by Allie Lundblad
The following is Allie’s response to a presentation during the last gathering of the Constructive Theologies Project.
“What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?”
It was my friend Alexis asking, at one of our Constructive Theologies Project conferences. She’d just told a story of white church people coming together with church people of color for the sake of justice and then spending all their time and energy in confession and justification of themselves. So Alexis posed the question to the white people in the room: “What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?“
At some level, the question struck me as problematic, echoing the way that white people frequently seek to evade responsibility for their own whiteness and for the ways that whiteness functions within an unjust racial system. Were another white person to tell me that she was more Christian than white, I would be immediately distrustful, expecting the next words out of her mouth to be something like, “And I don’t see color.”
Even amongst those who are willing to acknowledge our whiteness along with the psychological tendencies and material privileges that come with it, most of us then immediately set out to get rid of our whiteness as quickly as possible. We confess, we rationalize, we justify, we minimize, and we look to people of color for affirmation that we aren’t really that bad, that we aren’t really that white.
The two — badness and whiteness — are more often than not equivalent in our minds, it seems. Many of us have become aware of our whiteness in its connection to oppression, privilege, racism, and it holds little meaning beyond these negative effects. Yet when we understand whiteness as little more than racism, as nothing more than immorality, there is nothing to do with it other than try to make it go away. And while this may be a noble goal, it’s also an impossible one and our attempts too often make us, as white people, all that much more damaging.
My first instinct, then, is that white people need to become more white, not less. Alexis’s question, though, pushes the conversation a step further. What would it be like if white people became more white in ways that were guided and challenged and shaped by Christianity, rather than allowing our Christianity to be hijacked by whiteness, as it has been for so long?
A good dose of grace might be enough to calm that urge to make whiteness go away as quickly as possible. Even a small reminder of our limits as humans, of our createdness might be enough to help us understand ourselves as having a culture more particular than whiteness alone but certainly related to it. Just a few of the words of Jesus or the long line of prophets who condemned oppression before him could only challenge us to take responsibility for the injustices done in the name of whiteness, to do our best to make it right, and to refuse to let history repeat itself in that way. And any amount of the command to love our neighbor would inspire us to do just that, rather than using our time with our neighbor to justify ourselves.
What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?
Allie is a chaplain resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Downtown Chicago and a minster at First Baptist Church of Chicago
I don’t fully understand your question. I attend a “black church” (actually two of them, one when i want more praise and worship and the other when I want a really strong message) and I am the only white person who attends both. I am really loved and embraced by both congregations. Yes, we all see color, but it’s never something discussed or important to any of us.
For me, I chose to attend an African American church bc I feel as if they are more raw and open in there praise. They clap, stomp, yell, throw there hands in the air, cry and more openly. It’s never something to be ashamed or embarrassed about. In the white churches I have attended you keep quiet and to yourself, it’s as if people are there out of duty and obligations rather than out of worship and WANTING to be there. It’s a completely different environment and I love it. I also attend black church instead because there I am not judged for being in an interracial relationship, I know that even when nothing is said at a white church I am being silently judged by uncomfortable families.
Anyway, that may or may not be on topic as I don’t really understand what your asking, just an observation.
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Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and to respond!
And thank you for your observation. I also attend a predominantly African American church for which I am deeply grateful, both because the congregation has loved me so well and taught me so much and because I’m glad to be part of worship that includes call and response and great preaching. I appreciated that you said, “Of course we all see color”; I would say that about my church, too, but, as you also said, that doesn’t become a source of division nor does it exclude me from the community.
But sometimes we need to have conversation about race, and specifically about the ways that racial dynamics in the United States are the source of huge injustices. Yet, my experience has been that many of us white people are really bad at having those conversations because they make us feel guilty and anxious and scared and we don’t really know what to do about it. Our guilt and anxiety and fear in turn make us bad partners in working toward justice.
What I tried to suggest in my post is that we as white people need to be willing to acknowledge our whiteness — and the fact that it frequently means we are blinded to a number of injustices, privileged in particular ways, and taught harmful ways of thinking and being in the world — without becoming so guilty, fearful and anxious.
What my friend Alexis was suggesting with her question, and what I tried to develop in my post, was that our identity as Christians might be able to do some of that work. It can remind us that the most important thing is loving the people around us, and that means making sure that we are honest about injustice without allowing our guilt to paralyze us.
I hope that helps. Thanks again for reading and responding to my post! It’s always good to hear from you.
This is true, I think everyone is afraid to discuss race. In my experiance, we only feel comfortable discussing it with other people of our own race. I remember walking around town with a group of ladies from school, when one cracked a white joke than immediately got shy and apologized to me (I being the only white person in the group). Race is an uncomfortable topic for everyone. But it’s important, and one thing I have learned by attending a historically black university is that everyone should be a part of the conversation and not afraid to discuss it, the more open one person in a room is the more open everyone else will become. It’s really not a scary topic once everyone simply acknowledges it.
Being the only white person in the room on many occasions, I will jump right in and it puts the others around me at ease. It was something I was much more afraid to discuss before attending this school.
I had no idea that your church is predominantly black, I would love to attend at some point of I am ever around. Where are you located these days?
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