When God Is White, White Is God (What Should Have Been A “Last Day of Black History Month” Thought)

In many white Christian contexts, theology produced by racial minorities comes with an assumption of heresy and heterodoxy. The implicit message from many [conservative] white pastors and professors is that black Christians have theological integrity to the degree they adopt the teachings that come from approved European and white American sources.
–from The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

Right as 2019 was ending, Daniel Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the late Rev. Dr. James Cone a heretic. I don’t know how much news of this made it to mainline/liberal/progressive theological circles, but it’s been on my mind since.

Then, earlier this month, Stanford University announced a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology* by lead researcher Steven O. Roberts which shows a connection between people’s concept of God and who they think should be leaders.

While the first part of the paper talks about how people conceptualize God, what’s really fascinating is something that the authors note:

Again, even in a novel context, and even among adults who do not believe in God (Study 5) or children who have never heard of God (Study 7), beliefs about a god’s identity predicted the belief that those who shared that identity were more fit for leadership. Informed by these data, we propose that across many contexts, the extent to which people believe in a god and attribute a specific social identity to that god might predict the extent to which they conceptualize those who share that identity as god-like. Our data provide strong support for this possibility, though additional research, especially cross-cultural research, will be needed (see below).

Our finding that even young children conceptualize God as more White than Black (and more male than female), which predicts the conception of White candidates as more boss-like, is particularly important for understanding the development of religious ideologies and social biases. The present research demonstrates, for the first time, that U.S. children have beliefs about God’s social identity, which predict their conceptions of human beings. Preventing children from attributing a social identity to God, or perhaps even encouraging them to develop counter representations of God (e.g., Asian woman), may prevent them from making the kind of hierarchy-reinforcing inferences detected here. How to achieve this will be a challenge for future researchers, especially in the domain of gender, given that descriptions and depictions of God as male are so pervasive.

I’ve been around white religious liberals for a while now. And I see how both the Tisby quote and the information from the Roberts paper play out. Quite often, theology of the marginalized is looked at as a novelty (and less rigorous), if it’s looked at at all. And the way marginalized people are looked at if they talk in liberation theology-speak instead of liberal theology-speak is particularly telling. Is it because the God of liberation theology is decidedly not-white?

What does it mean for liberal religion if those who are the leaders (and lay people) in it mostly see God as white? Who is considered worthy? Who gets to lead? What gets preached from the pulpit? What gets taught in Sunday School?

If God is white, is white God?

*–Roberts, S. O., Weisman, K., Lane, J. D., Williams, A., Camp, N. P., Wang, M., Robison, M., Sanchez, K., & Griffiths, C. (2020). God as a White man: A psychological barrier to conceptualizing Black people and women as leadership worthy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Don’t Preach King on King Sunday–2020 Edition

It’s 2020 y’all. And January 19th, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, is rapidly approaching so I thought I would get this out while you ministers are still thinking about what you will say on that day.

First and foremost, white ministers…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING. It’s really that simple.

Now that I’ve told you what not to do, here’s some suggestions as to what you can preach about on that day.

Before doing anything else though, your first assignment is to read W.E.B. Du Bois. You have heard of him, right? I ask because I’ve heard a lot of you say things that if you had read him at any point in your life you wouldn’t be saying. anyway….your assignment is to read the last chapter of Black Reconstruction in America, “The Propaganda of History.”

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. If you come from a religious tradition that, in some way, traces its history in this event, I recommend that you use the Malcolm X quote “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us…” and talk about settler colonialism and how that has played out in theology and church organization.

For those of you who are biblical studies people, 2019 was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Cain Hope Felder’s  Troubling Biblical Waters, so you could use that as a starting point into how biblical interpretation amongst marginalized communities differs from that of white biblicists.  (I am, of course, assuming that you know who Dr. Felder was. That may be a bad assumption.)

2020 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. James Cone’s  A Black Theology of Liberation, so you could talk about liberation theology and marginalized communities. (again…I’m making assumptions about what you’ve read in seminary and post-seminary. This may be a bad assumption.)

On a totally different track…..2020 is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues, so you could talk about race in sports or how baseball has gone backwards when it comes to the numbers of Black players/managers/front office staff and fans.

There are so many options to choose from. So, white minister friends, do everyone a favor…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING.

This Country Is Killing Our Children (2019 Holy Innocents Day Thought)

In all the things going on there was a story that probably passed you by.

A new study* from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows suicide rates for African American children ages 13-19 nearly doubled between 2001 and 2017 (numbers are higher for Black girls) . And for children ages 5-12, African American boys have the highest suicide rate of any group of children.

Racism already makes it hard for Black children to survive being born and making it to their first birthday (I’ve talked about that on this blog many times). And we know that racism in all its forms makes it hard for Black people to live healthy lives.

It’s Holy Innocents Day. I try to always say something on this day, but today I’m mostly out of words.

This country is killing our Black children.

The Holy Innocents were slaughtered by decree from a rabid leader. Black children are dying because the whole system is set up to destroy us; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This country is killing our Black children.

 

*- The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics is here

 

Author’s note 1/02/20: I knew there was the possibility that someone would come to the comments and “well actually…” this post. It happened today. That comment will never appear as I deleted it. You are welcome to “well actually…” the numbers all you want, but you will not do that here. Nor will you make the focus of this the rise in suicide among grown white men. Do that on your own blog or wherever you write.

 

 

Hit Dogs Holler

If you knew your history, then you would know where I’m coming from. Then you wouldn’t have to ask me who the hell do I think I am.
–Bob Marley

So…some bloody coward decided to do a hit piece of the Skinner House book “Centering” and call it a “review.” I am in no way shocked by this hit piece (although I’m surprised that it took 2 years for the bloody coward to write it), because a whole lot of white people [especially white liberals] don’t like it when Black people and other people of color hurt their fragile feelings when we tell them the truth of our experiences with them.

What’s really interesting to me is that these same cowards who write hit piece ignore the evidence, like the evidence I wrote about–in September–from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* which–as the abstract details:

In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

The research shows that white liberal churches are less welcoming to newcomers who aren’t white. That being the case, why would the experiences of religious professionals of color in white liberal churches be any different? And why was the bloody coward so butt-hurt about it?

It took the train ride back from San Diego for it to come to me: hit dogs holler. The bloody coward reviewer has mistreated people of color in their congregation and doesn’t like their behavior being displayed for all the world to see. Or, they’re mad that people of color are not “grateful” enough about being “allowed” into “their” Unitarian Universalism.

Whatever the reason, the hit dogs hollering have given me the idea for a new syllabus; the “No Time For White Nonsense” syllabus. It’ll be a minute before I’ll have the first draft of it up as a page here, but all this ignant (yes, ignant, not ignorant) nonsense must get called out for what it is.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

Racial Justice at the Pace of White People’s Feelings Won’t Happen

I was going to name this post “Why Unitarian Universalism Must Change or Die,” but this is bigger than just that little corner of the liberal religious (and religious liberal) landscape.

PRRI in late June published survey data which shows that nearly one-quarter of white mainline/progressive Christians believe that businesses should be able to discriminate against African Americans if they are doing it for religious reasons. [the survey also shows results relating to discrimination against Jews,Muslims, queer people, transgender people, and atheists]

I can hear white mainline/progressives now…..”that means three-fourths of us don’t.” True. Not particularly comforting, but true.

The PRRI data brought to mind research from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* that shows white liberal churches are less welcoming of non-white newcomers. As the authors note in the abstract:
In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

Taken with the PRRI numbers, how should racial minorities look at this?

And then this month, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology** published long-awaited research showing that white people who call themselves liberal talk down (or seemingly less educated/informed) in conversations with non-whites. From the abstract:
Most Whites, particularly sociopolitical liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but persistent ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites—that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent.

oh…I can hear you now, white liberals. “But Kim, I don’t talk down to non-white people.” Honestly, I don’t give a flying f*** whether you–individual white person–do or not. This research is not presenting a new phenomenon. It has been studied before.

Most mainline/progressive religious denominations are going through some racial justice crisis at the moment. Research shows that racial justice in these places is going to come (if it comes) in spite of white people’s feelings about non-white people, not because of some great change in white people’s feelings. The question becomes how do the denominations deal.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

**–Dupree, Cydney H., and Susan T. Fiske. 2019. “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 117 (3): 579–604. doi:10.1037/pspi0000166.

Eric and John and Michael and Kajieme and… (Five Years On)

I should be writing about El Paso and Dayton, but friends, I have written about this country’s idolatrous relationship with guns more than enough and I write about white supremacy all the time.

Anyway…
It started on July 17th.

Continued on August 5th.

And August 9th.

And August 20th.

For six weeks in 2014, the killing of Black men by agents of the state was all over screens.

It’s not as if Black people getting killed by agents of the state was a new phenomenon. It most definitely isn’t. What made these six weeks different was there was video (in most cases) that could be played on a loop.

The movement that started because of the August 9th killing has changed many things. Not enough things, but many.

Five years on, Black people are still killed by agents of the state for anything and everything.

Five years on, the agents of the state still do not (for the most part) face punishment.

Five years on, the families of those killed have to fight to set the record straight.

Five years on, law enforcement agencies still fight against changes in procedure.

In the aftermath of El Paso and Dayton, it is with a melancholy heart that I write about Eric and John and Mike and Kajieme. And think about the others. And see the connections between this and El Paso and Dayton.

The U.S. is so outside the norm when it comes to OECD countries. Especially around guns and mass shootings. And policing. And incarceration.

In no other OECD country is there the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy. This toxic brew plays itself out in many ways. It plays itself out in law enforcement (and others) having an unnatural fear of black/darker bodies, which causes people to want to arm up to alleviate the fear. Which, in turn, lets those who have other issues (like toxic misogyny, a thread through every mass shooting) create chaos.

It’s been five years. And the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy is still causing chaos. That’s all there really is to say.

The Counterfactuals

I don’t normally deal with counterfactuals, but since I’m avoiding writing about why I think UUism (or most UU congregations) will stay white it’s related.

So let’s play the “what if…” game:

–What if Rev. William Jackson had been welcomed by the meeting of the nascent AUA instead of being given a few dollars and sent on his way?

–What if the Unitarians and Universalists had given the Joseph Jordans the money to found a seminary instead of doing misadventures in Japan?

–What if the AUA had left Ethelred Brown and the Harlem Unitarian Society alone instead of stripping him of his fellowship and sabotaging the church?

–What if the AUA (and the local ministers) had done anything (like recognize) Rev. William H.G. Carter and church he founded in Cincinnati?

–What if the UUA had followed through on its commitment to BAC?

And that’s just the ones off the top of my head.

In a different view…what if the Unitarians had done like the Methodists, Baptists (Presbys and Lutherans to a much lesser extent) and had established a few Black congregations themselves? What is/was in Unitarian theology that stopped this from happening?

What’s striking to me is the lack of imagination that U/U/UUs displayed and continue to display. I’ll write about that eventually.

Black Love Is Forever…or, The Institutions We Build

When I was younger and choosing where to go to college, I knew I was going to go to a women’s college. Never a doubt in my mind.

Seminary was different. It happened through a series of coincidental events that ending up at Earlham seems like it was meant to be. Yet, much as Earlham seems like it was meant to be, one of my biggest regrets is that I did not try harder to get into Howard Divinity School.

Why?  Because I wouldn’t have had to fight as hard.

Don’t misunderstand; ESR was good for me in a lot of ways. I love the friends I have from there. I still keep in touch with some of my professors. But two people kept me from dropping out: Dr. James S. Logan (Earlham College professor who taught my intro to theology class at ESR), and Mr. Bob Hunter (who had been a national racial justice coordinator for Intervarsity). Two Black men who cared about me and for me while I was in Richmond. For all those two did for me, it would have been a different situation at Howard. There is a holistic-ness that Howard would have provided.

I think about historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the Black Church a lot. So when Robert Smith and his family pledged $40million to pay off the debt of the 396 graduates at Morehouse College this year, I couldn’t help but think about the institutions we build.

HBCUs and the Black Church are sustained out of love. It is a love born out of struggle and defined by hope. And, even with their issues, HBCUs and the Black Church offer a place where the diversity of the African diaspora can be seen its fullness and wholeness. Where people can see that different does not mean deficient.

I think of BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism for my non-UU readers) the same way. Born out of struggle, defined by hope. Sustained out of love. And, hopefully, where Black UUs and UU-adjacent  people can see the diversity of the African diaspora reflected in its fullness and wholeness.

I’m writing this as my six-month-old cousin sleeps about three feet from where I’m typing. And I can’t help but be grateful for the love of those who established those HBCUs and Black churches all those years ago. Places that, when the time comes, can offer the baby a place where they can be fully themselves.

 

For a list of historically Black colleges and universities, you can find that list here.

 

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (Thoughts on Black Maternity)

At the end of 2017, I did a series of posts about the Black maternal mortality rate. With the CDC’s releasing new numbers about the U.S. maternal mortality rate, it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate for white women is 12.5 per 100,000 births.

For Black women, the maternal mortality rate is 42.8 per 100,000 births.  That’s three-and-a-half times higher. This is not a new phenomenon; the disparity has been known about for almost four decades.

Now…the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of all the OECD countries, regardless of race. Also, the U.S. is the only OECD country where the maternal mortality rate is going up. But the Black maternal mortality rate is on par with many countries that are classified as “developing.”

What would it look like if the lives of pregnant Black people were taken seriously? Or if the country treated this as the healthcare crisis it actually is? (yes…I know about the two bills in Congress. you know what I mean.)

Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people. And many preachers stumble over what to say from the pulpit on the day. If I may make a suggestion it would be to focus on this. There is no reason for the church to be silent in the face of people dying from things that, at least the data says, should be preventable. For those of us who are scripture-based, maternal mortality is a shadow throughout many of the stories of children and inheritance. For those who are less scripture-based, there are many stories of death in pregnancy/childbirth/post-partum that could be explored.

I can’t convey in words how important this is to me. Yet I know I will write about it again.

 

(to read more about the new CDC numbers, you can go here. for info about the two bills in Congress, you can go here. general info is here.)

 

 

You Can’t Hit A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick

For those of you who only know me through this blog or post-college, it might surprise you to know that I came to religion late. Don’t misunderstand, I grew up in the church. I love the church (and that is why I critique it so passionately). But I came to the academic study of religion later. And I came to it because I wanted to reconcile some things.

My life before the study of religion was in political science and sociology. (and yes, that has served me well in studying religion and theology). So the last few weeks have been interesting. And the political scientist in me has been sitting back and biting my tongue. Then yesterday happened.

Yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren presented a proposal to address the student debt crisis (I am neither praising nor condemning the proposal, it is the reaction to the proposal that is intriguing to my mind). A part of the proposal that hasn’t been talked about as much, but I think is the much more interesting part of the proposal politically, is the fund for HBCUs and MSIs. This is where political science comes in.

Sidebar: the United States is the most conservative OECD country by every measure. (you will see why I give you this sidebar in a moment)

Political psychology research shows that white people, regardless of level of education/ income/socioeconomic class, become MORE conservative about social welfare policy/programs when/if they believe that people of color, PARTICULARLY BLACK PEOPLE, may in some way benefit from said policy/program. You can see this throughout Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction U.S. history.

Now…let’s apply this to Sen. Warren’s HBUC/MSI fund proposal.

In a society that becomes more conservative about social welfare policy/programs when the majority thinks that a certain group in the minority may gain anything, what does it do for proposals like Sen. Warren’s HBCU/MSI fund? Would this even be politically feasible in the United States?

As I said in the sidebar, the U.S. is the most conservative of the OECD countries by any measure. A good deal of that conservatism can be explained by how much Calvinism plays a role in U.S. politics. But it doesn’t explain it all.

Race and racism warp the U.S political imagination, just as they warp the theological imagination. That warped thinking limits what we see as possible.

I don’t know what will change this. It would take something radical.