Its my holiday and I don’t really want to be writing. But what in the world are holi-days really for?
White supremacists gather in Charlottesville.
The gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA at the University of Virginia over this past weekend screams out as reminder of the spiritual battle for human hearts. The delusion of race + supremacy powerfully overtakes the human heart and fills it with death. This gathering shed light on the violence we are capable of when identification as victims and a latent anger is mined by leaders. White supremacy is so wrong, its not right. It violates the Gospel of Jesus and opposes not only His teaching but His very identity. Sure, I don’t have to be offended that people I don’t agree with may have sought to gather legally under the guise of free speech and political discourse because of plans regarding a statue. However, I am offended, and I do have to advance that the notion of white supremacy which is motivating and undergirding these people is morally and theologically wrong.
Stepping out of my most segregated hour.
I am follower of Jesus Christ, I am a man, and I am white. I grew up in “The South.” But a research project twenty seven years ago opened me up to the power of the Gospel and the need to actively engage in its barrier-busting boundary-crossing work.
During my senior year at the University of Georgia, I was granted permission by the speech communications professor of my social movements class to unpack a question: Why are there so many different culture-specific churches when the movement of the Gospel is supposed to be the gathering of the ethne under Jesus Christ? I’m forever grateful to this professor who did not have to approve my “religious project” but took a chance on it anyway. I was exploring the questions of difference and sameness, unity and autonomy. I was able to delve into the work of theology and sociology for the first time. And I was able to explore my own sense of race, culture, and language to appreciate the power these constructs hold in our lives.
At the time McGavern’s homogenous unit principle was the dominant influence in the church planting and missions realm. The idea of multi-cultural churches was just being explored in some urban areas. The American church was notable because of its most segregated hour status, 11 AM on Sundays. This was especially true in my network of churches called the Southern Baptist Convention. Anything other than an English gathering was known as a “language church” or a “Black church.” I had never experienced the global array of “church gatherings.” I really only knew the gathering of either white middle-class people or white mountain people.
For a whole term I gathered Sunday after Sunday with a variety of churches and recorded my observations from participation in African American known then as “Black churches,” Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese congregations. I was an outsider by language and culture, but I was also a member via our family connection in Christ Jesus our Lord. His body and blood purchased our inclusion in His Church. While my work was likely sophomoric, the experience and effort created a persistent and rich trajectory of cultural engagement and appreciation. From then on, I understood that as a white person I was also an ethnic, a member of the nations, a participant in a people group. I was just one among many in the world God is redeeming.
Becoming comfortable with insider – outsider experiences and the tension they create.
My awareness of the insider – outsider experience was weighted by the experiences of my parents. My Catholic father who had immigrated from Northern Ireland to Canada and then to the States as an engineer knew what it was to be an outsider. My Protestant mother who was raised in Appalachia but had traveled across the United States in her educational and work pursuits and taught in a diverse city school also knew what it was to be an outsider. Their stories shaped my childhood. I also had my own insider-outsider experiences growing up in a mostly racially segmented bedroom community of Atlanta. I had a fuzzy awareness that the KKK still occupied the county next door but my family would have nothing to do with it. All the while though, an unspoken question germinated in my soul,”Why is my church made up of all white people when our neighbourhood is not?”
My research paper for that Speech Communications course at UGA opened up a whole new world for me. I began learning how to wrestle with the tension created when my theological ideals and vision encounter sociological and historical realities.
Leading in racial diversity under Christ Jesus.
For the past 27 years, the ministries I’ve been called to lead have all graciously become or advanced as gatherings of people from diverse backgrounds. We have reflected in some ways the diversity of our neighbourhoods. I have been concerned and had to act on behalf of our members when they experience bias, whether it be inherent or aggressively active.
Adoption has also ushered me into the experience of being a minoritised and racialised family living in Vancouver. I have had to wrestle with the advantages “babylon” grants to those “in power” and the “disadvantages” built into her system often on the biases of race. I have had to wonder if my children would be harassed, disadvantaged, and even attacked because of the colour of their skin or their outsider status in some gatherings. And I’ve been able to delight in the imperfect but hopeful way the ministries I’ve been a part of have advanced the unity available to us at the foot of Jesus’ Cross.
The church has its unity in the blood and body of Christ. Our view of humanity is shaped by our common Creator who is the Father of All. And the Holy Spirit fuels active neighbourology in the Church by pouring HIs love into our hearts. I earnestly desire the members of Origin Church, where I serve now in the UBC campus to be thoughtful and active lovers of God and people. I grieve that members of our community feel the uneasy weight, threat, and pain of people motivated by the delusion of racial superiority and fear that they will be targets. I am angry that some in the Charlottesville crowd would dress up white supremacy as Christian. However, I’m not ashamed of the Gospel nor will I let shame keep us from having a conversation.
So lets talk about it.
Notes: I have been reading and there are several streams of thought echo here.
I break this fast in order to participate in God’s call expressed in Isaiah 58.
The WestCoast Baptist Association voted to denounce the alt-right and white supremacy.
Brian McLaren was in Charlottesville on the weekend and writes about his experience and observations.
UVA administration talk about their experience of the Saturday evening march.
Brene Brown went on Facebook Live, “we need to keep talking about Charlottesville.”