my privilege. Looking at this less individualistically and not using ONLY intent/ motivation as the evaluation criteria for my actions distinguishes the challenges we all face together. IT ALSO GIVES ME HOPE to see more clearly opportunities for changing the “paths of least resistance” that mark our racialized US society.

        • Guest

          I hear you, but a couple of problems.

          1. According to your definition, everyone is implicated in racism in the US. Are you really comfortable with that? I’m Korean-American, you are okay saying that I do racist things and am justifiably called racist. Obama would certainly be implicated in racism, and therefore, according to your definitions, be a racist. In fact, everyone participating in a society in ways that sustain the status quo is racist, including minorities that are being oppressed. Are you comfortable implicating the oppressed in their own oppression and thereby being racist?

          2. The issues you are describing are issues of class, race, and economic inequality, but to simply say ‘racist,’ takes the attention away from issues of economic injustices and supercharges them with emotion tied to actions of supremacy groups and other violence against people purely on the basis of skin color.

          3. You, a self-avowed racist/oppressor, have attempted an act of humility by defining a racist and placing yourself in that category. You have no right to do so, and in doing so, have decided for the minority who their enemy is for them, and have effectively taken away their say in what a racist is. Nope, you can’t so that. You cannot and should not call yourself a racist, unless the oppressed name you as such. Allow the oppressed even that freedom.

          • Hi, Guest, there’s remarkable similarity between the comments here and the racial self-identification of Ric’s reply to me one another comment. I addressed most of them starting here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/05/16/im-tired-of-being-called-a-racist/#comment-901523674

            On 2. I agree with the first claim, and disagree with second. My view is that the approach I describe in fact does exactly the opposite, in fact turning attention *toward* the issues you highlight. Discussion of them becomes emotionally supercharged when we use an individualistic perspective that doesn’t equip to see, understand, and act on our connection to the social nature of privilege and my relationship to systemic discrimination as in passive racism.

            On 3. I have the right to speak for myself. I’m trying (to learn continually) to not speak for others. So I’m speaking about my connection to privilege and racism.

            • Ric Shewell

              yeah dude, this was me. I thought I deleted this one, because I wanted to get a night’s sleep before I really said what I wanted to say. I guess it stuck around.

        • A couple of things.

          Your definition includes minorities and the disenfranchised. According to your definition, they are racist when they participate in a system where they are being oppressed, passively when they don’t realize how their participation propagates the status quo. Are you comfortable with that? I am Korean-American, am I racist? Is Obama racist? If Obama is also passively racist, against which race? Would Obama, a minority, agree that he is racist?

          Which is my next point. Your definition comes from a white privilege perspective. In defining racist in such a way, you override the voice of the oppressed. I understand that you have called yourself racist in an act of humility and contrition, but in doing so, you co-opt the cries of the oppressed.

          Finally, the racial landscape of America is so changing that using the word racist for people who participate in systems where people are disenfranchised is unhelpful at best, confusing and inflammatory at worst, which is why this thread is so huge. If you are going to call me racist, you have to tell me against whom. I am two races. Am I racist against my mother? Is Obama racist against his father? The issues you describe are about more than race, but when you use racist, no one can see anything but that. That is why you have to put all kinds of modifiers on when you call yourself a racist. At that point, just leave it behind, it’s unhelpful.

          • Hi, Ric. Thanks for your thoughts; some good, challenging questions. I’m assuming you’re also “Guest” who responded to another comment of mine by your self-description? Before I directly address yours here, I should identify how I view this topic because it may be the source for why we see things differently (if in fact we really do).

            I come to this from a sociological perspective, meaning I don’t look at this topic from an individualistic standpoint. This individualistic approach is the dominant US cultural paradigm and how most people view the social world, and is a hyper-individualistic perspective especially within US evangelical Christian sub-culture. The effect of my standpoint on my views is that I see a social reality above-beyond-encompassing individuals. Which means the social reality I see includes people (with motives, actions, and responsibility for them), social systems (patterned ways of life organizing people’s everyday lives that are maintained or changed by the effects of people’s actions), and the relationship between individuals and social structures. I assume this to be true, and this may be something you don’t. But what it means for me in this discussion is that people’s intentions for their actions only partly matter (but are no less important!). The consequences also matter (and are as important!) since they will either maintain or change the present organization of society and cultural meanings of social reality (regardless of intentions, I think). This is a paradox I think evidence shows is true. We can, and should, talk about these as *separate things*. To not explicitly do so, is to mask their important differences by assuming them as identical, which they aren’t.

            Coming from this overall sociological perspective and assumption about social reality is another thing you could disagree with. A fundamental proposition I hold with respect to any discussions about race in America is that the U.S. is a highly racialized society in both its culture and society. Meaning it’s organized in ways that unequally value-benefit-privilege people *who are seen by others* as having differences in skin color (often assumed “races”). This development was not accidental, “natural”, nor inevitable. A member of US society or person living here can no more escape-be apart from-not participate in this highly racialized society any more than a fish can be dry in a pond. Understanding my non-individualist perspective and this one belief of mine about *the way things are* presently in the US with respect to race (desirable or not) gives you some context for what I’ll say in response to the problems you identify in my comment. Ironically, I think we share more common ground in what we hope for on this topic than you might think based on my reading of your thoughts. But let’s find out!

          • Hi, Ric, to your first thing/point: If I see the social world and reality in terms of both individuals and social systems (patterned ways of life), and I believe the U.S. is a highly racialized society, then yes, (*one* of) my definitions “includes minorities and disenfranchised” – or people with less privilege.

            I didn’t clearly present a definition of racism earlier so here it is from my sociological perspective: There are two forms of racism: active and passive. Active racism are discriminatory acts (speech, behavior) enacted by individuals with prejudicial intent. Motives and intentions especially matter with this form, as do the acts themselves. Passive racism is a second kind, socially expressed in two forms. One is via societal patterns of life such as racialized public policies, social structures such as racial economic inequality, or cultural meanings. Another type of passive racism is expressed through the effects of people’s actions that serve to maintain these societal/cultural patterns of racial inequality, no matter the individual’s motives for the action.

            These two kinds of racism aren’t the same, but they’re connected, and inseparable. They exist at both the individual and societal/structural level. If these two forms of racism exist, then we can, and *should*, distinguish between its two different kinds of acting individuals: active and passive racists. The first appear in society like the persons you described from your personal life. Passive racists are members of highly racialized societies whose actions are *not* prejudicial motivated, but whose effects of their actions serve to maintain racialized patterns of life. These are *both* people with more *and* less privilege. Passive racists can cease being such only with great effort since it requires truly and completely living counter-culturally when that culture and society is a racialized. Is it possible? Yes. Practically speaking, most people in a racialized society aren’t active racists; and most are passive racists, but to a greatly varying degree of more or less.

            From my perspective what I’m trying to say is not quite what’s described in your statement (2nd sentence). Active racists engage in active racism. Almost everyone in the US does *not* do this. So I say no to the first part of your that statement if that’s what you mean by “racist”. I say yes to the second part since as you note, passive racism doesn’t require awareness or intent if the effects of peoples’ actions do nothing to change the structure of racialized society that has racist consequences, whether the individuals are privileged or not, majority or minority group members, oppressors or oppressed. I am “comfortable” with this only in the sense I take it as a more accurate, empirical, description of the *way things are* in the US. And also because to me it opens up greater possibilities for changing our racialized society by revealing more clearly everyone’s involvement in this. Privileged people are as connected to this problem as those discriminated against, and have far more to realize, see, think, listen, feel, and do before we can begin to tire with facing racism.

            I’ve no idea if you’re an active racist, and I presume you’re not. Is it possible you engage in passive racism? I also don’t know that, because I don’t know how you live your everyday life. It’s easier for me to engage in passive racism since it can happen with my actions/speech that do not have prejudiced^ intent – if their effects maintain racialized patterns of life (^usually termed racist in the typical individualist view that conflates or assumes as identical the two kinds of racism). Can Obama be actively racist? Of course, towards either blacks and whites. Can Obama engage in passive racism, even that which maintains racial discrimination against or dis-privileges(?) blacks? You betcha, and especially so given his position in US society (The President!). To a tangent, whether Obama is a “minority” is an interesting question. He’s as white as he’s black (IF race has a genetic basis, another tangent). I’ve no idea if Obama sees himself as an active racist or engaging in passive racism, although I’ve got hunches. You’d have to ask Obama, I don’t presume to speak for him.

            • Ric Shewell

              Aaron, I think we’re done here. I appreciate your thoughts. Feel free to respond to what I wrote to Madison above, because I included you. You’ve written a lot here, so I probably over simplified your statements.

              In closing, I think my three points remain valid.

              1. Your definition includes victims in the responsibility of their suffering. You seem comfortable with that. I am not.

              2. I don’t think victims of racism use the term in the way you are using it.
              3. As the racial landscape changes, funneling these issues under the banner of “racism” becomes less and less helpful, and take attention away from issues of income equality and classism.

              I didn’t see you really disagree with these. For these reasons I think it is unhelpful to use the word “racist” for actions or people who participate in institutionalized/systematic/passive racism. You don’t, and that’s fine. We just don’t see it the same way. Much love to ya.


          • To your 2nd point Ric, I agree. Of course it comes from a WP perspective. But it’s also a sociological one that distinguishes individual-intentional-active racism of prejudiced motives from systemic-unintentional-passive racism of racial inequality resulting from racialized policies and structures. So I disagree this “overrides the voice of the oppressed”. In fact, I think it does the opposite. But the judge of this shouldn’t be me, but someone you label “oppressed”. It’s interesting you see this view “an act of humility and contrition.” I believe it’s seeing reality (in this case social) more clearly and “as it is”. No apology is required for acknowledging and owning privilege because it’s social in nature, and the pre-existing “rules of the game” we’re born into already. The important question for me is to what degree can we change them?

          • On your 3rd point, yes, US racial demographics indeed are changing. Here’s a nice graphic summarizing this: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/05/08/changing-u-s-racial-demographics/

            I think what’s “unhelpful, confusing, and inflammatory” is not seeing the difference between systemic racism (skin color privilege) and individual racism. Conflating these or treating these as the same, synonymous, or identical is why this thread is huge. Because if you do this, and someone says “what you SAID is racist”, then it’s heard as “you ARE a racist”. If you’re not being intentionally prejudiced, then it’s offensive, of course. People can’t “see” this because they’re not *equipped* to with the necessary (sociological) tools. I’m not willing to stop naming the elephant and naked emperor in US society and the church as systemic-passive racism based, in part, on skin color privilege. (Would you make this argument for sexism, etc.”?) The approach I take here is what I believe offers us the best chance to reducing it because it provides “tools” for those with privilege to not take it personally, take offense, feel guilty about having it, and empowers us to take responsibility for changing the way things are more toward how we want and hope them to be.

    • Lucas, bullshit. You cannot possibly deem me “undoubtedly racist” simply based on my skin color. That, itself, is racism.

      Just because someone is born into privilege does not necessarily make them racist. That’s a false narrative, and you should stop repeating it.

      I may well be racist, but if someone is going to level that charge on me, it needs to be based on more than a misquote, a mischaracterization, or, worst of all, my skin color.

      • It’s not a false narrative. People with privilege have blind spots to the unprivileged experience. You don’t have those experiences and cannot fathom how their perspective is different than yours. Because of these blind spots we normative power holders most certainly have “undoubtedly racist” opinions unless we willingly seek them out with the help of the other to kill it.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          Thank you. Because racism (and sexism, and heteronormativity, etc) are so ingrained in our system, it’s like a moving sidewalk at an airport. Unless those of us who are privileged actually turn around and walk the opposite direction (by LISTENING to people of color, becoming aware of our own privileges and blindspots and prejudices, etc.) then we will be pulled along by racism.

        • Everyone has blindspots, the privileged and the unprivileged.

          Also, you don’t know my story.

          • Sure, everyone has blind spots, but the blind aren’t in the position of telling those with vision that their blind spots can’t be criticized.

            • johnokeefe

              sometimes our blind spots are not seeing our blind spots

      • You may agree or disagree with the proposition that every white person, as a result of being raised in a white racist society, is on some level racist, but to dismiss that proposition as “racism”? Come on. Weren’t you JUST saying that accusing your interlocutors of racism is inappropriate? Wasn’t that the whole point of your post?

      • Eric Boersma

        I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve ever been introduced to your writings, so I’m coming into this with basically no prejudice.

        I felt like you came off as somewhat racist.

        Why? Well, you say things like”I think the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.” Taken by itself, that statement isn’t particularly damning. But taken in context, in the middle of a post in which you’re explicitly complaining about people bringing up your racial undertones — that makes it different. What I see in that statement is a sentiment that’s couched in your position of privilege and parked firmly in the idea that *their* theology can learn from you…but there seems to be no recognition of the idea that your theology could learn from theirs.

        Beyond that, the post in general smacks of someone trying to avoid the erosion of privilege. My general response to someone saying “I’m sick of people calling me a racist” is to say “Well then, stop doing racist things”. You mention people bringing up reasons why they believe that you’re being racist, and your response is to flippantly dismiss them (Cleveland’s misquote doesn’t seem to alter the fundamental point she was trying to make in the least — better versus best is a distinction without difference, in this case). Recognizing the racism within ourselves is a difficult thing to do, but the first step is listening, something that this post doesn’t suggest you’ve been doing a lot of.

        I don’t know. I could be way off. I’m just giving you my impressions based on what I’ve read in this post and in the comments. I hope that you’ll take them in the spirit that they’re intended — not as condemnation, but in the hope that you’ll step back from the emotion a little bit and examine in what ways you might be responsible for the conclusions that people draw about you.

        Edit: I want to make explicitly clear: I’m saying that I’ve found the things you said to have racist undertones. I am not trying to imply that you yourself are racist.

      • Being born into race-based privilege makes you complicit in systemic racism, definitionally. This is why it is called systematic instead of monadic. You may not “be a racist,” in the sense of carrying active animus, but you may still “be a racist” in many other important senses.

      • It’s not bullshit, and it does, as it did for me, because there’s two racisms: personal-individual-active and social-systemic-passive. Being born into privilege doesn’t make anyone guilty of the first, but it makes all responsible for the second. We must talk about skin color because this second, structural racism is based on exactly that. “Privilege, Power, & Difference” by Allan G Johnson is another good book on this entire topic and discussion besides Tim Wise’s. And Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine video well illustrates the need to keep two very different conversations separated. Sometimes a little segregation is a good thing! 🙂

      • It’s called ‘white privilege.’ As someone who benefits from white privilege (a privilege I share, incidentally) it’s your ethical responsibility to acknowledge it, unpack it, and address the ways that your unexamined privilege contributes to systematic racism. That’s true social justice.

  • Tony, I read Cleveland’s post and loved it. I actually thought she was talking about the Gospel Coalition. (Now isn’t that just a sad commentary on the state of the dialogue among U.S. Christians in and of itself?) I think you’re reactions to both your Fuller interlocutor and Dr. Cleveland are misplaced, and frankly I’m a little disappointed. You *are* a white male (as am I). That’s extremely relevant—but you seem to want to dismiss it. Our perspectives as white males are privileged in Western culture which remains structured to support our assumptions. Our privilege is the water we swim in, so it is largely unseen, or ignored. But as white males, privileged to never have to consider race, we have to make the extra effort to understand and empathize with our non-white brothers and sisters—because that is what love does. Love is kenotic; it sets aside privilege and identifies with those it loves (Phil. 2). Pentecostal theology is young. It has only been around for 100 or so years. And it was born out of an experience with God (Azusa) that brought together people from all walks of life and ethnic perspectives. That’s what God’s Spirit does: He unites people who would otherwise seek their own self-interest, and moves them to seek the interest of the other. I would encourage you to embrace a more humble posture toward our non-white and non-male brothers and sisters. Hope you take this in the spirit intended—as an admonishment in love.

    • Look, I’m not dismissing my race and gender. Not in any way. I’m saying that if someone’s going to criticize me, I ask that they do it on the substantive grounds of what I actually said — and, if possible, meant.

      • This is a case of talking past one another. Her point isn’t in direct response to your point. That’s why it seems like she’s misrepresented you. She is only using that statement as representative. I think she would agree with your position vis-a-vis a group like the Gospel Coalition. She is merely pointing out that without minority input, your position isn’t as strong as it could be. Give it some more reflection bro. I think this is the good kind of conflict—the kind that makes us better people.

        • So, you’re saying that she’s using me as a straw man? That she taken something I said out of context, on purpose, to make a point, even if it’s at my expense?

          And you are defending this?

  • I will say, that I don’t think this comment fits you at all: “But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices.” As a woman without an advance degree, the reason I say this is because when we met at the Dordt conference, you thought it was great that I, as a BA-only, stay-at-home mom, had decided to present at a conference.

  • alan

    Tony. Friend. Come over here and talk with me for a minute. First let me say that I understand your reaction to harsh criticism given in response to what you thought was actually a statement of openness. Being misunderstood is profoundly hurtful and that wound is clear in you. Please hear me with love when I say that even though you are hurt by these criticisms it is not ok to return that hurt back to others. What’s more, in the same way that you have been hurt by these comments, the love of Christ requires that you (and many times I) take a step back and acknowledge that we have hurt that other person first. Even if it is unintentional, we have to take their hurt seriously. Then, and only then, can we begin to discuss theology.

    As I read your post, there were two significant thoughts that came to mind.

    1) As you seem to live a lot of your life on the internet, I’m sure you’ve run across this video:
    And as a side note, the follow up TED talk he gave is also worth a watch:

    In the original video the thing that Jay Smooth talks about is how when someone says something that sounds kinda racist, the person who is confronted often changes the conversation from the “what you said was racist” conversation to the “you ARE a racist” conversation. Whether you intended it or not, it feels like you just made that switch. What your critics were saying was what you said was racist, but what you’ve just blogged about here is your perception that they were saying that you ARE a racist. (see the title of the blog post as pretty clear evidence: “I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist”). What you’re being accused of and what you are saying in this post are two very, VERY different conversations and you’ve confused the two.

    2) The other thing that I think needs to be named is that what your critics are pointing out how systemic racial bias traps us all and distorts our reality. The racism they’re talking about (I think, sorry for putting words in someone else’s mouth) is this kind of systemic effect of race over hundreds, even thousands of years. They’re NOT saying that after the conference you go home and put on your pointy white hat and listen to David Duke.

    Now I feel funny explaining this to you because you seem like the kinda guy who already knows this stuff, so maybe it’s simply for my own ability to articulate these issues in my own life….but I’m going to say it anyways. The thing about systemic racism that I’ve learned over the years is that it is a nastily invasive and corrosive force. We are all held captive to it, even those of us who are working to dismantle it. (this, by the way, is a good example of why we need salvation here and now). The problem with systemic racism is that it grants benefits to some and not others. For example. I am a 6’3″, 290lb, white, middle class, heterosexual, male, pastor, with a bachelors and a masters, who lives in the U.S. Because of the systemic racism, sexism, and biases of all kinds that exist in this world, I am afforded social benefits (and most importantly; power) that other people are not. Even as I work to become aware of how I have benefited I am still held captive to these forces from which I benefit and others are oppressed. So the short of it is this: Do I consider myself a racist in the sense that I have a conscious hatred of people of color? Hell no. Do I consider myself a racist in the sense that I am held captive to this unjust system which has benefited me and my family for generations, and even shapes my unconscious biases toward people of different economic statuses, colors, genders, and locations? Damn straight. In that sense, I am most certainly a racist and I always will be. Even if I work against it my whole life.

    The irony for me is that I imagine that you know most of this already and that you are clearly highly committed to justice for marginalized and oppressed peoples. (i.e. your work on homosexuality). The reality still is, though, that you are part of systems (even, and maybe especially, theological systems) that have and continue to have a bias in favor of those in traditional power. Believe me, it sucks to have people point out where and when we do things that perpetuate that system, precisely because all of our conscious values are to the opposite. It sucks to be working hard to dismantle oppression and yet still have someone say, “you’re being oppressive!” What I’m still in the process of learning is that my natural response is to get defensive, but that the correct response is to open ourselves to the truth that is being spoken to us by a fellow brother or sister in the church, and to allow those moments of confrontation to be transformative.

    Tony, the short of it is that I personally understand your feeling of being tired of being called a racist. But for me I’m even more tire of something else. I’m not simply tired of being called a racist, I’m tired of being held captive to the systemic racism that often benefits me and oppresses others.

    • Good, then let’s work on dismantling those systems. We can do so by 1) stop calling each other racists, and 2) stop lecturing people who are just like us.

      • Stop being a racist and nobody will call you one.

        • Lila

          Yup. That guy who told me I was racist because I wouldn’t sleep with him after one date was totally justified. You’re idea that people would never use this accusation inappropriately and insincerely is so logical!

      • But if you can’t listen to those who are just like you, and you can’t listen to those who are different from you, to whom can you listen?

      • Sarah Someone

        The problem isn’t that people are calling out racism. The problem is RACISM. this is not that tricky.

        • Sarah, I agree.

          • If you think that “Stop calling each other racists” will dismantle racism, you don’t know what racism is.

          • Sarah Someone

            …then don’t say otherwise?

      • Wow. What an incredibly dismissive response to someone who took a lot of time and energy to try to engage you in a thoughtful, critical, but respectful way.

      • alan

        Thanks for your response. I trust that we’re still allies in that dismantling of systemic oppression. Two quick thoughts in response to your response.

        1) One marker of when those systems are being dismantled is that the voices of people of color are sought out, valued, and seen as essential to the system, even (and maybe especially) when they are critical of that system. Have you considered the possibility that the criticisms leveled against you were an attempt at dismantling systemic racism? Do you value when people critique those systems only when you already agree with them?

        2) As far as going about dismantling those systems, white people most certainly have to do their own work in this area. I am also aware, however, that one of the functions of systemic bias is that the dominant view is seen as the standard/normal view. Many times (most of the time really) because I am in those positions of power I see my view of the world as “normal” and I have a very difficult time seeing another way on my own. It is essential for me, then, to have the voices of people of color because it points out problems in the system (even ones that I cause) that I am not able to see otherwise. That’s all to say when we (white males, in this case) try to define how to go about dismantling those systems I don’t think we get say what needs to happen. Any strategies have to be led/informed by people of color. It strikes me that your two suggestions for dismantling oppression in the comment above don’t really do that. They feel more like they’re about hurt feelings rather than a genuine desire for transformation. (and for the record, you get to feel hurt. You’re entitled to your own emotions, but you do have to figure out why you have them) I say that also partly because I actually think that what is really needed is the opposite of your two points. 1) racism needs to be named for what it is whenever, wherever, and in whoever it shows up, and 2) I think we actually do need be lectured. Well….at least in the sense that education of white people on the issues of systemic racism needs to be a continual thing.

        Again, I get that you’re hurt by these comments. I also get that for someone who’s career is built on being right and arguing your theological perspective (which is often needed) it’s really hard to own up to times where you’ve made a grievous error. I just would encourage you to take a step back on this one and allow this criticism to transform your understanding.

        Again, those commenters were not calling YOU a racist. They were calling what you SAID racist.

        Maybe the way to say it is that they most certainly could be wrong…about a lot of stuff. But for the moment, simply entertain the possibility that they could be right and ponder the implications if they are.

        Grace and peace to you.

        • Rebekah

          I really appreciate your responses here, Alan. I think your tone is exactly what’s needed.

        • right on alan. right on.

      • JasonDStewart

        Being a “racist” doesn’t mean you have to listen to people’s b.s. just because you are white and they are black or latino, or asian, or whatever… You can still call b.s., b.s.

      • “Stop lecturing people who are just like us” is a real good idea. Care to get us started?

      • If you say something racist, those of us who actually care about fighting racism are going to call you out on it because that’s how anti-racism actually works. That’s how you fight it. You don’t fight racism by coddling someone’s privilege.

    • sam

      whew, this articulates exactly why i’ll never be part of the emergent church. to me, this rant sounds self-indulgent, narcissistic, and reeks of pop pseudo-psychology (and i’m blown away at its fanfare). do u really think you’d get a fair listen from this blogger when you in turn are being so boyish? i don’t know any of you peeps but at least this guy tony sounds honest and substantive. even if you disagree with him, at least there’s some muscle there to wrestle with – so if you disagree, wrestle, but do it with substance and without digressing to some hazy internet couch confession about systemic concept you can color or define on a whim. what are you talking about anyway, other than yourself? i figure the emergent church will implode for lack of ummf, as this post articulates perfectly.

  • I cannot speak for my fellow Fuller grad specifically, but I can speak for the generic mood of Fuller. What Fuller does so well is brings in men and women from all over the U.S. and many other countries, particularly Sweden, Korea and Australia while I was there (as well as certain African countries). Fuller also draws in men and women from across both theological and educational spectrums. That is the starting point, and what it does after that is more miraculous…it teaches them to enter into the conversation of what (who?) the Church is and how to love Her with civility.

    I graduated in 2009 and one of the biggest things we saw was a push for more “minority” voices. I say minority to indicate anything non-white, straight, protestant male. That could mean homosexual theologians, Orthodox theologians, female theologians, African theologians, etc. So, in terms of the Fuller lecture, you were walking into a conversation you may not have understood the full context for…especially if she were one of my friends who really took to the teachings of Drs. Martinez and Lau-Branson.

    That said, I think any student who sees Pentecostal Theology as explicitly non-white forgets the impact that a white, European man such as Veli-Matti Karkkainen has had in bringing validity to Pentecostal theology.
    Just thought I would throw a little context to what she was saying.

    • So you’re saying Pentecostal Theology is valid because a white European man made it so? That’s not really bolstering your side of the argument.

      • I’m speaking from a purely academic stand point. And sure, that is sad. But I’m saying you cannot draw a line and say “White over here and Pentecostal over there.” I think there is a problem in making any theological stand point tied to any specific race, etc. There are those unfortunate individuals who will not give the time of day to Pentecostal theology unless it comes from someone with a degree. What I was trying to communicate, albeit poorly, is that Karkkainen opened the doors of Pentecostal theology to the institutions of academia (or as Robert Pirsig calls the Church of Reason), because he met their standard. Also, just wanted to point out that there were white Pentecostal theologians from the northern hemisphere.

  • I have had similar experiences at another “well respected” religious school and largely agree with how you characterize it. How can we ever get past the “past” if we are not free to discuss the issue without fear of reprisal. I have been told as much that as a white male I have to reason to participate in the conversation. I think it is wholly absurd to think this way. How in the world can we develop a common “language of discourse” about a serious issue when we are not able to participate in the conversation? Very frustrating!

    Thank you for such a honest yet difficult post.

    • That’s what really chaps my hide, Eric. Both of these incidents took place at institutions of higher learning, where one is supposed to be able to freely debate ideas (like Pentecostalism or versions of the gospel in America). But at each place I was met with a charge of racism, and a charge like that has a chilling effect on academic discourse.

      • It sounds very much like you’re saying here that nobody should ever suggest that anything said in an academic context might be racist, because that suggestion has too chilling an effect on academic discourse. Is that really your position? That it’s out of bounds to suggest that any academic work has racist content or implications?

      • I also think it is a bit short sighted to suggest that these two women are representing the entirety of their university. That’s like saying you are it for the Emerging Church.

      • Just change one word and repeat it back to yourself.

        “That’s what really chaps my hide, Tony. Both of these incidents took place at institutions of higher learning, where one is supposed to be able to freely debate ideas (like Pentecostalism or versions of the gospel in America). But at each place I was met with a charge of race card, and a charge like that has a chilling effect on academic discourse.”

      • Patrick

        I am 100% on your side Tony, with one exception: why you expected a free exchange of ideas at a university or college is beyond me. It has been decades since that was the case. You are entitled to your opinion — as long as you agree with someone who claims they are “progressive.” Should you dare to hold a different viewpoint, many are incapable or argument so they call you racist. Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement is helpful.

  • Tony,

    I don’t think you said anything even remotely racist.

    Pentecostal theology (at least the one that is popular) I think is pretty much trash.

    There are reasons why historically Europeans and White Americans have dominated in the field of theology. This will continue to be so for a while. But things are changing.

    To me, more important than who is speaking/teaching (a white person or a minority group member) is how educated the speaker is (theologiy, church history, etc.) and how much they are seeking to live out the message of jesus.

    I think you pass the test. And I am happy to read your stuff and listen to you.
    You never need apologize to me for being white.

    Let us just love one another as fellow human beings, and God will be pleased.

    • Thanks, Juan Carlos.

    • IntegralShaman

      I fully agree. This is nothing but the attack of the Mean Green Meme. If someone from the Global South, and of darker complexion, had said “I think we have a better gospel than what’s commonly being promoted in the developed West, and churches there would benefit from hearing what we have to say.” this entire discussion would never exist. In fact, many African prelates within the Anglican community have been saying just that, for years, to the Episcopal Church, and if you CHALLENGE those statements, YOU’RE the racist.

      As has been stated time and again in the above thread, if you’re white, come from a developed country, and have even a modicum of wealth, you’re automatically loaded with racist tendencies and part of the system of “principalities and powers” revealed in white privilege. I need no other knowledge to judge you than the color of your skin, your nation of origin, and perhaps your socioeconomic status. Which oddly, seems a helluva lot like racism, et. al., to me.

      Sorry man. You deserve better. Everyone does.

  • Billy

    Posting the link to Grammar Girl wasn’t patronizing at all… really helps to knock the wind out of the sails of anyone who would accuse you of any form of elitism.

  • EdinburghEye

    From my own experience as a white person who tries not to be racist:

    Tony, when on two occasions, independently of each other, people of colour identify what you’re saying as “this sounds racist” the appropriate reaction isn’t “I’m tired of this” but “thank you for letting me know, how can I change?”

    If you don’t want to be racist, they’re giving you valuable information about how not to be.

    If you don’t care if you are racist, hey, write a post dismissing how you’re tired of being identified that way by those people, what do they know?

    • Are you suggesting that I should no longer advocate for the version of the gospel that I embrace? Because that’s what Cleveland wants me to do.

      Seriously, please answer this.

      • Ben Howard

        Tony, are you even listening to yourself? She never said such a thing.

        You have a legitimate grievance because you were misquoted and Christena fixed that because it was inaccurate.

        You are blowing this thing up to an insane degree and you’re making yourself out to be a fool in the process. Pump the brakes man!

        • Chris Baca

          “You have a legitimate grievance because you were misquoted and Christena fixed that because it was inaccurate.”

          The problem, however, is that it seems like Christena’s premise is centered around the misquote. When the quote is (was) fixed, the critique doesn’t make sense anymore. If his comment about a “better gospel” was targeted towards the neo-Reformed/conservative evangelical movement, I’m just not seeing how the critique about diverse voices can hold up.

          I’m not denying that the Emergent shouldn’t try to do a better job of pursuing diversity. That critique needs to be heard. That Tony is becoming a sort of scapegoat over a comment that has nothing to do with the overarching topic of racism/privilege is unfair.

          • Ben Howard

            Chris, I think it does weaken her argument. That’s true.

            But re:Tony becoming a scapegoat, she went out of her way to not name him. She used an anonymous statement to speak to a larger problem.

            Tony is the one who announced that he made the misquoted statement and who placed himself in that role.

            • Chris Baca

              Ben, point taken.

              Tony did bring this into the light. Still, as the Body, I think we ought to be careful of scapegoating at the present time. He might be an ass sometimes, but some (not all) of the comments here simply serve to treat him poorly, and not discuss the actual issue we’re all concerned about: racism and privilege.

              • Ben Howard

                Honestly, I don’t want to scapegoat Tony. I’m legitimately bothered/concerned because it seems as if he’s taking offense from something that was never said, at least not by Christena.

                Did someone say something at a conference awhile back? Yeah, probably. Was it right or wrong? I don’t know the context. But I know the context here and it wasn’t attacking, it was trying to further the conversation.

            • Dude, everyone at the conference — that’s 200 people — knew exactly who she was writing about. The claim of anonymity is disingenuous at best, malicious at worst.

              • C’mon, man. Disingenuous? Malicious? Listen to what you’re saying. She made a mistake and remembered the quotation wrong when writing about it after the fact. You came across as saying “best,” that’s what she heard and thought she was responding to, and when you corrected her on the quotation, she changed it. Words like “disingenuous” and “malicious” are quite possibly worse than suggestions of racism, because the former ascribe specific motive, while the latter can simply describe an uninterrogated privilege that one would correct if taught or shown where one has gone wrong. The difference here is that no one called you a racist, they just suggested there were aspects of your approach that were racially insensitive, while you have outright impugned the interior motivations of a specific interlocutor rather than expressing your reception of that writer’s words.

                You might also be interested in this examination of the process vs. fixed state models of allyship. Your consistent prickliness when disprivileged people get upset with your language and behavior and say so is a fairly clear sign to me that you think of yourself as an ally, full stop, and get mad when people suggest you aren’t. Rethinking your alliance with those without privilege as something that transforms and grows might help you avoid these periodic clusterfraks.

                These apparently systematically-promoted periodic scandals on your blog make me think we all ought to get off the Neo-Reformed hobbyhorses and re-read our Tillich. Whatever your thoughts on the man and his theology, existential estrangement seems rather appropriate as a lens for understanding the categorical sinfulness on display.


              • Sarah

                Dude, this comment just took this entire conversation back to junior high. It was at least at high school level before. I don’t know what conference you’re talking about, any of those 200 people, or even who you are but you’ve made yourself look fairly awful in this thread alone. Just stop. Stop.

            • If you would have read her post before she corrected it, you’d see that she based her entire post on the misquote.

              • Ben Howard

                Tony, I read the post before she corrected it. And I’ll grant you that her point weakened when the quote was corrected. You were right to be frustrated that you were misquoted.

                However, she never called you a racist. She never asked you to stop preaching the Gospel you believe. She never even corrected the Gospel you believe in. She merely said that by using language like “better” or “best” you invite a competition between differing viewpoints that strives for “something better” over inclusion.

              • Her point still stood. It’s about how the issue is communicated and she felt the way you communicated it made people feel excluded. And you’re offended that someone could possibly be understood that way. And instead of trying to correct what could be a misunderstanding you write that “I’m tired of being called racist” in the most defensive way possible.

      • You are dismissing their point of view out of hand without giving any consideration as to how they perceive your point of view. It’s arrogant.

        This reminds me of how you responded to criticism of how you treat the opinions of women. You simply dismissed their feelings and opinions without considering how they could think these things about you.

        If someone called me an asshole I wouldn’t just say, “But I’m not,” I would want to know what I did to cause that reaction.

        • How do you know that I dismiss it out-of-hand based on one post? Taking a position does not mean that one hasn’t thoughtfully considered the opinions of others.

          • Maybe it’s because of the dismissive, sarcastic and arrogant attitude you use to address the critics.

          • I’m so confused because it seems you have done exactly that to the statements levied against you when considering the opinions expressed by these two people (dismiss them as out of hand based on one post and for the other, one comment) How do you know they haven’t thoughtfully considered the position of others, namely, your position? Are you really giving them the benefit of the doubt or are you just afraid of getting real about race and it’s systemic shadow over dialogue, behavior and theology? It doesn’t seem like you are interested in hearing from them or where they are coming from, getting more context, seeking to understand if there is perhaps a misunderstanding (which is seems there was on both accounts). Instead, I see a arrogant man hiding behind grammatical or semantic heavy arguments who treats any kind of disagreement with his position as a threat to his person, his “gospel” and his God. Some of these comments here are extremely gracious (not mine) in trying to help you see another side, another perspective and your responses seem trite, hyperbolic and again, fearful of a real dialogue around race. I’m confused as to why you wouldn’t just engage with the perspective, ask more questions, consider where the disagreement may lie, interrogate your own limits/biases/etc. and proceed to dialogue.

        • Craig

          Why have 20+ people voted up this borderline bullshit?!

          When a child throws a tantrum, it’s the grown-up who has to understand what’s driving it. But Tony’s critics are educated adults. They’re responsible for articulating their public criticisms of him with sufficient precision. So Tony should answer them as such, responding, as best he can, to the actual content of their criticisms. That’s not arrogance; that’s treating his critics with the respect of equals.

          • His critics are educated adults, which is why it’s so odd that Mr. Jones responds by throwing a tantrum.

            • Craig

              So we agree Tony’s critics are educated adults. Can we also agree that, as such, they are responsible for expressing their criticisms with sufficient precision? Can we agree that Tony would do well to simply respond to the content of their stated criticisms–instead of needing to divine the deeper psychic or sociological sources of it?

              • Naming a statement as “racist” doesn’t attempt to “divine the deeper psychic”. Tony’s statements may indicate that he secretly thinks that people of color are inferior, but that’s not the sine non qua of something being racist. It’s about how the language _functions_. Let’s use an example from misogyny, since Tony will be writing about it soon. If I, for some reason, don’t know what the word b*tch means and call someone it, it’s still misogynist. Because it still effects the person negatively, and it encourages anyone within earshot that the language is OK. Not everything is about intention (though intention is important too). In this case, Tony didn’t realize how what he said functioned in a racist way, and when it was explained to him he just defended himself based on intention. Worse, his statements dealt with what is good theology and who makes it, so the effects are pretty wide-reaching.

                • Craig

                  Generally I’m not willing to defend Tony’s arguments. I nearly always find flaws in his reasoning or in how he expresses himself. Several of the participants appear unwilling to recognize the serious flaws in the arguments and accusations made by his critics. When Tony himself indicates some of the flaws, these participants accuse him of being overly defensive, arrogant, and dismissive.

              • They did express their criticisms with precision.

                Nobody has asked for psych evaluations, rather that their criticisms be taken into consideration instead of taking such a defensive approach as to declare, “racist is the most discrediting of all epithets these days,” is if these criticisms are simple ad hominem attacks instead of legitimate concerns.

                Mr. Jones replied that he’s upset with the charge of racism (while the charge was never direct, but more along the lines of imperialism), and has condensed this criticism to a racial knee jerk instead of a legitimate theological concern.

                • Craig

                  To be fair, Tony did provide reasons for why he considered the criticisms (of offense, close-mindedness, and borderline racism) as unfounded. And there are real weaknesses with his critics’ arguments. Can you recognize them?

                  • Mr. Jones did not provide reasons, he provided offense. he literally said, “stating a theological opinion in an academic setting was not wholly acceptable” when his points were criticized yet here he is writing a whole blog post about how his critics opinion is not acceptable in an academic setting.

                    He then went on to make his entire argument center around grammatical semantics between “better” and “best,” while ignoring the central criticism entirely.

                    • Craig

                      Is this really all you can see in Tony’s responses? Shall we take your answer to my question as “no”? I suspected as much.

                    • It’s easy to see that that’s all in Tony’s response because that’s literally all that’s in his response. Just go through the whole article:

                      1) Describes event at Fuller and what was said by critic.

                      2) Offended that someone would criticise his opinion in an academic setting.

                      3) Describes blog post and what was said by critic.

                      4) Offended that someone could see his views as racist.

                      5) Points out blog writer didn’t correct the whole post, just the quotation.

                      6) Provides background of what he said in the conference.

                      7) Provides caveat about how he’s really inclusive.

                      8) Writes three paragraphs about grammar.

                      9) Claims he was misunderstood.

                      10) Offended that his opinions could be seen as racist, and provides flippant, “racist is the most discrediting of all epithets these days.”

                      11) Ends with flippant accusations of misogyny are equally or more so unwarranted and that he’s “sick of” them.

                      That’s literally his entire argument. That he was misunderstood because he’s open minded and that these people are bad because they’ve dared to provide cogent critiques of his views.

                      Ms. Cleveland even writes, “Non-majority members who attempt to exert diverse cultural influence are often ignored — or worse, silenced and shunned.” And Mr. Jones exemplifies this type of behavior by writing disparagingly about making critiques of language which can be seen as exclusionary.

                    • Craig

                      Destroyideas, I’d recommend taking a step back and then, if and when you can get yourself into cool and collected frame of mind, re-read through Tony’s responses away from the bandwagon, perhaps with an educated friend who is not easily upset or offended, and who is willing to call you out on bullshit. There is blindness, bias, and defensiveness for sure, but, just as sure, Tony has no monopoly on such vices.

      • danhauge

        From what I read in Cleveland’s post, it sounds like what is being asked of white guys (like me) is not that we abandon more progressive views of the gospel. But rather a more specific acknowledgement of how white privilege shapes the context of our conversations, and more specific, sustained advocacy for full inclusion of the perspectives and theologies of people of color. It’s not what we are embracing that’s the problem, it’s that we still have blinders to see who we’re not yet fully embracing.

        I don’t believe your comment about the ‘better’ progressive gospel was intended to exclude anyone. But I believe there are real reasons why the statement sounded that way to her, and they have to do with the wider cultural realities of white privilege, and how the perspectives and voices of people of color are still assumed to be secondary. This automatic secondary status is what most people of color I know refer to when they talk about ‘racism’, and it’s what I feel we need to most listen to and better understand.

        • Jonnie

          To that end, given who Tony’s comment WAS directed at, it is more of a support for her view of the gospel! He’s coming against those who are the paradigmatic examples of those who would quell diversity and progressive gospels by the nature of their theology and homogeneity.

        • So, should I have declined the invitation to speak? Or should I have prefaced my talk — and every talk I give — with an acknowledgement of my status?

          • DocRJ

            Actually, acknowledging white privilege is definitely not a bad idea. One of the problems, precisely, of white privilege is its invisibility and how it seems “natural”.

            BTW, if it helps, many white progressives face the same criticisms you do because, despite the noble intentions, many end up discounting or ignoring the experiences of others. White feminists have gone through the same thing.

          • Yes. Why are those options so ridiculous to you? Consider what Dan Sperber has been doing to prove he’s an ally for women in philosophy ( http://whatweredoingaboutwhatitslike.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/what-dan-sperber-did-about-what-its-like/ ). If it’s unbelievable to you to think about not speaking, or speaking from a specific place instead of out of a presumed universal authority, then consider what it is like for those who are never invited to speak. (The irony here being that your comments were actually *about* who should be speaking and who is “better” at it).

          • Stell

            You do NEITHER!!!! You must continue to accept the talk and you must continue to ask questions. One black woman picked you up on a point about something… assuming that she speaks for the entire black race is what also contributes to this argument. I personally would ask her what it was that made it a racist comment in ‘her’ opinion.. as NOT all black people identify with each other and not all black people think the same way so it might have been that SHE found the comment racially charged but NOT that you are a racist. Don’t apologise for being white just acknowledge that information is decimated and processed differently by different people depending on who is providing it and what they intend to do with it. It doesn’t need to reflect on you… perhaps you are BOTH sensitive????

            • ppearce43

              Stell, in my opinion, yours is among the top 3 meaningful responses in this thread, including some that are many times lengthier, and some that are noticeably shorter.

              I’ve enjoyed reading some intelligent replies. I’ve also cringed more than a few times at the misspellings and fundamental mis-usages that I’ve seen. Improper use of grammar I can excuse as the result of the texting phenomenon, reliance on so-called casual writing, etc. But folks, when you misspell a word, or use it’s instead of its, or your instead of you’re, it immediately sends a signal to some readers, and most of the time that signal is negative. I understand (a little bit) that typos can creep into a piece of writing, but not misspellings.

              “I think you’re reactions to both your Fuller interlocutor and…”. It’s “your reactions”. You’re is a contraction of the words “you” and “are”.

              “You’re idea that people would never use this accusation…”. It’s “Your idea”. See above.

              “fanfare). do u really think you’d get a fair listen from this blogger when you in turn are being so boyish? i don’t know any…” Consistent refusal to begin words which begin sentences with lower case characters can be used by poets as a sign of their refusal to be contained or constrained within bounds, but in casual conversation to do this and yet to otherwise obey the “rules” of good grammar, puzzles me. Maybe it’s an attempt to be cool.

              ” …it’s still misogynist. Because it still effects the person negatively,…”. It’s “it still affects”.

              ” Instead, I see a arrogant man…”. It’s “an arrogant man”.

              “…acknowledge that information is decimated and processed…”. The word you were looking for is disseminated. Disseminated is the past tense of the word that means to spread or distribute something, especially information. Decimate means to kill or destroy. A stain on the escutcheon of what I otherwise consider to be one of the more succinct, unbiased, and non-judgmental posts in this thread so far.

      • No, Tony, bro, I don’t think Dr. Cleveland wants you to stop advocating for your version of the Gospel. She just wants you to be open to input from non-majority perspectives. Why don’t you begin a dialogue with her, ask her what she would add to your position? From what I’ve read of her work, she has tremendous insights when it comes to the blind spots that come from privilege (including her own).

        • TC, I had lunch with her — at my invitation — two weeks ago. She never mentioned anything about any concerns she had regarding my talk. It seems she’d rather air them publicly than discuss them privately.

          • Ben Howard

            Tony, her post isn’t about you. She could have made it about you. It could have been a hatchet job, but she chose not to. Perhaps you should think about how that affects your interpretation of it.

          • You mean like what you’re doing now? She posts a blog with an anonymous quote not to shame you, and you want to take this public as a great offense.

      • I think people of privilege (white, well educated, straight dudes like us) sometimes have a hard time understanding the difference between “shut up, you’re never allowed to say anything again because you’re of a privileged people group” and “can you try to be a little bit more sensitive in the way that you say things?”

        Once, as a jr. high pastor, I used a cheesy illustration of Christians being “a light in the darkness” using white marks on dark construction paper. Typical, right? Afterwards, I was asked by a person of color to find a different way to talk about goodness and darkness, as our youth group was really trying hard to become more racially diverse and the image of black=evil and white=good was impeding that goal.

        As an arrogant 22 year old, I told them not to be so sensitive and that they were wrong. After all, darkness and light is an image straight out of the Bible, right? And I was just preaching the truth, right? And I was right, right?

        But, in my knee-jerk, defensive dismissal of their view as “overly sensitive” and “wrong,” I WAS being a jerk. It’s not an admission of guilt or weakness to say, “I didn’t intend to come across that way, how can we continue this conversation?” It’s just being a decent person.

        • Odd, I know, but this is why I think translations of the Bible such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message are important. There are certain metaphors such as light and dark that Peterson brings into contemporary language. So again, seemingly off track there, but we have to not only grab hold of our sacred text, we have to translate that text into our culture in a way that does not adulterate it, but presents it in a way that is palatable and relevant to our specific time and culture.

          • Ernest Crunkleton

            This conversation stream “Gets it”

      • Eric Boersma

        I don’t think that’s what Cleveland wants you to do at all. Having read her post, I think you’re becoming a bit over-defensive here.

        Frame the question differently, since I know you advocate for homosexual equality: do you want Conservative Christians to stop advocating for the version of the gospel that they embrace? Or do you want those Christians to take time, listen to the voices that they might disagree with, and understand how their version of the Gospel is actively hurting people who are different from them?

        I think Cleveland wants to be included in the conversation. She’s speaking about what hurt her, personally, while listening to something you said. Perhaps that conversation causes you to reevaluate the gospel you advocate. Or perhaps that conversation causes you to reevaluate the language that you use to advocate. Or perhaps it causes nothing more than mutual respect between two obviously very intelligent theological minds. You can’t know until you’ve had the conversation.

      • EdinburghEye

        Tony, I don’t presume to tell you what version of the gospel you should embrace.

        I ask you only to consider that if you’re expressing yourself in a way that makes people of colour say “you sound racist” that’s helpful information that you should take in and learn from, not dismiss as “tired of this”. If, that is, you do not want to sound racist.

      • Tony, you indicated that your theology is informed by diverse opinions, global travels and books. I think the best clarification of your theology would be to explain specifically how these interactions have affected your version of the gospel. I think you could do this without compromising your beliefs and may actually help those who misunderstand you.

        As you indicated we’re always learning and growing. The million dollar question is who do we learn from and who do we allow to inform our opinion. It would be impossible to melt every opinion into a theology that makes sense. However, showing where your version of the gospel has had outside influence and different voices seems like a better defense than playing grammar police.

    • Rachelle Mee-Chapman

      I would agree EdinburgEye. A wise reaction is to get curious about the accusation. To say, “Help me understand how I am being perceived as such.” It’s normal to experience frustration, even rage at an accusation that is innacurate. (If “you’re racsit” is even really the accusation that is being made, which is unclear to me.) But maturity asks us to rise above the rage and step into curiosity for the sake of dialogue and growth.

  • sherifffruitfly

    Poor poor downtrodden white folks. If only those mean “reverse-racist” black people could understand who the TRUE victim is!

    • That’s a SUPER helpful comment. Thanks.

      Let me guess what Facebook group of trolls you emerged from.

      • Dane Walton, Jr.

        wow, what a SUPER awesome way to respond. i think if you took a little time away from the martyrdom myths and the “woe is me” attitude they seem to instill, you just might catch a glimpse of what things look like from where everyone else is standing.

      • That’s a SUPER helpful comment. Thanks.

  • White privilege is a sociological and political reality I would suggest reading Tim Wise “white like me”, and deep prayerful meditation and reflection on this topic by Tony Jones

  • tony, your gospel doesn’t sound like very good news.

    • Oh, really, Suzannah? Which part?

      • sarahoverthemoon

        The part where anyone hurt and marginalized by your words has to shut up because you’re tired of being called a racist and a misogynist. The part where white dudes’ hurt feelings are more important that systematic oppression.

        • Never once did I ask Cleveland to shut up. In fact, I highly value her voice, as she knows. I’ve told her this publicly and privately.

          And this is not about my feelings. Not in the least. This is about misquoting, misattributing, and chilling rhetoric and images.

          • But you did sort of imply that people should stop saying what you say can be seen by non-white American males of academia because it’s an “epithet.”

  • “I made a statement of preference, that I think the nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South would benefit from being in dialogue with the older, more developed theologies of the West.”

    It does sound patronizing, even if you didn’t mean it that way. Perhaps it would be helpful if you found something positive about this “nascent Pentecostalism practiced in much of the Global South” that Westerners could learn/benefit from so that it’s mutual and not just the West “schooling” the Global South.
    (It really helps, too, if you listen to what non-white people have to say about race relations. At least acknowledge they might have a point about something.)

  • bubbe_made_a_kishke

    If you’re going to insist on grammatical precision from your
    interlocutors, it’s only fair to show them the same courtesy. The
    audience member at Fuller used the word “it” to refer to the quantity
    she found borderline racist — i.e. your claim. She did not use the
    word “you.” If you think that making a racist claim makes one a racist,
    the burden is on you to explain why that follows. Because it’s not obvious that it
    does. In fact, many people disagree. Perhaps Jay Smooth can explain

    On the subject of “stating a theological opinion at an academic
    conference” not being “wholly acceptable,” respectfully, that’s what
    academic conferences invite: disagreement and critique, as well as
    teasing out the implications of claims. That’s what your interlocutors were doing: offering critique, the same as you do to theological perspectives with which you do not agree and/or which you believe to have troubling implications.

    • Well said!

      • bubbe_made_a_kishke


    • Grammatical point taken.

      • Tony- Are you planning to amend your post with this new perspective, since your initial claim of “she called me a racist!” is false and based on your misinterpretation of what Christena said?

        Or, is amending posts only something that you require of minority viewpoints?

    • Your answer is so good, I want to ask you about Jay Smooth and the unclear boundary between what someone does and what someone is. What does “hold accountable” mean? If you pick someone’s pocket, what you DID is what you ARE, at least as far as the judge is concerned.

  • Chris

    Sounds like your getting a bit of the gruel that you very often like to dish out.
    “anti-gay, anti-women evangelicals…”

    He who lives by the sword…

  • Bobby Ray Hurd


    This and your post about “Where all da’ women at?!” is all the more proof that Evangelicaldom and its bourgeoise constituency think they can intellectualize around history and think the violent history of chauvinism and racism just go away when they claim some kind of faux spirit of “equality.” All the more proof that Evangelicaldom doesn’t fucking get it. The Eucharistic table of fellowship and the Joneseque table of “equality” is the difference between Paul’s table of Eucharist and America’s table of Exceptionalism.

    • I agree. That’s why my comments at the conference were a critique of American evangelicalism.

      • Bobby Ray Hurd

        From the prospective of the radical traditions, Tony man, your critique of Evangelicaldom is shooting blanks because the framework of your theology is so tightly bound to cultural imperialism. THAT is the veil that makes accusations like “racist” and “sexist” come about. There is a power structure there that many find to be a reinterpretation of the attempts at cultural imperialism Evangelicals have lusted for forever. Which doesn’t make you or your critique much different than most of Evangelicaldom; because the same old civil religion is kept alive by it being reinterpreted through the lens of Liberalism (rather than the Conservatism) the Emerging Church birthed out of.

  • Bobby Ray Hurd

    You can try to intellectualize around it all you want, Tony, but the way you act is not “wholly acceptable” because all your theology really is is European theology repackaged into the box of Liberal cultural imperialism made for a bourgeoise, post-modern constituency that lusts for cultural power right now. You will one day be the voice of fundamentalism, and I don’t think, being you’re the Emergent guy, you want that legacy. Your sort of theology, logic, and historical denial is the precursor to figures like Pat Robertson and the Religious Right. And I don’t think you want that.

    The fact you discount the contextual theology of other countries on the altar of a faux spirit of “equality” is demonstrative of the American Exceptionalism that is buried deep in the bones of most American theology; which is fundamentalist in its nature. And racist. And sexist. Because historically these sinful social relations have been ingrained in the heritage of your sort of theology; and your blind spot is that you think you have repented of this but from a theological standpoint (and the very fact you have to defend yourself here when YOU are WHITE and a MAN) demonstrates that you deny history because you don’t get you are part of the problem whether you want to be or not. I sit hear and listen to you bitch about not wanting to “be called a racist” when your theology oozes of white-male privilege.

    Pentacostal theology recognizes that all theology is contextual theology…unless you take the repackaged Puritan approach you take and lay claim to some kind of special, scientifically proven cornerstone on what all this is. Which is why many people call you a gnostic, homie. And you might be if you don’t get this. All radical theologians hear when you speak is another white man trying to deny his sexism and racism. History happened, dude. Quit trying to intellectualize around it. Your brain won’t save you.

    Rape logicians and theologians hide behind “equality” all the time to protect themselves from their hearts that lust for power. And that’s what Cleveland hears when she hears you speak.

  • JasonDStewart

    At risk of also being called a “racist”. Tony is completely justified in his position. First, everyone thinks EVERYTHING is racist these days, but, more importantly, a position is not wrong just because it was thought up by white men, or is “masculine”, or “white biased” any more than it is right for those reasons.

  • Eduardo Nuñez-Navarro

    “I can’t avoid it, I’m sorry but, as a Caucasian man living in America, to say that your theology is sophisticated and to say that the theology of Latin America and South America is weak, I mean, it’s appalling, it’s shocking for me to hear that, it’s offensive, it’s borderline racist, and it’s very closed-minded.”

    Still sounds like a statement of a very good opinion, which you have taken out of context. It is based on your discourse and your interpretation of “a” gospel.

  • John T.

    Every time I read a post like this it makes me more proud that I no longer associate myself with this religion.

    • Me too! Thanks that from within the babble of nonsense and fiction that is modern American Christianity, and the circle jerk that is this blog, someone has called the Emperor on his new clothes.

      The kingdom of god is within you.

  • Ben Howard

    Tony, you might want to take your own advice from the same speech.

    4. Let’s double down on epistemic humility. One of the
    benefits of deconstruction is that it imbues all of our intellectual
    activity with the reminder that even our most strongly held beliefs are,
    ultimately, deconstructible.

    • Ben Howard

      Or perhaps this point

      7. We must maintain our sense of humor. Like #4 above,
      postmodernism demands that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,
      because we might be wrong. Like #5 above, if we can maintain our senses
      of humor, it will be a more attractive alternative to the earnest,
      overly serious, even hateful versions of the faith that many people see

  • aricclark

    Anytime you have to protest “I’m not racist” you’ve already lost the argument.

  • Let’s just get this out of the way: any time a white man pushes back against criticism on this subject, commenters will howl, “Oh, woe is me, poor white man can’t take criticism!”

    Fine. Leave those comments, and “like” all the other comments that say the same thing.

    Cleveland made an argument on her blog. I made a counter-argument. No one on her blog is saying the equivalent of the “Woe is me” comments. No, she gets to make assertions, even based on a misquote. I make counter-assertions, and it means that I’m trying to silence her, that I’m overreacting, that I have thin skin, and that I’m an asshole.

    To counter her does not mean that I didn’t take her argument seriously. I did. And I value her voice, as I have previously said in public and in private. You can ask her whether she thinks I’ve been supportive of her ministry and her voice in the month+ that I’ve known her. I hope she, too, will be involved in this conversation.

    • “Any time a white man pushes back against criticism on this subject,” he’ll get slammed. That’s your stated position. That black women “get to” attack white men all they like with impunity, but “any time a white man” stands up against charges of racism, he’ll be called horrible names.

      You really want to frame it that way? That there’s no way for a white person to respond to false charges of racism in our society, and that there’s no possibility that the way you’ve handled this situation has in any way contributed to the position you find yourself in right now? That’s the way you want to play this?

      Good luck, dude. You’re gonna need it.

      • sarahoverthemoon

        Yup, white men just get slammed, while black women who critique them get off free. They can say whatever they want on the internet without getting rape and murder threats! Right? Wait.

    • And yeah, I realize that last comment was a bit heavy on the snark and a bit light on content, so let me offer one concrete observation:

      Your post was called “I’m tired of being called a racist,” but neither of the people you criticized had actually called you a racist. Not an auspicious start.

    • aricclark

      If you wanted this discussion to just be about the misquote you shouldn’t have titled it “I’m tired of being called a racist”, written hyperbolic things like “stating an opinion in an academic setting is not wholly acceptable” or spent most of your time in these comment threads being defensive and drawing the focus onto yourself. You could have said, “Cleveland makes an important point about the need for the gospel to be articulated by many different voices. Unfortunately I was misquoted, what I said was… and I think that it is compatible with what she means, since I am pushing against a version of the gospel that excludes female voices…”

    • But you didn’t push back on the issue at all, you just aired your offense at being called racist and tried to say she was wrong by treading grammatical semantics.

    • Edmund Edmonds

      Shush… I’m busy up-voting all of the people mocking you for not being able to take criticism.

    • Let’s look at the two posts and compare them:

      Cleveland never mentioned you by name nor even named the conference you were speaking at; you brought her name up and claimed she called you racist and made flippant comments about charges of racism being used as smears.

      Cleveland argued that language can be seen as exclusionary to some people when one declares their own views to be better than the other; you don’t make any counter argument, you just parse the grammar between “best” and “better” which isn’t really important at all.

      Nobody is on Cleveland’s blog saying she can’t take criticism because her blog post wasn’t a reactionary screed about how she doesn’t like being criticized; people are on your blog commenting about this because you continue making thoughtless comments like this one here along with the original OP because you’re interpreting criticisms of language as personal assaults on your own character.

      There are no parallels. You didn’t at all make “counter-assertions,” you simply claim people are trying to shut you up, that you can’t have your own opinions. They’re saying the way you communicated your opinion feels exclusionary, and you’re just being offended and making sarcastic, flippant comments with no consideration about how it comes across.

  • Zach Lind

    Who doesn’t believe they are operating with a better theological framework compared to other theological frameworks? Who purposefully chooses to work with a theological perspective they truly believe is more problematic than others? Everyone chooses a perspective that they feel works the best. Not sure why this has anything to do with race or diversity. If you’re purposefully choosing to pursue a framing of the gospel you suspect is inferior, why should anyone trust your conclusions or suggestions?

  • Edmund Edmonds

    Did you mean to post this article on pathos.com? Cause it just sounds so… whiny. Other people in this comment thread have made the gentle case for you about why you are wrong here, so I’m just going to call you out for making racism All About You. Which it isn’t. No one cares if Tony Jones is or is not racist. They just want to participate in stopping it. If you get called out once or twice for being racist and you don’t think it’s fair, go cry to your significant other or something. Don’t fuel the feeble feeble fires of White Male victimhood on the interweb.

  • Yes, your statement was highly racially insensitive. I’d be surprised, but given your attitude toward women, I’m not.

    Your statement totally ignored the history of Western protestantism’s collusion with political colonialism. Syncretic interpretations of Christianity can (and in my academic opinion, should) be read as native resistance to this colonialism. It’s the native’s effort to transform Christianity into a social force that it is less directly antagonistic to indigenous belief systems.

    That history is behind the anger to your remarks and if you’re going to blithely ignore that history and, instead, play the victim, yes. You are a racist.


    Someone with a master’s in postcolonial theory (which you clearly need to read).

  • edwardsmarkc

    As a American, white, male, I am interesting in the broader conversation about language and race, and I am learning things. As it relates to Tony and what he said at the conference, is he or is he not to be held accountable for what he actually said? Is even his use of “better” in the context of the point he was making a subtle indicator of racism or does the correction from “best” to “better” make his statement a non-example? Help me out here.

  • Not only do I agree with the argument you were making (and, as you said, make frequently) I don’t see how she can extrapolate such a litany of indictments based on your judgment that your notion of the gospel is better than Mark Driscol’s gospel. I listened to your points from Subverting the Norm on Homebrewed while jogging and never would’ve had that takeaway.

  • Kim

    Reading this post reminded me of going to a conference many years ago and joining with women there who were outraged over the lack of inclusion of women into leadership. We met together, fought the good fight, and at the final session, a male participant stood up to applaud our efforts. Not long ago, I sat in on a panel of theologians, one of whom was a feminist theologian, and her language was a throw-back to the approach I remember from decades ago. During her talk, I kept wondering if we haven’t moved an inch, or are we too stuck in our old ways of addressing issues of sexism. As an unabashed feminist, I want to work with my male allies, to be direct with what troubles me but in a way that moves us forward, not shames. Any other method, it seems to me, tears us apart with no real benefit and no progress.

  • “In my live comments at that conference, I made a point that I’ve made in several public addresses over the last year: conservative, Reformed, penal substitutionary, anti-gay, anti-women evangelicals have been consistently kicking our asses in the public square. They proudly proclaim their theological convictions with certainty and volume.”

    This is worth all the ego and stuff you say I can’t stand. Stay after it! And yes- progressive on progressive is the worst fight- while Mark Driscoll starts another 34 sites.

  • Michael Jordan

    Is this post some sort of satire, or some sort of avant garde work of art I don’t completely get, a self-immolation by blog? Literally EVERY TIME I comment here on issues about sexuality, I ask Tony to consider how his whiteness might color his perspective about the inevitable tide of history. As if that weren’t enough, THE VERY LAST POST ON THIS BLOG was about how being straight, white and male will no longer be normative in the way we interpret our experience as Americans. Then this, which shows such a tin ear toward a woman of color that I don’t know where to begin. I should keep from piling on, because I think it’s already been a long enough day for the good Dr. Jones, but I’m even more wary now of believing that his culturally conditioned instincts are the “right side of history.”

    • If a post by me can cause you to disregard my thoughts on other issues, then the fact that you work at a college that frowns upon dancing must be enough for me to disregard your comment.

      That seems fair, right?

      • Michael Jordan

        I’m not sure what Houghton’s history with dancing has to do with it at all. I think you are saying that if I’m associated with people who are (have been) wrong about one thing, then it is foolish to think that I must be wrong about everything. That is true.

        However, your perspective about sexuality directly rests on your (from my perspective) narrow view of history and the church. You sense that we are in the middle of a huge tidal wave about same-sex attraction precisely because to you, Global South Christians are not really real in any meaningful way, probably because they have no “cultural capital” to Western culture-makers. I have critiqued this view as ethnocentric and ignorant of the way the church thrives in the Global South and is shriveling in the West. The histories (and especially the church histories) that people will be writing and reading a hundred years from now will not be written by white people, and they might not treat lgbt issues in a way that you expect they will. I am suspicious of your assumption that you are on the right side of history because you seem unaware that history might be written by people with a different perspective than you; this interaction with Dr. Cleveland heightens my suspicion.

        We just had a baby a few days ago, for which I’m thankful, but I’m also aware I’m cranky though, so forgive any unkind tone to this post. I am extremely aware this must be a difficult day of wading through criticism for you, which never is a fun task.

        • Yes, you are being quite a bit less kind than you usually are in our disagreements.

          For me to come to a different stance on issues of sexuality vis a vis the Bible does NOT mean that I’m writing off opinions of Christians in the Global South. Nor do I have a narrow view of church history.

          To the contrary, I have said time and time again that when a modern day Christian like me breaks with the historic church on a topic (sexuality, the Trinity, the angel Moroni, whatever), then the burden of proof is on the one who is breaking. I realize the burden of proof is on me, theologically, when I support homosexuals over against the historic church (and over against you).

          Nevertheless, I am convinced that I am on the right side of history. I’ve done my theological work on this issue, and I’m confident in my position, wrong though I may turn out to be.

          • Michael Jordan

            I am sorry for being unkind.

      • Edmund Edmonds

        Dude. Are you *trying* to seem painfully nit-picky and small-minded? Some other people on here are engaging you as though at some point in your career you might have been someone who had thoughtful, interesting and perhaps even important things to say. However, *none* of that is coming through in your posts on this blog.

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  • RJAxtell

    Oh. My. Goodness. Stop the presses. A highly-educated American straight white male has to watch what he says and think before he speaks. Welcome to the club. Women, people of color, LGBTQs, poor people, etc. have been doing it for millennia.

    • Lila

      Pretty sure that’s not what was said.

  • Well, you’re operating with a pretty conservative notion of race by the very fact of asserting white folks can experience racism in the first place. You’ve already missed any issues of power or structure or white supremacy, so yeah, can’t say I’m surprised this is your response, then.

    Also, I don’t understand how you keep trying to tell folks you’re on the same side as them. Like, how do you know that? If this is your response to critique re: racism, I think you might need to do some thinking about what ends you imagine in regards to why one ought to fight racism before you assume you are on the same side as folks cause clearly there is a large disconnect.

    • IntegralShaman

      Right, because white people can’t experience racism. So, for example, these folks who were beaten savagely almost exclusively for being white weren’t experiencing racism.


      • Edmund Edmonds

        White people *can* experience race-based discrimination, but they *can’t* experience racism in the (somewhat technical) sense it is being used in (most of) this discussion. To understand this better, check this out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism#Sociological

        • IntegralShaman

          Honestly, the article seems to mingle a series of streams of thought on this issue together. But even if we define “racism” as being connected to systematic elements of privilege, etc. then I don’t think that’s true anymore. There are certainly places in the world where whites have been removed from those central places of power, which are now occupied by those of other races. And in some of those places, (such as perhaps Zimbabwe or the former Rhodesia, and in some part South Africa) whites now clearly experience persecution and disempowerment based largely on their race.

          Truthfully, I find it too academic of a distinction. There isn’t a race, gender, or faith on this planet that hasn’t been persecuted by others at some point simply BECAUSE of those qualities, although that persecution has wildly varied in degree and extent. The concept that whites alone cannot experience this, regardless of what is said or done to them, is just more racism, regardless of the subtlety with which it is nuanced.

          Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.

          • Edmund Edmonds

            If you’re a white American (which I cannot imagine you are not), you can stop worrying about racism *and* (except in a few tiny, extremely rare instances) racial discrimination against you or yours that amounts to anything. And you can stop trying to distract conversations about the real problem of pervasive racism with the few hypothetical examples that you can imagine. And also you can stop being indignant about the fact that racism against American whites could possibly exist in some imaginable future or parallel universe and so it’s just so awful that people always think about white on black racism when they think about racism.

            • IntegralShaman

              Thanks! I appreciate your giving me permission to stop worrying about those things. In return, you can stop imagining that all this whining will ever change the fact that the fact that oppressors have produced some of the most beautiful, valuable, singular contributions in every field of endeavor imaginable. Rome made great aqueducts. Persia produced a great many fine poets. Germany made one hell of a tank. That’s because all people have at some point been oppressors. And those who’ve had little opportunity to be so are, in general, just waiting for their chance to roll around.

              That reality aside, Tony Jones is not a racist. Simply asserting that one’s thinking or art or recipe for split pea soup is superior to someone else’s isn’t racist, or any other “ist”. It is the simple and clear recognition that natural hierarchies do exist, and that we participate in them. Value judgments may be relative; that doesn’t mean all values are the same. Mother Teresa’s values were better than those of Adolf Eichmann, my skill at math exceeds that of my four-year-old son, and the finest of Western Christianity is better than the finest of Aztec child sacrifice.

              • Edmund Edmonds

                … And my skill at deploying rhetoric exceeds yours. For example I can tell that saying that “the finest of Western Christianity is better than the finest of Aztec child sacrifice” is contentless and useless in any sort of argument and I can tell that when you attempt to imply that I (or anyone like me) believe that “all values are the same” that you are engaging in a meaningless straw-man argument and I can maintain an argument about what constitutes “racism” without deviating into unrelated arguments about whether people who are “oppressors” ever do neato things with technology.

                I mean really (on that last point) what *are* you trying to argue? Far from whining about the contributions of imperial cultures, I’m thrilled that Romans moved water around (Good job, Romans!). Congratulations, Persian poets! Good going with those marvelous mustaches, Southern Plantation Owners of the early 19th century!

                However, it as also quite possible for non-oppressor or less-oppressor cultures to make contributions to our collective good. What the good people in this argument are trying to help folks like you understand is that you needn’t mourn the passing of your hegemonic power. Good stuff will continue to be created. You needn’t fall on your sword defending the notion that all the good you create is pure as the driven snow.

                In the end though, it doesn’t matter. People who defend racism, who prop up sexism, who claim that pernicious discrimination doesn’t exist are going to continue to lose. Diversity is the future. Powerful women are the future. Powerful people of color are the future. And, unlike you, I do not share your presumption that this will automatically result in the oppression of the new minorities. Governments across the world over the last 300 years have continuously (with regular steps backward, too) become more inclusive, more protective of minority groups, more willing to embrace difference.

                I can see from other comments that Tony has made that he is interested in seeing this appreciation of minority groups and viewpoints increase. Which is why many of us are spending our time trying to help him see that whining about someone in a conference calling one of his arguments racist isn’t something worth whining about.

  • kursonis

    Tony, I know you personally, I’ve seen you make important leadership decisions over time and I’ve defended you many times, as well as promoted you towards others for your many gifts. However, one area that remains a massive black hole in your world, is that you have not fully grasped systemic racism and white privilege – and I’ve seen that up close and personal numerous times. I’m sure you’ve read plenty, and have some intellectual grasp on some bit of it, but you consistently behave in ways that prove you do not yet get it. I have been looking for an opportunity to talk to you about this for years, and here it finally is, and since you live online I guess it’s the appropriate place.

    Just the whole existence of this post is like a gigantic neon sign glaring, “I do not get it yet, please come help me”. I know you don’t understand, probably in this area your utter brilliance (not joking) is not your friend.

    You have lived your whole life in a super homogenous upper middle class white area…and you have not had enough experiences of being mentored by people of color.

    The whole thing with white privilege and systemic racism is it’s not personal. It’s not that you are a racist with pro-white and anti-black thoughts running around your little mind (in this area, yes, little), but that you are privileged in ways that don’t require you to consider diverse viewpoints, and when you then act out of that privilege and say things which people of color find excluding, you are propping up racism in your ignorance. And the whole path toward being an ally- a white person intent on deconstructing white privilege is that when people tell you that you said something privileged and excluding, that is a major blessed moment, your eyes should go wide with joy and you should be trembling with excitement that you can’t believe your lucky stars for having this opportunity to do some good deconstruction! You should be giddy with joy overflowing, almost pentecostal and ready to start dancing over such a blessed opportunity to grow and change. If you were an ally in solidarity, that post would have been seen by you as a gift. A gift to learn from. But because you still don’t get it, a critical post pissed you off and you went off on some Clintonian parsing to defend yourself.

    The whole point of her post which documents her response to your words in your speech is that once again in her life for reasons you don’t need to fully understand just yet, she felt excluded (and as a thoughtful leader in her community knew others would too). Now maybe someday if you spend enough time with enough people who aren’t privileged like you, maybe you will be able to understand why she felt that way, but it will take time, in the meantime, you should just listen and learn. You need to be like an alcoholic who admitting there is a problem, goes and gets a sponsor and begins a disciplined approach to daily meetings,etc. to try to have a chance to overcome. You need a few people of color mentors in your life over the next few years to walk with you and help you see what you simply do not see yet. And you might want to get Doug to do the same thing, seriously, he’s worse than you, and probably acts as an enabler.

    note for viewers: I was one of the leaders of Emergent Village and was there when we came under big time fire for being too white, male and suburban and began to grapple with that reality…much grappling, many attempts at good decisions, much ignorance forcing ultimately bad decisions…and a few good ones…points for good intentions, but a lack of a deep awareness of all I wrote above prevailed.

    • Why not start a dialoguing-listening partnership between Emergent-Village-Church, Tony, Doug, and others with the Bethel Antiracism and Reconciliation Commission at Bethel University since they’re all in MN? – http://www.bethel.edu/about/diversity

  • gentry13

    Tony, never stop raising your questions. Appreciate your perspective and (most of) the subsequent conversation.

  • Shirla

    So, as a Jewish clergy person, the emergent church is not a subject that I am greatly aware of. As a Cantor what I am powerfully aware of is spiritual power of the voice and how it is used. I wanted to share with you that your voice and the way you are using it is doing a disservice to anything that you are saying. There is a certain amount of arrogance that you convey with the tone of voice that your using that makes much of what you say sound offensive irrespective of what you are saying. When you get accused of being a racist, or misogynist, etc, you may not realize that you are vocally embodying a level of representation of racists and misogynists through the complete lack of humility that is conveyed by the way you are using your voice with a type of authority that is associated with acquiring power or a certain type of agressive stand up comedy that often includes a level of racism and sexism as its modus operandi. As a clergy person, or a religious scholar you are inhabiting a very different space and acces to peoples deep values. If you speak to them with the cadence and the agression and arrogance, and loud tone of a stand up comic- you are going to get the same criticism that comics who think that they can say whatever they want how ever they want. If you don’t want to change- it won’t matter what you are actually saying. If you want to be the Adam Carrola of the Church… so be it….but you know what they say about attracting folks with vinegar. If you can struggle with this, then the next step is to also look at whether there is true humility in the content of what you are saying.

  • jimcan

    Lots of straining gnats, while swallowing a cow. Lots of “I am not a rascist” while hoping people will not react to the root message, as the author tidily puts groups of God’s children in neat boxes with walls built of what others are not. Categories such as “straight white male”, “nones”, and “regnant” push people apart and are divisive. Phrases such as “better version of the gospel”, “our version of the gospel” and “loyal to this tribe” seem like a rallying cry, until you actually consider who is called to be either an insider or an outsider in this sentence;

    “If our version of the gospel is to stand a chance, particularly among the “nones,” then we’ve got to stick together in spite of our doctrinal/theological/philosophical differences”.

    What is “our version of the gospel”, if we are diverse in our doctrine, theology, and philosophy? What is there to stick together to? The very phrase, “imperfection of our diversity” is completely counter to the Spirit that allowed each person to hear the good news clearly, without confusion, in the language of their choice.

  • Shirla

    See your vocal quality at 1:28:30 in your conversation about Mother Theresa to see how it shifts to a tone that allows you to be heard vs. many of your earlier conversations.

    I think in our struggle to understand each other particularly on issues of race and gender and class identities we should have the permission to ask questions- even questions that may stumble and make us look bad- but only if we are truly interested in the answer- but if we speak in a way that expresses a question as an authoritative judgmental statement then we are not conveying a desire to understand but to express your authority on a subject and just seek a cosigner. If the subject of the opinion is based on the experiences of people of color or poor people, they themselves must be seen as the greatest authority of their own experience no matter how much education we have- particularly because for much of history they were denied that right. To not acknowledge that is to repeat the mistakes of previous generations who privileged certain academics over those who were immersed in the experience themselves

  • EP

    Perhaps it would be better to not single out southern Pentecostalism. I prefer to say that the Christian movement in total is borderline moronic and filled with emotionally driven people who gave up pursuing the truth of Jesus long ago. It settled (as religion always has) for control and comfort and certainty rather then pursuit of the one who created all things. It would be far less racist to just explain the larger mess of Christian faith. Of course, those that do are always killed!!! (See the prophets, read about Jesus, study Christian history, read Christian blogs…)

  • The implication of the progressive/”incarnational” movement is that you’ve moved on to a higher plane of theology!

    Paul warned about this in his letters that there is no “secret knowledge” yet, you persist in teach us all that orthodoxy (at least the last 1900 years +) is faulty and needs to be moved past.

    The simple truth is that there are more Christians in Africa than there are in the West, and these folks seem to adhere to a theology that you’re beyond. And…here “we” go again: “we have a better version of the gospel”. How do you THINK that sounds?

    And…to talk about “meaning”? Give me a break! Perhaps, she was playing your game, the same game in which you talk about Paul’s lack of understanding of modern concepts like gender issues and/or homosexuality.

    But, I get it. You’ve left us behind. Maybe someday, we’ll be just as smart as you and “on the right side of history.”

  • Tony, I feel for you. As a white, straight, educated male, it is hard to be called (directly or by implication) racist or misogynist. I’ve been there. I still am way too often. But those accusations (if I can call them that), come from somewhere and it behoves us to understand – with empathy – where they come from.

    In your statement, “we have a better version of the gospel”, you claim that the obvious question is “better than whose?” The question that first came to my mind was “Who is ‘we’?” Let me suggest that _perhaps_ THIS was the question on your interlocutor’s mind, and that she did not feel included in your “we”.

    Not to be overly self-serving, but let me offer to you and your readers a great organization (that I work for), http://RootsOfJusticeTraining.org – an anti-racism and anti-oppression training organization. Many people find our analysis really helpful.

  • Tony, for starters (and speaking only for myself of course), I’m confident you’re not a racist. Not that my opinion matters either way. But that goes directly to my next point: you have a penchant for overreacting to people’s opinions about you. Negative opinions in particular (you never seem to take criticism very well). I understand wanting to correct someone’s error in misstating your words and meaning, especially when they posit an opinion based on that error. But why make your response so public? Especially when this matter doesn’t appear to have much relevance to anything other than your image (why else title it “I’m tired of being called a racist?”). Many people around the world already know you. They know you’re not a racist. And you know you’re not a racist. So while I understand why this would matter to you personally, why should it matter to your readers?

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  • __

  • Just saw this. Looking at everything.

  • When Tony says a ‘better gospel’ I don’t read ‘a better white male gospel’ in that. Quite frankly he’s right. There are versions of the gospel I have found to be downright destructive and a source of apathy in my own community where I labor as a pastor. I don’t see the controversy here. Somebody help me.

  • Patrick

    Welcome to what life is like as a political conservative. Can’t be against spendthrift economics, disastrous tax increases or rotten cronyism without being labeled a racist. From the president on down. Look up Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement. Might make you feel better.

  • Diversity of theological perspectives does not necessarily translate, for me, into a more just world. Diversity as the telos of said justice needs to take into consideration the character of such diversity. All gospels are not beautiful. Some gospels are down right ugly. Having read Tony over the years and the many theological voices that have influenced his own thought I must say I find him a representative, among many, of a better gospel. I don’t find this to be a racist destructive statement. Of course I know Tony’s story.

  • “But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices. We’ve already got the best version of the Gospel and we only needed white, well-educated men to figure it out. Diverse people need not apply.”

    I disagree. Saying we need a better gospel does not mean diverse people need not apply. Again, to use this as a justification for a subtle judgment of Tony being racist is without. substance. Neither do I hear that only white well educated men can figure this out. What I hear in Tony’s statement is that there are gospels in our context that are down right ugly. Just because Tony is the one saying this doesn’t mean he deserves to become a foil for our righteous indignation towards white supremacy. If he says something that is arguably racist he should be called out. I don’t see it here.

    On his response to other’s criticism of his response to being subtly called racist…think about that for a moment. Such charges are extremely damning in our media saturated twitterized world. What do you do when you have been charged with being complicit to a way of being in the world that has been and continues to be responsible for the suffering of untold millions?

    • Edmund Edmonds

      “What do you do when you have been charged with being complicit to a way of being in the world that has been and continues to be responsible for the suffering of untold millions?”

      You apologize. Then you clarify how your views are different from those who are responsible for the suffering. It ain’t hard. It doesn’t need to be painful. You don’t whine about it and nit-pick.

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  • karlkroger

    I may be wrong here, but I’m gonna assume you were including her in your better gospel comment, which makes the two original posts somewhat moot.

    • Yes, I was. And, after getting to know her between the conference and now, that assumption seemed justified.

  • johnokeefe

    i have been known to call out tony when i disagree with him, so it is only fair that i speak out when i agree with him. i remember once, when i was about 9 years old, my father took me to the local pub [being irish, this is a norm] and a man at the bar got into a heated argument with my father [being an irish pub, this is also a norm] and my father said, “are you mad at what i said, or what you think i said?”

    i tend to think we spend too much time arguing over what we think others say, and not what they say.

  • Sarah

    Many are suggesting it is valid for Dr.Cleveland to voice what she heard in Tony’s language, even if she possibly misperceived his intent. I agree. Especially in an academic context where critique and diversity of opinion is to be expected. By those same principles, though, it seems to me you also have to affirm the inverse: that it is also valid for Tony to respond by voicing what he heard in Dr.Cleveland’s language, even if–as you have said–he possibly misperceived her intent as well. Honesty from both parties is in fact probably required for this conversation to lead to deepened awareness.

    I am grateful for those of you who have worked hard to develop empathy and equalize others whose position in life you may not share, particularly when that included oppressed or marginalized people. If you have already learned to show compassion and respect in that context, perhaps the ways in which your grace has room to grow is in your response toward people like Tony. Maybe if Tony is your “other”, the person who you have a hard time respecting (as some seem to have said), then there is opportunity to learn to humanize an intellectual, straight, white–and yes, even privileged–male and to validate that he too has emotions and frustrations to voice (and good, kind qualities) that do not disappear just because he has a couple Ivy League degrees in a box somewhere.

    I’m a white female who is well aware I have never experienced many of the kinds or levels of oppression some have. I’ve still been thankful (and taught much about grace) when leaders in those groups didn’t dismiss me because of my own in-born traits but found space in their hearts to try to understand what shaped me. I’m grateful they didn’t see my whiteness or straightness or any other factor as cause to create an exception to their conviction that human beings should respect each other.

    • Yes, Sarah, if Cleveland can use my talk to make a larger point, it seems that I can use her post to make a larger point.

      As I’ve said in other comments, calling someone a racist — or even implying it — is an incredibly powerful thing to do in our current climate.

      • Edmund Edmonds

        Yes. And you apologizing for it and clarifying how you disavow being racist would be equally powerful. You whining about being called a racist and nit picking about grammar is not powerful, not persuasive.

      • Chris

        We’re going on at least a half dozen times that you have used the excuse of “Well they did it first, so it makes it ok for me to do it.”

        You really wonder why people think that you don’t want reconciliation, or are too harsh, or unsafe to talk to, or pretty much any of the criticisms that people level against you?


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  • Anthony Bradley

    Tony, I think she meant to call you “arrogant” (as an American). I’m not saying that you are but it seems to me that she was confused on what offended her based on her explaination. “American” vs. “Latin American” is not about race but it could be about American ideological imperialism. I think had she called you “arrogant as American (who thinks that America has the best blah, blah) we’d be having a better conversation.

  • Hey Tony, 3 quick things: a disclaimer, a question, and a resource.

    Disclaimer: I’ve appreciated following your thoughts over the years, starting from when emergent was first emerging. Unlike some here who know you well in both the virtual and non-virtual world though, I don’t know you from Adam. I have no basis for evaluating your motives; there’s really only one who can see this most clearly. So please understand that, for me, I’ve no interest in this aspect of racism being discussed here. I take you at your word in describing your intentions for your words/actions, as I hope you will take mine. The meaning and reasons for what I say, however, is only one side of this racism, white privilege in the U.S. coin. So take this question in the gentle spirit I offer it…

    Question: How many times have you been called a racist? By your post I understand at least 2x in the past two years? Again, I assume since I don’t know you at all there probably are more instances. But I bet the number is far less than how many times someone with non-white skin has had individual (DWB) or systemic racist experiences. I ask my question because I wonder if answering it will clarify some of the points others make here. Saying “I’m tired” of being engaged on the structural aspects of racism in the church and U.S.* is one of several typical responses of whites to discussions of the sources and consequences of privilege. (*I understand that in your post it doesn’t seem you intend to focus on this, although it seems that was the focus of Cleveland.) I wonder if some of the response you’re receiving here comes from the disparity others see in your “tiredness” of this experience of skin color (race) privilege compared to non-whites experiences of it? Personally, I’ve found Allan Johnson’s book, “Privilege, Power, and Difference” very helpful for understanding this distinction. It’s a short, fast, and easy read with some profound implications.

    Resource: Chris Lahr’s Mission Year blog series: What White People Can Do About Racism – https://missionyear.org/chrislahr/are-you-colorblind/
    I’ve found this helpful for me to see and own my privilege. I’m an American heterosexual WASP academic; if I had a lot more money I couldn’t be much more privileged in US society. Chris is a white guy from a white Indiana town with a racist history. He’s helped me better understand my privilege, its consequences (structural racism and my passive racism), and my connection to it.

    Thanks for posting this so we could discuss this important aspect of our life together in the church and US. If anything, that’s a very good thing, and much more of what need in my view. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though. I understand it’s probably uncomfortable finding yourself in the center of it. I wish you grace, peace, and shalom.

  • corvelay

    And the self-destructive world of social justice claims yet another ally.

    • IntegralShaman


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  • I am tired of being called “bald.”

    • corvelay


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  • sblasco

    “Her entire post is premised on something that I did not say and a sentiment that I do not hold…”

    followed almost immediately by:

    “conservative, Reformed, penal substitutionary, anti-gay, anti-women evangelicals…”

    Pot, kettle, etc.

  • Mark Kearney

    Wow! I can’t believe some of these comments. People crying racist. Really!? So the identification of a certain type of theology that comes largely from a different race, being weaker, is now racist? REALLY!? Guys, we need to stop this nonsense. It would never happen the other way round. We have to get over ourselves and the colour of our skins. Start living for Christ and loving each other and stop crying racism.

  • Adele Henderson

    Words can, and most are ambiguous and we never know how our words will rest on someone’s ear. That said, even if Ms. Cleveland heard you incorrectly her feelings were hurt and she was offended. As a woman having an advanced degree but work with people with much less education than mind I can read this post and see how these 2 women you speak of can feel dis-regarded and being made an example of because they were offended. Just as you have a right to your feelings and opinions so do they. Is it really that difficult to simply apologize? And can you search out your thoughts and feelings rather than react to words that make you uncomfortable?

  • Matt Foster

    Oh dear god where even to begin…


    Read, mark, and inwardly digest.

  • matybigfro

    Been thinkin on this some time, was your statement Racist. Probably not, Was it wrong, probably. Was it a big a problem as this blog post, no.

    Reading behind the lines I’m pretty sure that you didn’t want Cleveland to feel excluded, I’m pretty sure you value the voice she brings to the conversation and tribe. So my big question is upon discovering that she did feel alienated and unwanted (something I’m sure that you could empathise with and have experienced before) where is the remorse? Not for being racist but for failing to communicate to someone for whom I’m sure you would want to included to have not felt included in your pronouncement. Why is your first impulse to blame her and cry foul rather than comiserate a missunderstanding, express remorse and clarify what you were wanting to communicate.

  • James Johnson

    I have to admit the irony of this post and comment stream is awfully powerful.

    I think here we see the fruit of western theology and it’s discourse. In my experience with pentecostals in South America and India for example i have seen a culture and Church who is most concerned with preaching Christ crucified, praying for the sick, helping the poor and needy, and working out their salvation with fear and trembling. They are soft and willing to be changed by God. They are passionate and not ashamed of the gospel. And they are thankful for the body of Christ around the world in its many expressions.

    May they be protected from the fruit of the spirit of this age on display here in the selfish , childish navel gazing western culture. People most interested in semantics. People not yet set free from the guilt of their privilege, their history and heritage. People more concerned with their exalted viewpoints than experiencing the overwhelming joy of being His beloved in the way our South American, African and Indian brothers and sisters do.

    It is possible we would be better served singing with hands raised in unison with our ‘pentecostal’ brothers and sisters than arguing the finer points as to why our ethnic camp has the most legitimate view on racism.

    And in those days ethnos shall rise against ethnos. Why do we participate in the things of this world, when Christ paid the price that we may now participate fuly in the kingdom of our father?


    Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see god. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons and daughters of god.


  • nomoredevil

    Actually, by introducing this with “be loyal to your tribe,” the natural interpretation of “better” would be “better than all the other tribes.” That net would reach beyond just one version of American Christianity.

  • pthalomarie

    The preachers who founded the core doctrines of Pentecostalism were all white, and Pentecostalism itself is rooted it the teachings of John Wesley It’s an American theology based on an English preacher. So the whole debate is based on a poor knowledge of history.

  • laloba

    Given the disgraceful history of this country. I agree that this country was built on the backs of minorities. But we are here, now, in the 21st century. Yes, racism still exists in many forms. However, I disagree with individuals who blanket the brand, “racist” with anyone who disagrees with logical circumstances. Aren’t these agitators capable of having a dialogue with those who have legitimate arguments? It seems easy not to listen- just call the person a racist and that is all you need. By the way, I detest the likes of Rush “Oxycontin” Limbaugh. I am a thinker and an observer. And, I am biracial, and a victim of racism. Racism from both sides, black and white.

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