Name 5 Black theologians you’ve read, or 3 Asian theologians … or 2 female theologians … or 1 Indigenous theologian?
If you are able to answer these in full capacity, please leave your answers in the comments so we can trade notes.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about Identifying Chinese Christian in the Secular Humanities, and it was a step for me toward a sort of peace with my position in the humanities. It was an attempt to push back at the way humanities enjoys whitewashing the church.
They aren’t the only ones though. We love to whitewash within the church too.
Church History is grossly white.
The culture-makers of our church: worship leaders, thinkers, professors, theologians, pastors continue to be male-dominant, white-dominant, and white-inheriting.
The metaphors that flood our worship music are white culture context. The theology that we consider “universal” and “true” is white.
More insidiously, we are obsessed with church traditions that have become irrevocably intertwined with the rise of Western domination, and the dissemination of Western normative thought through disgusting legacies such as colonialism, neoliberal economics, military and political occupation.
Jesus wasn’t a white man. We may say we understand this, but we really don’t.
Jesus was a person of colour, and this is a concept that is almost impossible to understand.
As an Asian person, I never once imagined Jesus shared this label with me.
In my imagination, in the literature, illustrations, movies and anything else I was exposed to, Jesus was a (albeitly rather tanned) White, bearded man.
We also like to compare him to other white men, contextualize his legacy in western thought, philosophy, history, literature, politics and education, and recreate his life through western lens.
As a post-colonial student, coming to terms with the effects of colonialism tore the ground up from under my feet.
What does this mean for me as a Chinese person, born again into a faith that rejects culture in favour of a “universal Church” that really, is a White church?
What does this mean for the faith that I practice, for the truth I view as infallible?
Perhaps because our God transcends time and space, we tend to think that our churches also transcend time and space.
But time and time again, I find this to be a very comfortable lie we tell, so that we don’t have to justify our practices, or hold ourselves accountable to our own blind spots.
To say “my faith in and of itself is neutral, shaped by my relationship with God alone” is naive at best, and extremely destructive at worst, because it erases the very problematic systems that we emerge out of, and our faith gets filtered through.
After all, to acknowledge that faith is not necessarily neutral, and in fact, prone to racial, gendered, and classist bias, is to venture into the tiresome space of becoming accountable for our own biases that influence our practice of faith.
This IS important.
It matters because we emulate and recreate specific elements white culture in our churches, call it Christianity universal, and perpetuate colonial legitimacy.
It also matters because we sometimes uphold Chinese culture in our churches, generalize North American liberal culture by calling it unchristian, and conflate culture with faith in misleading ways.
Understanding race, class, gender, ability and power through intersectional lens is understanding a broader process of narratives that become what we call History, a history that is an inherent part of the church.
Ignoring the dialogue around race, class, gender, ability and power is to live comfortably with privilege, and to become complicit in enabling, and perpetuating these oppressive concepts. It creates self-righteous, moralistic Christians that hide in church and condemn the world at large, tsk-ing at the condition of things.
These words may sound harsh, but they are a reflection of my own painful process of decolonizing.
As I continue to walk this journey of faith, my constant prayer is to see and hear with God’s heart.
I am tired of hearing the same sermons preached over and over, telling us to be responsible individuals, conveniently ignoring our social responsibilities, or the way our faith and cultural heritage intersect.
I often find myself standing before God with burning questions, a deep anger, and unspeakable grief.
It is hard for me to have answers, because the church has always been vulnerable to the world as it was, as it is, and as it developing.
But as I grow in faith, I want to openly grapple with those questions: go to the very dark places and acknowledge the brokenness of Christianity’s past and present, even as I draw strength from the certainty of God’s amazing work over years.
We suck at being Christians because sin also manifests in how we continue to let the powerful amass wealth, or amass wealth ourselves at the expense of the poor and the exploited, in the way we continue to turn away from our neighbours local and global, ignore racism, sexism, privilege White culture as Christian culture, over-consume and’ ignore our stewardship, and also in our perpetual belief that land is ours to take.
This results in affluent megachurches that own too much property, consumer-based and saviour-complex missionary trips, racially divided and class-based churches, the continued existence of prosperity gospel, and practicing Sunday Best (also known as “Church-appropriate wear is really white upper middle class wear” Christianity).
The church has always been a big part of my life in every city I’ve lived in.
Much of who I am today is owed to the communities that nurtured me, that loved me and encouraged me, that lived the Word with me in different ways.
But I’ve been shut down too often: told that my desire to grapple with this is intimidating, that it’s not really part of the Gospel, glossed over with simple, “good for you but this is not for me” attitudes.
I am looking for church that lives a Christianity willing to look beyond the inner self, and see the self that is connected with community, society, and the world at large in multiple ways.
Because only when I look at the world in full—in its complete and utter destitution, yet incredible resilience and beauty—and try to take it all in, can I begin to understand the inner self, and how marvellous the grace of Christ that makes me is.
So I will look at the world in full.
I will see Jesus as both God, and a Middle Eastern man.
I will read theologians who aren’t American White men, and sit at the feet of women pastors.
I will not stop talking about our social responsibilities as church community, and practicing self-reflexive critique on whether the way I do my faith is problematic.
I will include culture, gender, history, politics, the environment, animals, science, literature, society, social justice in understanding of Gospel.
So I will look at the world in full, and see Christ.