I’ve made my debut over at Sojourners with an article on decentering whiteness through new venture activity led by people of color. For posterity sake, I’ve included most of the first version of my article here on the blog as it takes a somewhat different approach on an important (to me) topic for the contemporary church. I should note, that terminology of “whiteness” is traumatic for white people just now engaging in conversations on race. “Whiteness” denotes the system that’s been in place benefiting white skin because it’s classified as superior. It’s a made up construct based on phenotype. Dismantling systems of “whiteness” doesn’t mean discarding your identity (if you are white). Your identity is part rooted in your ethnicity (of course fully rooted in your image bearing character).
The church is undergoing a re-construction of institutional power that includes the work of decentering whiteness and decolonization. It’s a deep commitment every Christian should embody as genuine followers of Jesus who commands us to love one another and the other. Yet, I want to suggest that the future of contemporary Christianity is not dependent on whether dominant churches or institutions do the work of decentering power well, or even at all.
People of color are the ones who catalyze the charge of deconstruction and that work takes on two main approaches. One, minority Christians who work with or within the institution to incrementally change structures, resourcing, and culture. Or two, minority Christians can create something new without institutional approval. The former is good work but arduous because established power holders don’t change. The latter, however, opens the possibilities for new expressions of faith to emerge outside of whiteness.
Why New Expressions Will Lead
A re-imagined Christianity outside of institutional bounds will also respond to three realities facing the church. First, institutions rarely change and when they do it’s slow. We don’t know whether white dominated institutions will cede power to minority leaders so this pursuit should be secondary. Second, the demographics in America have shifted to a place where White Protestants are now a minority group. We need new expertise to contextualize the Gospel for different groups. Third, we live in a culture where the fastest growing religion is no religion at all. Growing by 1% of population a year, within one generation half of all America will check the box, “no religious affiliation”. This is troubling because the declining church struggles to connect with people who don’t look like it.
The time to move forward with new thinkers and practitioners who look nothing like the current generation is now.
Ultimately, a re-imagined church can emerge without institutional validation. Gifts, abilities, and traits are not confirmed by the gatekeepers of the church, rather are God given, commissioned, and affirmed. Having said this, the calling for minorities to operate outside of unhealthy church structures isn’t one to cast away the whole and call it useless. Rather, it’s a direction to legitimize potential artists, pastors, writers, theologians, etc. The question is how can we cultivate this reality in healthy ways?
Do Your Own Work
For one, health means you can’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you.
It’s true and frankly normal for white churches to view deconstruction with apprehension. The loss of inherited power looks like discrimination when the only Christianity, the “good kind”, looks like your own. Unfortunately, this approach simultaneously delegitimizes the callings and identity of minority churches from being accepted as full contributors to the body of Christ. Minorities are seen as being capable to minister to their own racialized groups, but with little value to the “whole” as defined by whiteness. In this context, the institution, and those that have been deeply formed by its influence, cannot ignore their own work. It also means those with power can wield wide influence to fix systemic wrongs. But this work must happen internally and without the reliance on minority capacity.
Renewal in Identity
Christian of color are experts at fitting in and understand in order to belong within dominant Christianity they must live out a characterization of themselves rather than their whole selves. One must act and think the same. Challenge white culture and you’re labelled as “too much” (at best). This expectation detracts Christians of color from living out their full image bearing qualities. It also highlights the important of forming a strong identity outside of institutional frameworks that subtly (or perhaps explicitly) say you’re not OK in your own skin.
The core of Christian faith begins with original goodness. Humanity is the pinnacle of creation and uniquely chosen to bear the image of the Creator. That means our identity is a reflection of the Triune God. It’s here, in the uniqueness and mystery of the Trinity, we observe the “divine dance” of unity found in diversity. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each their own unique persons yet simultaneously described as one. Oneness sits in stark contrast to institutional Christianity and its drive for sameness. That pursuit for churches to look, act, think, vote, and believe the same. This formation of community is distinctly not Triune. Rather, the very nature of God celebrates uniqueness. It is the supreme example POC need to confirm why your identity has value and matters in the unfolding hope God has for our world.
The Pursuit of Kingdom Call
As America changes so too should the look of the church. Without a new generation of leaders capable of merely attempting new expressions the church will continue to lose relevance. This new wave must commission minority leaders to go and make disciples in the sub-cultures, racialized minorities, and others, we understand. We also need minority leaders to emerge in a rapidly changing culture to co-lead as we repair and restore our neighborhoods, cities, and country.
P.S. Head to Sojo and read the other version as it tells a bit more about my story and ends with more of a prophetic call.