More catching up on old topics.
There was a mini stir some time back when Lecrae mentioned in an interview that he’s loosening his ties with “white evangelicalism.” Among his reasons was that he found himself deeply concerned on issues like Michael Brown, Black Lives Matter, and social justice, and found that white evangelicalism was silent on these issues. John Piper wrote an open letter in response; Piper and Lecrae had somewhat inexplicably worked together and he was specifically named in Lecrae’s interview. The letter was generally positive, mostly glad that Lecrae, in severing ties with white evangelicalism, did not abandon Christianity entirely. He confessed that there are issues that white evangelicalism may need to consider.
Christianity Today later published an interesting response to Piper from Ray Chang at Wheaton that tries to address the questions Piper raises on multi-ethnic relations and white evangelicalism. His take, one I largely agree with, is that unless white evangelicalism changes, there will be a reverse exodus of minorities from these churches, that Lecrae is the tip of the iceberg.
If there’s one single thing in regards to race that I wished all my white friends would understand, it’s that there is no such thing as the absence of culture. Everything is culturally influenced. White culture is not a neutral culture, or no culture at all – it is a type of culture. If you look at Lecrae, Chang’s letter, or whenever minorities talk about race, the desire for whites to understand this is a consistent theme. Lecrae told Piper that “‘white evangelicals’ generally assume they are a-cultural and bring no cultural influence into the fleshing out of their faith.” Chang writes that “For all of evangelicalism’s existence, a disproportionate burden has been placed on communities of color to adapt, adjust, assimilate, and acquiesce to the white expressions of Christianity. This is why evangelicals of color broadly understand the adjective ‘white’ being added to evangelicalism, while white evangelicals have a hard time seeing how their evangelicalism is white.”
I was struck by an interview Marc Maron had with W. Kamau Bell where he echoes the exact same thing in regards to culture as a whole:
People think that white is the absence of culture in race. They think that, well, I’m not anything, I’m just an American, or I don’t really know what I am. I feel like what it comes down to is if white people thought about their whiteness more, it would change the way in which they interact with other people. I don’t think white people think about their whiteness enough in this country. When news says, “That’s not me, I’m not White People.” Whereas when the news says, “Black people blah blah blah,” even if I don’t relate to that, I know that’s me. I have to accept some responsibility for that, or I have to choose not to, but I can’t act like I’m not involved in it. I feel like a lot of times white people act like they’re not involved in the race discussion in any way.
This wrong idea – that whiteness is the absence of culture or neutral – applies to many things (including things like food, music, and art), but I feel it most acutely with the church. The American church categorizes things like black churches and Latino churches. But it thinks of white churches as just “church”. The neutral, a-cultural Church. Which it is not, and can’t be – there is a culture to white churches as much as there is with other churches. It doesn’t look exactly like New Testament churches, which themselves were probably culturally different from one another.
It matters because when you think of a system as neutral, you subconsciously think of it as objective and true and that other systems are deviations from the ideal. It leads people to subtly think: Black and Latino churches are fine, but in an ideal world, it would be great if they were more like (or part of) white churches, where there is no cultural influence, where’s it’s just pure church. A white church has a culture as much as a black church, and it takes recognizing that to be able to address it.
This obviously extends beyond church – there’s a white American culture in general, and all minorities know how it takes mental work to adapt to it. Years ago Jieun told Lee how it took her time to learn how to talk to white people and I remember seeing Lee’s mind being blown (or at least really confused) – how is it possible to not know how to talk to white people when talking to white people is just… talking? White culture is not just neutral talking, there’s a culture to it, and minorities need to adapt to navigate it.
I don’t blame any of my white friends who don’t recognize this – few are ever forced to consider it, especially if they’re always in the dominant culture and never get the opportunity to live outside it. But this is the one thing I wish they would all understand. There is a white culture just as much as there is any minority culture.