Gracism and Racism

Anderson defines racism as ‘speaking, acting or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on that person’s color, class or culture’ in Gracism. It is productive to add an aspect of power on the part of the racist that extends over the oppressed but we can continue in our discussion of David’s book without it. In beginning to lay the foundation of his ideas, Anderson begins by making the case logically and theologically that inclusion within the body of Christ makes sense in this day and age. Not only does the Bible make a clear case for reaching out to all people but it also makes clear our reliance on one another.

The excursus of 1 Corinthians 12 begins with an observation of Paul’s insertion of a reference to race and culture in verse 13:

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greek, slave or free–and we were all give the one Spirit to drink.

The apostle didn’t casually mention the union of all members of the body and then toss in this reference to race and culture. In fact, it can be argued that this applies a filter through which the remaining verses of this pericope are to be read. A new reading of the verses 14-27 points us to action; anyone who may feel, look or truly be ‘unpresentable’ or ‘weaker’ must be handled, and even honored, differently. The Church body should never be content with those that surround them, they must constantly be looking toward the fringes looking to include other parts of the body who something to contribute to God’s mission.

We as the body are confronted with questions that derive from this idea. We must ask ourselves first if our church, small group, or Bible class represents a group that Christ would assemble, being inclusive as He was. We must confront our choices by asking if we are perpetuating segregation among Christians and simply justifying it with my preferences and comfort? Those who militate for multi-ethnic churches within the Body must prepare for disagreement. Anderson recounts an attack from an African American man who felt that his message was against the black church, calling him a menace. His reply is stark where he says:

I’ve never read a text of Scripture that outlines God’s design for a one-race church….As much as I love the black church and at times miss it, there will be no black church in heaven. There will be one church and it will be multicultural. One bride, not a harem, is what Jesus is coming back for.”

A sobering thought for those who insist on continuing in unicultural ministry. Are you truly reflecting your Lord?

An Introduction to Gracism

book coverI’ve put this off for some time because discussions of the racialized Church that I have been involved in have devolved along the lines of Emerson’s conclusion in Divided by Faith: Caucasians can never understand any other race because of the blinders of their “dominant” position in the world. I don’t believe that to be correct and, for now, we’ll leave it to another day. I’m going to start a new series discussing the ideas in David Anderson’s new book Gracism: The Art of Inclusion. Anderson is the Pastor of Bridgeway Community and the author of two other highly recommended volumes, Letters Across the Divide and Multicultural Ministry. In his latest work, David offers an encouraging way of bridging ethnic and racial divides within the Church that works around the analogy of the body that Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 12. Anderson expands on the idea that every member of the body needs every other member and that none are to be minimized or excluded. Especially applicable to the overall theme are verses 22 and 23:

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.

What separates David’s thinking about race is that he views racial problems as being equal opportunity. All people, regardless of skin color, can be racist because it is a sin, not just skin, problem and because of this endemic sin, everyone can also be a victim of this evil. He says “There must be an answer to dotism [racism & bigotry of all types] that doesn’t leave people feeling left out, judged and discriminated against. … There must be a theological response to racism in the culture and racial segregation in the church. Right? There is–its’s gracism.”

The Lovings Were Heroes of Change

On June 12, 1967 the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the Loving decision and changing the history of interracial marriage forever. This decision has had long reaching effects, not just for my own family in which two families are bi-racial, but for the 3.8% of all marriages that have chosen to cross the once taboo boundaries. At the time that Richard and Mildred Loving were married, their union was prohibited by state law and they were subject to incarceration for breaking out of the constraints of race and following their heart. They certainly would have lived out of the spotlight given the opportunity but their name will forever be remembered as the catalyst for change that so many are thankful for today.

The Association for Multiethnic Americans has a brief piece here.

An Associated Press article on Mrs. Loving and her story here.

Contributions of the Asian Church

A theologian who I have read and respected for some time, Simon Chan, is interviewed in the June 2007 issue of Christianity Today. The theme of the piece is missional theology and one question in particular challenged some long held beliefs about ethnic churches. The interviewer, Andy Crouch, asks What does the Asian church have to contribute to our understanding of discipleship and mission?

I believe the traditional Asian family structure, with its emphasis on extended family and authority within the family, could be very helpful to the Western church and its tendency to atomize the Christian community into autonomous individuals. Western people have great difficulty understanding that a hierarchical structure is not necessarily opposed to individual freedom. They tend to think of hierarchy as an arrangement of domination. But that is not the way we see it in Asia.

There is much to be said for a restoration of the community ethic within our churches. Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on the idea of our ‘personal’ relationship with Christ, damaging the notion that we are created for community and hindering our acquisition of the theology that derives from it.

Getting the Gospel Right: Restoring Community

Scot McKnight confronts our gospel of individuality and the problems that derive from it over at Out of Ur. He asks:

What then is Christian spirituality? It is the person who is restored to God, to self, to others and the world – all four directions for all time – by a gospel that emerges from a “communal God” (the Trinity) to create a community that reflects who God is. Do we preach a gospel that gives rise to holistic restoration and that can create a fully biblical spirituality?

The individuality-gospel that is found in many churches (maybe mine, maybe yours) not only has a damaging effect on our spiritual transformation, it is an incomplete representation of the God we serve. We lose the restored community facet of the good news when our gospel is personal alone. McKnight calls this gospel a parody – it’s painful to think of the label that applies to the poor pastor who presents this kind of message.

What I found intriguing in the light of some discussions I have been involved in this week is this:

Let us not suppose that any of these examples has simplistic explanations, but let us think a little more systemically: if we preach a gospel that is entirely focused on “getting right with God” but which does not include in that presentation that God’s intent is to form a community (the Church) in which restored persons live out this Christ-shaped and Spirit-directed spirituality, then we can expect to hear lots of pulpit rhetoric exhorting us that the Church matters. And, if we discover on Sunday morning that everyone in our church is the same ethnically and economically, we can be sure that we are preaching something that is attracting only those kinds of people. And if we are hesitant to admit the implication of this ethnic, economic reality, then we need to be more honest with ourselves. We get what we preach. And we perform what we preach. How we live reveals the gospel we responded to and the gospel we believe.

Read the whole post and chew on it a bit before responding. Better yet, let the Spirit guide your reading and see what comes of it.

False Assumptions of the Interracial Couple

I’ve managed to alienate a group of brothers and sisters over on another blog by challenging the identity of a church or a Christian that is rooted in any kind of a hyphenated description, Italian-Scottish-English-French-American for example as I would identify my own heritage. While this Balkanization of the American experience is prevalent in the larger culture, my contention was that it had no place in the context of Christ’s church. Gal 3:26-27 says,

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

While this issue is little discussed outside of a place like the United States where, by definition, every church would be a __________-Church, in a culture where by design the culture is intended to blend by assimilation there should be no hyphenated churches.

Attempts were made to dismiss my position first by challenging the validity of my walk in the _____________-American church. After providing my bona fides there was simply silence. The silence didn’t stir me to respond but one final comment by another poster remains troubling. He says in his final words regarding those of us involved in interracial marriages:

As to the challenging question of interethnic marriage (particularly between White and “other”) it seems important to recognize that any minority person has a bi-cultural identity at some level, or is at least able to function biculturally as interaction with the dominant culture in dominant culture ways is really non-optional. For those in the dominant culture, especially males, even if they are married to a member of a minority group, participation in a minority context is always optional.

I hope I’m reading this wrong, especially in the context of the church. Just like the American experiment was intended to work: a new culture created by the assimilation of immigrant cultures into the larger whole creating a new identity and a release of the old identity, the Church that Christ left was also intended to be made of people who had left their previous identities behind and saw themselves as new people. No hyphens, no dominant culture, no racial division voluntary or otherwise. Those who continue to live in either the American or Christian culture but still retain their primary identity with a hyphen are dividing Christ’s people, not uniting them under a new banner as intended.

What is most troubling is the resentment that this writer holds toward the ‘dominant’ culture and we males that inhabit it. By picturing us as oppressors who can voluntarily flit in and out of ‘minority’ culture while our poor ‘other’ spouses must bow to it without choice he exposes his own racism. My wife was born and raised in a foreign country giving her full right to identify with a hyphen, my child who was born and raised here does not. He is a part of the ‘dominant’ culture, contributing to it the best of both his mother and father’s cultures. What other options does he have or need?