Musings of a Postmodern Negro

"During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism."- Howard Thurman

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home) Part 3: Contending with the Principality of Whiteness


For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. - apostle Paul

In Stormfront: The Good News of God, a book that's a part of the Gospel and Our Culture Series, is given an excellent description of these 'principalities and powers' put forth by the apostle Paul:

"Subtle or not so subtle, direct or indirect, overt or covered with layers of pretense, the powers of our world represent profound patters of resistance to the power of God, coming as it has in the form of a cross." (p.x)

Profound patterns of resistance to the power of God as pre-eminently displayed through the cross of Christ. What an excellent way to describe these 'heavenly' realities. Within this past century theologians and pastors have sought to unmask, name, and engage the principalities and powers within our context. In postmodern/emerging church discourse there has been much ado about consumerism, nationalism, foundationalism, constantinianism, etc. Rightfully so! Lord knows such conversations are still in the margins of North American Christianity. There have been some profound reflections on the powers. Stanley Hauerwas' theologizing about the powers that undergird liberal democracy, Jacques Ellul's reflections on technique, John Howard Yoder on the constantinian compromise of the church. All of these voices (and more I am sure) have contributed greatly to these discussions. These theologians and thinkers are gaining a growing readership. A readership that wants to talk and walk out the best of these reflections in our own time.

Yoder, echoing Hendrik Berkhof, teaches us that the principalities and powers referred to in Paul's writings are similar to "religious structures (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures (-ologies and -isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race and nation.

While many Christians would affirm that these 'powers' extend beyond the individual one 'power' often gets reduced to personal prejudice, race-ism. As the authors of Stormfront remind us, these powers can be and are oftentimes subtle in a profound way in how they resist the cross of Christ. Just as many Christians would attest to the 'market' extending beyond individual consumer choices or how the 'state' extends beyond individuals voting and media soundbytes so too with race. That race is a power not unlike the market, the state, ideologies, moral codes, and customs has been given little attention in this kind of discourse. There are several reasons for this I am sure. Perhaps, it is due to the fact that most of the people that theologize about these realities are European American Christians. Which brings me to the issue of the principality of whiteness as an extension of the power of race.

Whiteness, as I will propose in this brief series, is a 'principality' often goes unacknowledged by well-intentioned European American Christians.

What I am not saying here? I am not saying that Jesus needs to get rid of European American Christian...not save us from European American Christians (Although that would have been great for Native Americans, African Slaves, etc.). Neither am I saying that there has been no good brought forth by European American Christians.

What I am saying is that the lack of unmasking, naming, and engaging (to borrow from Walter Wink) the principality of whiteness has had dire consequences for the church in our North American context. The less we engage this principality the less faithful the church will be in making known the manifold wisdom of God to the powers and principalities. The less we are equipped to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God's kingdom. Ultimately, the goal is to be witnesses to the inner life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...participants in the missio Dei.

In his book Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber prophetically declares to us that "the church is to actively witness to the victory of God's redeeming power in a fallen world." The principality of whiteness is a part of that falleness. BTW...what is the nature of this principality named whiteness? That's next. But before you jumped the gun and call me a racist...let us not forget that we are not contending against flesh and blood...I am not contending with European American Christians...I am contending with a power that has used European American Christianity in a way that has made it quite difficult for people to live out their baptism into a new creation and be faithful participants at Eucharist.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Anthony,

I think that you have excellently articulated a reality that many Euro-Western Christians have become complacent about. Recent events are casting a new and disheartening light on this reality, and I am hopeful that it will bring true change. Thank you for your voice in this.

One exception I feel hesitant to make (for I do not want to take away from the importance of this post), but feel I must, is your use of the word "whiteness" to identify the principality. While I understand the intent, I think using this word sends the wrong message. My whiteness- my being a Caucasian Canadian- is a part of my identity, part of who I am, part of that which God created me to be. By identifying this principality with whiteness may inadvertantly communicate that white identity is intrinstically wrong, when in fact it is the ethnocentricity that elevated that identity to a corruptive level.

What are you thoughts on this?

Peace,
Jamie

September 06, 2005 10:01 PM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...

"My whiteness- my being a Caucasian Canadian- is a part of my identity, part of who I am, part of that which God created me to be."

But there is a 'whiteness' that I hope is not a part of your identity or is becoming less a part of your idenity. What I am talking about is the 'whiteness' used by the Powers to create hostility and oppression between peoples. I haven't even started to deal with 'blackness' yet. Many of us in the emerging church conversation talk alot about modernity and its children. One of the children of modernity was 'whiteness'. If you look at the literature of the period you begin to see a construction of a identity held to be superior and normative to all other identities on the globe. When I say 'whiteness' I am referring to that reality. I didn't pick the term 'white'...that was chosen by particular Europeans to describe a culture they assumed was superior to others and normative for others. And whiteness is explicitly used in these images and writings. Growing up in the South you heard about the signs "whites only" or "for coloreds" that existed in the Jim Crow era. I am sure that is a whiteness you don't want to identify with. Also how certain European groups were not deemed 'white' until they assimilated into a particular kind of whiteness. For instance, the Irish. The Irish were considered one step above negros in a particular period in this country. They weren't considered white for a period. White in the sense that they were not a part of a particular hierarchy...near its top. To name this principality 'whiteness' is to de-construct and de-mistify a particular way in which the Powers have positioned a particular cultural group over others.

September 07, 2005 3:47 AM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...

Jamie,

One more thing. You say, "part of that which God created me to be."

God didn't create you to identify with a particular appropriation of 'whiteness' that assumed its normativity for humanity...even for God in some cases. There is a whiteness that doesn't see itself as 'normative'...but many European Americans don't even engage this issue long enough to search for that. Quite frankly, they don't have to...at least not in our culture. But to address this issue seriously many European American Christians will have to look inside, look at their practices, look at their worship, look at the many ways of being in this culture to determine which form of whiteness they are more shaped and formed by. This isn't easy for me to discuss. For I understand the charged nature of such a discourse. But I am more interested in talking about the Kingdom of God. But it would seem that this talk is inevitable...for it has been a particular practice and belief of 'whiteness' that has shut folks out of the kingdom of God.

September 07, 2005 3:53 AM  
Anonymous Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Anthony,

I fully affirm everything you said in your post and in your responses to my comment. They core of that is in no way in question in my mind. However, I have seen this languaged used in reverse with First Nations/Native American peoples to the extent that they never learned to seperate the abuses or excesses of culture and the culture itself. This has, in part, led to the rejection of God created identity- throwing the baby out with the bath-water, if you will.

You referred to "the 'whiteness' used by the Powers", which I think is a more appropriate approach. While not on the same scale, these same Powers have used other racial, cultural, etc. aspects and distorted and abused them.

Therefore, my point is not to defend the history of white, Euro-Western abuses- by no means! Rather, my point is to challenge that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with whiteness itself, but the Powers that be and univerisally misused human free will.

Perhaps, in the end, we will have to disagree on the grounds of semantics. While I in no way want to diminish the historical and current realities of peoples who have suffered and suffer at the hands of the Normative Principality, neither do I want it to happen in reverse.

Whiteness, so distorted now, is left a powerful, but sick reality, longing NOT to beput out of its misery, but to be restored to Gods intended place amoung His "rainbow people" (to borrow from Desmond Tutu). Increasingly in my ministry, I come across hundreds of white, young people who are at the same time shamed of their whiteness and disillusioned by the lack of rootedness to anything good they can call their own.

I hope that I have not offended you in responding. As I said before, I was hesitant to do so, as I did not want to draw attention away from your core point. However, I felt that there was potential for this particular difference to undermine the restoration of the whole, and not just the many.

Peace,
Jamie

September 07, 2005 7:42 AM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...

Jamie,

I have taken no offense in your response. I think discussions like this need to be 'normative' if we are going to deal with the reality of race in our emerging church context. I see in you no indifference that I often encounter when having these types of discussions. I really do appreciate your truthfulness and desire to see the church be faithful as an eschatological community of the Spirit.

September 07, 2005 10:24 AM  
Blogger Eric Lee said...

Anthony,

Great post and discussion thus far. We really need you and your voice right now.

Also, the previous post about defining 'racism' in light of Kingdom-language was excellent!

Sorry, I don't have much to add at the moment -- I'm still catching up from the weekend!

peace,

eric

September 07, 2005 5:59 PM  
Blogger just tryin' said...

Anthony,

Thought-provoking stuff -- being a person in white skin, it is difficult to really see and understand. I want to learn.

Ellen

September 20, 2005 7:20 PM  
Blogger Delwyn Campbell said...

You know, you are the first negro that I have met in about 25 years. Most everyone I know became Black long ago.

What is it about ECM that interests you, since, as best I can tell, they have little to say to us in Choklit City? Whether white folks feel better or worse about their whiteness is of little concern to me; after all, their "guilt" is based upon the advantage that comes with being born with a euro spoon in your mouth.

I'm more concerned with why gang-banging is still an attractive draw for young Black males 20 years after Boys in the Hood? Why do we still find preachers like Fred Price and Creflo Dollar active and influencial when the premise that they preach only seems to work for preachers of large churches? What does Bruce McClaren's inability to find absolute truth in the Bible have to do with my inability as a Black man in San Diego to see a SDPD squad car without getting tense, and then feeling exactly the same way when I see a 76 Buick filled with Black teenage males drive by? Will McClaren's Gospel work on Crenshaw Bl any better than Noel Jones'?

October 16, 2005 11:14 PM  
Blogger postmodernegro said...

Delwyn,

I got an interesting response to a past post. And I have sort of anticipated this kind of response. I think the commenter here has raised some interesting questions I feel need to brought out in a separate post.

"You know, you are the first negro that I have met in about 25 years. Most everyone I know became Black long ago."

I would love to know what you mean by 'black'? Negro and black are synonymous terms. I would also venture to say that black is in no way a static unchangeable term. And actually the preferred term seems to be African-american. But even that is up for grabs. I would also suggest you read Alan Locke's essay "The New Negro" to get a feel for where I coming from. My use of the term 'negro' is a form of catachresis.

"What is it about ECM that interests you, since, as best I can tell, they have little to say to us in Choklit City? Whether white folks feel better or worse about their whiteness is of little concern to me; after all, their "guilt" is based upon the advantage that comes with being born with a euro spoon in your mouth."

Well. I admit that the majority of the voices in the ECM are white folks. No doubt about that but what interests me is the willingness of some in the ECM to deal with issues that aren't typically dealt with in the broader evangelical world. Take note of Brian McLaren, one of the leading voices in this movement. In ECM I see space in our culture where Christians, especially in the broader Evangelical world, can come together across ecclesial and cultural boundaries. There is alot of promise here.

What do you have to say to 'choklit city'?

"I'm more concerned with why gang-banging is still an attractive draw for young Black males 20 years after Boys in the Hood? Why do we still find preachers like Fred Price and Creflo Dollar active and influencial when the premise that they preach only seems to work for preachers of large churches? What does Bruce McClaren's inability to find absolute truth in the Bible have to do with my inability as a Black man in San Diego to see a SDPD squad car without getting tense, and then feeling exactly the same way when I see a 76 Buick filled with Black teenage males drive by? Will McClaren's Gospel work on Crenshaw Bl any better than Noel Jones'?"

I don't think anyone is suggesting, at least not me, that McLaren's project is the key to inner city despair and injustice. I don't know where you got this from. And I also don't see how you can compare Bishop Jones and McLaren. I don't see them in 'competition' with each other. But as brothers in Christ ministering in different contexts. I think your comments are challenging but quite uncharitable.

October 17, 2005 12:43 AM  
Blogger Panoplia Soljah said...

You know, you could be right. I had just had a REALLY bad experience trying to rent a car (perhaps I'll put it on my blog). At that moment, I was about two steps from a "burn, baby, burn" moment.

I have read a few articles about ECM, pretty much all from "Establishment" voices like "Stand to Reason," CRI, and so forth. It seems like ECM is about as popular as Purpose Driven. It has taken the heat off of the Prosperity pushers, I guess, and no one is talking about Carlton Pearson's "Heaven for All" transformation.

I shouldn't have slammed you so hard, mea culpa.

Race, while an unreal categorization, is still real sociologicallyh speaking. I dtill view situations, at least in part, with race in my mind, even though I wish it weren't so. What can I say?

October 21, 2005 6:40 PM  

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