In a three-part series on “White Theology” by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger (it begins here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2013/07/white-theology-part-i/), he perceptively notes that much of our presuppositions in theology are imperceptible to us, that we either imagine naively that we may ignore racial issues in our pursuit of “pure theology,” or simply “fail to account for the tendency to proceed by way of our predominant, homogeneous tendencies and inclinations.” As a proponent of doing “Theology in Community,” I recognize my own preferences for doing theology primarily in communities who will tend to agree with me most. As an invitation to those whose perspectives vary from my own, here are a few of my thoughts about what Dr. Metzger has written.
In the communities I serve, there are those who have successfully cocooned themselves within enclaves of homogeneity. I see this as a damaging condition, and have sought to remedy it on occasion. We routinely help those struggling financially, socially, or physically to become better acquainted and participate in some activities and events they have imagined to be “beyond their means.” I have also, though, taken some of the upper-middle-class Anglos in my community (a segment in which my education allows me fellowship even though income and/or net-worth would not) on field trips, not as sight-seers, but in accompanying me to the neighborhoods and homes of others in our own congregation, within the ranks of fellow-employees of our schools and medical staffs, and among our schoolchildren’s parents where they had imagined every other child went home to families “just like theirs” at the end of each day. Even in doing this, I recognize my own tendency “to proceed by way of our predominant, homogeneous tendencies and inclinations.” I imagine that when others are faced with the same needs in the same community, they will come to the same conclusions I reach about the need for greater involvement in the lives of others. I have been very wrong about that at times. Please also know that I agree with Dr. Metzger that “race has everything to do with theology in American history,” but would quickly add that in place of the word “race” we could easily substitute “poverty” and probably some number of other terms equally applicable.
Certainly, we must address race. Race affects how we each perceive our communities, and individuals within them as part of “us” or of “them.” Our acceptance within or our rejection from the dominant culture, our understanding of “us and them,” however, may be triggered by a number of other causes. Are these other causes, though, always in addition to race, or might some of them affect us instead of race, transcending our historic cultural identities as we are “lumped together” by the neglect, disregard, oppression, and/or exploitation of others?
Within our communities, some multiracial families, neighborhoods, and other groups seem to experience even greater presumptive misunderstandings than might occur between families of different races who share geographic, cultural, and socio-economic traits. Though Blacks in such a situation would still be affected by “America’s heinous, historic capitulation to racism and slavery,” could they and those of other races within the same “undesirable” category (frequently identified by socio-economic stratification and especially with regard to specific types of employment) find other, far more recent conditions to be even more influential than the continuing inequities of the slave-economy? Are we open to the possibility that, in addition to race, other factors are as generationally pervasive within the communities we are called to serve? If so, then how do we engage the individuals, families, and communities who are less impacted by racial concerns than they are by the more immediate oppression and exploitation that, in some places for some people, binds together those of multiple races in an involuntary solidarity of suffering?
What is the prescription suggested by this diagnosis, though? In light of an “enculturated gospel,” is one step toward a dynamic solution the incorporation of multi-cultural participants as we do “theology in community?” Too frequently, we choose the community on the basis of theological agreement, leading to homogeneity in race and economics. I have had the rare and uncomfortable privilege of being surprised, confronted, offended, and blessed by others’ diverse perspectives. I still remember fondly a bible study, in which I was the sole Christian, coming to the conclusion, “No. What Jesus did there? That’s not right.” Hardly fits within my presupposition that “If Jesus said or did it, it must be right.” But it also helped me to understand more deeply how I tended to envision that my service within that community was, by definition, “Right,” whether anyone agreed with, or was even asked about, my assumption. And so, I reiterate my invitation: Please join in the conversation, and help me to see my assumptions by sharing your own perceptions of the issues raise.
[Remember: You don’t have to be a Christian in order to share your theology. We all think about God, even if we decide He doesn’t exist. What comes to mind when you think about God could be an important blessing toward the “Theology in Community” I am exploring. Thanks in advance for choosing to share it with me.]