This Has Always Been the Cost

We’re only 12 days in. Not even two weeks. And this presidency is already devastating.

Donald Trump is waging war against the American people.

Six journalists were charged with felony rioting for covering protests at the presidential inauguration. It’s now illegal to protest on the floor of Congress, or to live-stream a protest on the House floor. Resisting arrest is now considered a hate crime in Louisiana. A new bill was introduced in North Dakota that allowed motorists to “unintentionally” run over any protestors obstructing a highway.

History has a name for what America is becoming. And it’s not “representative democracy.”

Opposition is illegal. Yet we must oppose. Every vile thing coming out of this White House must be opposed.

A mark of Christian discipleship is a willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Jesus invites his followers to take up their own crosses, to be willing to let Love lead us into dangerous, painful, even life-threatening territory. Jesus teaches us that “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Do we taste that love among us? In our fellowship? In our worship? Are we willing to die for one another? For the liberation of the oppressed? For Jesus? Are we willing to be tortured because of our deepest convictions? Are we willing to face unjust imprisonment?

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Convicted of blasphemy, James Nayler was branded with a “B” on his forehead and his tongue was pierced with a hot iron

Which reminds me. It was once illegal for Quakers to gather. For 25 years in Britain, the mere act of worshipping together landed thousands of Friends in jail. Whole meetings were sent to prison. And yet Friends kept meeting. They also stirred up trouble. They did prophetic acts, such as “going naked as a sign” or wearing sackcloth and ashes. They publicly argued with priests and condemned the established church. They refused to tithe and pay taxes that fed the violence of empire.

Friends did not avoid trouble. They ran toward it.

British prisons were filled with Friends. Within a year of the passing of the 1664 Conventicle Act – an act created to stamp out independent, nonconformist religious groups – 2,100 Friends from five London meetings were arrested. It has been estimated that 1 in 3 Quakers experienced state-sanctioned persecution in the first 35 years or so of the Religious Society’s founding.

Friends were holy trouble-makers.

This was their battle: the Lamb’s War. Being meek did not require subservience. Nothing about Quakers was passive or defensive. They created trouble. They were willing to deal with the repercussions of revealing the way of the Kingdom, of establishing a truer Society, even if it meant they might be publicly shamed, tortured, and imprisoned.

Today, as news keeps rolling in of injustices committed by our own government, I find myself wondering whether I might be willing – truly willing – to follow Christ anywhere. Even into prison. Even unto death. It seems that this has always been the cost of being a Friend of Jesus, a disciple of Christ.

Tomorrow is Day 13. I don’t know what it will bring. But I think I’m ready.

Friends Need to Tell the Truth

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Too often too silent

Truth-telling. It’s hard to say for Quakers today if it matters the way it once did.

That first generation of Friends were honest. Brutally honest. About the crookedness of Church-as-Empire, about the empty strength of the empire itself. Those Quakers were shameless. They preached a God of justice and peace. A God who didn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t tolerate a religion for show nor the vanity of power-schemers. They surrendered their lives to God, and in sweet surrender found themselves dynamically demonstrating the power of God’s Kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven. The early Friends prophesied, subverted society. Convicted by Love, they followed in her footsteps. She shook them, made them quake. And sometimes they danced. Polite society couldn’t understand and didn’t approve. That’s why so many Quakers ended up imprisoned, tortured – or dead.

I want to be that kind of truth-teller.

I want to welcome Light into the world, to expose, to transform, no matter the cost. Those fearless Friends walked in reconciliation. They showed the world Jesus. And the world despised them for it.

I am no prophet. Not many of us Friends are. At least not yet. But I must speak the truth. People are dying, murdered in the streets. This. Is. Not. Right.

Here’s what I know: my fellow citizens are being murdered by the police – those same men and women sworn to serve and protect. Many of the dead are people of color. Here is my reality. I am an Asian-American. Able-bodied. Cis-gender. Man. And I enjoy all the privilege that comes with these realities.

Systemic racism just isn’t blatant in my daily life. I don’t experience the pain. I don’t experience the loss of friends and family. I don’t feel the fear. It’s numbing. I’m numb. It is hard for me to empathize, hard for me to be angry.

But I can see the reality of white supremacy, and I can see the bodies of those who’ve been slain.

Do you see them?

So I call out and come out against the powers and principalities. I name the violence that haunts us because this is not right.

But what can I do?

I seek not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind because the truth is that racism has distorted how I think and act. Without meaning to, I have given myself up to the ways of the world. I have accepted the god of this age, who blinds humanity to the Light of the Gospel. I am guilty, too.

We all are.

I have safely ignored others’ pain. I have been irresponsible, unthinking, callous. I have been an active participant in white supremacy. I have benefited from it. And I am absolutely disgusted with myself.

Maybe what we need is repentance. At least as a first step.

It’s what I need. I also need to learn to see, to understand, and to appreciate the constant struggle of others’ daily experience. I need humility and compassion. I need to embrace rage. I need to remember – over and over again – that this person shot, dead, is not a statistic.

This person is a friend, a child, a partner. A person who bears the image of God. A human being with a name.

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Dontre Hamilton. Michael Brown Jr. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Tanisha Anderson. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Rumain Brisbon. Jerame Reid. Tony Robinson. Phillip White. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott.

And so on and so on and so on.

It has always been this way, and we can’t let it remain this way.

I will admit that I am resistant because it hurts. And then I remember that it’s supposed to hurt. That I’m not the only one hurting and in fact, my hurt is small.

I live in and live off a system that steals lives, the same lives that built and continue to build our country.

I need to remind myself of this truth. I need to remind you of this truth.

I have sinned against my sisters and brothers by giving into fear, laziness, and privilege, by remaining silent in the face of suffering. I have been afraid, unloving, indifferent. I have yielded to racism.

I cannot remain complicit. We cannot remain complicit.

I must not. We must not.

Friends, if our Quakerism is not prophetic, if it fails to speak truth to power, then what’s the use of it? If it is not grounded in an apocalyptic vision, a conviction that the Kingdom is at hand, then what do we have to offer the world?

Do we even matter?

Quakerism – just like white supremacy – is in slavery to itself.

Somehow, that band of primitive prophets and preachers is now a polite group of politically sensitive and mostly silent worshipers. People wonder why we aren’t growing. Is it because Quakers are slowly going extinct? Yes, that’s probably true. A lot of people do know about Quakers, though. They know we are the “good kind of religious people.”

That can feel pretty good. But that’s not what Christ called us to be and do in the world.

Good religious people don’t revolt against the system and liberate the oppressed. Good religious people may quietly resist what they see as unfair treatment, but they are too pragmatic to work for real change.

So what about us? Do we have the spiritual and emotional resources to be more than just good? Can we be prophets once again? Are we willing to see what is real and to talk about it and then to do something? Can we proclaim that Black Lives Matter? Can we tell the truth?

Because if we can’t, then we’re no longer good for anything. Those people are right. The Quakers are already extinct.

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

 

Political Protest is Spiritual Warfare

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Philadelphia City Hall

When I was a freshman in college, my friends and I were discovering charismatic spirituality together. We often had long prayer sessions, and we always expected to experience and hear God. It was messy, naive, often fueled by fear, but God was somehow in it as we experimented with this bizarre mysticism that was so confident in Christ’s Spirit being within us. Some of us walked through our campus often, quietly praying in tongues, rebuking the spirits among us causing fear, spiritual drought, depression, etc., and declaring a better way for the Church and for the school. We called this spiritual warfare.

I still believe in the power of spiritual warfare, even if much of our demon-hunting was a bit silly. I’d like to think that Holy Spirit interpreted our prayers the way they needed to be interpreted, and maybe we did push the devil out of our campus a bit. Hopefully. But still, before Friends of Jesus retreats, I often try to spend time in intercession, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit and protection from the enemy, who loves to stir up quarreling among believers and quench the Holy Ghost. I’m still a firm believer that Christ handed an authority to the Church to be declare, prophesy, and shake things on this earth, and in the spirit realm, to realize the reign of God among and within us.

So I still command demons to shut up and back off. I still pray in tongues when I sense something off, which sometimes is a valid spiritual concern, and other times just my social anxiety acting up. That being said, I very much believe these things are helpful, real, and good. I’ve seen God heal dozens of sick people when hands were laid upon them, and the word of God was declared over them: “be healed.” I’ve felt the power of deliverance, having the weight of shame torn off my spirit instantaneously through a prophetic word. I’ve felt shifts in the atmosphere during worship, and then I’d notice somebody quietly praying in tongues, or interceding, and I’d feel that they probably were helping cleanse the environment for God’s presence to be realized.

I think these things are real.

And as we go in the streets to protest, to demonstrate, we are engaging with the enemy: oppressive, abusive, and corrupt systems. We wage war against the spirit of racism as we declare that Black Lives Matter, and as we point out the sins of our country, the sins of our people, and reveal a better way. One of compassion, one of hope, one of generosity, one of love. Even if we are marching with those who do not identify as followers of Christ, they are carrying a mantle and anointing as well to crush the work of the enemy and extend the reality of God’s love.

All that to say: To protest is to rebuke. To protest is to war against the devil. To protest is to prophesy. And as dangerous forms of religious and political fundamentalism continue to grow in all directions, and as the Empire continues to slaughter innocent people all over the world, we need to be loudly warring against these spirits that are strangling the Church and the world, and we need to preach the Good News. We need to be the Good News.

The Church in America, in this mind-boggling and disheartening political climate, needs to speak. We need to call out the systemic sins of the world, including religious institutions, and live and preach a way forward. Your tongue has the power of life and death (Prov. 18:21), and when you choose not to speak out for Life, you are often giving power to death. So speak. Loudly. For the oppressed, for the forgotten, for the lost, for the hurting, and for all God’s children. And in doing this, you bind the enemy and you confess Christ.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” —Ephesians 6:12

 

I doubt the Church.

I doubt the Church.

It’s been hard to write, talk, and even think about God as of late. A major life change snuck up on me, devastated me, and left me questioning everything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with hopelessness, doubt, and fear on a fairly constant basis the past month. Even as I’ve been able to get my head above water, and as I’ve reconnected with God, I’ve still been pretty hopeless about church. I’ve been haunted by thoughts like, “Maybe it’s time to let the Church die. Maybe it’s a waste of time to try to keep these institutions running. Maybe we need to abandon the Church as we know it.” I am struggling nowadays reconciling institutional Christianity with Jesus. This could just be my 8 wing acting up (for Enneagram nerds) or maybe I am just bitter, but the American Church models and breeds capitalism, white supremacy, nationalism, and it may do some good, but is it worth it prolonging its death for that?

I’m still wrestling with these questions.

The Way of Christ is not meant to be conventional or logical, but instead powerfully subversive and Spirit-led. I want to follow Jesus to be a holy fool, a disciple, a peacemaker, and I don’t see the institutional Church being able to support such callings. The American Institutional Church rarely breed “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10) but rather pushes people with the seed of Christ to continually deny the radical notions of the gospel. Pieces of the Gospel can be found in the American Church, but it is laced with various poisons that make it unsustainable. The Liberal Church has idols of success, intellectualism, and… being white. The Conservative/Evangelical Church has idols of tradition, moralism, and exclusivism. Both are quite toxic and some days I think it’s better to just let it all die. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

I’m tempted to protest church, exhorting God’s people to sell the steeplehouses, close down the institutions, meet in homes, and encourage each other in the Way of Christ. After all, following Jesus as a community, as a people, is the only way I’m convinced one can follow him. I cannot help but think that perhaps church-as-we-know-it more actively opposes the Holy Spirit in her building of koinonia than supporting and welcoming her. I struggle to see how much of this could be part of Christ’s vision for his people.

Is it fair to doubt the Church as much as I do? Perhaps I am self-deluded and my passion for a high ecclesiology is actually idolizing a certain ecclesiology, a certain expression or way. It may not be fair to the Church, and it probably is a limiting view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am sure that’s all true to some degree. That’s partially why I haven’t given up on institutional Quakerism.

I am convinced that God’s grace can reach into any moment, any experience, and even any institution. The richness of the gifts in Quakerism holds me in this peculiar Society. I have not found a vision of the gospel more compelling, more transformative, than that of Friends, and though we may have loosened our grip on some aspects of this vision throughout the branches, it is still part of our spiritual DNA. I’ve seen the Society come alive in this power, at QuakerSpring, at Friends of Jesus gatherings, and of course in Peru at the World Plenary Meeting, where Friends from all branches came together to worship and fellowship, offering their tradition’s gifts. I have had glimpses of revival, and I want it.

Maybe God will lead me out of institutional Quakerism one day, and maybe God will let the institutional church crumble. The truth is, I have little idea on what God is up to, and I have little authority to speak on what God should do… but I’m confident that I have been animated by the grace of Christ, and it is hard for me to deny the Spirit leading me to Friends. So what does being faithful and believing Christ’s good news mean for me right now? I deeply sense that it is to continue being nurtured and edified by the Society of Friends, and to call forth the gifts of Quakerism that we’ve lost sight of. Is that the answer for other Quakers, and for other Christians sojourning in denominational structures? For some, but definitely not all. But for myself, I feel my spirit leaning on some rather obscure Scripture verses, giving me hope for the Religious Society of Friends and the Church as a whole:

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

—Deuteronomy 30:3-6, 10 (The Message)

For myself, Friends, the Church, and all who know the love of God: may we not be halfhearted, and may we hold nothing back, so God’s presence would be welcomed among us to restore, revive, and redeem.

 

I am not white enough

No matter where I’m dropped, I always struggle with a sense of not belonging. I’m a gay, half-Japanese, ex-Moonie, college drop-out, Quaker who believes in Jesus, speaks in tongues, and takes communion. I am in many ways a paradox, but more than anything, I’m a really bizarre human being. And my last post about “White Appropriateness” deeply reflects my own exhausted experience in the white mainline Church. Yes, I painted the mainline world with a broad brush. I recognize that I am currently going through a sudden and painful life-change and some of that hurt may have been funneled into my last post. That said, I stand by everything I wrote, and I hope I can clarify a bit on what I mean by “white appropriateness”, and how I have encountered it among liberal mainline Protestants and even Quakers.

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My best friend and I watching TV and mutually encouraging one another in the sloppy, wacky, and foolish way of Jesus`

“I am not white enough.”

It scares me how often I think this, especially when engaging with my faith community. The biblicism, homophobia, and overall lack of critical thinking were hard to deal with in charismatic circles, but I didn’t struggle as much with shame for not being white enough. Perhaps this was because the charismatic fellowships I was a part of tended be racially and socioeconomically diverse. To be fair, a lot of my experience in Evangelicalism was also haunted by this notion, but not nearly as intensely as I’ve experienced in the past few years of participating in white mainline communities.

For my white readers, I know some of you are thinking, “how often does one’s economic and racial/ethnic background even come up in church?”

I want you to understand that I am constantly interpreting the tongue of white folks. Coffee hour at Quaker meeting is not easy. I listen to Friends talk about summers spent in France, granddaughters at Bard, family trips to Thailand, dietary needs, and Book TV on C-Span. I’ve found that these conversations require deep listening, discernment, and, for better or for worse, self-censorship. It isn’t like people are constantly probing me with questions that expose where I lack privilege (though, I will say, this does happen every time I’m asked about my education, which is every time I go to meeting or church) but I am constantly on my toes, trying to relate, trying to listen, trying to hear, and it is often worth it.

But here’s where it gets discouraging.

When I am myself, authentic and open, sharing my heart or telling my story, talking the way I talk, I’ve often experienced not being heard. I cannot tell you how many times people’s interest in me dissipated after pushing me to tell the story behind my unpronounceable name (which they insist on shortening to “Hye”) and finding out I am an ex-Moonie, or after finding out I am a Christian of a more evangelical orientation, or even when I simply act like me… goofy, emotional, and weird.

By no means do I count “weirdness” as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a gift Jesus possessed. Perhaps the way he is portrayed as eloquent, constantly centered, and simply carrying a powerful aura that caused souls to yield, is accurate. But I have a hard time believing that he was not at all a freak. He cursed a fig tree to death because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-25), which is a bit extreme, a bit magical, perhaps profound, but most definitely strange. His whole ministry path was not exactly typical, sensible, or even rational. I like weird. And thankfully, Quakers can handle weird. We have our fair share of eccentric folks, with strong personalities and brilliant minds and beautiful souls. That said, it seems to me that “nerdy weird” is the tolerable weird in Quaker circles, and that kind of weird, which I respect and love, can be kind of… white.

And I am not that kind of weird.

I’m speaking in tongues, grew up in a cult, openly weeping over my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, amateur Mormon historian, child of an interracial arranged marriage kind of weird. I’m the kind of weird that is often made to feel inadequate for not finishing my college career, the kind of weird that is demanded an explanation for my “exotic” or “funny-sounding” name (actual things that have been said), and the kind of weird that is dubbed by various believers as either too fundamentalist or overly-spiritual, and either way, too ignorant. I’m the kind of weird that feels irrelevant and invisible in a mainline congregation.

And maybe this doesn’t sound like a racist, classist issue, and maybe I am just an over-demanding special snowflake, but I cannot help but see how much the upper-middle class, white, liberal, and (over-)educated have managed to control whole denominational cultures. I cannot help but see how the Other is forced to conform to a certain cultural standard to the best of their ability to enter the life of the Church. And I cannot help but feel, today and too often, that I am simply not white enough to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

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.