Billy Graham Rule (aka Mike Pence Rule)

Here are some posts I find particularly insightful:

“10 reasons why Mike Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ harms us” by Natalie Collins

“The Mickey Mouse Syndrome: Avoiding the Temptation or the Appearance of Evil” by Jill Richardson

Also very relevant:

“i am not a sex-fueled robot” by Micah J. Murray

“Modesty: I don’t think it means what you think it means” by Rachel Held Evans

Note: If you are not able to meet alone with someone without feelings of attraction that you are afraid you might act on inappropriately, remove yourself from ministry immediately and get help and support.

Evaluation of NET Bible on Gender

Someone asked what I thought of the NET Bible (https://netbible.org) and, rather than giving a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, I decided to go through the steps I took to make my evaluation, in case anyone wants to use them to evaluate other translations. Jump to the bottom if you just want my conclusions. (Note that almost all of my links are to Marg Mowczko’s blog. That’s because she does a great job of explaining the issues for non-scholars, and she has lots of footnotes for anyone who wants to dig deeper. Also, I don’t need to repeat what others have said at least as well as I could!)

The first thing to look at is the list of translators. I found it here, at the very end: https://bible.org/netbible/index.htm?pre.htm Note that these are exclusively men, and that Dallas Theological Seminary is heavily represented. Dallas is a complementarian school (http://www.womenandchurch.com/standings). So, this is not a good start for an egalitarian like me!

While we are here, we can also look at endorsements: https://netbible.com/endorsements/ They are all male except for Beth Moore and one seminary student. They are also mostly complementarian, from what I can see. And Beth Moore’s comment specifically references the notes, which I will come back to.

Next, I want to look at a series of verses that are helpful to get a sense of the translators’ gender biases. There are many options, but these are mine:

Gen 3:16: There are two issues here. The beginning of the verse says, in Hebrew, “I will greatly increase your pain and your conception/pregnancy.” Most translators combine this idea with the next line and assume that the pain referred to is specifically pain in childbirth. That is quite possible, and a hendiadys is something that Hebrew does do quite often. However, in the footnote, the translators justify their choice by saying “there is no pain in conception.” That comment could only come from an exclusively male perspective. The fact that they did not seriously consider the pain many women experience during conception and also during the whole of pregnancy reveals a bias that is confirmed by the translation of the second half of the verse. There, the NET says, “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” All translation is, of course, interpretation, but this goes beyond what I would consider to be allowable. You can read more about the issues here: https://margmowczko.com/translation-genesis-316/ The NET translators justify their choice by importing the idea of domination from Gen 4:7 into not only Gen 3:16 but also (based on the footnote for 3:16) into sexual desire as well. This turns natural sexual desire into rape, which is sin. I can only say I am horrified. 0/2

Ruth 3:11; Prov 12:4; 31:10, 29: The Hebrew word חַ֫יִל (chayil) is carries the idea of “strength” and so is usually translated “army” or “wealth” or “warrior.” Some translations, however, switch to words that they find more suitable for women in these verses in Proverbs, such as the NET does with “noble” or “worthy.” Prov 31:29 is an exception where the word is “valiently.” The footnotes do explain that these are all the same word. 1/4

Malachi 2:16: My Hebrew prof, who was, incidentally, complementarian, said that this is the most difficult verse to translate in the whole Old Testament. That is because the text in Hebrew, as we have it, simply does not make sense. The translators have chosen one option. The NIV (2011) chooses the other: “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty.” What I object to the most here is the footnote which says “Though the statement ‘I hate divorce’ may (and should) be understood as a comprehensive biblical principle, the immediate context suggests that the divorce in view is that of one Jewish person by another in order to undertake subsequent marriages.” First, on what basis should this be taken as a comprehensive biblical principle? That goes against the often-stated rule that a Bible verse without a context is just a pretext for a prooftext. Bible verses must be taken in context. And then, this footnote suddenly becomes gender neutral when what is going on in the context is that priests are divorcing the mothers of their children in order to marry young foreign women (see Mal 2:11–15, as well as the whole book). 0.5/1

Rom 16:1, 7: There are several issues here. In verse 1, diakonos is translated “servant.” That is a possible translation, but the note is a bit disingenuous. On the basis that neither Epaphras nor Timothy are deacons, it is supposed that Phoebe cannot be. Yet the possibility of her being a minister is not considered. Especially given the support that Paul is requesting for her (v. 2), it seems likely that she is some sort of leader. (See https://margmowczko.com/phoebe-a-deacon-of-the-church-in-cenchrea-part-7/) 0/1

In verse 7, Junia is correctly identified as a woman, although do I read reluctance in the tone of the note? I am a bit confused by the reference to the TLG. The TLG is “a digital library of Greek literature.” It is possible that it has been updated since Moo did his search. But when I looked, I found 23 entries for Junia, and only one that is early (Plutarch, Brutus 7.1.4), from the 1–2nd century CE, where it’s a woman’s name. So I am not sure what the three are that Moo is referring to. In fact, however, the TLG does not differentiate between Junia (f.) and Junias (m.), and the same 23 instances come up when references to Junius (which Rom 16:7 cannot mean) are removed. Additionally, the Epiphanius reference that is mentioned in footnote 6 is from the 4th century CE, and therefore not particularly relevant. Junia, as footnote 6 mentions, is quite common in Latin, and apparently in Greek inscriptions, although I have not been able to verify that (see the footnotes here: https://margmowczko.com/junia-and-the-esv/). Finally, the end of footnote 6 and the entirety of 8 seek to support the NET’s chosen translation, “well known to the apostles.” Here is the argument against that translation: https://margmowczko.com/is-junia-well-known-to-the-apostles/ Additionally, I have looked for instances of episemoi en which is the phrase under debate, and I found two examples. One states that Aristophanes, as compared to the other authors, “shone forth among them all,” and the other, Lucian, in the 2nd century CE suggests that if there are rumors that you did not praise your boss/owner enough, you must be sure to raise your voice next time so that you stand out among her admirers. In both cases, the one being described is clearly part of the larger group to which he is being compared. I found no examples of the phrase being used the way the NET Bible translates it. Thus, it seems much more likely that Phoebe is a leader of the church at Cenchreae, and that Junia and Andronicus are outstanding among the apostles. 1/2

Eph 5:21–22: It’s always interesting to see where various translations divide the text. Manuscripts differ, but Paul’s sentence in Greek actually starts either at verse 18 or at verse 21. Furthermore, the verb “submit” was likely not repeated in verse 22, so starting the paragraph farther up (CEB chooses 15, NIV & NRSV 21) seems to make more sense. 0/1

1 Tim 2:12–15: Footnote 19 here is helpful in that it reminds readers that saying that women should learn was likely revolutionary. However, footnote 20 ignores the pages of writing and gallons of ink spilled over the meaning of the Greek verb translated here “exercise authority.” Here’s a summary of the issues: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-authenteo-1-timothy-2/ Footnote 24 goes a long way to come to an explicitly complementarian conclusion. It does do a good job of mentioning some of the various solutions to the verse along the way. And footnote 25 unaccountably dismisses the problems that the shift to the plural raises. Not sure how to grade this, but I will suggest a 1/3.

1 Tim 2:9; 3:2: The word κόσμιος (kosmios) is translated similarly for both women and men (“suitable” and “respectable”). 1/1

1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2; 2 Tim 1:7; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 5; Acts 26:25: The word σωφροσύνη (sōphrosunē) and cognates is sometimes translated differently for men and women. In the NET we find: “self-control” (6x for both men and women), “sensible” (men), “rational” (Paul). 3/3

1 Cor 11:10: The Greek here says, “the woman should have authority on her head,” and while there is debate about what this means, the NET adds the word “symbol” and maintains male leadership in the church in the footnote without noting other possiblities. 0/1 (For other possibilities, see my review of Cynthia Westfall’s Paul and Gender.)

2 Cor 7:11; 11:2; Phil 4:8; 1 Tim 5:22; Titus 2:5; James 3:17; 1 Pet 3:2; 1 John 3:3: The word ἀγνός is sometimes translated as “holy” when referring to men but “pure” when referring to women. In the NET, however, we find: “innocent,” “pure” (7x). 3/3  

1 Peter 3:7: This verse in the NET does a good job of following my best understanding of the Greek text, with which both Mark Dubis in 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text and Greg Forbes in 1 Peter Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament concur. Both the NIV (2011) and the NRSV (and others) oddly put “living” with “consideration,” “weaker partner” with “respect” and then sort of tag “heirs” onto the end. The Greek makes it more likely that “considerate living” goes with “weaker partner” and “respect” with “heirs,” and the NET reflects that. I am confused, honestly, by how the verse was ever translated differently. Many of the foreign language translations that I consulted (Bible en français courant, Parole de Vie 2017, Bible Segond 21, Elberfelder Übersetzung, Schlachter 2000) follow the Greek, although the Lutherbibel does not, and several of the Spanish versions move the phrases around in various configurations. I asked Dr. Douglas Moo about it when they were updating the NIV, and he responded that it was “an exegetical decision,” but did not offer anything further in the way of explanation. 1/1

Conclusions: With a grade of 11.5/23, I would not recommend the NET. One of the positives of its development was that it was open to input from everyone; however, it is clear that the editors followed a complementarian bias in their final decisions. I had intended, like Beth Moore, to comment on how helpful the notes are, but now that I actually work through them, I am finding them misleading, more often than not. If readers weren’t already aware of the broader conversations around these issues, they would not find out about them from these notes.

I recommend the CEB (18.5/23) or the 2011 NIV (14.5/23). I sometimes use the NRSV, but it only rates a 10.5 on my scale. The Passion “Translation” comes up from time to time. I appreciate what Dr. Nijay Gupta says here.

Images and Songs from James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree

James H. Cone, in his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, references lots of songs, art, and poetry. For the convenience of anyone reading the book who, like me, might want to hear and see and read further, I’ve created a YouTube playlist of the songs, and assembled links to the images (in red) and the poems here. You can also get a discussion guide here. (I haven’t used it yet, so let me know what you think.)

Poems and images from Chapter 4.

Links to images are in red.

Photo of the lynching of Rubin Stacey

The Lynching of Laura and LD Nelson (photo)

The Lynching of Cleo Wright (the photo is shown at the end of the video)

“Yet Do I Marvel” by Countee Cullen

“Black Christ” by Countee Cullen (This is a long poem. It is available in this collection on Kindle. Note that it is “Hopefully dedicated to White America.” Particularly if you are white, do consider buying and reading it.)

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock” by Gwendolyn Brooks (this will download a pdf)

“I Passed Along This Way” by E. Simms Campbell

“Giddap!” by Hale Woodruff

“By Parties Unknown” by Hale Woodruff

“The Lynching” by Julius Bloch

“Christmas in Georgia”

“The Gospel of Mary Brown” illustration from The Crisis (This will download a .pdf.)

“Night, Death, Mississippi” by Robert Hayden

“The Bitter River” by Langston Hughes

“Good Morning Revolution” by Langston Hughes

“Goodbye Christ” by Langston Hughes

Chapter 5

Photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

“Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes

Power and Gender

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

~ Augustine of Hippo

Definitions of Power:

Although Max Weber emphasized the destructiveness of power-over, others have brought nuance to the discussion. Groups may have power when people work together (Hannah Arendt), and in this way marginalized groups may become self-empowered (Amy Allen). Allen distinguished power-over, power-to (which emphasizes the goal), and power-with (people working together). But power-over is not always destructive. Thomas Wartenberg studies what he calls transformative power-over that is not oppressive because (1) it seeks the good of the weaker one, and (2) it seeks to make itself obsolete. That kind of power is sometimes equated with womanliness or motherhood, but Kathy Ehrensperger notes that not only women/mothers act in these ways, and not all women/mothers do. She concludes that unequal power relations are not inherently oppressive as long as the essential equality of the weaker is recognized and power is not continually held by the same person/people (summarized from Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power, pp. 16-34).

I have also found the following books and videos helpful in sorting through issues of power, particularly power in the church and the way it intersects with gender. I hope you do, too!

Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch

Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence by MaryKate Morse

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch

More by Christena Cleveland:

Christena Cleveland on Humility (part 2)

The Danger of Civility – Christena Cleveland

And here is a summary of her thoughts on good listening

Tools and techniques:

Amplification

“Stand up, Speak up, Look up” by Dr Neichelle R Guidry (The sermon starts at 1:17:30)

Of course, it is imperative to be educated on abuse. Here is a list of recommended books, but I also want to draw attention to “God’s Protection of Women,” a brief resource that adds abuse to adultery and abandonment as reasons for divorce that the Bible supports. See also: Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue: Jackson Katz and Hyperbole and Divorce in the Sermon on the Mount by Marg Mowczko.

Gender and Language

These resources are helpful in navigating ways to use language that does not hurt the very people we are called to care for.

“8 Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Men’ When We Mean Everyone” by Karl Vaters

Microaggressions: Definition and Examples

For an example of a microaggression, note the comment by Tony Morgan at the end of Empowering Women Leaders when he asks John Ortberg if he has ever won any other argument with his wife. Although brief, this comment communicates to every woman watching that it’s okay to shame women for winning arguments. It communicates to every man watching that it’s okay to ignore the substance of the argument and simply laugh at how many times she “wins.”

Benevolent Sexism:

For a thorough discussion, see “The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darned Friendly…” by Melanie Tannenbaum

Note: Saying, “In general, women are better than men at most things” or the reverse (“Well, what do you expect, I’m just a man”) is also benevolent sexism. In this view, the expectations for success are set higher for women than for men, and men’s failures become more acceptable than women’s.

Roundup of Resources on Women in Ministry

Changing one’s mind is a slow process, and I did not come to believe women could be ordained without a lot of prayer and study. Check out the introductory books, and then I recommend regular reading on one or more of the websites listed here. And if you really want to dig into Scripture, be sure and follow Dr. Pierce’s course on the Theology of Gender.

See also my blog post with resources on power and gender.

Start here:

How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership offers 21 vignettes from Christians leaders, some quite well-known, sharing their journey towards affirming women’s ordination. Along the way, you will be able to watch them address some of the most common Scriptures and attitudes that tend to stand in the way of women’s ability to fulfill the call of God on our lives. See a detailed review here.

Liberating Tradition provides a great introduction to the the whole topic of the place of women in the church. As a Free Methodist elder, Kristina LaCelle-Peterson covers Free Methodist doctrine in the areas of ministry and marriage. This book should be required reading for any pastor who works in a denomination that ordains women. See a detailed review here.

For male leaders, you can read “9 Ridiculously Practical Ways for Male Leaders to Empower Female Leaders in the Church” by J.R. Briggs

Websites for Regular Reading:

The Junia Project: Covers Scriptural interpretations as well as practical challenges for women pastors.

Marg Mowczko: Slightly more academic, Marg delves into Scripture and church history to support the practice of ordaining women.

Christians for Biblical Equality: The Center for all things egalitarian.

No voice. No more. November: A great 30-day devotional for any month of the year! Pastor Roberta posts one clip, link, or excerpt per day with a thought or a resource on women in ministry.

For More Serious Study:

Theology of Gender: Excellent 11-part lectures on gender by Dr. Ronald W. Pierce of Biola University

Also, check out my reviews of Dr. Westfall’s Paul and Gender as well as Rev. St. Clair’s Call and Consequences which has quite a lot of implications for the suffering of women.

Other Good Books:

Ordaining Women by B. T. Roberts, written in 1891 by the founder of Free Methodism.

Daughters of the Church: Women in Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present by Ruth A. Tucker and Walter L. Liefeld

For more suggestions, see the bibliography in Liberating Tradition as well as the resources listed here.

Anger and the Setting Sun

Ephesians 4:26

26ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε· ὁ ἥλιος μὴ ἐπιδυέτω ἐπὶ [τῷ] παροργισμῷ ὑμῶν (NA28)

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun set on your irritation (author translation).

The translation and application of this verse have to overcome quite a few questions. Is ὀργίζεσθε imperative or indicative? Does the mention of the setting sun refer to the end of the day, or is the meaning more metaphorical? What kind of anger is permissible (or even enjoined) and what is not? How is verse 27a related to verse 26?

In this short blog post, I will not attempt to tackle all of these issues. I will rely on several other scholars’ work to answer some of these questions, and then I will add some thoughts of my own about the setting of the sun.

Following Daniel Wallace, I translate ὀργίζεσθε “be angry” (1989). Thus, we start with the presumption that to become angry is not, according to this author, in itself, sinful. From a historical standpoint, preachers since Chrysostom have pointed out that “He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is a hotbed of many vices” (Homily 11).

The injunction to be angry comes in a series of other commands, laid out for the purpose of harmony in the community (Barton 2015). It comes, indeed, right after the reminder to speak truth. Certainly this is an appropriate context for a discussion of anger, since one may be angered by the truth, or angered by untruths.

What kind of anger is being discussed? The word used, παροργισμός, is not simply a generic word for anger but carries some reference to a provocation (Wallace 1989: 365; BDAG 780). This, too, fits well in a context of community, since provocations of various sorts are sure to arise, both reasonable and unreasonable. I might use the word “pique” except that it seems to carry a connotation of unreasonableness. While παροργισμός does not go so far as rage, it has a sense of some force behind it; Louw & Nida say “quite angry” (88.176). “Passion” seems to capture the force of the emotion, as long as we remember not to import any sexual overtones into the passage. “Irritation” does not, perhaps, go far enough, but since (like παροργισμός) it can refer to both the cause of the emotion and the emotion itself, it seems the best choice.

On the one hand, now that all of these preliminary questions are decided, the meaning of not letting the sun set on one’s irritation seems plain. In a community, for the sake of unity, irritations must be dealt with immediately. Plutarch is helpful here:

We should next pattern ourselves after the Pythagoreans, who, though related not at all by birth, yet sharing a common discipline, if ever they were led by anger into recrimination, never let the sun go down before they joined right hands, embraced each other, and were reconciled. For just as it is nothing alarming if a fever attends a swelling in the groin, but if the fever persists when the swelling is gone, it is thought to be a malady and to have a deeper origin: so when the dissension of brothers ceases after the matter in dispute is settled, the dissension was caused by the matter; but if it remains, the matter was but a pretext and contained some malignant and festering reason (Moralia 488C; referenced in Talbert 2007: 124).

This is not to say, of course, that the author or the readers of Ephesians were familiar with Plutarch. Still, at least some in the ancient world were aware that short irritations could be dealt with quickly whereas deeper resentments would take more work.

Ephesians 4:26, then, suggests that when attempting to live in unity with fellow believers, provocations should be addressed immediately (see scholars who draw this conclusion listed in Mel 2015: 51 n. 17) and not allowed to fester (verse 27a). I want to suggest one further way the setting sun might be understood.

Clearly, the sun cannot set on an irritation; it sets in the sky, on the day, perhaps, or maybe over the hill. If we pick apart the implicit metaphor, however, we find that the setting sun signals the end of the day. Blending theory suggests that the inputs from this frame will be imaginatively combined with the inputs from the other frame, that of the irritation that can arise from living in community, in this case in a double blend (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 340–45). When the sun sets, the day is over, and, when one observes that the sun is setting, one has the choice of hurrying to finish some last task, or accepting that the day’s activities are over and can no longer be changed. This framework is blended with the framework of relationships and irritations within a community, and what emerges is the observation that one can either hurry to address the irritation or accept that the new relationship has solidified (in a negative sense) and can no longer be changed.

Beatty Mel points out the strong linguistic similarities between Eph 4:26b and Micah 3:6 LXX. The context in Micah “associates the sun setting with the departure of the Lord’s Spirit or presence” (Mel 2015: 52), and Beatty Mel therefore suggests that the author cautions believers to “not lose sight of the Lord in their state of provocation” (52). This conclusion, however, seems too embedded in the Micah passage with no a priori reason to import it into Ephesians.

Micah 3:6, however, speaking of the prophets who have led Israel astray (v. 5), notes that “it will be night for you, without vision, and it will be darkness for you, without divination, and the sun will set upon the prophets, and the day will grow quite dark upon them” (LES). In this picture, it is not so much the prophets who have forgotten about the Lord, but rather the Lord has turned away from the prophets.

The Hebrew Bible has an expression for this, translated in English as “I will put my face against them.” In the LXX it is expressed variously: δώσω τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐπʼ αὐτούς (Eze 15:7a); στηρίσαι με τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐπʼ αὐτούς (Eze 15:7e) and ἐγὼ ἐπιστήσω τὸ πρόσωπόν μου ἐπὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐκεῖνον(Lev 20:3). The verb is different, even within the same verse: δίδωμι (“to give,” Eze 15:7a); στηρίζω (“to establish,” Eze 15:7e); ἐφίστημι (“to stand,” Lev 20:3), whereas the preposition is the same, ἐπί. Thus, there is no direct linguistic connection between these expressions and the setting of the sun—the preposition is not enough on its own. However, what God does in the Ezekiel passage is to turn his face “on” or “against” the inhabitants of Jerusalem (v. 6). When God establishes his face on (or against) someone, his attitude against that person has solidified, and Ezekiel 15 suggests that in this attitude or decision, his mind will not be changed.

When the sun sets on a day, that day is finished, and nothing can alter its events. Perhaps, similarly, the author of Ephesians might have meant to suggest that to deal with one’s irritation before the sun sets is to address the offender before the attitude of the believer has become solidified against them. In community, no group member can be permanently treated as an outsider or an enemy.

Bibliography

Barton, Stephen C. (2015). “‘Be Angry But Do Not Sin’ (Ephesians 4:26a): Sin and the Emotions in the New Testament with Special Reference to Anger.” Studies in Christian Ethics 28.1: 21–34.

Brannan, R., K. M. Penner, I. Loken, M. Aubrey, and I. Hoogendyk, editors. (2012). The Lexham English Septuagint. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Fauconnier, Gilles and Mark Turner. (2002). The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Perseus.

Mel, Deb Beatty. (2015). “Perspectives on Anger from Ephesians 4.” Africanus Journal 7.2: 49–54.

Septuaginta: With morphology. (1979). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. Electronic edition.

Talbert, Charles H. (2007). Ephesians and Colossians. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker.

Wallace, Daniel B. (1989). “Ὀργίζεσθε in Ephesians 4:26: Command or Condition?” Criswell Theological Review 3.2: 353–72.

Review of Willie James Jennings’ The Christian Imagination

This book was transformational. Here is my summary.

Replacing Israel with Christians as the people of God (a doctrine called supersessionism) created a hole in the theological imagination that Europeans were able to fill with themselves. Moving on from there, creation and the incarnation demonstrate God/Christ’s focus on the whole world, which Europeans construct themselves as regents of, with authority to construct whiteness as closer to God and blackness as farther away. This last detaches people from place, time and culture and sets them instead within an abstract theological frame imagined to be Christianity.

By creating identities based on race rather than geography, white colonials, with God-like hubris, lost their own and removed others’ connection to the land, connections that grounded many people’s knowledge of who they were and how they acted. This cannot be solved by simply erasing race, because there is nothing left to ground identity except bare individualism.

Upon coming to these new peoples in new worlds, Christians might have used the tools they had used to Christianize Aristotle, or the memories of themselves as gentiles who had had to be Christianized to imagine these new people as neighbors to be loved, as people among whom God was already at work, and with whom they could imagine new ways of faithfulness to God both for them and for themselves. Instead, because they saw themselves as the new Israel, able to discern all others as pagans, and because they imagined the new people abstracted from their land and therefore were unable to comprehend them as peoples, they turned theology and pedagogy inside out. Instead of coming to them as Christ came to the world and teaching from a position of humility, they became the teachers and regulators and evaluators par excellence. They even saw the riches of the new world as God’s reward and enticement for their hard labor in converting people whom they judged inferior and demon-taught. And they imagined their own difficulties in converting the new people as their own version of the sufferings of the apostles.

Western Christianity, unmoored from the story of Israel, is seen as neutral, and therefore able to be translated into every and any other culture. But this act of translation, undertaken by colonials for colonial interests, translates black bodies and interest only from and for the perspective of white ones. The goal is the taming and use of the other, and Christianity had to be used to serve those interests, because they are invisible to the colonist behind Christianity. What is missing is both the particularity of God’s choice of self-revelation through Israel, and white and black communion as fellow-strangers and dependents on a savior who comes to them, to us, from a world of particularities different from our own. To sum that up: it’s not about some (non-existent) neutral Christianity that can be translated into each and every culture, which can only, ultimately, serve nationalist goals that divide. It is about all cultures (other than Israel) being invited to be guests together at an Israelite table.

Some African economies tied commercial exchanges to relationships. Western economy was not like that. The transformation of Africans into blacks and slaves cut them off from both previous relationships and precluded any relationships with whites on an equal footing. And even salvation was not imagined in a way that could change that. Thus salvation, for black people in the 18th century, constituted them in relationship with God and with the Scriptures, but it was a salvation into a Christianity impoverished by its inability to address the social and economic injustices of its world, because it could not override the racial and economic constructions of the West.

In translating the Bible into each language Europeans encountered, they created literary spaces that were separate and distinct, fracturing the world. At the same time, as elite discussions moved from Latin into European vernaculars (French, at first), they vied for primacy as the one, “impartial” space for world-shaping discussions. This can be seen, in a powerful example, in the way in which American slaves were denied literacy and thus prevented from speaking into white spaces. In this way, Western whiteness constructed the world in capitalistic ways in which black and brown bodies were primarily valued and evaluated according to their utility to whites. Still today, worldwide commerce and entertainment are primarily structured by and for standards of European whiteness, even if they are occasionally embodied by people of color.

We must first remember that we are gentiles. We were eavesdroppers on this conversation between God and Israel before we were brought in. God broke into a pagan/gentile world to create Israel, and then he broke into Israelite existence through Jesus to eventually by the Spirit invite gentiles in. God does not offer any of us self-sufficiency, security or domination. Instead, God offers himself in Jesus. Jesus’s body becomes the place where we meet as we express communion with God and, flowing from that, our desire for communion with one another. We are reconstituted as brothers and sisters in a way that must cause us to re-imagine the colonial outlook that uses another’s land for my own enrichment. The divisions and hierarchies of the capitalist system are questioned and resisted in this new space, in which the suffering of the Jew and the suffering of the marginalized (specifically, African-Americans) have something to say to each other. The misshapenness of white colonial theology needs to learn the language of the other, in order to be broken and re-created in the image of God.

Race in the USA: My Learning, Part 1

Image Credit: Elizabeth A. Eccles

Don’t miss the podcast links at the end!

Continual self-reflection as well as moving from reflection to action are essential. Check out:

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“An Examen for White Allies”

“101 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice”

A few personal notes:

You will like or appreciate different books and resources in a different order than I did. I started with The New Jim Crow, and it was so different from anything that I had been told or taught that it took me a long time to read it. That is probably more a factor of my past than of the book itself.

I mention it, though, because if you, in the course of reading or watching or listening, find your beliefs being challenged, I want to encourage you to sit with the discomfort. Take frequent breaks. Spend time in self-examination. And then, read another chapter or watch or listen to another 10 minutes, until you need to take a break again. I believe it is important both to honor yourself with careful thought and prayer, and to honor these stories by coming back to them and moving forward through them. The balance of those two things is up to you.

My favorite resources so far have been Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Jen Hatmaker’s interview of Lisa Sharon Harper. They are both difficult and heartbreaking, but they captured my attention and moved me more towards action and change than the rest of these (nevertheless great) resources. I am sure some of you will agree and others disagree with me on that.

Finally, I have used Twitter to connect with further voices on these topics. I follow the names I come across here, and then add more names through their connections. You may choose a different path. But I suggest that, if you are white, you develop your own networks, places where you can listen…listen…listen to the conversations, comments and experiences of people of color. They have been ignored by some of us for far too long.

I’m starting with two book by white people. I think they provide a gentle on-ramp for white Americans, especially white Christian Americans. But think of them as pre-requisites before you start your actual course.

(Clicking on this cover will automatically download an article by Robin Diangelo)

Here’s a quick summary of redlining, in case you are not aware of this part of our history:

Adam Conover, “The Disturbing History of the Suburbs,” Adam Ruins Everything, CollegeHumor, October 4, 2017.

Other great books (and one movie):

Click on titles for additional links to author interviews or podcasts.

Personal favorite: Just Mercy

See also: Divided by Faith and13th The Movie

I am not a big podcast person, but these two are exceptional!

Lisa Sharon Harper, “Never Leave the Gospel Behind” For The Love with Jen Hatmaker. April 24, 2018

John Biewen, “Seeing White” Scene on Radio. 14-part series, 2017

Race in the USA: My Own Learning, Part 2

Image Credit: Elizabeth A. Eccles

A few personal notes:

I spent about 3-4 years reading the books in part 1, getting that information settled in my head, and re-arranging my view of the world around it. The resources that follow are those I am finding helpful now. (clicking on the titles or images takes you to interviews or organization websites related to the author; to purchase, use your favorite booksellers)

First, continual self-reflection is essential. Check out

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

An Examen for White Allies.”

My favorites: Might from the Margins and The Third Reconstruction

Long but important: The Color of Law and The Warmth of Other Suns

This chart is helpful for explaining the balance that white allies need to maintain:

Myths America Lives By by Richard T. Hughes

I wanted to talk a bit about this one because it’s somewhat different from the others here. It’s very important, though, because it puts into words the things everyone knows about America. As a Third Culture Kid, the one I have noticed the most is, “America is the greatest country in the world.” This is just something everyone knows. It gets repeated regularly. And…maybe because I grew up in Belgium, or maybe because I’m a very literal, logical person, I would always think to myself, “Based on what?”

Dr. Hughes might call this “The Myth of the Chosen Nation.” Or maybe he would categorize it under one of his other myths. Or maybe “the greatest” refers to all the myths together. In any case, this is a book worth reading, so that Americans can take off the lenses that we see through but don’t ever look at, notice their size and shape and how they affect non-white Americans, particularly black people. The title and the book cover link to an interview that will give you a sense of the book.