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.

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.

People of Presence

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J. Doyle Penrose’s “Presence in the Midst”

I was alone in my bedroom the night I decided to follow Jesus. I was sixteen years old, and I was done with religion. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesus.

I’d grown up in the Unification Church, and Jesus was barely a part of the cosmic narrative there. Actually, what I knew about Jesus was that – among our very ecumenical pantheon of sages and saints – he was a failure. But there was something about Jesus. His grace. His forgiveness. His sacrifice. Something about Jesus that spoke to my  condition. He was absurd. And beautiful.

Jesus had shaken my faith before that night. In my sophomore year of high school, I attended a Mormon ward for six months, hoping that I might meet Jesus there. But I never received the promised “burning ofthe bosom,” so I gave up.

Later, as I tried to detox from religion and keep my distance from anything “spiritual,” my desire to know Christ kept coming back. I didn’t want to be a Christian. I didn’t want to have to listen to shitty Christian rock music or vote Republican or reject evolution. And more than anything, I didn’t want to be seen as a nutty born-again. But I wanted Jesus.

I needed Jesus.

I paced the floor of my bedroom that night, and I thought about what coming to Jesus might mean. I knew I didn’t get all the implications. I knew it wouldn’t help my relationship with my parents. I suspected the Holy Spirit would push me to do hard things. I was scared. But Jesus seemed worth it.

And then I was on my knees. I didn’t know what to say. I just needed to talk. And as I talked, I felt God’s ear inclined to me, listening, hearing me. I’d been praying my whole life. But this was the first time I’d ever felt as if God heard me. As if God cared.

It was a kind of presence that I now think of as the Spirit. I felt loved, known, adored. I felt hope. Like I could do anything. Like Love herself was in me. I met Jesus that night.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think this kind of encounter is supposed to be rare. I think this is what church was intended to be. The gathering of Christians is more than space for moral encouragement or corporate mindfulness or even religious education. If it’s not first a space where real people come in contact with power, with wisdom, with Love herself, then we fail to be the Body of Christ, and the world stays the same.

God grants us rest, fullness of joy, power – always surrounds us, always with us, present within us. So why don’t we notice? Where is our power? Why is it so hard to believe? Corporate worship should nurture our ability to rest into this presence, to yield together to Love. Wherever hearts are open and pursuing the light of God’s love, whenever we come together.

I’ve experienced such spaces of worship. Places where the presence of God released fresh air of faith, hope, love. We breathed it in. God’s hand was upon us, molding our desire for justice and mercy. There was also honesty – authenticity – that I rarely encounter in any other place. People spoke about their addictions, their shame, their fear, and there was no judgment. We looked into one another’s eyes. There was understanding. There was love.

In college, I used to run a prayer meeting in my dorm room. I was a lot bolder back then, and I’d invite people off the street to come. There was a 30-something single mom who I kept bumping into, at parties, at stores and once at a Christian Reformed church. I invited her to my prayer meeting. One time, she broke down weeping, opening up about her fears and shames, and she begged us for prayer. None of us had seen someone so desperate for prayer, and honestly, several folks were deeply uncomfortable. This was not normal behavior. But it was good, beautiful, and needed. As we prayed and prophesied over her, there was peace, and we couldn’t deny that her honesty, her vulnerability, was a catalyst for the Spirit moving among us.

We learn from the early Church that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit changes everything. This encounter with the living God transformed the 
first Christian community and resulted in the working of miracles, shared meals, communal prayer, radical hospitality. I’m convinced that our inheritance as children of God is so much deeper than sweet sentiments and moral support. We need the very presence and life of God.

This Spirit-led discipleship is what I hoped to find among Friends, but to be honest, I don’t see much of it here. Sometimes I wonder if modern Quaker culture leaves much room for the Holy Spirit, in her sloppiness, in her risk-taking, in her boldness, in her power, in her love. To be fair, this isn’t just a Quaker problem. It’s everywhere in the American church.

We need something new. We need each other. We need to be a people who, though done with religion, just can’t stop thinking about Jesus.

I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

—St. Paul

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?