Friday, May 17, 2024

White Supremacy and Me, Part 1: Theology

by Ben Hein

Rev. Duke Kwon and Dr. Greg Thompson’s recent posts at The Front Porch (Here and here) have kicked up a lot of important conversation about White Supremacy; both its motives and methodology. In response, I want to share my story about the ways in which I’ve recognized how White Supremacy was embedded in my views and attitudes. My hope is that by “going first” and sharing my story, others might see themselves in Kwon and Thompson’s writing and critiques, and receive them as a gift of love to the Church (as I have while I followed their work the last few years).

Here is how White Supremacy invaded my theology.

When I first became a Christian 11 years ago, it was in an Evangelical church which championed the core message of the gospel. I learned the importance of keeping the gospel central to the teaching and preaching of a church’s ministry, and I benefited immensely. However, subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – messages were communicated to me about other churches and traditions.

I was told that Evangelicalism championed the gospel and saved the Church from liberalism and the “social gospel.” I was told that churches and pastors aren’t supposed to get involved in social or political issues. Churches that talk about “justice,” “rights,” and other social issues preach a social gospel. Since the Black Church, along with the Latino church and others, talk about justice and social issues too much, they preach a social gospel, not the biblical gospel. We ought not to listen to them.

These messages, both subtle and explicit, were reinforced by the fact that in all four of the evangelical churches I attended, not once was a book or resource written by an African American or other minority theologian ever recommended to me (not even Thabiti Anyabwile or Voddie Baucham, who at the time had the Evangelical™ stamp of approval). In my seminary education, I only read two books by minority authors (that I can remember, anyways).**

I was never told how my own Presbyterian and Reformed tradition had been so complicit in slavery, Jim Crow, and anti-Civil Rights sentiment. Even worse (in my estimation) is that I was never exposed to my African American and Presbyterian forefathers, such as Rev.’s Francis Grimké and Henry Highland Garnet, both of whom were able to confront the social sins of slavery and racism as Black men situated in the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. The net effect of all this over time was that I became suspicious of authors or theologians that did not come from White and Evangelical spaces.

The truth is I began to look down on Black and other theologians of color as “less than.” I did not recognize this as a form of racism or White Supremacy until recently. I have been trying to repent of these attitudes. I am striving to undo the hold that they have on me. I know this much for sure: the more I read of Black and other voices of color, the more I feel cheated on all that I missed out on for my first 7+ years as a Christian.

When I read the likes of Francis Grimké and Esau McCaulley; Frederick Douglass and Irwyn Ince; Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Perkins; James Cone and Willie James Jennings; Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, Diane Nash, and Natasha S. Robinson; my faith is deepened and invigorated. I’ve been so grateful to learn and grow from these pastors, theologians, and authors who have illuminated God’s Word for me in new ways because of their different cultural and social perspectives.

I have learned that the Black Church is in no more danger of a social gospel than White Evangelical churches are of a nationalistic and individualistic gospel.

If Evangelicalism saved the Church from the dangers of liberalism, the Black church tradition saved the Church from the snares of dead conservatism.

So that’s it. Do the facts of my story make me a conscious racist motivated by the evils of White Supremacy? I don’t think so. Does it make me the inheritor of the evil cultural project and historic methodology of White Supremacy? Yes. This distinction is not hard to make. However, confessing it is painful. And doing something about all of this has been a challenge. But the Lord has blessed the work and the journey as he leads me higher up and higher in to a more thoughtful, loving life as his child.

In part 2, I share how White Supremacy invaded my views on music. I also speak to why it is important for us to name and describe our cultural context when we address sins like racism and White Supremacy.

**Note: I want to be quite clear about what I said above. I am extremely grateful for my seminary education, and I am thoroughly committed to the Reformed tradition they instilled in me. I’ve been very encouraged by how my seminary has made significant strides in this area in recent years; including bringing in much more diverse voices and offering many classes from different contextual voices. In fact, I would even say that my seminary education gave me the necessary tools to fully explore and learn from other traditions in a way that I do not think it was likely for me to get from other institutions. In no way do I think that my seminary institution was consciously motivated by the evils of White Supremacy.

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White Supremacy and Me, Part 2: Music – Ben Hein August 2, 2021 - 2:44 pm

[…] the previous post, I about how White Supremacy has impacted my theological views. In this second post, I address how […]

Fred Kuhl August 2, 2021 - 11:54 pm

I was talking today with one of the faculty about beefing up the history curriculum to include the contributions and travails of the Black church.

Kenneth Wolcott Clark August 3, 2021 - 6:20 pm

Any church without any “token” African-Americans or Latinos has somehow missed the boat. I asked folks at a close-by church where were any non-whites? They said they had been asked to attend or return but never came back. When a bishop came and asked what changes we’d all like to see upon replacing the retired pastor, I requested to see SOME non-whites. After the installation of their new pastor, it was only lily whites, as I call ourselves. I let the new pastor know my views on encouraging other races, but no traction could be gained. On youtube churches we watch, services do not feature ANY non-whites, cleric and laic alike. I know of a few churches with mixed congregations a bit further away that I need to try to return to.


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