Monday, August 04, 2014

The "white captivity" of the Church

In the formation of Christian theology, we also see white privilege at work. Theology that prioritizes the individual and arises out of the Western, white context becomes the standard expression of orthodox theology. In our understanding of what is considered orthodoxy, we see the emphasis on the individual aspects of faith. What is considered good, sound, orthodox theology is a Western theology that emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus with its natural and expected antecedent of an individual sanctification and even an individualized ecclesiology. The critical issues and discussion in theology lean towards understanding issues relevant to individuals and Western sensibilities. The seemingly never-ending debate between the proponents of Calvinism and Arminianism, between predestination and free will, revolves around individual salvation.

Theologies that speak of a corporate responsibility or call for a social responsibility are given special names like: liberation theology, black theology, minjung theology, feminist theology, etc. In other words, Western theology with its individual focus is considered normative theology, while non-Western theology is theology on the fringes and must be explained as being a theology applicable only in a particular context and to a particular people group. Orthodoxy is determined by the Western value of individualism and an individualized soteriology rather than a broader understanding of the corporate themes that emerge out of Scripture.

Because theology emerging from a Western, white context is considered normative, it places non-Western theology in an inferior position and elevates Western theology as the standard by which all other theological frameworks and points of view are measured. This bias stifles the theological dialogue between the various cultures. ... We end up with a Western, white captivity of theology. Western theology becomes the form that is closest to God. [Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009), 77-8]

I believe in ... the holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints .... (Apostles' Creed)

Soong-Chan Rah is a second-generation Korean-Amercan and founding senior pastor of Cambridge Community Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his book The New Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, Rah excoriates the predominantly white American Evangelical churches for a variety of things, grouped under the umbrella theme of the "Western white captivity of the Church." Now, not all of Rah's criticism is necessarily off. Some of them with regards to the materialistic, individualistic captivity of the modern American church is right on, and I wouldn't be too surprised if there is some discrimination involved against non-whites. It is also something I ponder whether there exists some form of implicit superiority complex such that Caucasians would not submit themselves to a non-Caucasian pastor.

That being said, most of what Rah writes is extremely provocative, unnecessarily so. Rah writes with an almost triumphalist perspective that since non-White Christians would soon be in the majority even in America, "white" Christians ought to sit up and listen to their non-White brethren and stop claiming a monopoly on theology. The whole way the discussion is framed is already problematic. Does numerical superiority necessarily implies the obligation to be heard? Does that mean that the "white" Churches can ignore any group just because it is "in the minority" and only interact with them when they threaten to be in the majority? This sort of race and power play is quite deplorable in my opinion. When I think of theology, I do not look and see what the skin color of the person theologizing is, so why do so just because the one theologizing is white-skinned?

First of all, Rah only attacks the modern Evangelical churches, which in general have lost their way. Reformed theology admits of no individualism, and we believe, modifying Cyprian's words, that outside the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (WCF 25.2). We also believe in a "corporate" Covenant Theology, a "corporate" imputation of Adam's sin to all, and so on. Reformed theology at its finest is alien to the modern American Evangelical church, which has lost its way.

Secondly, Rah is misguided when he claims that the other "theologies" (Liberation, black, feminist, minjung, etc) are theologies that are "applicable only in a particular context and to a particular people group." The fact of the matter is that those are called "theologies," but are in fact heresies against the one true catholic Church. Thus, they should not be even considered applicable to their particular contexts and particular people groups! This brings us to the third point, in that Rah does not have a sense of the one catholic and apostolic faith. The true faith is not some "Westernized, white faith," but rather it is the faith given once for all to the saints. Unbiblical accretions added on throughout the centuries ought to be excised, which is why the modern Evangelical church is desperately in need of reform. It is not some "white captivity" of the Church that needs to be remedied, but the removal of all flavors of race and ethnicity from the One True Catholic and Apostolic Faith that needs to be removed. The objective truth however is that "Western" theology has been more faithful to the catholic and apostolic faith than all the other so-called "theologies" that many non-Westerns have embraced. Much of non-Western Christianity is half-baked syncretism. For example, in Africa, Pastor Conrad Mbewe has written about the syncretic aspect of African Charismatism.

Should there be more non-Whites in the Church, doing theology and being respected by their Caucasian counterparts? I most definitely think so. But they should do so because they are actually biblical Christians who believe in the one catholic and apostolic faith, not because they are "non-Whites." Skin color should be absolutely irrelevant in the Church. The issue is not one's skin color, but one's beliefs. As it stands, many of these supposed "non-White" Christians are ineligible even for membership in Reformed churches, if they are similar to Rah with his liberal views. If there are non-White Christian ministers who are biblical in their theology, they should be treated with as much respect and honor as their Caucasian counterparts. However, Christians holding to the one catholic, apostolic faith should beware of non-White Christian ministers like Rah with questionable theology at best. Let's be clear: it is not their skin color or immigrant background that should disqualify them, but their theology. There is no "white captivity" of the Church with regards to her theology. There might be some discrimination against non-Whites, but such is a personal not a doctrinal matter.

Disclosure: I am writing this as a non-White, not that that should matter at all in the Church!

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