Whiteness is Anti-Christ

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This article was originally posted in the Friendly Fire Collective’s March Newsletter

Our collective members were arrested last week holding a banner that boldly proclaimed that “Whiteness is Anti-Christ.” Even some left-leaning liberals have been bothered by this statement. We stand by this statement and believe it needs to be said, but for those confused or offended by this statement, let’s unpack this statement a bit.

When we’re talking about whiteness being anti-Christ, we’re not just talking about skin color. We’re not saying that all white people are damned for their skin color. This statement isn’t a condemnation of all white people but rather a rebuke against an oppressive social order, which is whiteness.

So what is whiteness?

Much of how we think about race, especially in terms of dividing races between white, black, brown, red, and yellow, is due to the work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and other German scientists in the 1800s. They formulated these identities for the purpose of justifying and excusing imperialism. Whiteness is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. That isn’t to say skin color doesn’t exist but the categories of “race” that various skin colors are sorted into (which is different from ethnicity) are socially constructed, and not for good ends.

As one white Friend put it, “The only evidence you need for whiteness being a social construct is how it’s possible for ethnicities to become white. My Italian ancestors became white probably by abandoning anything that culturally didn’t fit with WASP society (such as being ‘too loud’ and ‘ethnic’) and adopting anti-Blackness. Mediterraneans weren’t ‘white’ upon arriving in this country because Whiteness is defined in significant part by behavior, class, and other standards of WASP society (interestingly, a long running study wherein researchers interviewed 12,000+ people and then the researcher designated the person’s race found that 20% of people’s perceived race changed over time as their education level, employment, and criminal records changed.). We assimilated to Whiteness, and suddenly Whiteness allowed for more melanin than it previously had.”

Though there is some flexibility in how whiteness has been conceived over time, essential to whiteness is white supremacy.

As Frances Henry puts it in The colour of democracy: Racism in Canadian society:
“‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

It’s not being white that’s a problem. It’s the cultural hegemony of Whiteness as a value system.

Because of this, Whiteness is not neutral. In our current reality, it is, as Frances Henry put it, “the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”

Where does this leave white people?

Recognizing all of this as true isn’t enough. White people cannot hide behind their “wokeness” to claim that they are not racist. Work needs to be done. White people need to be aware of how their privilege benefits them daily and they need combat and dismantle systems that make this true. They need to help other white people become as anti-racist as possible. And still, no amount of work done can be done to completely absolve one of their complicity or liberate them from their whiteness. All white people are complicit in white supremacy. Racism and white supremacy is a force and sin that is integral to how white people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and even elsewhere, are socialized and how they operate. The work of an individual doesn’t take away the fact that white colonialism lead to the system we currently live in.

This may not be a satisfying answer for some Christians seeking “forgiveness”, but I think white Christians need to accept this tension in order to create a way forward. For white Christians to truly be accomplices to black and brown people, their understanding of repentance and salvation may need to shift. Popular Evangelicalism teaches a “cheap grace” – that if we say sorry to God and put our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross, we are absolved of all our of sins and are “saved.” I think we can locate the power to conquer racism in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and can access this power through the Holy Spirit, but we need to understand that we are called to constantly “renew our minds.” Repenting of racism for white people isn’t just a one-time deal. This is an aspect of their salvation that needs to be worked out in “fear and trembling.”

Whiteness is a force and sin that white people will need to continually combat within themselves, and in the world. The good news is that there’s a God of generous grace willing to empower white people to live into active anti-racism and will constantly offer to liberate them from whiteness.

Those who marched with this banner at the Richard Spencer protest are members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a religious tradition that prides itself in its prophetic work. The majority of Quakers in the United States are white, and whiteness is a painful deception and sin that US Quakers also have to repent of and exorcise from their lives and spiritual communities. This banner was a prophetic word against Richard Spencer and his alt-right cronies but also a prophetic word to the Society of Friends and the white Church as a whole. Whiteness is anti-black, anti-life, and therefore anti-Christ. May we yield our power to those forced into meekness, those subjugated by the white supremacist, capitalist system, so that they may inherit the earth.

To support the comrades and Friends arrested at the MSU Richard Spencer protest, consider donating to their bail/legal fund!

An update on my life (& other propaganda)

I may not be as actively blogging as I’d like, but I assure you – I’m here. Still alive.

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With some of my favorite Friends

I haven’t had as much time or energy to write the past year – I’ve been trying to survive. To make it. To push my way through a 50-60 hour work week to barely pay my bills.

2016 and 2017 were packed with devastation, desperation, and were all around pretty terrible. Between the ending of my three year relationship, the death of my brother, and months of being unemployed, things were really hard. It feels miraculous that I’m still alive.

Things have only recently started to become more comfortable, and I’m beginning to have a little more space to digest the past year.

One thing I’ll admit: under the weight of surviving, I was often a reactionary. I made bold statements meant to convict, or rather guilt, those who didn’t hold radical political convictions. I deemed them lacking empathy for the oppressed, and to be honest, I saw them as people who didn’t care for my well-being. I came to despise them.

Of course, I wasn’t always full of grace, but also… a lot of people didn’t make space for me, not even those I considered my closest fellowship. It often felt like the only thing I could do was react. I wish I could have communicated the burdens and convictions of my heart with nuance, but I also don’t feel guilty or wrong for things I have said. They were and are true.

Through survival, I feel the Holy Ghost has transformed my conception of the gospel. The good news of Jesus became material. It became about people, and their bodies, and their survival. It became about liberation and humanization. It became about empathy.

For awhile I couldn’t even pray in good conscience. It felt like a waste of time. I knew I needed to act. It was there, in the streets, protesting, in direct actions, that I met God again. Rebuking the powers of this world. Lifting up the humanity and divinity of those our society is built on marginalizing. Revealing the justice of her kin-dom.

The past six months or so I’ve met other Quakers, Christians, and mystics who feel the need to act. They are convinced that the white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist empire we exist in needs to be abolished. Smashed to pieces. They are convinced that this is their duty as messengers of Christ’s gospel, as holy fools. They are people I wait in silence with, I pray in tongues with, I organize direct actions with.

A lot of my energy has gone into organizing with them. It’s been good. For me, for us. With these people, I am remembering why I fell in love with Jesus – the One who embodied solidarity and died building a revolutionary community. The One who desires to humanize both the oppressed and the oppressor, by tearing kings off thrones, and lifting up the humble – those subjugated by state violence, those forced into meekness.

This group I’m talking about is the Friendly Fire Collective. As our blog puts it, “the Friendly Fire Collective is a loose network of anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist Christians. Drawing from Marxist and anarchist political traditions, and grounded in the biblical vision of God’s Kin-dom, we believe we are called to create a new world in the ashes of the old.”

Knowing my Friendly Fire comrades has changed my life. Through them, I’ve stumbled into a Christianity I can believe again.

Some of them were recently arrested and are now facing felony charges for protesting at Michigan State University against an event that featured notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer. Because of this protest, Spencer decided to cancel the rest of his campus tour and declared that antifa was winning. My comrades believe that the struggle against fascism looks like something. And the cost for them is real. It could put them in prison. They remind me of Jesus.

We are currently organizing a retreat that will take place May 1-3. We will be participating in Philadelphia’s May Day march, we will be feeding the hungry, and we will be praying, worshiping, and teaching one another kin-dom praxis in some cabins we reserved in the woods. It should be fun.

For those interested in coming out to the May Day retreat, applications are due March 29th. For those who are interested in our collective, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Also, we have a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for – and here is our March issue.

Friendly Fire doesn’t exist to build our own brand. We are not a church-planting movement. We are a bunch of poor kids who love God and people. As a collective, we hope to nurture the emerging Religious/Christian Left. We want to help those with radical convictions and faith in Christ discover how these two things can be, and should be, beautifully married. We pray we can inspire the emergence of other collectives and prophetic radicals.

All this to say: Christians of the Left, unite!

 

To the White Liberal Church

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I’m glad you don’t hate gay people. I’m glad you think Black Lives Matter. I’m glad you’re inclusive, welcoming, affirming – I’m glad you’re the good kind of religious people.

But you’re not.

A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.

We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.

Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.

Until we noticed how you spoke to our immigrant mothers in broken English, or that your missions program was deeply problematic, or that the whole staff was white – and we said something. And then, we were no longer told we were prophets. Instead, we were trouble.

Sometimes we were patted, thanked for speaking our truth, told our words mattered and that they’d spill into the board meeting. But nothing happened. We were just politely hushed.

And then so many of us realized what was happening, wondered why are we even here anyway?

We fell in love with Jesus – who centered and glorified those on the margins. We fell in love with Jesus, but maybe not your Jesus.

It felt good to hear his words from the pulpit, it set fire under our feet, a burning in our chest, but then we looked around the congregation and wondered who here would die for me?

And when we realized that we couldn’t be confident that our fellow church members would share their wealth, their privilege, or their lives with their siblings in Christ, that’s we also realized they probably aren’t our siblings. And this is probably not a church. At least not the one Jesus formed.

We want the Church of Jesus. A church that feeds the hungry, frees prisoners, cancels debts. A church that is aware and awake to the suffering around them and determined to dismantle and destroy every system causing this suffering. A church led by and for those so often pushed down and out. A church that embodies Love, a church that embodies Jesus.

That’s not what you offer. Your seminaries, your liturgies, and your churches weren’t made for us. Not even your gospel is for us. I’m not the only one that’s left the white liberal church, and I won’t be the last. We’re done with your churches and we’re not coming back. And I’ll let you know – we’re finding each other and we’re building something better. Truer.

Let’s Discover the Gospel Together

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This is my gospel-preaching face

Dear Friends,

My journey into the wacky world of Quakerism began in Barnesville, Ohio. At that point in my life, the writings of George Fox, Margaret Fell, and Isaac Penington often played a role in my morning devotions, but my interaction with Quakers was, to say the least, limited. I came to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship (FoJ) gathering in Barnesville having little idea on what to expect and never having met the other participants, but I believed that there was something special about this group’s vision. I read their Advices and Queries a year or so prior to this gathering, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by how their words describing life in the Church and the gospel of Christ deeply resonated with me.

This FoJ gathering played a major role in my own participation in the Religious Society of Friends. I found something in the silent worship that I barely encountered before: a space to wrestle God and a way to dive into and draw from the wells of Christ’s Spirit within me. I realized I was hungry for that silence. Starving, even.

It was also the first time in a long while where I felt at ease in a spiritual community. My then-boyfriend came along, and I remember not being used to having my gay relationship so naturally affirmed and blessed by a Christian community. It was a bit disorienting, but so healing for my soul. Also, most of the participants had not been involved in the Charismatic Church or no experience with charismatic phenomena, yet I found my perspective as a tongue-talking, miracle-believing charismatic was affirmed and honored. I had never met these people before, yet my gifts were so welcomed. I was welcomed.

Since getting involved with the FoJ, I have gotten more and more involved in the wider Society of Friends. I’ve found myself caring for our very diverse and very fragmented communion. I have been a regular attender at both Liberal and Evangelical Friends meetings, served a year with the Quaker Voluntary Service, worked (and still work) at the Friends World Committee for Consultation – Section of the Americas, and have had several opportunities to meet and worship with Friends from all over the world and from every branch. I’ve experienced the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit in diverse ways among the different flavors of Friends, but still, I find something very uniquely rich and nurturing at the FoJ gatherings.

Now, I do not mean to sell another brand of Quakerism, nor am I claiming that the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is superior to other Quaker fellowships. What I am saying is that where I personally gain the most vision, experience Quakerism most fully, and feel the most spiritually at-home, has been at the FoJ gatherings… and well, I believe our gatherings have something to offer every disciple of Christ, and even every seeker. At the FoJ gatherings, I’ve found a space to communally reflect on the radical implications of the gospel, I’ve found a community offering mutual support in one-another’s ministries and sojourning, and I have seen what leaning on the Holy Spirit looks like, in the testimonies of Friends and in the Spirit-orchestrated worship. More than anything, I’ve been thankful to be so welcomed to dream and discover the gospel alongside some very honest, beautiful, and real people. From my experience, I’ve experienced a genuineness and authenticity at these gatherings that is rare in the world.

I do not see FoJ enaging in sheep-stealing anytime soon, as we do not aspire to grow into another denomination or even strictly a church-planting network, but I do see the gifts that FoJ has to offer the Society of Friends and the wider Church. For those who hunger for a contemplative yet embodied worship, who need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, and need to hear the gospel again, especially in a time where good news is hard to find, I encourage you to consider coming to our fall gathering in Silver Spring, Maryland, this upcoming October 7th-10th.

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For more information on this upcoming gathering, check out this post by Micah Bales. You can buy a ticket for the gathering here.

I hope and pray you’ll consider worshiping with us as we learn what it means to confess Jesus in a chaotic world.

In friendship,

Hye Sung

 

White “Appropriateness” Is Anti-Gospel

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A man getting tackled by the Holy Ghost, cause… why not?

I say all of this is as one who most often participates in Liberal Quaker circles and one who is technically still a member of a wealthier Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) congregation: There is something deeply wrong about the way the white mainline churches function.

I have struggled to put my finger on why exactly I feel so uncomfortable in the liberal mainline world. Of course, this is a complicated, multi-faceted issue and like the rest of the Christian traditions, this part of the Church is not immune to missing out some element of Christ’s Gospel. But I’ve come to realize that my main thing with bigger mainline churches, especially wealthier ones, is the white appropriateness that is so vital to its culture.

I understand the need for boundaries and having order, and the needs for administration and elders in the community to keep the community living out the good news. This need to be “appropriate” and “proper” or even “professional”, though, can be one of the most anti-gospel notions and I think is a huge reason why such churches are bound to die. People’s sloppiness and ultimately, their humanity, their holy foolishness, is rejected. And in that, the gospel of Jesus Christ is rejected.

The Charismatic World has a ton of their own issues, especially in its American form. I do have to commend this part of the Church, though, for approaching relationships, fellowship, worship, and ministry with such a incarnational lens. In these spaces, you will see people rolling on the floor, crying out to God, laughing in the Spirit, and being so… human. I remember one of the first times I entered a charismatic meeting, I was put off by this man with pink-paper dangling off his head, hopping and giggling in the front of the sanctuary, and now I realize I was being… an asshole. This was a child of God, reflecting their Creator’s image in a way that came off as foolish, and in that were being so true to their God-molded nature. Charismaticism, in my experience, is more likely to embrace the eccentric, the broken, and encourage one to experience God as truly as they can.

Meanwhile, so much of the mainline world is so often skeptical of the emotional, of the sentimental, and of anything considered strange or inappropriate. The mainline world tends to quietly disapprove and judge all that they do not understand and lacks… whiteness. We may call it professionalism, or appropriateness, but so often we’re saying “you do not fit the standards of my class and race” when we hold too tightly to such principles.

So much of the Liberal Church in America is fundamentally classist and racist. We desperately need to rebuke the broken ways of the Church, for their sake and the sake of those who are never given the chance to enter the life of the Church because they knew they were not fully embraced as they were. And why were they unable to experience the Church’s embrace? For they did not know the unspoken rules of the wealthy white folks.

It is hard to talk about all of this without diving into how disgusting the corporate structure is in American churches (mainline, Evangelical, and charismatic), and how so much of our church culture reeks of capitalism and the ways of the world. In my opinion, these things are intimately tied together. But what bothers me most deeply is how so many try to reconcile the way of Christ with the Way of white upper-middle class Americans. Simply put, it is impossible. These things do not work together. The attempt itself is White Supremacy.

“And these signs will accompany those who believe.”

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15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons;they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.
Mark 15:15-20

As a charismatic believer, I have often seen these verses used to defend the belief that tongues is for all believers and that healing is the desire of God. These verses, though, are not in the earliest of manuscripts (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) and most bibles make note this fact. For a long time, I did not believe these verses could be used at all to defend this view and even railed against those who used in this in their own apologetics on the charismatic gifts. Though I still agree (admittedly, with some hesitance) with most scholars that these verses were not likely penned by Mark, I still value these verses and recognize that they could hold some significance for Christians today. There is the possibility that they may have ended up in the manuscripts because of either oral tradition or the notes of a scribe. Nevertheless, the fact that they exist means something. I think the Church needs to open to the possibility that their existence indicates that a supernatural culture, one full of the miraculous and providential work of the Spirit, was the norm of the early church.

Post-Constantine Christianity (note: perhaps a problematic term, but a historical shift is undeniable, and Constantine was definitely helpful in that) may have ushered in a spiritual drought as Christianity lost its counter-cultural, subversive nature. The Church became a pillar of the Empire, and though the good news of Jesus continued to nurture and instruct thousands of souls in the ways of righteousness, the political implications of this good news was much-rejected, and the spiritual power of the Church seemed to have been drained as a result. It did not help that the Galatian heresy of mixing Christ’s grace with the Law seemed to also consume the formal doctrine of the Church, and that the role of prophets and prophecy (which continued into the early church, as evidenced by the Didache) vanished as Ignatius instructed the Church to “do nothing without the bishops,” pushing the gift of prophecy to lose its egalitarian nature as it became a gift for bishops alone. (Read “The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church” by James L. Ash, Jr. for more on this.)

Augustine developed a form of cessationism during this time, arguably because of the lack of charismatic activity in the Church. This experience was quite common throughout the Church of the time. Before this period, the approach to the miraculous was much more earnest and frequent among Christians. In the second century, both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon spoke of the charismatic gifts, discussing prophetic ministry, exorcisms, and even the raising of the dead. The practice of jubilation, which seems to be practice of singing in tongues, was even a part of the liturgy, and continued even into the ninth century. By the end of Augustine’s life, he had changed his view as he witnessed a revival of healing, but his cessationism continues to influence many Christians.

All this to say that these extra verses in Mark seem to reflect the early church’s practice of the miraculous.

  1. In my name they will drive out demons (a practice described by Ireneaus of Lyon, Origen of Alexandria, Lactantius, Tertullian, among church fathers and early Christians)
  2. …they will speak in new tongues (note: not other tongues but new tongues, which could likely include the practice of “jubilation” as described by Augustine and the mystics)
  3.  …they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all  (not a practice to reproduce, as some fundamentalists do, but a promise of protection; Paul experiences this in Acts 28:3 when bit by a snake)
  4. …they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well (reveals the authority to heal among believers and is talked about by a number of early Christians, including by Augustine in the City of God)

If this Spirit-driven culture of the Church was the norm for early Christians, and they regularly exercised the charismatic gifts and miracles, then I cannot see why it shouldn’t be the norm for the believer and Church today. Throughout Church history, we have seen this apostolic and prophetic power restored and tapped into time after time, among several Anabaptist and Huguenot groups, throughout Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement, as well as the Quakers, especially the first generation of Friends, who regularly saw such manifestations occur.

As Christendom as we know it crumbles before our eyes, the heresies of legalism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, leader-centered/hierarchical models of worship, violence, imperalism, and all our limiting theologies on the work of Christ and the Spirit, are losing their hold on God’s people. I pray that as we move forward in the revelation of Christ, in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom, we would seek the Spirit’s anointing and grow in an imaginative, dynamic faith that welcomes the impossible.

Speaking to my Quaker sisters and brothers, we must not forget that the first generation of Friends were yielded disciples of Jesus Christ. They were truly Pentecostal; united in the experience and life found in the Spirit of Christ. Their actions were often subversive to both the Church and State, and their ministries and fellowship were marked by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They saw miracles daily, just like the Church after Pentecost, and they boldly lived out the political implications of the gospel. All of this was the result of following and submitting to the lead of the Holy Spirit. We have a glorious inheritance in our spiritual lineage, and I am confident that as we discover and yield to the Spirit that sparked our movement, we can walk in the power of early Friends and the apostles, and see the greater things that Christ promised to us (John 14:12).

 

Paul’s Encouragement to Heretical Nymphomaniacs

On my post “What to do with Tradition?”, I briefly mentioned the Church in Corinth and how kindly Paul treated them, in comparison to the Church of Galatia, who he rebuked and called “fools”. I proposed that this was because the mixing of grace with the law that he noticed among Galatian Christians was deeply offensive to him and was completely contrary to the message of the Cross he preached.

I have been thinking about the grace and love he showed the Corinthians a lot recently and what that means for leaders of Christian communities.

Corinth was pretty excessive when it came to sinning, and they were a diverse bunch with their sins of choice. Paul makes it clear that the Church in Corinth was:

  • sectarian, divided, and sporting early ‘denominationalism’ (1 Cor. 1:10-17, 3:1-23, 6:1-11),
  • prone to heresy and may have flirted with some form of gnosticism or at least was mildly syncretistic (13:1, 15:29),
  • packed with sin, most infamously sexual sin (5:1-13, 7:1-2, 10:14, 20),
  • and lacked much spiritual discernment and misused the gifts of the Spirit (14:20-32, 40),

Yet Paul was somehow incredibly graceful, loving, and was still confident that these misguided Corinthians were children of God.

Alessandro Turchi (L'Orbetto) - "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery"

Alessandro Turchi (L’Orbetto) – “Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery”

He was still willing to recognize how God was moving among the Corinthians and grateful for the gifts of the Spirit that were manifesting in their meetings (1:4-9).
He was still willing to call them his brothers and sisters and even friends, despite their obvious sins and errors (1:10, 10:14).
He was still willing to bless them with ‘grace and peace’ (1:3).
He was still willing to encourage them, even admitting that they lacked no spiritual gifts and going as far as pushing them to continue to pursue these gifts, despite their obvious mishandling of them (1:7, 13:31, 14:1).
He was still willing to exercise his apostleship over them and thoroughly teach and correct them, even if much of the Church would have seen them as a hopeless case of nymphomaniacal heretics.

Paul’s approach to rebuking the sins of the Corinthians was not simply pointing out their wrongs. His correction was rooted in and led by love, and his words were not used to condemn the Corinthians, but to encourage them to move forward. I wonder how often Paul’s methods that reflect the restorative nature of the gospel are implemented in today’s churches and faith communities?

Queries:
  • Do we truly strive to value that of God in everyone, even those whose beliefs are unorthodox or whose actions are unhealthy and sinful?
  • Do we as Christians invest into others because they’re doing a “good job” or because we see God in and among them?
  • Are we able to see what God is doing in our lives despite and even through our own messes?