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!

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

 

Thoughts (and excuses) about my church attendance

I have a confession: I don’t regularly or actively participate in a faith community. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, as somebody who works for a religious organization and as somebody who has a (self-proclaimed) high ecclesiology, but… honestly, church has been a much more more draining experience than a life-giving one and I’m done trying to make it work.

At least for now.

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Church ought to be a sanctified brunch.

Perhaps my idealism sets me up for such disappointment, and perhaps this decision reveals the individualistic nature of my “millennial” faith, and maybe that’s all true. What I know for certain is that church, as I’ve experienced it, is unhelpful to me.

That isn’t to say I’ve never had an edifying experience in church. In times of discouragement or discernment, I often return to the promises prophetically uttered by lay ministers in the charismatic church or hear a Friend’s vocal ministry bounce throughout my head and lead me into Light.  But time after time, I’ve tried to find my voice in such spaces, I’ve tried to find ways to serve and grow in such communities, and it’s been pretty fruitless. And I like to think that I’m a friendly, personable guy, and somehow I’ve found it impossible to get grounded in a spiritual community.

So, again, I’m done for a little while. And I’m really okay with that.

I wasn’t always. In fact, I have spent a lot of time condemning myself for not living up to my Quakerism, or my Christianity, by being “out of community.” At a certain point, though, I just didn’t have the emotional energy to care any longer.

I still attend Quaker meeting to stay connected to Friends and to enjoy the power of corporate silent worship, but I probably pop in once a month. And I also go to various churches, to hear the Bible read and to sing hymns sung by thousands, if not millions, of saints before me. I do that even more infrequently.

Can I still claim to be Quaker, or even a Christian, when at the core of our faith is the Church? Can I still claim to follow Jesus when I am out of touch with his body? I think it’s a good question. I don’t know the answer and I don’t know if I ever will. I still dream of being in a house church, where tongue-talking, poetry reading, deep silence, delicious food, and political demonstrations are on the agenda, and I’m somehow confident that I’ll someday have that. But in the meantime, I will continue to try to bring and be the church wherever I go, and hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll find a way to sustainably, functionally, and joyfully be in community.

That being said, I know I love Jesus, and I am even more confident that he loves me. I know that I encounter the presence of God in staff meetings, when I mutter in tongues while making spreadsheets, when I see people make friends with strangers on the bus, when I watch my nephew play on my brother-in-law’s lap, and while I sip genmaicha and listen to my mother’s spiritual reflections each morning. Maybe that’s not enough, but for now, it’s what I can handle. It’s what I can do.

 

Last One Standing: A More Thorough Update on My Life

A picture my [former] roommate, Carson, took at the end of the year QVS retreat

A picture of my house’s altar that my [former] roommate, Carson, took at the end of the year QVS retreat

Two days ago, QVS ended, and today I am leaving the QVS House. I’m the last one to move out and I already have seen all five of my roommates pack up and leave. My heart has been broken five times, as each roommate left the house, taking more and more of our house’s spirit with them. I have a lot of things on my mind and I am currently feeling a lot. But I feel satisfied. I am at peace. A lot happened this year, and it was difficult, and it was confusing, and often I’ve come to more questions than answers, but I’ve received a lot of wisdom, support, and love, and can say I have learned a lot. I would even say I feel more fully me.

Through my internship with AFSC, I have been able to learn from experienced organizers and activists. I have been primarily assisting AFSC’s Peace Program, which is focused on community peace-building and empowerment, as well as Project Voice, an immigrant rights program. I have been given opportunities to be on committees, planning for city-wide events like the May Day march, as well as speak at conferences and write grant proposals. More importantly, though, I was able to help with a program at Jefferson High School where I got to witness youth seeing the need for non-violent action and living it out in their communities.

In Portland, a Convergent stronghold, I’ve seen cross-branch cooperation unlike I’ve ever encountered before. The willingness for Liberal and Evangelical Friends to fellowship and learn from one another is a beautiful gift that the QVS house has been able to benefit from. The diversity of theology and spiritual practice among the supporting meetings has been the perfect space to explore what Quakerism means to me.

And, of course, I lived with five others I am proud to call my housemates—Ally, Carson, Rachel, Emily, and Kathleen—all of whom are brilliant, hard-working, compassionate human beings. These people are my community. I will not pretend that living in community has been easy. We have had to work towards being a community, and it remained a work in progress till the end. I will say that it has been worth it. I’ve had a ton to learn about communication, especially as somebody who avoids confrontation at all costs. Quaker values have undoubtedly held our community together, as we sought to not just co-exist in a house but dealt with hurts and misunderstandings with sincere intentions of peace-building.

We ended our year together on a retreat near Hood River, deep in the country. All around us were orchards, the forest, and a beautiful view of Mt. Hood. The time we spent together was meaningful, to say the least, and one of the deepest experiences I’ve had of “feeling seen”. I can confidently say that our retreat was beautifully crafted by both our local coordinator Sarah Klatt-Dickerson and the Spirit. Those moments will undoubtedly be defining for my experience in QVS.

I need to say thank you to everybody who has held me in the Light, prayed for me, encouraged me, and donated to me. You made this experience of QVS what it was. I still need to raise about $1,500, for the sake of paying off loans (which was included in my fundraising goal) and finishing my QVS payments. Any and every donation counts. You can donate on my GoFundMe or on paypal (sungis@gmail.com). That said, I cannot deny that I have been blessed immensely and I know I will look back to this year in the future and see it as formative and vital to my story.

As much as this transition hurts, I am ready for my next chapter. Hold me in the Light as I settle in Philadelphia and figure out my next steps. Also, I have a special prayer request for my family as there have been some painful repercussions from my post a few weeks back, “My Strange Relationship with the Mooniverse.” I do not want to go into details, but I know my actions, namely coming out as the founder and administrator of How Well Do You Know Your Moon, has put pressure on them. It does not help that last week I posted a video of one of Moon’s concubine’s sons telling his mother’s story, as well as sharing some of his own. It has been reaching the Unification community, reaching 3,000 hits in five days. Pray for me as I discern what my role in this work should look like and figure out how to be prophetic and in line with the Spirit.  Thank you, Friends. 

A Short Update

Some friends at the GCN Conference

Some friends at the GCN Conference

Hi Friends,

It’s been a busy month—from the holiday season to friends from afar (and a boyfriend) visiting, and to the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference, where I worshiped, tabled for Friends of Jesus, and reconnected with and made many dear friends.

So there has been a lot going on.

I am sorry for writing less, especially for those friends looking for updates on my life, but the truth is I haven’t had much to say. I have much to be thankful about—really, I do—but somehow, in one of the most blessed seasons of my life, I have been eaten up by my future’s ambiguity and by my own insecurities.

The GCN conference was glorious! There were so many loving, sweet, eloquent, and brilliant speakers. Everybody glowed with peace and looked so huggable and beautiful, and I think all who attended could agree. The conference was such a profound celebration of the unity and reconciliation that is found in Christ. And really, I found a deeper faith and hope there; I came out of the conference more excited about the gospel and more hopeful for the Church.

That being said, the heaviness of this season followed me into the conference and I was a bit distracted. My mind was sidetracked by the existential crises that kept popping up. I felt like I couldn’t soak up all the blessing and love that were so present and tangible at the conference, and that makes me a bit sad. Lord knows that it would have been a ton worse if I didn’t have my partner beside me the whole time, listening to me rant about my insecurities and continually praying for me.

And perhaps, this conference was needed. Perhaps it was the perfect dose of hope and faith I could have in a season like this, and perhaps I was supposed to be confronted by my insecurities and hurts. I say ‘perhaps’, but I am pretty confident that I needed these things.

So I thank God for sustaining, refining, and leading me and the Church as a whole. And I thank God for the blessing that is QVS, the Quaker community in Portland, as well as all the friends and family that have been pushing me and revealing the love of God continually. I often sense the support of the Spirit through the intercession of others, so I thank you for holding me in the Light and praying for me. I am still processing the GCN conference, and I have a lot to discern these upcoming months, so I ask for you, Friends, to continually hold me up in prayer. Lord knows I need it.

Light & Love,
Hye Sung

A Weekend with Some Friends of Jesus

Last weekend I was able to make my way to Barnesville, Ohio, and attend the Friends of Jesus Fellowship‘s Fall Gathering. Friends of Jesus (FOJ) is a network of Quaker ministries and communities, and they are my spiritual family. I spent this summer interning with FOJ: six weeks in Detroit, Michigan, serving the meeting there as well as volunteering at the Drop-In Center of the Ruth Ellis Center, and two weeks visiting the other FOJ communities in both Philadelphia and D.C. Though I had attended a retreat with FOJ prior to this summer, this summer immersed me into this community, and I discovered how much vision I shared with these Friends. When I found out that this gathering was on the list of QVS-sanctioned Quakerly activities, I was surprised, since we are a small bunch, but ecstatic that I would have such a reunion.

Tyler, Lissa, and I at the Fall Gathering

Tyler, Lissa, and I at the Fall Gathering

When thinking of last weekend, the word ‘reorienting’ keeps coming to mind. Between the Spirit-led messages and conversations, the worship and prayer, and reading “Falling Upward” by Richard Rohr, I felt my mind being renewed and I felt something in me shifting. One thing I was able to sense was the Spirit convicting me of certain sins and leading me into repentance that was more than an “I’m sorry” to Jesus. It seemed to be a change of heart and mind, and a change I am seeing manifest more fully in my life. Overall, I felt redirected, refocused, and refreshed from my time at the fall gathering.

Much of the gathering’s messages were centered on ‘discipleship’, a topic I have felt wary of since culturally detaching from Evangelicalism. It was an intimidating topic, but one I know I needed to hear and think about. We even talked a bit about evangelism as a group, which is even more daunting than discipleship, in my opinion. It was refreshing to talk about sharing the gospel beyond scare tactics, especially since this is ‘good news’. Our conversations were both challenging and inspiring.

The last night of the gathering was incredibly powerful, for myself and for the gathered body there. The worship and prayer felt birthed and carried by the Holy Spirit. Micah Bales, eloquently wrote on his blog:

The only way I knew how to describe it afterwards was to say, It felt like the lid was about to come off. The room was literally shaking with the prayers of those present, our bodies and voices trembling under the power of the Spirit.

The room felt thick with the presence of God. It was evident that the Spirit of Christ was ministering to individuals, as the inspiration and power of the Spirit led people to speak and pray in a manner that I had not seen before among Quakers, including FOJ. As somebody who has been in hundreds of charismatic/Pentecostal meetings, services, and conferences, I have many times heard people claim that the Spirit was uniquely and especially present in such places, but too often these claims were backed by hype and emotionalism. This night was unique; it was anointed and without precedent. It was raw and sincere. And as Micah pointed out, it bore the marks of the Holy Spirit.

Though this night was quite emotional, I cannot say that I walked away from that experience with an intense high (or an intense low, as I returned to everyday life). I didn’t get filled with a frantic zeal nor did I feel like I had somehow become a little more spiritually elevated. I came out of that experience with some more peace, hope, and vision. I felt comforted, assured, and reminded of God’s sweet presence in every moment. I am sure much happened that night that I will not understand for quite some time, if ever, but I am confident that whatever was happening, it was good, it was God, and it was needed.

An October Update

Since this blog is not only a place for me to rant about Quakerism and Jesus, but also an invitation into my QVS journey, I thought I would give you an update on my time so far as a volunteer with the Quaker Voluntary Service.

The past five weeks have been incredible, and I really mean it when I say that. I feel like I have been given the perfect space to digest and sort through some major life-things, discover Quakerism, deepen my faith, and prepare for my next step and life beyond QVS. I cannot help but sense the preciousness of this time and carry an immense amount of gratitude for the gift that QVS is.

Portland Orientation with Wes Daniels

Portland Orientation with Wes Daniels

One major thing I have to express thanks for are the Friends in Portland who have been extravagantly kind and generous. The churches and meetings have been supportive in every way possible, providing us with hikes, trips to the beach, homemade jam, pizza, hugs, and a whole lot of everything.

I saw this love and support most come alive right after the Portland QVS house was broken into in the middle of the night and a few of us had personal belongings stolen. Friends immediately came together to make sure we were secure and feeling safe, with food, new locks and doors, an alarm system, cards and letters, emails, etc. I am confident that these things played a large part in how quickly our house emotionally recovered from this traumatic experience. And thanks to QVS, my laptop and my housemates’ stolen belongings are being replaced (which you can help with by donating to QVS).

I came to my internship with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) during a major transition of theirs, as the Peace Program was (and is) being reformatted and the office was moving. I have been as much of a help as I can be in the moving process, which has been lengthier than all of us expected, and I have been helping with the research needed for the new program. The AFSC Portland staff has been incredibly welcoming, and I could tell from the beginning that the work they had for me this year would be rewarding. This week I am attending a retreat in Northern California for regional AFSC offices. I look forward to connecting to other AFSC staff and receiving more vision for my work this year.

Wandering around Barnesville, Ohio during the FoJF Fall Gathering.

Wandering around Barnesville, Ohio during the FoJF Fall Gathering.

This past weekend I attended the Friends of Jesus Fellowship‘s (FoJF) Fall Gathering. FoJF is a network of Quaker churches and ministries that I have had the privilege of developing a friendship with the past year. I had the opportunity to intern with them in Detroit, volunteering 4 days a week at the Ruth Ellis Center, “a youth social services agency that serves the needs of runaway, homeless and at-risk youth,” in addition to serving the Friends meeting. Being able to attend this retreat meant a sweet reunion with so many friends I love and powerful worship and fellowship that was packed with the Spirit’s presence.

This eleven-month experience has had a wonderful start, and I know this time will fly by. I am grateful for everyone who has supported me in prayer, in financial support, and in all other ways. Consider donating, if you would; more importantly, hold me in the light as I continue on this adventure in both service to God and to others and in personal growth.