Social Issues, Theology

Hold fast to what is good


White Evangelicals Are the Most Fragile of all White People is a bitingly brilliant article by Brandi Miller, which I highly recommend. Linked within the piece is an older article by Miller, published on The Salt Collective: The Chasm Between White Theology and Black Liberation. As I read the first article, I couldn’t help thinking, Why do I bother with Christianity at all when Christians keep ruining it? And as I read the second: the history of black liberation and Jewish liberation have interesting parallels.

And, finally, this verse from 1 Thessalonians came to mind: Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.

Test everything, and hold fast to what is good.

Miller, it seems, has found or is gradually finding ways to reconcile her Christian faith with her identity as a black woman. The history of oppression she carries has a direct and not at all contradictory impact on the way she understands Jesus and the cross:

White Christians were asking “how do we save souls” and creating streamlined ways to expedite the spread of the gospel through Bible tracts, evangelicalism trainings, hip conferences, and apologetics.

Many Black Christians were asking what it means to live in our own bodies that are constantly at risk for trauma. This meant a theology, that yes, shared the gospel, but also focused on the body, feeding communities, tutoring kids, and pushing back, even if only theologically, against oppressive violence.

Judaism, as we all know, is no stranger is bodily trauma and systemic oppression either. Miller’s words were like a bucket of cold water dumped over my head on a 90-degree day: Oh, so that’s what it’s about. That’s why I’m still committed to making this work.

Hold fast to what is good.

Jesus was always asking questions and speaking in glorified riddles to an annoying degree and all of them were contextual. Jesus’s questions and parables centered on the people that he was with and their immediate needs. He was healing people’s bodies, getting to know their lives, and inviting culturally ignorant dudes to follow him around and be transformed. Jesus’s questions were not primarily about the soul, they were about fully and holistically embodied life now AND forever.

I sometimes forget that the same issues which plague evangelicalism – casual racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, an allergy to facts – are also found in various Jewish sects. No matter where I make my spiritual home, there will always be a process of separating the good from the toxic; letting go of the negative and holding tightly, sometimes with an iron fist, to what is good.

Jesus was not located at the center of Roman power and political clout, but on the margins. His disciples spent time following him around and consequently in the presence of the marginalized who Jesus constantly empowered, engaged, and elevated to the highest places in his kingdom.

Simply put, to not know and tie our lives to the worlds, theologies, and experiences of the marginalized is to not know Jesus at all.

For me, there is power in knowing that many devout Christians would support deporting Jesus if he came back today, because they likely wouldn’t recognize him – and he would forgive their sin anyway.

There is power in worshiping not only a God who empathizes with suffering, but personally lived it. He is not passively observing from somewhere in the sky, but was – and is – actively engaged in it.

This is the “good” that I cling to when I feel slammed against the wall between faith and agnosticism.

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash


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15 thoughts on “Hold fast to what is good”

  1. The Euro-centrism even extends to European (and even more so, some Euro-American Christians) seeing themselves as the Chosen People displacing the Jews from that status. That hubris continues to remind me of Gandhi’s response when asked what he thought of Western Civilization; “I think it would be a very good idea.”

  2. Bobcabskings–I read both articles and enjoyed the points made. I did notice, however, that even the Black female writer keeps referring to white churches as “the Church.” This is part of the problem–seeing European and Euro-American expressions of Christianity as “the Church.” White churches are not “the church,” but are merely part of “The Church”–the Body of Christ WORLDWIDE.

    This insistence on making what white churches do as some form of “normative”
    Christianity is at the root of multiple problems. Christian faith comes in multiple
    flavors and colors, and there is no one ethnic expression of that faith that
    is “normative” to serve as some kind of pattern for every other believer on the

    Those of us raised in Christianity OUTSIDE European or Euro-American
    expressions of it have different experiences shaped by our unique histories
    and cultures. We know our faith to be fully expressive of, and integrated with,
    our culture, in spite of the dominant culture’s efforts to marginalize us–not only
    as citizens and human beings, but as Christians.

    Too much of White America wants desperately to strip Christians of color of their
    dignity and worth AS Christians, and this “stripping” begins with the deliberate
    attempt to de-legitimize African-American Christians of their Christianity by
    the claim that the Christian faith only came to Africans by means of white
    missionaries. Never mind that Judeo-Christian faith flourished for CENTURIES
    within the African continent–a resilient faith that was spread by African and
    Afro-Asiatic Hebrews BEFORE imperialistic European “missionaries” showed
    up with the European conquistadors in search of silk, spices, gold and slaves
    in the 1400’s–1800’s.

    This leads to absurd claims that all the African slaves brought to the New
    World were heathen polytheists. Many Africans dragged here in those
    wretched slave ships were already Jews, Christians and Muslims, in addition
    to polytheists. The African-American churches were started DURING slavery,
    and Africans passed down their Judeo-Christian faith in their churches. This
    explains the retention of many Hebraic biblical customs and worship practices
    within the Black Church of North America. Black Christians who reached
    North America were NOT being taught about Jesus from plantation owners,
    slavers, kidnappers, rapists and harsh overseers.

    This also explains why Black spirituals abound with contrasts to those who
    say that “John the Baptist was nothing but a Jew” versus the true child of
    God, who, at the edge of the baptismal river, responds to the question;
    “Have you got good religion?”–“Certainly, Lord!”–the joyful affirmation of
    having had one’s “Damascus Road experience” with the Son of God.

  3. Rape has been a feature of any oppressive and exploitative system of one population (whether defined by race, ethnicity, or class) over another for as long as records exist. It is, short of murder without consequences, the most graphic and clear statement of, “I get to do with you as I please and there is nothing you can do about it.” Even in the dominant group, the idea that it is not possible for a husband to rape his wife because she is his property, has been (and in some circles, still is) common. In that sense, women in the subject population suffer a double disadvantage.

    You make a good point about the visual reminder. I have had the thought that whenever a white police officer kills an unarmed Black man, at some level of consciousness he sees standing behind the victim the ghost of Nat Turner, and that is the unconscious source of his feeling that his life is in danger. White people in the slave owning areas, particularly the South, lived in fear of a slave rebellion for centuries, whether they personally owned any or not. That fear (along with fear of attacks by Native Americans) was behind the demands for the guarantee that the States could maintain their local militias that led to the inclusion of the Second Amendment in the Bill Of Rights. Understanding that history helps one to understand how it is that racism and fanatical and absolutist interpretation of that Amendment tend to go hand in hand, along with the fear mongering that “They are going to take away your guns.”

  4. Bobcabkings–Thanks for the links! I’ll read these articles. Your analysis of white fear is intriguing and insightful. I would like to add to your list another factor for fear–the fact that every African-American is a VISUAL reminder of how we got here (Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade) and how our ethnic group was artificially created from multiple sources–wholesale RAPE of African women on slave ships, in the “big house” and in all sectors of the plantation. This rape pattern continued
    well into the 1960’s and early 1970’s on small towns and cities, suburbs and hamlets, rural areas and great metropolitan centers of the United States.

    My mother’s father was the “product” of the rape of my 14-year old great-grand-
    mother; my first cousin was the “product” of my 15-year old aunt’s rape. My aunt suffered her entire life, with binge-drinking episodes and other forms of PTSD that lasted her entire life, until she died at the age of 85. Most African-American
    families–like their Native-American and Latino counterparts–have multiple
    oppressor-rape stories as part of recent family history, as well as family history
    dating back to the European conquest of the New World.

    The artificial creation of an entire ethnic group for labor–and all the wholesale
    rape that accompanied it–has always been “the dirty little secret” of the “New
    World”–so those of us in the Caribbean and all the Americas–North, Central
    and South–who descend from the original slave populations of the 1500’s–
    early 1900’s are still that “visible reminder” that America’s ideals of “freedom”
    were never meant for non-European populations in the New World.

    I remember reading a book called:
    SEXUAL RACISM by Charles H. Stember.

    This book also details the sexual nature of racism; how the oppressing society developed myths of people of color as “animals” to justify sexual aggression
    against the “animals”; etc. Fascinating reading and just as timely today as it
    was in 1978.

    This also explains why the impulse to “get those Black people out of sight”–hence the need to create whole new categories of persecution for us, meant to eject us from public space. So in addition to Driving While Black, we also have seen these categories in the last few months;

    1. Consuming Waffles While Black.
    2. Sitting In Starbucks While Black.
    3. Getting Plastic Utensils While Black.
    4. Barbecuing At A Public Park While Black.
    5. Using AirBNB While Black.
    6. Shopping Nordstrom’s Rack While Black.
    7. Entering Your Own Apartment While Black.
    8. Wearing Braided Hairstyles To School While Black.

    You just can’t make this stuff up!

    This is America.

  5. Europeans (including Euro-Americans) spent about 500 years running rough shod over the people of the rest of the world. However much we may strive to remain ignorant of our history of colonial oppression and exploitation, slavery, and genocide, or consign it to a past that doesn’t matter anymore, or construct justifying ideologies and theologies, I believe the knowledge of those wrongs in present and the root of the fear. It is the fear of a wronged people’s just anger, of the revenge they would want to take if it had happened to them and their ancestors. Oh, many will say (as I could), that their immigrant ancestors owned no slaves, but in truth, they did benefit from it and later, from Jim Crow, and all the rest, and somewhere inside they know it. We live in a culture deeply structured by that fear and that guilt, and the fear of what it would mean to pay the price, even in the form of reparations or some system of restorative justice . It is not only the victim who suffers PTSD. So do the perpetrators, though they are less able to recognize it.

  6. Bobcabkings–Lots of Euro-Americans are AFRAID of people of color. I am always aware of this when I drive on a highway and get pulled over by state police for
    any reason, such as random seat belt checks, or tail light checks. Although I think I look pretty harmless, I am cognizant of the fact that I have to do everything
    to “calm down” an agitated officer, or somehow reassure her/him that I am not
    a criminal with a Glock at hand!

    Unfortunately, Euro-Americans are taught to hate and fear anyone who does
    not look like them. This affects church-going Euro-Americans as well–especially
    those who are not in ethnically integrated churches. I have seen too many people who are not only AFRAID of me, but also AFRAID when I don’t fit into their
    little neat “box” of what they think African-Americans are or “should be.”

    This can occur in the most innocent of social contexts, such as meeting someone
    at the beach or in the Walmart check-out line. I chuckle sometimes when I
    speak in Spanish to another customer, then speak in French to yet another
    customer…and see all the CORNFUSED faces of some Euro-American folks
    who haven’t figured out that I’m African-American…the assumption being, of
    course, that Black people can’t speak anything other than hip-hop slang! 🙂

    I’ve seen the same thing occur among some Jewish-Americans, who are
    always shocked that I know ANYTHING biblical or Hebraic or whatever…
    such as the Jewish librarian from the State Library in New Jersey, who went
    into SHOCK because I asked her was that “Dodi li” on her wedding band.
    She promptly embarrassed my Jewish supervisor by asking the cringeworthy
    question: “How do YOU know that’s Hebrew?”–implying that Black people
    (even if they were reference librarians) could not possibly recognize the Hebrew language plainly engraved on her wedding band.

    I think my reply was something like “how does anyone know anything?”
    which I tried to deliver in offhand manner.

    Frankly, I was quite amused and astonished at her stereotyping, which struck
    me as anachronistic and somewhat patronizing, especially for someone who
    was SUPPOSED to have a broader knowledge and cultural base in a
    profession dedicated to gathering and distributing information.

    I think Euro-American churches and Messianic synagogues should do more exchange and joint-worship services with OTHER churches of color, This
    would help to break down stereotypes and allay irrational fears for many
    people–and help all believers to see that the “other” really isn’t all that
    different from me.

  7. I’ve been a happily practicing SGI Buddhist for over 30 years. But I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed would have all agreed: the purpose of religion is to make all people happy in the truest sense of the word. We challenge ourselves to transform to help others. Thank you for this!

  8. Thank you for linking to both of her articles, they were both very powerful and thought-provoking. I guess I am particularly troubled by the question of how and why white Christian theology is this way. How did the fate of the soul after death become prioritized over the body here and now in this theology? Why did European Christians develop white supremacy? I do not know the answers although they continue to plague me.

  9. I also read this article and can resonate to everything the author mentions. One of the reasons Euro-American Christians cannot understand the effects of racism is because their understanding of racism is limited to “what I don’t believe in.” Most Euro-Americans have absolutely:

    1. No idea of what it means to live as a member of a persecuted minority;
    2. No idea of the concept of “white privilege,” and how it gives them literal “carte blanche” in
    American society;
    3. No idea of how racism is systemic and affects all aspects of life for ethnic minorites
    in the United States.

    This is also a result of the deliberate “whitewashing of history” that Americans are presented
    in textbooks. As a result, most Euro-Americans Christians do not know and/or understand
    that the history of the “Americas” is essentially, the history of genocide and the subsequent
    Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade–the tools of conquest and subjugation of the New World by
    the five colonial powers of Europe–Portugal, Spain, England, France, the Netherlands.
    Most Euro-American Christians believe that Europe and most European-dominated countries
    are “Christian” societies–but those of us who have lived under these colonial systems never
    believed that myth, and never equated “whiteness” with Christianity.

  10. Never underestimate the human potential for wishful thinking, denial, and projection. One might ask them, if their perceived enemies are so fragile, why are they so afraid of them.

  11. Those White Evangelicals seem determined to live out an identity, even a myth, of martyrdom, as if they are living in the Rome that persecuted Christians, while the Black Christians who actually have been persecuted, oppressed, and historically enslaved focus on the real needs of their communities to survive and overcome all that.

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