The Invisible Character of White Privilege
by Fr. Richard Rohr, 17 Nov 2017
If we are going to talk about God as me, we must also talk about God as thee too! For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment just because of the color of our skin. This “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true?
On 22 April, on a dusty farm outside the central city of Bloemfontein in South Africa, hundreds of thousands of Christians gathered for a prayer service led by Angus Buchan. Concerned about the state of the country, this group gathered together in response to the promise in Scripture found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I won’t go into the many ways this passage has been abused in the past, including pointing out that it is the second half of a sentence, and that it comes in the middle of a consecration of a Temple with many other instructions attached to it. Let’s just focus on what these words themselves say. We are not just called to prayer. We called to sort our lives out, to humble ourselves, to seek God and to turn from wickedness.
I strongly support the desire Christians had to pray for our country. And I strongly support any group of people gathering together to commit themselves to good and to God. But the big question, 48 hours later, is “now what?” What happens next.
I have four suggestions, all flowing from this verse in 2 Chron. 7:14:
1. Choose to humble ourselves
Humility involves thinking of others more highly than ourselves. Humility involves believing the best about others. Humility means I accept that my views, my approaches, my worldview and my way of life are not definitive for others – that other people may have equally valid, but different views, approaches, worldviews and ways of living. Humility means not imposing my beliefs on others. Humility means asking more questions. Humility means seeing the world through other people’s eyes.
How can we truly demonstrate a spirit of humility in South Africa and the world right now?
This is your invitation to a vitally important seminar. Download a PDF brochure here, and share with your friends.
The world is changing. More Christians from developing nations are becoming interested in mission. We need more people on the mission field, coming from more diverse backgrounds and finding new methods of funding their work.
Come and join a seminar hosted by OMF International that will investigate some new models of missional business.
- NEW WAYS of doing and funding mission
- INTEGRATING your entrepreneurial spirit and gifts with mission to the ends of the earth
- GOD AT WORK in various parts of the world through Missional Business
I really do like the current Pope. He seems to be a wonderful representative of Christ on earth – as we all should be. And he certainly has done much to raise the profile of the church. Catholic or not, all Christians should see the value in that.
TIME magazine’s profile and the reasoning behind their choice is well worth reading. Do so online here – with all the graphics and videos, or a text extract below:
Pope Francis, The People’s Pope
He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The first non-European pope in 1,200 years is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century
On the edge of Buenos Aires is a nothing little street called Pasaje C, a shot of dried mud leading into a slum from what passes for a main road, the garbage-strewn Mariano Acosta. There is a church, the Immaculate Virgin, toward the end of the pasaje—Spanish for passage—where, on one occasion, the local priest and a number of frightened residents took refuge deep in the sanctuary when rival drug gangs opened fire. Beyond the church, Pasaje C branches into the rest of the parish: more rutted mud and cracked concrete form Pasajes A to K. Brick chips from the hasty construction of squatter housing coagulate along what ought to be sidewalks. The word asesino—murderer—is scrawled in spray-paint on the sooty wall of a burned-out house, which was torched just days before in retaliation for yet another shooting. Packs of dogs sprawl beneath wrecked cars. Children wander heedless of traffic, because nothing can gather speed on these jagged roads. But even Pasaje C can lead to Rome.
I used to think that women should not lead in the church. My (faulty) understanding of Scripture was to take Paul’s restrictions literally, without understanding cultural context, interpretation or the adaptations of our theological positions that the Holy Spirit leads us to over time. We should make these adaptations slowly and with due consultation and attention. The danger is that we can stray from God’s will, and that would be a tragedy.
But over the past century, more and more people have come to understand the Bible in different ways from our historical interpretations about the role of women. I now completely and fully support the role of women in church, across all levels of leadership and involvement, with no restrictions (at least, none related to their gender).
It breaks my heart to watch women who are called by God to lead and serve, having to spend most of their energy fighting for their right/privilege to do this, rather than just doing their ministry calling.
Earlier this month, I came across this letter, clearly written out of this space of concern and pain. It was written by Esther Emery, a freelance blogger. It is beautifully written, heartfelt, and rings of truth. Please pass it onto all women you know who are feeling called by God to ministry.
Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership
I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.
But I know something. I know this. You are called.
You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.
The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.
Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.
Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.
That place is yours.
The social situation in rural Africa is the closest we get today to the situation that existed in first century Palestine, when Jesus was teaching. And Jesus’ message – among other things – was that the religious leaders were exploiting the poor, and needed to stop. In fact, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the religious leaders of his day. He called them “white washed tombs” and “blind guides”. I wonder what he might say to many African church leaders who seem to be mimicking the message and methods of those first century religious leaders.
There’s a reason Jesus was so opposed to them. Religion – as Karl Marx most famously pointed out – can be a drug for the poor (“opium for the people”), sedating them and distracting them from their desperate lives. At one level, that could be a good thing. The problem is that this too quickly turns to exploitation. Fundamentalist religion does this by offering eternal security and certainty of a better life (either now or in the future); and then demanding sacrifice today in response. Its best form produces solid citizens who will work hard and contribute to society self-sacrificially. The worst form, though, produces crusaders and unloving – and unlovely – cultish disciples.
A more sinister religion, though, emerges out of a “wealth and health” based religion. It promises cures for diseases and riches on earth. This is the religion peddled in rich countries through the 24-hour Christian broadcasting networks that ask viewers to contribute financially in exchange for holy water, prayer mats, blessed items and other tat. Mostly harmless, but most certainly idolatry. It is almost always for the benefit of the leader.
It’s when this religion meets the poor that things get nasty. This past weekend in Ghana, a stampede for special anointing water blessed by Africa’s most high profile fundamentalist Christian leader, Prophet TB Joshua from (I am sure you guessed) Nigeria, resulted in at least four deaths and thirty serious injuries. TB Joshua has courted controversy many times, including recent incidents in Ghana where his security guards illegally detained journalists covering his “crusades” in Accra. His Facebook page continues to spout testimonies of the power of the anointing water (from an Indian student who passed his school exams to people finding employment and cures for all sorts of diseases) – but no mention of the disaster in Ghana, except that this coming weekend’s crusades have been cancelled.
There is a form of religion that really would be good for the poor. Sadly, much of what is happening in Africa right now is not that form. And the poor need to be protected from it. When people die, hopefully there is an opportunity for truth to shine through.
Right now a conference called Rezolution is taking place in Johannesburg. The keynote speaker is an American, CJ Mahaney. Just a few weeks ago, Mahaney stepped down from the leadership of his own denomination, Sovereign Grace Ministries on the back of a court case in which he is a named defendant. The case alleges that Mahaney and other SGM leaders knowingly covered up sexual abuse that took place within their churches. (Update on 18 May 2013: the indictment has now been updated and made public: read the court document here. Warning, it will make you sick to your soul).
This comes on the heels of a leave of absence Mahaney took in 2011, in which he admitted to “various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment and hypocrisy” (see Christianity Today’s reporting of the situation back then).
In October last year, three female plaintiffs filed a lawsuit that alleges “a conspiracy spanning more than two decades [in the 1980s and 90s] to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members”. Mahaney and board president John Loftness, along with six other leaders, are named as defendants for allegedly failing to report incidents of abuse to law enforcement, encouraging parents to not report them, and “mislead[ing] law enforcement into believing the parents had ‘forgiven’ those who preyed on their children.”
Reformed Christians are flocking to this conference and extolling the teaching of Mahaney.
I have no doubt that God can use anyone to speak His message, and that all of us are sinners. But I am very concerned that in a country rocked by sexual abuse such as South Africa, the church would invite this man to speak. It sends a horrific message to a watching world. We need to be more sensitive to the world we wish to minister God’s love to. CJ Mahaney should have been removed from Rezolution conference as a speaker. And his public ministry should not be supported by Christian leaders in this country.
A good friend of mine who happens to be a recently cum laude graduated Masters student in psychology who has a passion for social justice and dealing with the effects of child abuse, has written an article on this issue that I think deserves to be read. You can read and download the PDF here. I encourage you to do so.
I am very disappointed that Antioch Bible Church, founded by Tim Cantrall out of a messy split with Honeyridge Baptist Church a few years ago, has chosen to keep CJ Mahaney on the bill of Rezolution. I am disappointed in my many conservative friends who have supported this conference and specifically Mahaney while knowing the fact that he has stepped down from ministry in the USA. By all means support him privately, but do not endorse his public ministry. I am disappointed that the Reformed churches in South Africa do not take the issue of sexual sin amongst one of their leaders seriously. I am disappointed in the message that a watching world has received from this Rezolution conference.
I distance myself from this brand of Christianity.
As the culture wars in conservative evangelical Christianity continue to rumble along, the pronouncements of some its key leaders are getting more and more disconcerting. I am seriously concerned about the rising “alpha male” type approach to church, embodied mainly by Mark Driscoll and his acolytes. In my home town, Johannesburg, a few churches led by young men have gone this route: denying women any role in leadership or public teaching in their churches. The theological leaders of this movement include John Piper, James Dobson and Wayne Grudem (see more at their ‘Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood‘), and to a lesser extent Don Carlson and Tim Keller (see their ‘Gospel Coalition’).
Rachel Held Evans is running a great series on her blog, calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism. They’re really getting themselves into a tangle over this issue (something that often happens when Scripture is misinterpreted, misrepresented or misunderstood).
I wrote about this a while ago, when I expressed my concerns about a video put out by the Gospel Coalition. They are using views on the role of women as a test for Biblical orthodoxy, and also claiming that it is not correct to attempt to understand the cultural and historical context in which a Biblical book was written (this completely contradicts the approach Carson has taken in his many excellent commentaries of Biblical books – but it seems that the issue of women leaders trumps his previous work as a Biblical scholar. One wonders why?).
But Rachel has found a few ‘exhibits’ of key statements made by those who oppose women leaders in church – not isolated, out-of-context statements, but key pronouncements and position statements – that just make no sense at all. Take some time to read the links below. You’ll be amazed, and stunned. And you’ll realise fairly quickly that the approach of those who want to keep women ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the home’ (my words, but typically the intention of those who take the so-called ‘complementarian’ view) is more a harking back to some idyllic (but completely inaccurate) picture of 1950s suburban America, rather than anything you can find in the Bible.
I grew up in churches that demanded that women submit to men, were not able to lead and could not teach men. As a young adult, I felt so strongly about this that I even left a church that changed their view on the issue, allowing men and women to minister as equals. My view has long since changed (that’s another story for another day, but was based on a detailed study of Scripture and personal experience with some of the most gifted and obviously called people I ever met – who happened to be women).
I don’t see this issue is a core theology, and, although I comment on it every now and again on this blog, it is not one that exercises me much. There are many superb thinkers, writers and teachers who are leading the cause of egalitarianism (the view that men and women are equals; as opposed to complementarianism, which argues that men should be in charge, and women should be their “help meets”) around the world, and I am happy to leave it to them. The very few verses in the Bible that deal with different roles of men and women are easily understood and explained in the light of the cultural context of the day, and the literary contexts in which they are found in the Bible itself.
But yesterday, I picked up a video from the Gospel Coalition, with a conversation between three of their top people, Tim Keller, John Piper and Don Carlson. It horrified me. All three are amazing men, great writers and teachers, but in recent days have made some strange statements about the issue of women. Piper in particular. Last year, he stated that the problem with culture and Christianity is that we have lost our understanding that Christianity is at essence a masculine religion.
In this video, the most disturbing thing is that all three men raise the issue of complementarianism to the level of a litmus test for orthodoxy, for ones willingness to take the Bible seriously, and for having a “loose approach to Scripture”. Sadly, this is the age-old conservative, evangelical approach that uses the Bible as a blood-stained baseball bat to beat opponents with, while blindly ignoring accepted hermeneutical principles, and also raising themselves to the level of infallible arbiters of truth.
Scarily, for example in the video, Carson specifically states that doing the work to understand the first century cultural context behind the books of the New Testament is an incorrect way of reading the Bible. I could not believe I had just heard that from such an influential Bible teacher, so I had to rewind and watch it again. But, indeed that’s what he said.
And worse, although they start by saying that in the Gospel Coalition they do not see complementarianism as a core doctrine, the closing comments were: “Let them compromise, we cannot!” They make the headship of men in the leadership of the church a matter of Dogma and not a doctrine or opinion that can have different positions held.
Piper has lost all credibility in my books over the past year, and in this video continued to do so. His views of masculinity are so distorted I really can’t believe what I am hearing. He provides the theological fuel to all the Wild at Heart men trying to find princesses to rescue, and the Mark Driscoll marriages turning women into Stepford wives from the 1950s, that are so dangerous to Christianity at the moment.
But you decide for yourself: watch the video and read the excellent response from Krish Kandiah here.
This scared me.
Earlier this year, Rachel Held Evans hosted a series of posts on her blog that looked at a variety of issues related to the role of women in the church. You can see links to the full series here. So there’s no confusion about my position, I believe that women and men are equal before God, and that all the gifts are available to everyone to use for God. Everyone is under some authority, and ultimately under God’s but gender is no issue in this.
The post I enjoyed the most in this series was one that looked at whether a conservative position on women is Biblical or cultural, and whether the roles of women laid out by those who do not allow women to lead or teach in church are from the Bible or from 1950s Western culture.
You can read the full post here, or an extract below.
There is one more myth regarding “biblical womanhood” that we really need to address as part of our series—and that is the myth that a true woman of God is defined by her roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker. I spend quite a bit of time exploring this in my book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but it’s so important to the conversation surrounding gender equality in the Church, it’s worth discussing in an abbreviated format here.