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Interpreting Whiteness

Insights The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary


Helsel • Alvizo • Kim-Kort • Johnson Bryant • Coello • Mueller • Tamez-Méndez • Rigby


The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

Spring 2017

Volume 132

Number 2

Editor: David F. White Guest Editor: Gregory Cuéllar Editorial Board: Phil Helsel and Randal Whittington The Faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Margaret Aymer Whitney S. Bodman Gregory L. Cuéllar Lewis R. Donelson William Greenway Carolyn Browning Helsel Phillip Browning Helsel David H. Jensen David W. Johnson Paul K. Hooker Timothy D. Lincolln

Jennifer L. Lord Blair Monie Suzie Park Cynthia L. Rigby Asante U. Todd Eric Wall Theodore J. Wardlaw David F. White Melissa Wiginton Philip Wingeier-Rayo

Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary

is published two times each year by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. e-mail: dwhite@austinseminary.edu Web site: austinseminary.edu Entered as non-profit class bulk mail at Austin, Texas, under Permit No. 2473. POSTMASTER: Address service requested. Send to Insights, 100 East 27th Street, Austin, TX 78705-5797. Printing runs are limited. When available, additional copies may be obtained for $3 per copy. Permission to copy articles from Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary for educational purposes may be given by the editor upon receipt of a written request. Insights is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database® (ATLA RDB®), a product of the American Theological Library Association, 300 S. Wacker Dr., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60606, USA. Email: atla@atla.com, www:http://www.atla.com.

COVER: “Connections” by Kiyoshi Otsuka; 52" x 66," acrylic on canvas ©2015; used with

permission from the artist. Born in Japan, Kiyoshi Otsuka (kiyoshiotsuka.com) studied in Paris at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and at The Art Students League in New York. His work has been exhibited in galleries in New York, London, Pennsylvania, and Japan and is included in private collections in New York, Washington, D.C., Rio, Tokyo, and Paris.


2 Introduction

Theodore J. Wardlaw

Interpreting Whiteness 3

Growing up in Texas: A Spiritual Autobiography

by Carolyn Browning Helsel


Whiteness and the Gift of Insight

An Interview with Carolyn Helsel



To Be Comrades en La lucha by Xochitl Alvizo

Each of Us Outsiders by Mihee Kim-Kort

Water, Whiteness, and the Promise of Baptism by Patrick Johnson


Pastors’ Panel Janice Bryant, David Coello, Rob Mueller

34 Required Reading

Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World, edited by Dorie Grinenko Baker, reviewed by Elizabeth Tamez-MĂŠndez

37 Christianity and Culture This Hour of Fire by Cynthia L. Rigby



he theme for this particular issue of Insights is “Interpreting Whiteness.” This topic is, at least to me, a new angle in the ongoing conversations about race that have occupied the last sixty or so years. Maybe its newness itself is the biggest source of embarrassment for white people like me. In other seasons of my life, I have assumed that embracing the complexity of America’s racial history has begun with the considerable task of understanding people of color and their particular narratives—“Interpreting Blackness,” for example. My starting question has thus essentially been, “What’s it like to be of African or Hispanic or Asian descent in this country?” Answer that question, I’ve often thought, and we’re off to the races understanding how to get at the complexities of race. But if you want to encounter the inadequacy and naiveté of such an approach, preaching professor Carolyn Browning Helsel’s lead essay will hook you in the first paragraph. “To focus on whiteness,” she corrects, “is to put the onus on people who identify as white to address racism, rather than relegating work on race and racism to those who suffer discrimination in a white-dominant society.” From that paragraph on through, prepare to experience a redemptive series of reversals as this issue unwinds a lifetime of assumptions held by white people like me. Helsel’s testimony of her growing up as a white Texan, and her observations about it now, is frank and brave … and ultimately transformational. Dr. Xochitl Alviso, a Latina scholar on the faculty of California State University in Northridge, encourages us to take on the complexities of race and racism in our various contexts, to the end that we do the often difficult work of “seeing,” and thus experiencing the “deep and beautiful work” of God in a bigger way. The Reverend Mihee Kim-Kort, a Presbyterian minister, shares an AsianAmerican perspective on the problem of whiteness. Recounting several experiences of being told, “You don’t belong here,” she nonetheless calls upon her Christian faith to draw this hopeful conclusion: “Maybe the real story is not that everyone belongs here, but that no one truly belongs here.” Why? Because of the One to whom we belong—“whose presence,” she asserts, “can make a world of difference when we recognize the human and divine, the Incarnate One, in each other throughout all the starts and stops of our days.” The Reverend Patrick Johnson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Asheville, North Carolina, offers similar testimony that, in his own words, “helps clear the fog of economic status that often clouds discussions of whiteness.” He pulls this huge, fraught conversation through the waters of baptism until we reach, in Willie Jennings’s words, “a reality unrealized within the identities and potential relationships between different peoples who have been convinced of the power of Jesus’s life.” All of these pieces are worth our deep attention. Moreover, the Pastors’ Panel features the contributions of three thoughtful Texas pastors: Rob Mueller, David Coello, and Janice Bryant (both a Seminary trustee and an alumna). Read on!

Theodore J. Wardlaw President, Austin Seminary 2

Growing Up in Texas A Spiritual Autobiography Carolyn Browning Helsel


here is a growing field of scholarship known as critical whiteness studies. Scholars within this field wish to make more visible the way race operates within society, focusing specifically on the history of white racism and its lasting effects. To focus on whiteness is to put the onus on people who identify as white to address racism, rather than relegating work on race and racism to those who suffer discrimination in a white-dominant society. Books, anthologies, and scholarly conferences analyze the hidden ways white racism operates on a societal level.1 Theologian Willie James Jennings has said that we need to attend not only to race but also to place in order to address the theological corruption of our imagination that is white racism.2 Race emerged as a concept Europeans settlers and slavetraders employed to categorize other people groups while colonizing new lands. Jennings argues that in these encounters, whiteness became the source of identity for these Europeans, rather than the land from which they came. The theological distortion was in viewing whiteness as separate from creation, above the rest of the created order, and so justifying the subjugation of the land and its inhabitants. Because of Jennings’s emphasis on place, this article intentionally takes an autobiographical tone as someone who grew up white in Texas. I do this because

Carolyn Browning Helsel is assistant professor of homiletics at Aus-

tin Seminary. She earned her PhD from Emory University and her MDiv and ThM degrees Princeton Seminary. She co-teaches a senior capstone on Preaching and Teaching about Race and Racism and her book, Healing White Anxiety: Helping White Christians Talk About Race, will be published by Chalice Press in 2018. She is an ordained teaching elder in the PC(USA).


Interpreting Whiteness being proud of being Texan has meant that I have unintentionally adopted a story involving the making of whiteness in Texas. I am aware that many other white Texans have had other experiences about race, since persons’ stories about race differ based on age, where they grew up, their economic status and access to resources, and a number of other different factors. But as a white Texan teaching at Austin Seminary, which is in the capital of Texas, talking specifically about whiteness in Texas is particularly relevant and necessary for my role as a theological educator who believes students need to be aware of histories of discrimination that continue to impact the communities they will serve. Furthermore, I did not learn about the ongoing realities of racism until I was in seminary in New Jersey, and I believe growing up in Texas where race was not openly talked about is part of the reason I came so late to learning about racism. In what follows, I share my connection to Texas, and I describe how re-examining the history of this place has revealed the racial dynamics that were present from the beginning of the Lone Star state. Toward the end, I offer some advice I give to students about preaching on race that is rooted in gratitude for the grace and justice of God.

The Beginnings of My Texas Identity Before I knew I was “white,” I knew I was Texan. Growing up in San Antonio, taking two years of Texas history (in fourth and seventh grades) and singing Marty Robbins’s “Ballad of the Alamo” in school programs instilled in me as a child a strong sense of Texan identity. I went out of state for college, and on the wall of my dorm room I hung a large flag of the Lone Star state and posted pictures of bluebonnets, the state flower. I not only learned Texas identity in school, I also inherited it. On my father’s side, I am a fourth generation Texan, with my great-grandfather born in a log cabin east of Dallas who became an itinerant Methodist minister. On my mother’s side, I am a fifth generation Texan, having a great-great-grandmother who was born in San Antonio and grew up in one of the prominent families of San Angelo. My sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all received bachelor’s degrees from the University of Texas. My office is now just across the street. Perhaps the most salient aspect of my Texas identity comes from my mother, who was crowned Miss Texas in 1963. While I mostly favor my father in appearance, and my mother never made a big deal about it, I feel proud of being the daughter of Miss Texas. For a whole year, my mother represented the state of Texas to the rest of the country. I have grown up feeling proud to be Texan, but I also grew up unconsciously white. I say “unconsciously” because I was not aware of thinking about race. In the social circles I was part of, being white was never something spoken but always present as I look back. I remember the embarrassment I felt at hearing an older adult whisper that someone was “black,” suggesting that he or she knew it was impolite to call attention to race but felt it was relevant in that moment, most likely because the subtext involved a racist stereotype. 4


It was a social taboo to name race, because the implicit assumption was that only racists actually called attention to race. The polite thing to do was to avoid categorizing people at all. In many white communities, it is still impolite to mention race, and the assumption behind this taboo is that racism will go away if we ignore race. The issue of women’s roles was similarly avoided, with feminists being labeled as “femi-nazis” who hated men. As a feisty Texas woman growing up when Ann Richards was of governor of Texas, I assumed women had equal opportunities to be whatever God called them to be. Who needed feminists when women already had the freedom to pursue their dreams? But then I went to college and met students who said women were not called by God to preach. I had gone to college because I was called to preach, and here were men and women of deep faith who made me question whether I had heard God’s call or made it up. I did not know it at the time, but I needed feminism. And in turn, learning about the oppression of women led me to learning about racism.

My Personal Conversion of Recognizing Racism in Myself When I went to seminary, I wanted to take a course on feminist theology to help me see how other women had responded to questions about their ability to serve as ministers. The only course offered on the subject included not only feminist theology, but Asian women’s theology and Latin American women’s theology and African women’s theology and Womanist or African-American women’s theology. I saw all these other authors and thought, “but I really want a course just on feminist theology.” The man who would later become my husband told me, “I think that’s the way feminism is heading, hearing from women whose voices have been silenced, hearing about their experiences.” My impulse, to look for a resource from someone who looked like me, a white woman’s theology, stemmed from a deep place of cultural assumptions. I assumed I could only learn from someone who looked like me, because I assumed I could not relate to nor benefit from learning about the experiences of persons who were racially or ethnically different from myself. I took that course and discovered I had a lot to learn from other women’s experiences.3 I learned that knowing their stories and their thoughts about God—based on how God has met them in their experiences of oppression—helped me to experience God in a bigger way. I learned about human suffering that occurs because of racism and still continues today despite all our efforts to ignore race. In fact, it was probably because I was taught to ignore race that I initially felt uninterested in what these women had to teach me. I realized that ignoring race mainly helps people like me feel comfortable. People like me feel that race is not a problem for us—I do not knowingly harbor racist beliefs, I do not experience discrimination because of my race, and the fact that I am white most often means that I feel I have no race. I assumed the problem of race had been dealt with in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement. Yet race continues to be a category that maps onto measures of inequality, where among the various racial and ethnic groups, white people tend to be the ones 5

Interpreting Whiteness with the most wealth and resources. Some scholars call the benefits that white people receive for being white as “white privilege,” to show how people do not need to be actively expressing racist beliefs in order to benefit from unfair advantages that continue because of a history of racism.4 So even while I do not consciously harbor racist beliefs, I still benefit from a history of racism because of laws and the transfer of wealth that resulted from racial discrimination. At the same time, I tend to avoid using the word “privilege” when I teach students about issues of race, because there are a lot of white people who have a hard time feeling they are privileged. I have seen some of the pain that people experience in life: mental illness, unemployment, and disabilities. One group of young adults I met had grown up in a trailer park in a small town in Louisiana. With the poverty that they knew growing up and still struggled against, telling them they had “white privilege” seemed an insult. Each white person has problems of his or her own, and comparing suffering does not help us work together to change the ways our world works. To name race, specifically the race of whites, is not to shame anyone or to ignore their struggles. Rather, naming race is meant to help us notice patterns about our society that seem natural, but are actually the result of intentional racial discrimination. White people as a group continue to hold the greatest power in the United States, and naming whiteness as the dominating criteria of racial discrimination is not to diminish the suffering of persons who are white, but aims to help white people see how persons who are not white experience a white-dominated society.

Why We Need to Talk about Whiteness in 2017 Housing ranks among the primary sources for wealth inequality among persons from different races.5 The segregation of neighborhoods is the result of long-term discrimination in loans and home mortgages, in which banks would not lend money to persons who were not white, and white neighborhoods sought intentionally to remain white-only. Segregated neighborhoods mean that our schools are segregated, and the schools with the greatest amount of resources in terms of funding and number of teachers are the schools in the predominantly white neighborhoods. Children notice race, and even if they are taught not to say anything about race, they still may say something that communicates their ideas. I see this in the six-year-olds that I lead in Daisies. At the first Girl Scout meeting of the year for the first graders, we were making introductions. Several of the girls were returning from last year, and several were new. I had taken on a new role; instead of being a supporting co-leader, I was now the primary leader. A new mom had joined the leadership team as the co-leader. We began by introducing ourselves and allowing each person to share one thing they really loved. “Taylor Swift!”… “Cats!”… “Chocolate!”… “Tacos!” “TACOS?!” One girl reacted strongly in disbelief that the mom co-leader would say she loved tacos. She asked the mom: “What, are you from Mexico?!” And the mom said simply, still with a smile: “Actually, I am from Mexico.” The six-year-old who had asked the question said, “Oh,” with a perplexed look, like this thought had 6


not occurred to her. The next girl in the circle continued with the introductions, and the moment passed. I share this story not to embarrass this young girl; it is the culture in which she has grown up, surrounded mostly by white people. I write this in the fall of the 2016 election, when one of the candidates kept referring to Mexicans as criminals and drug-dealers, promising to build a wall to keep them out and deport those who are in the United States illegally. If she had heard the references to Mexicans that Trump made during his campaign, she might rightly be surprised that she actually knows someone from Mexico—her Girl Scout leader, no less, who is the image of a model citizen and moral example.

To Be Texan Has Meant to be White The surprise this young girl expressed at knowing someone from Mexico also comes from the stories we tell our children about Texas history. The way the story gets told, Texans sacrificed their lives at the Battle of the Alamo and then defeated the Mexicans. This story of Texas independence depends upon seeing Mexicans as the “bad guys” in the story. But this story is not accurate. The glorified story about Texas independence is one way that white people in Texas can feel proud of being white, because Texas identity has historically been described as white. Take the following quotes from the classic The Texas Rangers by Walter Prescott Webb: “By the opening of the [Texas] Revolution the three races that were to struggle for supremacy were all present in Texas. The Indians … the Mexicans … and the Anglo-Americans, henceforth called Texans…”6 The reasons Webb gives for the conflict between white Texans and Mexicans include differences between the two groups: “Fundamentally, the Texans differed too much from the Mexicans to live long or amicably under Mexican rule. The differences were to be found in race, language, religion, and in governmental ideals.”7 Even though Texas identity does not belong exclusively to white Texans, white Texans have over the years acted as if this were the case. The history of Texas, as told by early twentieth-century historian Eugene C. Barker, cast Texas as part of white Americans’ impulse to civilize the barbarous West, and the character traits of Texans who faced such frontier living were an example of the strength and resolve of a larger American identity.8 This focus on the “rugged individualism” of the white settlers erased the experiences of Native Americans, Mexican Texans, and African Americans who witnessed a very different set of character traits from these same white Texans.9 Race relations demonstrated a less-than-hospitable attitude toward persons who were not white. Tejanos, or persons of Hispanic origin living in the region now known as Texas, had helped white Texans battle the army of Santa Ana during the Texas Revolution. But after the Texas Revolution, white Texans turned on their Tejano allies and insisted upon segregated living. In West Texas, where Tejanos were the majority, whites cooperated with Tejanos and shared power and governance. Once whites began to settle in greater numbers in the area, this dynamic changed, 7

Interpreting Whiteness and whites took control of public offices until after the Second World War. The racism that had plagued other parts of the United States was rampant throughout Texas as well, with whites viewing themselves as superior to Mexican Americans, whom they referred to simply as “Mexicans,” as well as African Americans. Mexican Americans were segregated to balconies in movie theatres, prohibited from using community swimming pools, and refused service at restaurants where signs often hung: “No Mexicans Allowed.”10 Yet growing up and learning about Texas history for two years of my primary school education, I did not know about the history of discrimination that had taken place in my home state.11

Revising Our Story about the Texas Revolution Since returning to Texas after living elsewhere for parts of my career and education, I sought to learn more about Texas history based on my hunch that I did not know the whole story of Texas’s independence. I went to my local library and found plenty of titles on Texas that exuded the pride that many white Texans feel about the state. But one caught my attention: An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, by Randolph Campbell. Reading Campbell’s history of slavery in Texas made me more hesitant to brag about my Texan roots. Campbell’s history focused on the role of slavery in Anglo Texans’ fight for independence from Mexico. The biggest surprise for me was that Stephen F. Austin fought for independence from Mexico in order to maintain the institution of slavery in Texas, so that he could convince additional settlers from the United States to immigrate to Texas.12 Under Spanish rule, slavery was permitted, but after winning their independence from Spain, Mexico outlawed slavery. Settlers would be less likely to immigrate to Texas if they could not keep their slaves. The founder of Texas, Stephen F. Austin, owned a slave named Richmond who accompanied Stephen’s father, Moses Austin, on his journey to Texas in 1820 to establish a colony between the Brazos and Colorado rivers. Moses Austin returned to Missouri after being granted permission from Spain to settle in Texas but died soon thereafter, leaving the leadership of the first Texas settlement to his 28-yearold son, Stephen. In 1821, Austin advertised incentives for settlers that included fifty acres per slave, encouraging slaveholders to immigrate to Texas for the amount of land they would be able to claim. But in that same year, Mexico’s revolution against Spain was successful, and the new Mexican government opposed slaveholding. Father Manuel Hidalgo, who in 1810 issued one of the many decrees against Spain, argued that slaves should be immediately freed and that slavery should be outlawed. Once Mexico gained its independence from Spain, it began to enact laws prohibiting slavery. In 1823, Mexican authorities made it illegal to buy or sell slaves within the empire of Mexico and authorized that the children of slaves already there had to be freed at age 14. In 1824, Mexican authorities made additional pronouncements, including that slaves could not be imported into Texas as merchandise. Despite these laws, white immigrants continued to settle in Texas with slaves they brought from other parts of the United States. Mexico allowed persons who 8


owed a debt to be kept as indentured servants, and the white Texas settlers used this provision to continue slavery under a different name. Slaveholders would bring their slaves to a notary before leaving the United States, and they would sign a contract in which the slaveholder would appear to give the slave freedom in exchange for a lifetime of service. So enslaved men and women of color were brought into Texas, now legally under then Mexican regulations, by being considered indentured servants. On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston’s army surprised Santa Ana at San Jacinto and defeated them, and Texas declared itself to be independent of Mexican rule. The rebels drafted a constitution, and in it, the founding fathers of the Republic of Texas made sure to protect the interests of slaveholders and to ensure that persons of African descent in Texas were held as slaves. If a person of African descent was in the Republic as a free person, they would not be able to reside permanently without explicit permission from congress. It was new for me to consider that the very beginnings of Texas as a republic and later as a state included legalization of the institution of slavery. Marty Robbin’s “Ballad of the Alamo” describes the men who fought at the Alamo as having the motivation of freedom: “they joined up with Travis, just to fight for the right to be free.” Given that they had just arrived in Texas fifteen years earlier by the permission of Spain, and that Mexico was its own new republic having successfully fought for its own independence, I cannot picture these men having a strong need “to be free.” The real champion of freedom in this telling of the story appears to be Mexico, not Texas.

Recognizing the Challenges of Confronting Whiteness I confess that it feels challenging to my identity as someone with deep roots in Texas to acknowledge that whites in Texas have been cruel and savage in their treatment of others. It is also challenging to recognize that there are persons in this state who continue to be called “Mexicans,” even though they are citizens of the United States, and some of their families lived here long before white people crossed the border and immigrated into Texas. While Mexican immigrants have been labeled as criminals or even “illegals,” it was the white Americans who first settled in Texas who had voluntarily left the United States of America to immigrate to the United States of Mexico, and they were the ones who rebelled illegally against the country that had allowed them the freedom to settle in this land.13 This calls into question the “born in Texas” bravado that gives me and other white Texans a sense that we really belong here, that this land is somehow our birthright because of our Texas identity. I am here because of some grace that allowed my ancestors to leave behind what trouble they experienced elsewhere to settle in Texas. Being a “native Texan” does not give me permission to feel superior to others. I enjoy living in Texas and am grateful to be back closer to my hometown, and I am also grateful for learning about the stories of the many women and men whose stories I never learned in school. It is this gratitude for the possibilities of new friendships and a deeper sense of community that compels me to share these stories in the classroom and in the pulpit. 9

Interpreting Whiteness

Preaching and Gratitude for the Grace and Justice of God When I tell students they need to preach about racism, I talk about three kinds of interpretive moves that take place along the way, and each of these interpretive moves involves some form of recognition: recognizing racism, recognizing ourselves as racialized, and recognizing gratitude. I explain that it is not easy for white people to recognize racism primarily because it is not the everyday experience of a white person to be racialized.14 Additionally, for whites to recognize racism means that white people need to see themselves as racialized in a way that benefits them while oppressing others, and this knowledge is painful and uncomfortable. And yet, there is a third form of recognition known as gratitude, and it is in gratitude that whites can begin to reflect on possibilities for new ways of living in community.15 All three interpretive moves involve emotional processes. Learning about racism and whiteness is challenging particularly for white people who are not accustomed to racial stress. Often the emotions of shame or guilt can creep up in white people, leading them to want to avoid the conversation or to take a defensive posture. Accepting these difficult emotions is part of the challenge of having these conversations. I advocate that students allow themselves to be aware that this is hard, and that others are experiencing similar emotions, and that we will be able to endure and to struggle together. Part of what helps empower persons to continue this struggle is faith in the grace and justice of God. It is that grace and justice of God that roots our conversations and sermons about racism in a deep gratitude for what God is already doing in our midst. This gratitude comes from our belief that God’s grace has redeemed us before we knew we were in need of redemption, and that God is continuing to make all things new. Focusing on our gratitude for what God has done, is doing, and will do, enables us to move beyond the stumbling blocks of shame and guilt that try to prevent us from honest dialogue. In gratitude for the grace of God that enables us to build relationships across racial divides, in spite of the brokenness and injustice of our shared history and ongoing struggles, we work to heal what can be healed and to stand up for those who continue to be oppressed. I encourage preachers to motivate their congregations out of gratitude, since shame and guilt can leave us immobilized. Continuing to sit with the discomfort of these ugly histories and ongoing realities helps us to build our stamina for the long-term effort of seeking the justice of God. A single sermon, or even a lifetime of sermons on racism, will not be enough, but we can pray for God’s grace to empower us to live into new ways of being in community together. v NOTES 1. The books I could list here are too numerous to cite. One anthology on my shelf is The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001). Of particular relevance in the genre of autobiography of white people, see Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream (New York: W.W. Norton, 1949, 1961, 1994), and Robert Graetz’ A White Preacher’s Memoir: The Montgomery Bus Boycott (Montgomery, AL: Black Belt Press, 1991, 1998) 2. Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).


Helsel 3. Some of these authors included: Ada María Isasi-Díaz’s Mujerista Theology, Sherley Anne Williams’s novel Dessa Rose, Chung Hyun Kyung’s Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology, and Mercy Oduyoye’s An Introduction to African Women’s Theology. 4. A frequently cited article with many examples of white privilege is Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” available online: http://nationalseedproject.org/whiteprivilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack 5. Chenoa A. Flippen, “Racial and Ethnic Inequality in Homeownership and Housing Equity,” The Sociological Quarterly, 42:2, (Spring 2001): 121-149. 6. Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1935, 1965), 11.

7. Ibid., 21.

8. Paul D. Lack, “In the Long Shadow of Eugene C. Barker: The Revolution and the Republic.” In Texas Through Time: Evolving Interpretations, Walter L. Buenger and Robert A. Calvert, eds., (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991). 9. White Texans inflicted terror on Mexican Texans and African Americans through lynchings, see David Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 82-83, and Bruce A. Glasrud, “Anti-Black Violence in 20th-Century East Texas,” East Texas Historical Journal, 52: 1, (Spring 2014): 87-99. 10. Glen Sample Ely, Where the West Begins: Debating Texas Identity (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2011), 88. 11. The Texas Board of Education recently voted against a proposed textbook on Mexican-American studies, see https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/16/state-board-education-rejects-mexicanamerican-stu/ 12. Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 35-49. 13. Eric R. Schlereth, “Voluntary Mexicans: Allegiance and the Origins of the Texas Revolution,” Contested Empire: Rethinking the Texas Revolution, Sam W. Haynes and Gerald D. Saxon, eds. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2015), 1-41. 14. I use the word “racialized” to show that “race” does not exist in an essential biological way. It is a social construct, a process that evolves over time, and that emerges from social conflict. See Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, Third Edition, (New York: Routledge, 2015). 15. For a longer treatment of these three forms of recognition, see Carolyn Browning Helsel, The Hermeneutics of Recognition: A Ricoeurian Interpretive Framework for Whites Preaching about Racism (2014), Unpublished dissertation, available online: https://etd.library.emory.edu/browse/author/value/Helsel%252C%2BCarolyn%2BBrowning.


Interview Carolyn Helsel

“Whiteness and the Gift of Insight” An interview with Professor Gregory Cuéllar, Guest Editor

In your article, you mention that a major part of your Texas identity comes from your mother, who was crowned Miss Texas in 1963. What was it like having your mom represent Texas for a year? My mom never made a big deal about it, but fairly recently I’ve uncovered some scrapbooks from that time. She kind of stumbled into it. She was a student at UT and one of her friends was going to be a part of the Miss Austin pageant and got sick at the last minute and said, “Jeannie, can you take my place?” So she said, “Well, sure. Okay.” So first she became Miss Austin, then she went on to win the Miss Texas pageant the following year. Even though I don’t look like my mother, I still feel very proud of having Miss Texas as my mom. That’s kind of a unique way that I feel deeply, deeply Texan. You say you knew you were a Texan before you knew you were white. Could you expound a little on how these two identities are different, but how also, for some, they are synonymous? That’s a great question. Growing up as I did in the ’80s, at that point it wasn’t socially appropriate to name race in any kind of way. And yet, it was appropriate as a child growing up in Texas to be proud of being Texan and learning all about Texas history and being, in a way, indoctrinated into this glory story of the “Battle of the Alamo” which happened in the same town I grew up in. So it felt very comfortable. Whereas, on the flipside, to be proud of being white would have been very socially unacceptable and it would’ve been understood as very, very racist. Later when I came to understand more about the history of Texas, I saw that I could no longer make an easy demarcation between whiteness and Texas identity. Texan identity has a kind of creation origin myth, so that when people come from Texas it’s as if they are the first ones who have ever been Texan and that they’ve emerged from this story of revolution which totally erases the history of native peoples and Mexican Americans who were living in this region long before there was ever a Texas. So I’m trying to understand, how did we come to this Texas identity? How did this become so built up? Some of my research has been in trying to unpack some of that and to learn stories that I had not learned about Texas history in the public schools. 12


There’s such a complex understanding of what it means to be racist and racialized in our society, that for many whites it’s so uncomfortable that they can’t even bring it up. They fear saying the wrong thing. They fear being labeled racist. They also fear what kind of responsibility will be asked of them now that they’ve talked about race. I find it fascinating as a long-standing Texas Mexican, how history plays into the psyche of how we live in this particular part of the world. Do you see that as unique to Texas? Would you find this present in other places that you’ve been? I lived for three years in Sudbury, Massachusetts, which is outside of Boston, but it’s close to Concord, Massachusetts, where the Minutemen were at the start of the American Revolution. Every year they have reenactments of the War for Independence and Paul Revere’s ride. There is a lot of U.S. history remembered in the Boston area. It, too, carries a kind of sanctified creation myth of this group who valiantly struggled against all odds and overcame their oppressors. This is our legacy. People cling to that and it gives them a sense of pride. And yet, again, in Sudbury, where I lived, there is something called King Philip’s War. It’s again a story of sacrifice where this group of Native Americans attacks a group of settlers within Sudbury and that leads to King Philip’s War in which a great number of Native Americans were massacred, and those who were considered allies with the settlers were turned against and also massacred. So there is a kind of snowball effect in which settlers turned against persons who have been otherwise very gracious and hospitable to them. Telling the story in a way that suggests that one side is all good and all right does an injustice to the struggles we have today. We have to discern how do we live in ways that God is calling us to live, which is in community? 13

Interpreting Whiteness So what might some of these new ways of being in community look like? I think it’s different for each person. For example in your neighborhood, it might mean looking for the people who may not always fit in or feel warmly embraced. It is trying to find ways of reaching out and building connections. It’s listening to the political tension in your local community around issues like the threat of registering Muslims. Maybe it’s really reaching out to those neighbors who are Muslim and saying, “I’m really sorry,” and expressing that you are there to support them however they need to be supported. I think it depends on where you live geographically, because attending to place is really important. You indicate that in many white communities it is still impolite to mention race, and the assumption behind this taboo is that racism will go away if we ignore race. Can you talk about why race is a difficult issue to address especially within many white communities? I think it’s really hard for white people to talk about race because to name race is not a simple cognitive description of something, it embodies a sense of the history of injustice. Whites—on a visceral level—know that they are in some ways the beneficiaries of this unjust history. And yet people are hesitant to want to claim full responsibility for being beneficiaries of injustice. All people struggle. So they may have their own experiences of people who they feel have been racist against them for being white. There’s such a complex understanding of what it means to be racist and racialized in our society, that for many whites it’s so uncomfortable that they can’t even bring it up. They fear saying the wrong thing. They fear being labeled racist. They fear what kind of repercussions they may receive from other white people for bringing up the subject. They also fear what kind of responsibility will be asked of them now that they’ve talked about race. Will they be asked to do things that give up some of their power—which again calls into question the social structures in which we all exist. And it’s hard for people to consider, What would life look like if persons who had benefited by whiteness no longer received the same benefits? People who talk about race and talk about whiteness do not divest themselves of their privilege just by talking about it. They can acknowledge white privilege, but that does nothing to change the color of their skin and to change the benefits. Contrast the experience of white people when they are being pulled over by the police or using a credit card or a check when shopping against those of persons of color. One group is often given the benefit of the doubt and the other may have the opposite experience. Sometimes it feels almost despairing. Why even talk about it? Why even talk about it if I can’t really do anything about the color of my skin? I’m still going to be white. And yet, it can help if we realize that there are others who share a similar story, 14

Interview others who have struggled in this way, and others who have been able to come at this issue from another perspective and who have made a commitment to act in a certain way. Hearing the stories of other persons who have changed their lives based on a commitment to social justice can inspire us to continue on and not stay stuck in despair or guilt or shame. That’s not the end of the story. Picking up on these two realities of shame and guilt, you seem to identify these as powerful motivators for avoiding issues of race. Within the context of your teaching, how do you help students learn to preach on difficult issues, such as social justice and the racialization of bodies? It’s easy for those of us who are more left-leaning to get on our high horse about issues of social justice. We feel like we know the right answers and we want other people to know these answers. Yet we can fall into the same kind of shaming and guilt-tripping that our predecessors have done on a number of other issues. For me, I try to advocate for this notion of recognition as gratitude: that somehow in the midst of our own recognition of social injustice we are convicted and experience that recognition with a sense of deep gratitude. God didn’t have to open our eyes to this issue and yet God did, and because of it, we are hearing stories that break our hearts; that expand our network of kin and family and community; that expose us to so many different ways of knowing who God is. And for all of those things we are grateful. As we look to the future, what would be some things that you would hope to see within the white church as we move into a new political era? I think this is a very crucial time for the white church. I know people who were on both sides of the political spectrum who were appalled by this presidential cycle. The kinds of things that came out of the mouth of our president-elect really seem to go against the Christian values of many who consider themselves longtime Republicans. Many of them voted for him not because they felt he was the best candidate, but because he was the party’s candidate. For some people who are part of churches that are predominantly Republican, predominantly supportive of Trump, I think many Christians are at a loss for understanding how this could have happened. How someone with values and behavior and language that seems so contrary to the Gospel can be lifted up by so many Christian leaders. So I think for the white church, particularly now, on the left and the right, we need to be able to talk through basic expectations of our leaders and understand that power is not necessarily the Christian example of leadership. That isn’t to say that had a Democrat been elected, the Kingdom on earth would have come and all would be well, but that we as a country, those of us who are part of white churches, really need to consider how we make conscious efforts at becoming more just, more vocal in the public sphere, to make our concerns heard so that we are not just conceding our power to those that have been elected, but using the democratic process to make changes that coincide with our beliefs and 15

Interpreting Whiteness our faith—that care for widows and orphans—that seek to make the world a better place. I think it’s a crucial time for the church to reconsider how it engages the public sphere. Well, I would like to offer you a chance to say anything that maybe you wish you had said in your piece. Any final remarks? I just want to say that I do this out of a deep sense of love, out of a deep sense for the people I’ve grown up with, who maybe have different political beliefs than I do, with different perspectives. I believe that they can also make a difference. So I’m inviting them into this conversation. Part of the reason I share it from an autobiographical perspective is to really put myself in the same camp as all of the others who may feel identified and singled out by this article. I want to thank you for taking the time to field my questions. I think that the love you have for your community, especially for those who have been integral to your formation, comes out clearly in your essay. v

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To Be Comrades En La Lucha

Xochitl Alvizo


ecently I asked my friend, “Do you ever wonder why most of my academic friends and collaborators are white?” Shyly, she admitted she had. I asked her what her theory was. She hesitated, saying she didn’t have one. After a slight pause, we both laughed, knowing that surely she had theorized about this before. I myself have wondered the same thing as at times I have felt self-conscious that many of my academic collaborators, including those of my feminist circles, are predominantly white. From my dissertation research and theological work, to my denominational and church-affiliated partnerships, to my feminist and queer activist circles, all these endeavors often lead me to places where I am the lone brown face in a room of whiteness. And, I’ll admit, ninety percent of the time, I don’t give it much thought. It’s the norm I have become accustomed to and part of the waters I learned to swim in early in my academic life. I was born and raised in Los Angeles where one can get away with growing up in majority Latino/a schools and neighborhoods. And I mostly did. I attended an elementary school that was ninety-eight percent Latino/a, with likely a great majority of them Mexican-American like me; my junior high and high schools were each about fifty percent Latino/a, with the other fifty percent from a diverse range of racial and ethnic groups. So while my context was in no way monocultural, it was definitely not white. Once I reached college, however, my context changed. I attended a private research institution that was over fifty percent white. Its sports rivals called it the “university of spoiled children,” as it was known for its population of students from affluent legacy families. Beside it being the first time I was in a predominantly white context, college was also the first time I encountered both affluence and Prot-

Xochitl Alvizo teaches in the area of women and religion and the philosophy of sex, gender, and sexuality at California State University, Northridge, where she brings a feminist focus to theology and to the study of religion. Alvizo is co-founder of Feminism and Religion (FAR) and The Pub Church, Boston. 17

Interpreting Whiteness estantism. Previously, I had only known (financially) rich people through television and movies and had not actually believed such wealth was real or possible. I had also only been aware of people being Catholic—it was the only Christianity I knew. While these experiences were all new to me, of greater impact was the fact that college was the first time I was referred to as a “minority.” Having grown up with a strong Latino/a base, where most people shared similar religious and economic backgrounds, I was not prepared for the experience of being engaged with as an “other,” somehow marked as not part of the assumed “us.” In many small and subtle ways—moments of interactions that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, without knowing exactly why (experiences that today we might call microaggressions)—it was made known to me that I was not part of the club. I was not an “us” but a “them.” As a result, I had well-meaning friends, primarily Protestant friends, who took me on as a project; who tried to take me under their wings as someone who needed their help or, worse, fixing. And here is the thing, for the most part, I do not think people meant to create this dynamic or explicitly thought of me as “other.” Like Carolyn Helsel explains in her essay, our engagements with one another across race are shaped in indirect ways, in many cases by what is not spoken or explicitly engaged. We learn to see and relate with one another in ways that repeat the patterns and habits that are already embedded in our contexts, places. In this country, these patterns of relating are often based on categories of “us” and “them” according to intersecting threads of race, gender, and economic status. These larger social structures are born out of complex histories and systems of power, hierarchy, and domination that were created long before us, even as we find ourselves inadvertently perpetuating them. Bell hooks uses the term “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to refer to these “interlocking political systems that are the foundation of our nation’s politics.”1 Our country’s complex history, which is often buried and covered over with a sanitized ideal version (as Carolyn demonstrated with the example of Texas history), and the structures and systems history has put in place were direct factors in distorting the relationships and interactions my college friends and I could have. I didn’t see this then, though. In undergrad, I didn’t understand the complex underlying systems at work impacting our relational dynamics—likely few of us did. All I knew at the time was that I often felt bad with my friends—like they didn’t think of me as a peer or equal or they thought they somehow knew better about most things. Mostly, I didn’t feel like a whole person with them. And just because I was Latina did not mean that I somehow understood more, or enough, of the history of racism at play. I did not comprehend the distortions and dynamics I was experiencing in this new predominantly white context. It took years after I graduated from college to understand this more clearly; though a shorter time to begin to recover from the impact it had on my sense of self. I started to notice that difference shortly after college, at my first job, when I was working as an education coordinator with primarily Latino/a kids and families at a family center in downtown Los Angeles. I felt valued and appreciated there without distinction. I made sense again. 18


There are often clear moments in our lives when we are faced with the opportunity to “see.” To see anew, to see what is beneath the surface, to see more than what we thought was there, or would ever want to be there. Our country’s pernicious employment of race as a category of exclusion used to dehumanize, divide, and exploit is coming to visibility with unabashed force. We find ourselves in a particular moment in history in which that which has always been just beneath the surface (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) is being given oxygen to emerge anew by the polemical and divisive rhetoric of newly elected President Donald Trump. At the same time, for those who choose, this moment presents an opportunity to dig deeper than we have before into our particular place and the complex and unsavory histories that may be at work there.2 It is a call to gain new understanding and convert our collective wisdom and energy into sociopolitical engagements that help us embody a different reality—that help us inch our way toward healing. It can be easier not to see, though, for something is demanded of us once we do.3 After eight years of satisfying and life-giving work at the family center in Los Angeles, I moved across the country to attend graduate school at Boston University (BU). I was there for eleven years, completing a Master of Divinity and a Doctor of Philosophy in practical theology. And, again, especially during my early years at BU, I was often the only Latina in the room.4 The contexts where I learned to be a scholar and to find my way in the academy were predominantly white. My friend, who is originally from Puerto Rico and also attended grad school at Boston University, theorized with me that the simple truth of that fact is likely why my academic collaborators tend to be white. It is the case for most of the Latino/a scholars I know that they, too, were often one of just a few, if not only, Latino/a doctoral students in their program.5 This has its many impacts. Being continually in places where you do not share the culture of the majority can be taxing, psychically and emotionally. It is work. But one of its more fruitful impacts is that it most often raises in you an awareness of the web of systems at work that creates these disparities in the first place and awakens in you a commitment to work to change these structures in both their small and large manifestations. This work is different for everybody and usually starts in the specific and particular place one finds oneself standing. The scholars and theologians who are my collaborators and friends are people committed to helping uncover, undo, and counteract the interlocking systems and structures that oppress, that enable a hierarchy of valuing and materially privileging some persons or people groups over others. To be in this work is what mujerista theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz refers to as being en la lucha, in the struggle, for liberation.6 It is active work in the face of strong political forces that would rather preserve the status quo. The good news is that this is work we take on together and requires only that we start in our very own particular place. Carolyn, in her lead essay for this issue, describes her journey of seeing her place in a new light, an unsettling one, and in turn inviting her students to journey into theirs for the sake of justice and experiencing “God in a bigger way.” It is beautiful deep work. As comrades en la lucha we need the courage to see and take on the complexities of race and racism in our contexts. To be en la lucha means that we are willing to open our 19

Interpreting Whiteness eyes to truths we would sometimes rather not see—seeing can undo us, make us vulnerable, and unsettle our certainties. Seeing is work, good and difficult work. But we do not do this justice-making work alone. We join a diverse community of revolutionaries who have heeded the call to turn around to live into a new divine reality, and we join in on what is already real and at work in the commonwealth of God. In a follow-up conversation, my friend asked me about my resilience being in majority white spaces.7 She mentioned how she was personally worn down and exhausted, post-election, and that she recently told a mutual white friend how she was finding it difficult to be in white spaces, feeling like she did not know how to talk to white people anymore. She was experiencing the toll of being present to the struggles of her white progressive friends and peers in light of the current political climate, even while they often did not know how to do the same for her—an experience not uncommon for people who are continually in spaces where they are the minority.8 Her story helps me answer her question about resiliency. She risked sharing the difficulties she was experiencing with her white friend knowing, hoping, that her friend could hold her in that space. She risked vulnerability and her friend met her where she was. This is not always the outcome that results; there are also times when we do not have it in us to risk, we just do not have the resources at the moment. But this is one of the two factors that easily comes to mind when thinking about my resiliency; the first is that when I needed it, I intentionally put myself in places where I could “feel at home”9; the second is my friendships with white people. I have friendships, developed over time, in which we have stayed with one another through enough risky, difficult, and vulnerable moments to move us into life-giving relational possibilities we previously could not have imagined. Because of these friendships, I trust our capacity to live into new realities. I have experienced it. In her essay, Carolyn writes that the work we do to live into the justice of God is rooted in “a deep gratitude for what God is already doing in our midst.” She invites us, as she does her students, to focus on this gratitude to make it through the stumbling blocks that may come our way. To this, I would like to add the invitation to see ourselves as en la lucha together; to know and live into the reality that our liberation is tied to each other’s. We are inextricably connected; to see ourselves as set apart, distinct from one another, is a distortion that does us harm. We need each other to help us see. I invite you to also engage with some of the comrades I have recently encountered en la lucha: friends who have done the work of uncovering so that we may see. Womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas, in her recent book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, helped me see the long thread of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism that runs deep in our country’s identity.10 She has been teaching me about this particular layer of racism and how it continues to manifest in ways that target black male bodies. In my denomination, the anti-racism pro-reconciliation committee of the board I am a part of recently completed Leah Gunning Francis’s book, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community..11 The 20


stories of clergy response and involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement shared in the book inspired and sparked our group’s conversation about the specific ways we are being called to partner in the movement.12 Finally, I commend to you Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia W. Mount Shoop’s recently co-authored book, A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, in which they remind us that our churches and theologies are, like our country, implicated in the intersecting systems of oppression that negatively shape our world and distort our relationships. It is a short and powerful book that congregations can read together to surface, name, and critically examine the ways racism has dis-eased the practices of the church, specifically the Eucharist.13 The good news is that we are en the lucha together, and we have each other to help us see and be anew. It is the demand the gospel makes of us. v NOTES

1. bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (New York: Atria Books, 2004), 17.

2. See Carolyn Helsel’s reference to the importance of “place” in the beginning of her essay found in this same issue. 3. Radical feminist philosopher Mary Daly often said this in reference to seeing the sexism and patriarchalism embedded in the church, stating that it was not prudent to see because “[s]eeing means that everything changes: the old identifications and the old securities are gone.” Something similar can be said when we dig deep into the roots of our country’s violent and racist beginnings. Mary Daly, “The Women’s Movement: An Exodus Community,” in Religious Education, (September/October 1972): 32733, 331. 4. The diversity, especially in reference to Latino/a students, definitely increased over the eleven years I attended BU. Now, both in the faculty and the student body, there is much more Latino/a and Latin American representation than when I started in 2004. 5. The first time I was in a room full of Latino/a academic peers was a transformative experience. In that moment I felt affirmed and validated as a scholar in way I never had before, even though I have always benefitted from supportive white friends and mentors in the academy. There was something about being able to see myself in them, people who shared a similar cultural and ethnic background and who were also academic, that solidified in me my identity as a scholar. I wrote about this experience and my gratitude for the Hispanic Theological Initiative that brought us together, on Feminism and Religion (blog). See Xochitl Alvizo, “Being Renewed at the Hispanic Theological Initiative,” Feminism and Religion (blog), August 20, 2012, https://feminismandreligion.com/2012/08/20/being-renewedat-the-hispanic-theological-initiative-by-xochitl-alvizo/ 6. Ada María Isasi-Díaz, En La Lucha / In the Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology (10th Anniversary Edition) (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004). 7. My friend brainstormed with me for this piece and gave me permission to draw from our conversations. 8. Mary McClintock Fulkerson, in an interview about A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed, describes the difficulty white people can experience when they find themselves in non-white spaces. She tells the story as an example of white privilege operating in church and of “white ownership of space.” See “Ignoring White Privilege and Racism in the Church | The Interview,” in Wipf and Stock Publishers YouTube Channel, February 18, 2016 (segment starting in minute 7:21-10:10), https://youtu.be/w4aWLwkyTM?t=7m21s. I recommend the whole interview. 9. In my early years in Boston, I re-sourced by going back home to Los Angeles at least three times a year. I have a similar need to re-source in regard to feminist spaces and, at times, women-only spaces.

Continued on page 36


Interpreting Whiteness

Each of Us Outsiders Mihee Kim-Kort


t was on the way to pick up the kids from school. I slowed to a stop at the crosswalk that connects a paved walking trail to a railsto-trails path on a fairly busy street in Bloomington, Indiana. Even though I was in a hurry and saw the bicyclist slow down to wait to cross I waved him on anyway. My eyes flicked up to my rearview mirror and I noticed the car behind me abruptly stop like the driver hadn’t been paying attention. Maybe he didn’t expect me to stop for the lone person waiting to cross the street. Maybe he was on his phone. Maybe he was in a hurry to pick up his kids. When I drove further down the road the lane opened up to two lanes and I got in the left-turn lane. That’s when I noticed the same car behind me come up and zip around even before the lanes split off. As I turned to watch him drive by he slowed down a little with his driver’s window down and screamed out: “B****, learn how to drive or go back to your country!” Then he sped through the intersection. I missed my chance to turn left as I watched him drive away, my knuckles turning white as I gripped the steering wheel. I couldn’t help but immediately default to: Was I not supposed to stop for the bicyclist? Did I do something wrong? Am I a bad driver? I know all those stereotypes about Asian drivers and women drivers, and I crack those jokes about myself sometimes: God, watch out, especially for those Asian women drivers. This time didn’t feel like a joke. It was another reminder that no matter what you do or say, if you look like me, you don’t belong here and you are supposed to go back to your country. It was a reminder buttressed by the monthly questions I get about my age disguised by not-so-innocent questions about my race

Mihee Kim-Kort is a Presbyterian minister, spouse to another Presbyterian minister, mother to three children, community chaplain and organizer, and writer. She is the author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology of Color (Chalice, 2012); other commentary and writings are found at the Huffington Post, TIME, Christian Century, Sojourners and at www.miheekimkort.com. 22


(Oh, you Asians always look so young!) and my citizenship status (Where are you from? Are you an international student? Your English is so good!). In other words, this was another moment that made me question my legitimacy as a resident, as a citizen, as a human being. It was a reminder that life in the diaspora, especially in the United States, means constantly being told that we are foreigners. That we are outsiders. This is 2016. And, this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. Kathy Khang, writer and speaker from Intervarsity, wrote about a similar experience recently at a rest stop where she and her son tried to order food at a restaurant and an older white man named Gerald cut the line accosting them with these words: “You don’t need food. Go back to your country and eat the food there.”1 Likewise, Michael Luo, a New York Times editor wrote an open letter to the woman who screamed at him on the street less than a year ago which started a hashtag conversation #thisis2016 replete with similar stories—and not only from the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community.2 Many stories came from the Latina/o community and from those of Arab descent. Researchers have coined this experience the “perpetual foreigner syndrome.”3 It is fielding comments about my English, and the question of whether I’m an international student here in Bloomington, home to Indiana University. It is the notion that no matter your citizenship status or how many generations your family has lived in the United States, you are viewed as someone unassimilated and ever foreign; therefore, at best, an outsider, and at worst, a threat. In 1982, Vincent Chin was viewed as a threat to two auto workers in Detroit, and he was eliminated by two men who ended up not spending a single night in jail for his death. The perpetual foreigner syndrome is sustained by the steady narrative of Asian Americans as “exotic” and “mysterious” and “innocuous” jokes made at the expense of Asian Americans even by those who claim they are progressive. For example, a few years ago, Stephen Colbert’s joke about Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation on “The Colbert Report” created an angry backlash by many AAPI, and the hashtag #cancelcolbert exploded on Twitter.4 The issue many Asian Americans had with Colbert’s joke in particular stemmed from frustration with the way he highlighted the problematic reality of the Redskins by using another racist trope about Asian Americans. Though it was clear that Colbert attempted to use an absurdly stereotypical image of Asian Americans, “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” it was also a reference to an Asian caricature Colbert had regularly assumed in the past and an example of forms of racial humor constantly used to mock more blatant forms of racism. Does it make sense to combat racism with more racism? These were cheap jokes that hit on a narrow image and a trope of Asian Americans in order to get a point across, and whether or not it does make the point, it reinforced the foreignness and outsider status of Asian Americans and other immigrant groups. Once again, a reminder that we do not belong here, but we’re still useful when it comes to crude humor. This is not something that occurs solely in pop culture. A few years ago the 23

Interpreting Whiteness Asian American Christian community penned a letter to the evangelical church: We write this letter to collectively assert that which continues to trouble us about the church’s treatment of Asian Americans and Asian culture, and to ask the church to make a more concerted effort to both understand and address the concerns of its Asian American brothers and sisters. Over the past decade, Christian evangelicalism has been the source of repeated and offensive racial stereotyping, and Asian Americans have been inordinately affected. From VBS curriculum, to youth skits, to general Christian trade books, Asians have been caricatured, mocked, or otherwise treated as foreigners outside the typical accepted realm of white evangelicalism. And the situation has not improved over time. Within just the past month alone, a well-known Christian leader and a popular Christian conference *(see postscript, below signatories) have also exhibited examples of poor judgment and Asian stereotyping.5 The church is just as complicit in this kind of racism, if not even more the blatant progenitors of it through everything from curriculum to sermons to the lack of visible leadership and representation. Yet, this is more than the perpetual foreigner. It is a two-sided coin that includes the myth of the model minority. It has other names including “honorary whites,” or as theologian and scholar Grace Ji-Sun Kim writes in Introducing Liberative Theologies, “honorific whites,” in other words, only white by name or title, and only if convenient.6 These images work specifically to boost the outsider status of Asian Americans by emphasizing the story that we are a minority group that is America’s success story because we have mimicked white achievement and values. In a recent interview with Jeff Guo in the Washington Post, Ellen Wu, history professor at Indiana University and writer of The Color of Success, explains: To combat racism, minorities in the United States have often attempted to portray themselves as upstanding citizens capable of assimilating into mainstream culture. Asian Americans were no different. Some, like the Chinese, sought respectability by promoting stories about their obedient children and their traditional family values. The Japanese pointed to their wartime service as proof of their shared Americanness. And, African Americans in the 1940s made very similar appeals ... The model minority narrative may have started with Asian Americans, but it was quickly co-opted by white politicians who saw it as a tool to win allies in the Cold War. Embracing Asian Americans “provided a powerful means for the United States to proclaim itself a racial democracy and thereby credentialed to assume the leadership of the free world,” Wu writes. Stories about Asian American success were turned into propaganda.7 This so-called success created a wedge between minority groups. In New York City in 1990, tensions ignited between Afro-Caribbeans, African Americans, and Korean Americans because a Haitian immigrant charged that she was beaten by the manager and employees of the Family Red Apple Market in the Flatbush sec24


tion of Brooklyn after a dispute over three dollars’ worth of groceries. As a result, the store owner was arrested and charged with third-degree assault, while Flatbush residents, members of the December 12th Movement, and others began a daily vigil of demonstrations that would last for almost a full year. The city did little to respond to the numerous assaults on Asian Americans throughout that year. According to Helen Zia, a prominent journalist, “to many African Americans, Korean stores and the material success of Asian communities in general represented their economic disenfranchisement at the hands of the white oppressors and their Asian surrogates.”8 Wu goes on: “By the 1960s, anxieties about the civil right movement caused white Americans to further invest in positive portrayals of Asian Americans. The image of the hard-working Asian became an extremely convenient way to deny the demands of African Americans … Both liberal and conservative politicians pumped up the image of Asian Americans as a way to shift the blame for black poverty. If Asians could find success within the system, politicians asked, why couldn’t African Americans?”9 The various logics of racism work to shore up the wider structures of white supremacy, so while it is important to work within the community that impacts you the most, it is equally imperative to recognize the ways these communities are set against each other. Native scholar Andrea Smith provides a framework for understanding the way white supremacy is present in overt and insidious ways.10 White supremacy operates on three pillars of logic rendering various groups of people as “slaveable,” expendable, or a threat. An example of the way these logics are interconnected is when Latinos or Arab peoples are dismissed as “white,” which places them “higher” than Blacks in a racial hierarchy, and it gives them some privilege, but it is a privilege that marks them as perpetual foreign threats to everyone else. Likewise, Smith argues, focusing only on the black/white binary, though it does provide us with “the racializing logic” within the United States, it obscures the other binaries and relationships at play. The nuanced structures of white supremacy are tangled up within the structures of so many of our institutions. As I mentioned before, the church is not exempt. We try to make up for it, Smith critiques, with efforts at multiculturalism that end up tokenizing—and silencing—the most marginalized. We try to work towards understanding but worry more about the hurt feelings of those in the dominant culture. We try to tell stories about reconciliation and justice, but our talk is just that—talk, and maybe, safety pins. How do we move from talk to work that goes beyond even hospitality and inclusion to true justice? The number of available resources, whether workshops, books, or speakers, is sometimes overwhelming, but we can start here, in our own neighborhoods, on our streets, in our workplaces and schools, in our churches. In a season when this work may seem daunting because of the political and cultural climate, it becomes all the more necessary for the church to choose to reclaim its prophetic message of love and wholeness. As Rabbi Sharon Brous, an interfaith advocate, says: “We are going back into our sacred traditions and recognizing that 25

Interpreting Whiteness all of our traditions contain the raw material to justify violence and extremism, and also contain the raw material to justify compassion, coexistence and kindness— that when others choose to read our texts as directives for hate and vengeance, we can choose to read those same texts as directives for love and for forgiveness.”11 We have a story about God-Incarnate in Jesus the Christ, the carpenter from Galilee, who was viewed as a radical, who confronted traditions and institutions, who implicitly and organically lived, ministered, and died in such a way that he was grounded in his context, and yet he challenged racial, sexual, cultural, religious, economic realities, and more. This Jesus did so with a compelling zeal and creative brilliance, undoing the structures and systems with a mere parable or blessing, a touch and gesture, feeding and praying, until finally, being undone himself on the cross. And this is one that can powerfully intersect with people’s lives in their respective locales and can awaken us to the urgency of this radical and transformative interconnectedness found in the midst of all our lives. Despite the reality that these sentiments will persist—that I, and those that look like me, don’t belong here—maybe the real story is not that everyone belongs here, but that no one truly belongs here. I always find substantive hope in Kwok Pui-Lan’s work on diasporic consciousness, one rooted in the Holy Spirit that finds similarities and differences in both familiar territories and unexpected corners. Stories can awaken the possibility of profound solidarity with other human beings, when “one catches glimpses of oneself in a fleeting moment or in a fragment in someone else’s story.” It blurs the lines and boundaries, and when we are not defined by territory and walls, we are ready to find commonalities with others that are not so obvious on the surface. Perhaps, we might endeavor to see that all our lives on earth are temporary, each of us on foreign soil, each of us outsiders, each of us traveling through this world scattered from Adam’s rib and Eve’s garden. But our words and actions, the stories we tell, they create the diaspora, they can give us a glimpse of the One to whom we belong, whose presence can make a world of difference when we recognize the human and divine, the Incarnate One, in each other throughout all the starts and stops of our days. v NOTES 1. Khang, Kathy. “This is My Country.” Kathy Khang. http://www.kathykhang.com/2016/09/05/ this-is-my-country/ September 5, 2016. Accessed December 2, 2016.

2. Kuo, Michael. “An Open Letter to the Woman Who Told My Family to Go Back to China,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/nyregion/to-the-woman-who-told-my-family-to-goback-to-china.html October 9, 2016. Accessed December 2, 2016. 3. Matthew Yi; et al. “Asian Americans seen negatively,” The San Francisco Chronicle. http://www. sfgate.com/news/article/Asian-Americans-seen-negatively-Results-of-2926815.php April 27, 2001. Accessed December 2, 2016. 4. http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/04/06/299699625/asian-americans-cancelcolbert

5. “The Next Generasian Church,” http://nextgenerasianchurch.com/2013/10/13/an-open-letter-

Continued on page 35


Water, Whiteness, and the Promise of Baptism Patrick Johnson


recently went with my father to visit the house where he grew up. It stands, barely now, on the edge of a field in eastern North Carolina. The yard is overgrown, the front door is missing, and the house is filled with the remains of the last family who lived there. The only signs of life are the plowed fields of cotton and tobacco that surround the house. In the 1950s and ’60s, my father’s family were tenant farmers, renting the land and the house and hoping to earn enough each year from the earth to pay their bills. But they never did. My grandmother was the most educated in the family, having gone through the eighth grade, but her books never matched the records of the land-owner. According to him, they always ended the year in the red, and that was the way it was. Life was eeked out on the rented farm in whatever way it could be, without running water or telephone, very few clothes, and eating whatever was on the land. There was the usual fare like chicken and pork and garden vegetables and bread, but also squirrels, rabbits, and even possums—an animal that only the poorest of the poor would deign to eat. When it came time to harvest, my grandfather would hire day laborers from the African American community in the county and bring them to the farm to help. They all shared the work, black and white together picking and pulling in the fields. They used the same bathroom (the field), they ate the same food, and they drank the same water. Except they did not drink water from the same vessel. There was a shared barrel of water with two vessels, a dipper for blacks and a cup for whites. Black and white were in the field together, both ill-clad and penniless, doing the same kind of work and making the same kind of nothing for it; both were at the bottom of their socio-economic ladder. Yet, even there in the field of that poverty,

Patrick Johnson

is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Asheville, North Carolina, and the author of The Mission of Preaching: Equipping the Community for Faithful Witness (IVP Academic, 2015). He earned an MDiv and PhD in practical theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, and in addition to pastoral ministry has served as an adjunct and instructor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the area of preaching, speech, and worship.


Interpreting Whiteness they preserved a thin distinction between black and white. It was in the water, and the nature of the vessel that was used to drink it. In the field on that day, a jar and a dipper preserved the myth of whiteness in what was otherwise an experience of common humanity. I tell this story of race and racism partly as a way of bearing witness to my own family’s history of race and racism, but also because it helps clear the fog of economic status that often clouds discussions of whiteness. As a white PC(USA) pastor, the congregations I have served—like nearly all PC(USA) congregations—have been both white and economically middle or upper-middle class. Whenever I have tried with my congregations to understand race and racism, our interpretation is always conflated with problems of economic privilege. Unpacking our understandings of race quickly blends into talk of poverty; discussing the need for reconciling relationships with people of other races almost immediately translates into recognizing the need for reconciling relationships with the poor. Compounding the challenge is that it is far more comfortable, in my experience, for us to confront economic privilege than to confront racial identity. A crucial conversation about race and how we address racism quickly (and thankfully) morphs into a conversation about poverty and how we help the poor. A conversation about race that implicates us deeply, touching on our very sense of social and personal identity, becomes a conversation about poverty with a practical way out, such as serving the homeless or contributing to a non-profit. Economic privilege and poverty are entailed as consequences of racism, to be sure, but they must be distinguished from it. Put simply, the myth of whiteness is that there is no such thing as whiteness. In more complex terms, I would argue that the myth of whiteness is a particular “social imaginary” that makes white color, culture, language, and history normative. Theories of social imaginary seek to explain how imagination, and not simply reason, constructs institutions, norms, values, laws, and customs that make up a society.1 By using the term “imagination,” social imaginary theorists refer to the genuinely creative potential of human beings (individually and collectively) to imagine and reimagine, to make and remake, their reality. Whiteness, far from being simply about skin color, functions as a social imaginary of norms and values by which we understand the larger society. In the social imaginary of whiteness, there is no such thing as white culture, there is simply “culture;” there is no such thing as white history, there is simply “history;” there is no such thing as white flesh, there is simply “flesh.” Whiteness is the invisible norm. In the social imaginary of whiteness, if you do not share this history or culture or flesh, you are racialized. You are other or different or abnormal. Moreover, you are often segregated and diminished. Normal people drink water from glasses or cups; you drink water from a dipper. The social imaginary of whiteness creates a reality in which a poor white child (like my father) can, through education and hard work, leave poverty behind and blend invisibly into a different socio-economic class because they share a common white body-type. That white child is more likely to find a good job, live in a home in a good neighborhood with good schools, and pass wealth on to their family just because he or she is white. Meanwhile, this same social imaginary creates a reality 28


in which a poor black child raised in the same poverty and who follows the same path of education and hard work remains a visible “other” who is different from the norm, in a racial category subject to prejudice, discrimination, and mistreatment on that basis alone. That child is less likely to find a good job, live in a home in a good neighborhood with good schools, or pass the same wealth to his or her children. Moreover, the disparity is handed on from generation to generation.2 The root of the problem is not individual ability or monetary poverty, but the racialized social imaginary of whiteness that creates the conditions for discrimination and economic disparity. As pastors and Christian congregations who are trying to come to terms with the social imaginary of whiteness, we must understand that underneath its social and economic implications, whiteness is a problem of race and racism with theological dimensions. In his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race, Willie James Jennings, currently associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, helps to uncover the theological shape of the problem of whiteness. Using the same concept of social imaginary, he argues that, “Christianity in the Western world lives and moves within a diseased social imagination,”3 and Christian theology and theologians operate blindly within this diseased structure. This social imagination has its roots in colonial domination, and, Jennings argues, the Christian theological imagination was long ago woven into this colonial imagination. In the process of colonization, “other” people had to move or adapt or change while the colonizer’s frame of reference became the “normalized” social imaginary. The consequence, Jennings writes, was that, “Christianity and its theologians” were drawn, “inside habits of mind and life that internalized and normalized that order of things.”4 Theologians attended well to matters of doctrinal orthodoxy, clarifying, defining, and explaining with academic rigor, while living in fragmented societies and blind to the ways that land, language, bodies, and literary space were shaping their theologies. Moreover, they were seemingly blind to the ways in which God, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, makes space for different languages and bodies and cultures to be joined in a new community of God’s people. Jennings writes, “As the church entered the colonial moment, what should have been in place was nowhere to be found. What was missing was the central social reality that constituted a new people in the body of Jesus—joining Gentiles to Israel, and the power of that joining on the social imaginary of Christian life.” Looking now at the present moment, Jennings continues, “[I]t could be that the only way for Christian communities to move beyond cultural fragmentation and segregated mentalities is to find a place that is also a person, a new person that each of us and all of us together can enter into and, possibly, can become.”5 The core of Jennings’s constructive theological project reminds us that Israel is God’s elect, and God has made room for Gentiles within Israel through Jesus. We who are Christian have been brought near, but once we were far away. Once we were dislocated, alienated, and marginalized in relationship to Israel, until in Jesus we were grafted onto the vine of God’s people as a wild shoot. If we forget that those 29

Interpreting Whiteness are our roots, we fall into the trap of supersessionism, the theological cousin of colonialism. In that sense, Christian identity is fundamentally never one of privilege or power, but always of being brought from the margins into the life of God by grace. In the narrative of biblical Israel, God elects Israel over against the nations of the world. Then in the election of Jesus, Jennings argues, God turns Israel’s election outward. This both reveals and effects God’s desire to be in communion with the world, and for the world to be in communion with one another. “This election enabled desire to be formed between Jew and Gentile, a desire that drew them together in longing for him and in turn invited them to desire one another.”6 This joining of Israel and the Gentiles, turning them toward one another, is realized at Pentecost as the disciples learn to speak the word of God in the language of Gentiles, and Gentiles who hear are invited to follow Jesus and be baptized in his name. God makes a new space for intimate communion in Jesus, and in baptism God welcomes us into that space. Baptism is the marker of a new community, a new fellowship in Christ that crosses boundaries and draws diverse people together into intimacy without obliterating that which makes them unique. In baptism, God joins people from every ethnicity, race, and place to a new life without subjugating their language, their bodies, or their culture. When we gather around the font to remember our baptism, or when as pastors we declare the new life that flows through those waters, we are also taking up the challenge of imagining and living in this new space. It requires all of our faith and intellect and creativity to push back against diseased yet pervasive social imaginaries such as whiteness, with all of their economic and social and geographic consequences, and live into a new possibility. Yet, perhaps this new communion is more than a possibility. Perhaps, Jennings writes, “it is a reality unrealized within the identities and potential relationships between different peoples who have been convinced of the power of Jesus’s life,” and when it is realized, “this space may become a profoundly visible place on surprising spaces that give sight of a different world.”7 A reality unrealized. That is what was happening on the farm of eastern North Carolina, as white and black drank water from a cup and a dipper. The water and those vessels symbolized their precarious separation in the myth of whiteness. Yet deeper in that barrel of water was a reality unrealized, water with a higher purpose, a sign and seal of Holy Space. If only they could have imagined that in Jesus’s name the water they drank could be a sign of joining and not separation, of communion and not segregation. If only they could have imagined that all of God’s children could have a cup from which to drink. v NOTES 1. Cornielius Castoriadis, under the pseudonym Paul Cardan, first began writing about social imaginaries in France in the 1950s, and the concept has become useful in understanding the nature of modern societies, the public sphere, and the relationship between the individual and the collective. I first encountered the notion through the work of Charles Taylor, in Modern Social Imaginaries (Duke University Press, 2004).

Continued on page 36


Pastors’ Panel We asked religious leaders to reflect on race and racism and congregational life. Here is what they told us.

Reflect on the impact of race and racism on the history of your congregation. Janice Bryant (MDiv’01, DMin’11), associate minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Austin, Texas From pageantry to proclamation, Ebenezer Baptist Church has been prominent in promoting positive race relations, responding to injustice and the call to social action. It has been influential in interpreting the political and social climate of society and its implications for the Black community with a strong history of taking a bold stand on racially charged issues. The involvement of our congregation was a stabilizing force for the school district during the tense period of desegregation of Austin public schools. Today, gentrification finds us feeling the sting of economic segregation as the East corridor of the city is being invaded by more and more white families. As the neighborhood around Ebenezer is subjected to “upgrades,” opportunities once available to average Black families now are out of reach. Ebenezer faces the challenge of ministering to parishioners who are becoming increasing angry at being nudged out of established comfort zones. Political decision makers continue to rape the Black culture of East Austin, their efforts cloaked in the guise of progress. David Coello, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Uvalde, Texas First Presbyterian Church in Uvalde was established  during an  unsettled time, when its founding pastor, James Roberts Bridges, answered the call to begin missionary work in Bandera, Bracketville, and Del Rio. Historically, the congregation has been predominantly anglo and English speaking though it has welcomed individuals of Mexican descent in the past and even today. The town itself may have been infected with ethnic discrimination, but FPC Uvalde kept its doors open to everyone despite the discriminatory challenges found in its surrounding institutions. Rob Mueller, pastor of Divine Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Antonio Our 101-year-old congregation was started by refugees from the Mexican Civil war.  Both the pastor and the congregants were fleeing violence and sought refuge in San Antonio. The congregation began as a mission of the Board of Home Missions for the former United Presbyterian Church, the objects of a mission carried out by white missionaries of a white church. Their focus on education indeed enabled many, many families to escape the ravages of inner city poverty and rise to new levels of social and economic success, but the experiences of racism and the stories 31

Interpreting Whiteness of oppression remain in our collective memory and inform the church’s identity and mission.         The location of the church is a consequence of the red-lining and deed-restricting practices of a racist San Antonio. The policies segregated the city into sectors for black, brown, and white residents that ensured they didn’t live together, a practice that has nearly condemned certain sectors of the city to permanent poverty. Divine Redeemer moved to the current location precisely because this was the area where the “Mexicans” were concentrated.          Interestingly, within this predominantly Hispanic congregation, the longest pastorates have been by white, Spanish-speaking pastors (33 and 23 years respectively.) As the latter of these two, I have experienced this community to embrace me—and even forget at times that I am white. How does your own ethnicity impact the ministry that you do? David Coello: First Presbyterian Church in Uvalde is located within a population that is more than 75% Hispanic though the ethnic composition of the church is predominantly anglo. Having been born and raised in New York City, a very multicultural society, and from a Puerto Rican and Dominican background, I have the ability to be bilingual. I find that my ethnic upbringing gives the church I pastor a greater opportunity to build relationships with those who speak English and Spanish.            Secondly, I believe that my ethnicity allows even those within my church and without to break away from any stereotypes that would form due to limited experiences of other cultures. I understand that my ethnic background is very different from most ethnicities surrounding me in Southwest Texas. But in doing ministry within the primarily bi-cultural society found here, I believe I pose an invitation for others to look beyond what it means to be Hispanic, and to look beyond what it means to be  “un Americano.” Rob Mueller: I would articulate two impacts, one positive and the other negative.  On the positive side, by having one foot in the barrio and the other in the reality of a white, post-graduate-educated male, I am often able to be an interpreter of white society and expectations within the barrio and vice-versa. One of the core ministries of our church assists at-risk youth in accessing academic opportunities by coaching them through the complex realities of college applications and financial aid.          On the negative side, while I have spent my life investing in a culture that is not my own, I will never fully understand the reality of a person of color. I feel those limits when I can’t fully express myself in Spanish; when I find myself judging the “poor choices” being made by one of the at-risk kids in our program; when I listen to the stories of my immigrant members describe the violence, extortion, and personal violations that were part of their journey to this country, and I know that I will likely never be required to be so vulnerable.  Janice Bryant: Growing up in a small town in Mississippi, diverse racial experiences usually occurred within the social confines of Jim Crow laws and practices. 32

Pastors’ Panel Against the backdrop of small-town prejudice, I forged friendships and alliances with whites who were open minded and advocated for change in race relations. Pushing against established norms helped me gain a brand of courage that forces me to look beyond what exists to view the possibilities. Austin, Texas, has a declining Black population. Having worked in public school education for twentytwo years, I am comfortable guiding young people to find their own space in a town that boasts of its inclusiveness, despite facts that suggest otherwise. As we have no strong political voice, it is difficult for Blacks to remain positive about the unfair social practices in Austin that foster alienation of the races. As a minister, I encourage members of our congregation to embrace our new white neighbors, actively finding avenues of common expression among the races and engaging in activities that refine our view of racial harmony. My personal charge is to model appropriate spiritual behavior by staying involved in multicultural activities that require more than mere tolerance to achieve racial harmony. What is the first step congregations need to take to work toward racial reconciliation in U.S. society? Rob Mueller: Get to know one another. Every personal prejudice I have had to confront in myself has been overcome through the miracle of a personal relationship.   David Coello: As we take steps to work toward racial reconciliation in U.S. society, congregations and pastors need to step away from the influence U.S. capitalism has on our churches. We tend to be like businesses seeking members for our own “profit,” instead of being a movement that ultimately seeks the welfare of the whole society, regardless of its differences. When we stop worrying about tactics for church survival and begin integrating the idea that we need others, no matter who they are and what type of income they bring in, we release all the filters that prohibit us from living forth the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. One of the filters that needs to be released is race and ethnicity. Janice Bryant: Changed actions begin with changed attitudes. Religious practices generate worship spaces that races are reluctant to share. This is a mutual exclusion. Blacks don’t care to worship with whites any more than whites want to worship with Blacks. Church is where we feel free to ignore racial diversity in favor of familiarity. God-centered worship is the only worship that is appropriate for a community of faith. Therefore, it is imperative that believers move past what is individually acceptable to a place of obedience to the commandments of God. Shifting our focus to praise and thanksgiving for the blessing of salvation and our much-anticipated reunion with our Creator, we cannot help but humble ourselves to the superiority of divine wisdom in approaching racial reconciliation. When we begin with the objective of reconciliation with God, other things become “strangely dim.” We cannot attempt to achieve racial harmony horizontally with each other when our vertical relationship with God is in serious disrepair. Racial reconciliation must be viewed from the viewpoint of God’s vision. v 33

Required Reading Books recommended by Austin Seminary faculty Greenhouses of Hope: Congregations Growing Young Leaders Who Will Change the World, Dorie Grinenko Baker (Editor) Herndon, Virginia:

that go beyond a single congregation or denomination, because working in isolation limits what we can accomplish. This book serves as a space for tapping into collective intelligence—space to observe different perspectives, reshape how we view a problem, recognize promising innovative ideas that leverage change, and gain insight through practical examples of how others are connecting with the hearts of young people. The more we are able to connect with the types of spaces and ways of thinking this book promotes, the more we will find new ways to join forces, commit to new levels of strategic alignment across organizations, and build our capacity to contribute toward the emergence of young leaders in the church. The stories throughout each chapter provide diverse cases of congregations that have made deliberate choices to embrace the nurturing of young leaders as part of their identity and central focus. Chapter Two provides five themes of dynamics characteristic of a congregation forming young leaders in the church by helping them “experience a depth of transformation in church that results in a life of discipleship outside of church” (35). Other chapters give insight into communities that have become congregations of deep relationships and interconnectedness, valuing the voices and perspectives of its young people, taking time to reflect theologically throughout the journey, and constructing experiential paths for young leaders to utilize their skills, interests, and resources in ways that are meaningful to them. This book has been highly useful as a pedagogical tool in my courses for three main reasons. First, the engaging case studies provide a unique “insider” look into various ministry contexts that not all students have the opportunity to experience first-hand. One recurring concern among theological education institutions is finding ways to provide contextual and embodied ministerial experiences for students. Although a book is limited in the solutions it can provide, this book does present some

Alban, 2010, 231 pages, $20 (paper). Reviewed by Elizabeth Tamez-Méndez, executive director of New Generation3 and instructor in Austin Seminary’s CEM program


ow do we nurture the next generation of leaders in the church? This is a question we are often exploring and reexamining as professors who accompany seminarians in their learning journeys and ministerial formation. The question becomes especially pivotal as we face a time when the dominant conversation regarding Millennials and religion paints a picture which depicts that most American young people consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” and are thereby not interested in being part of a congregation or affiliated with a church or denomination. It would seem that the changing cultural and social perspectives leave us in a hopeless situation without a solution for the future. Yet, Baker brings a different light and approach to this conversation through the collective work contained in “Greenhouses of Hope.” There are other books which aim to provide answers to our question; however, the approach has been through set methods, curriculum, and program ideas. This book is fresh and different, giving us a close look into the practices, views, and stories of exemplary congregations in which young leaders are being nurtured. The approach employed in the book’s structure provides a space for the reader for joint learning and knowledge construction. In a time where the challenges we face are larger and more interconnected, there is a greater need to build cooperative solutions


Required Reading very diverse communities. Ministry in these contexts needs to include new approaches and perspectives which are culturally and ethnically meaningful. The book includes stories of congregations doing this and from which students can learn. Chapter Three shows an excellent example of a Korean congregation that has skillfully and creatively navigated cross-cultural and intergenerational challenges by making space for culturally meaningful approaches to relationships through a mentoring practice called mozying. In this congregation, the older youth mentor the younger youth, as older siblings would care for younger siblings. Overall, this book guides us toward a fresh and critical approach to the larger conversation regarding growing the next generation of young leaders in the church amidst changing times. Through its storytelling format and question-filled chapters, it provides different examples of ways of relating in community and shifting power dynamics, all of which reflect the gospel more authentically, moving away from the current dominant version of American Christianity that reflects a colonized perspective and theology (22).v

tangible ways of looking at congregational dynamics from a vantage point that provides a unique learning experience. Second, students are exposed to ethnographic research and diverse ways of knowledge construction as the book includes details of how the research was conducted. Most importantly, each chapter also includes a series of questions that encourage reflection and teach how to conduct this type of research. These questions have helped my students find ways to integrate the concepts and ideas into their own ministry context, thereby sparking their imagination and dreams for how to embody the new-found knowledge. The book has helped students become observers and develop a sensibility toward having more questions, rather than prescribed answers. In a constantly changing society, these leadership and ministry disciplines are essential for students to learn and habitually practice. Third, we are living in a time where the racial and religious topography of the United States has shifted, and with it, the passing from one cultural era into a new one. This is leading toward more and more congregations finding themselves embedded in what are now

Outsiders Continued from page 26 to-the-evangelical-church-from-the-asian-american-community/ Accessed December 2, 2016. 6. Kim, Grace Ji-Sun. “Asian American Liberative Theologies.” Introducing Liberative Theologies, (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015), 141. 7. Guo, Jeff. “The real reasons the US became less racist toward Asian Americans,” Washington Post. November 29, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/29/the-realreason-americans-stopped-spitting-on-asian-americans-and-started-praising-them/?utm_term=.d3cecaa79650 Accessed December 2, 2016.

6. Zia, Helen. Asian American Dreams, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 92.

7. Guo, Jeff. “The real reasons the US became less racist toward Asian Americans.”

8. Smith, Andrea. “Heteropatriachy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy,” Love Harder. (https://loveharder.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/andrea-smith.pdf). Accessed December 3, 2016. 9. Brous, Sharon. “It’s Time to Reclaim Religion,” Ted Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/sharon_ brous_it_s_time_to_reclaim_and_reinvent_religion/transcript?language=en Accessed December 26, 2016. 10. Kwok Pui-Lan, Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 48-49.


Interpreting Whiteness

Comrades Continued from page 21 The need for periodic separation is something Alice Walker includes as part of her definition of Womanist and resonates with many: “Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.” Many who do justice-making work resonate with Walker’s statement. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (Orlando, FL: Mariner Books; Reprint edition, 2003), xi. 10. Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015). I also recommend listening to the teleconference she took part in at WATER, the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual: Kelly Brown Douglas, “WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series,” November 11, 2015, http://www.waterwomensalliance.org/november11-watertalk-with-dr-kelly-brown-douglas-2/ 11. Leah Gunning Francis, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2015). I also recommend listening to this short video of her talking about the book: Leah Gunning Francis, “Leah Gunning Francis, author interview - Ferguson and Faith,” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) YouTube channel, Aug 10, 2015, https://youtu.be/Wjt7mFN_lWU 12. The staff and board of directors of this same national ministry also recently finished reading An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014) and are currently reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (New York: Little Brown and Co., 2007). These books have been rich sources to increase our understanding of the injustices committed against indigenous peoples of this country and the continuing effects of the Doctrine of Discovery. 13. Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia W. Mount Shoop, A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015). I recommend listening to the following interview with authors: “Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia W. Mount Shoop, “Ignoring White Privilege and Racism in the Church | The Interview,” YouTube, February 18, 2016, https://youtu.be/w4a-WLwkyTM

Baptism Continued from page 30 2. For an in-depth but accessible account of this fundamental disparity, see Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014. 3. Willie Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and Origins of Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 6. 4. Ibid., 8. 5. Ibid., 248-249. 6. Ibid., 267. 7. Ibid., 286.

Coming in the fall issue: Professor Phillip Wingeier-Rayo on Breaking Down Barriers: Multi-ethnic Churches in a Divided Society 36

Christianity & Culture

This Hour of Fire Cynthia L. Rigby


here are all kinds of people standing up for what they believe, these days, and paying a price: Sally Yates, former attorney general to the United States, fired for staying true to her understanding of constitutional law even though it meant defying the executive orders of our new president; John Lewis, congressman from Georgia, relentlessly disparaged by President Trump for refusing to recognize his presidential authority; Philip Yancey, evangelical leader and author, written off by some fellow evangelicals for questioning how it is that they could possibly support someone who, in his view, so clearly eschews Christian values. President Trump, to be sure, is also acting on his convictions, enduring severe critique—even ridicule—for his transparent efforts to “make America great again.” The millions of Americans who voted for him did not necessarily approve of all his words or his ways; it looks like many cast their votes for him to express resistance to state institutions that, they believe, have failed us. All around the country concerned citizens are coming together to make decisions, organize petitions, and draft statements. There is a felt need to take a stand, and so many of us are trying to figure out what stand, exactly, to take beyond being

Cynthia L. Rigby, The W.C. Brown Professor of Theology at Austin

Seminary, is the author of The Promotion of Social Righteousness, editor of Power, Powerlessness, and the Divine: New Inquiries in Bible and Theology, and coeditor (with Beverly Gaventa) of Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary. Her latest book, Holding Faith: A Practical Introduction to Christian Doctrine, will be published in 2017.


Christianity and Culture “for” or “against” the Trump presidency. Fearing how bipartisan we have become, at the polls, in our news watching, and in our churches, we want to find something that unites us. “United we stand, divided we fall,” Americans say. “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” Christians sing. But, how can we be united without compromising on our convictions? we wonder. And, how do we take a stand, work for unity, bear whatever criticisms are directed at us, and still manage to enjoy our day? we may also ask ourselves. I cannot answer these questions definitively, of course. The answers depend on what particular person asks these questions, in what particular context, with what particular values. But I can suggest a “posture” we might share, as disciples of Jesus Christ who are together watching and praying for the coming Kingdom, together committed to discerning and doing the will of God that will facilitate its arrival. How do we orient our lives so that we are ever-ready to hear God’s Word and do it? It should scare us to remember that, when the call to action does come, it is already too late to get ready. We must be ready. How do we live our lives ready to do what God might call us to do, even in the very next hour? Allow me to come at these questions by way of a story. _______________ I experienced a conversion the other night. I was changed, for a time, into someone who remembers how to find my way into hope for this world. It happened at a band concert given by Murchison Middle School students in Austin. The performance of the seventh and eighth graders was way above average. The final band in the program—the wind ensemble in which our son plays the clarinet—deserved a standing ovation. So I stood, but no one else did. Perhaps I am biased, or maybe just overly affirming. Enthusiasm is both my strength and my weakness, I know. Laughing at myself, I sat back down, still lightly clapping, looking to grab my bag so I would be ready to head out with my family. But there was another part to the program, Ms. Crowley, the band director, was explaining. The band, next month, will perform in a competition where they will be required to sight read a piece. They will be given the music on the spot, given eight minutes to prepare, then asked to play it through. Ms. Crowley asked us to watch as the band practiced for this sight-reading event. We all nodded courteously at this request, glancing at our watches to calculate what impact an extra quarter hour would have on our schedules. The music was handed out and each kid placed it meticulously on the music stand without opening it up. Poised on their seats with instruments in the “resting” position, they focused entirely on Ms. Crowley, who sat on a high conductor’s stool, trying to settle a music stand that kept slowly sinking down. The assistant band directors scrambled to change it out a couple of times, with Ms. Crowley making a joke of it all. But the stand kept creeping down. Ms. Crowley decided to start, anyway. She opened the piece on her stand and said something like, “OK, open your music and let’s play.” The students opened their music, but made no move to put instruments to lips or produce any sounds, which 38


made me, I admit, a bit anxious. Ms. Crowley nonetheless began to conduct, arms raised and moving, humming and gesturing, drawing the students into the piece, measure by measure. The students went right along with her. With instruments still in resting position, their eyes darted back and forth from score to teacher. “Here is the melody; there, a hard rhythm; careful—that’s a B natural; now play up the crescendo. Watch me for the cut off; engage here with more passion. And now, measure 90—don’t play B-flat! That’s a natural, again.” Every student still riveted, though now not as much to Ms. Crowley. Somehow, you could tell, they had entered the music itself. The audience forgotten, Ms. Crowley had ushered her students and fellow musicians into a piece they had never seen, had never played. And when the eightminute timer sounded, Ms. Crowley stopped, pulled her music stand up, again, and invited her company to make the beautiful music that first had claimed them and now become their own. And they—these 13-year-old kids—played out loud, for the very first time, the piece they already knew. They played the music Ms. Crowley invited them to hear, the music they had entered, the music into which they were now inviting us. My tears surprised me, pushing me to interpret the event as an act of grace. I remembered that it is, indeed, possible for us to be joined in celebration and creation of what is beautiful. I remembered that the way to create beauty is first to participate in it. I remembered that formative teaching doesn’t focus first and foremost on “best practices” or utilizing tools that heighten the possibility of success. It is attuned, rather, to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the subject matter. It insists that we must play B natural or watch the crescendo in measure 30, for example, not as much to create beautiful music as to synchronize with it. _______________ In a 1954 Christmas sermon preached to the prisoners at Basel, Karl Barth warns us not to miss “the hour of this fire right here and now.”1 It sounds like he is describing a crisis situation and calling people to action, which is something he often did. In the very same sermon, in fact, he says that the expression “wait and see” is “dangerous,” since we can’t be sure we will be around, tomorrow, to hear the message of the gospel we are hearing, today! But the fire to which Barth refers in this case is not a fire that needs to be put out, a fire that is hazardous to our existence. Rather, it has a positive connotation —it is the fire of life. Barth quotes the Swiss writer Jeremias Gotthelf, who points out that “life is not a light,” because “a light can be kindled again.” Rather, “life is a fire given by God to burn on earth, just once and never more.”2 There is something about that sight-reading exercise that shows what it looks like to take seriously this hour of fire that is our lives. Many days we are handed music we haven’t before seen. We can set it to the side, humbly referencing our ineptitude, feeling badly that we aren’t ready and recommitting ourselves to developing more skills, eating a better breakfast, or doing whatever it takes to be ready, next time around. Or we can open it up and plow right in, “doing our best and letting God take care of the rest,” hoping to cobble together, with zeal and perspiration, 39

Christianity and Culture something that might make the world slightly better tomorrow than it is today. But to take either of these tacks is to forget we are already members of God’s household; inhabitants of the Kingdom of God; musicians who have ways of hearing the music, even when it is not playing. It is to forget that our job is not to play toward something beautiful, but to play out of what we know to be real. Our job is to live and act in this world ever-attuned to the music of God’s reign, ever-ready to sight-read any music set before us because we have access to its reality and are eager to actualize it in the world. What would it take, I wonder, to live like this? How do we go about participating without ceasing in the music of God that seems, right now, to be so hard to hear? Jesus taught us to ask that the Kingdom come and God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” But how do we go about imagining the reign of God so keenly that we hum it into actuality, feeling the very rhythms of it, respecting those edgy “naturals” so we get ’em when they come­—joining in the Spirit’s nimble ways and surprising work? My beginning answer is that we need to do a better job of creating the space and time to imagine God’s Kingdom, so that we are ready to play its music whenever we are called upon. And here’s where I default to the standard Christian advice we pastoral types dole out to anyone interested in being a faithful disciple: We need to pray. Read our Bibles. Go to church. I know we know these, already. But we need to reclaim them in a new way. What if we thought of prayer, Bible reading, and going to church as ways of creating spaces, in our frenetic lives, to imagine the music of God’s Kingdom? In praying we remember we are already part of the reality that we desperately want to help actualize on earth. In seeking God’s Word through reading the Bible and listening for proclamation, we learn the details of how the music is working, becoming players, as well as listeners, in the process. In the context of Christian worship we enact the transformation we seek, setting a Table around which there are not bipartisan loaves, but one loaf from which everyone, united in Christ, is fed. Playing the music, we leave the sanctuary humming, eager to share it with others. _______________ To stand up for what we believe, we need be ready to play what is set before us. And to be ready starts neither with boosting our qualifications nor rushing headlong in, despite ourselves, determined to do our best. It starts with creating sacred spaces in our lives to imagine the reality of the Kingdom of God with clarity and consistency. Insofar as we can envision the peaceable kingdom in which lions and lambs lie down together and every tear is wiped away from every eye, I believe we will be driven by impatient hope to do the will of God that makes it actual on this earth. v NOTES 1. Barth, “Unto You is Born This Day a Savior,” Deliverance to the Captives (New York: Harper, 1961), 20-27, 25.

2. Barth, 25, citing Gotthelf (source unknown).


Theodore J. Wardlaw, President

Board of Trustees G. Archer Frierson II, Chair J. Sloan Leonard, M.D. Sue B. McCoy Matthew Miller (MDiv’03) Lyndon L. Olson Jr. B. W. Payne David Peeples Mark B. Ramsey Jeffrey Kyle Richard Conrad M. Rocha Matthew E. Ruffner Lana Russell Lita Simpson Anne Vickery Stevenson Martha Crawley Tracey Carlton B. Wilde Jr. Michael G. Wright

James C. Allison Margaret Aymer Janice L. Bryant (MDiv’01, DMin’11) Claudia D. Carroll Katherine B. Cummings (MDiv’05) Thomas Christian Currie Consuelo Donahue (MDiv’96) Jackson Farrow Jr. Beth Blanton Flowers, M.D. Stephen Giles Jesús Juan González (MDiv’92) Walter Harris, Jr. John S. Hartman Ann E. Herlin (MDiv’01) Rhashell D. Hunter Keatan A. King Steve LeBlanc

Trustees Emeriti Stephen A. Matthews, Max Sherman, Louis H. Zbinden Jr.


Spring 2017


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Profile for Austin Presbyterian Theological  Seminary

Insights: Interpreting Whiteness (Spring 2017)  

The Spring 2017 issue of Insights is on the theme, "Interpreting Whiteness" with the feature essay by Professor Carolyn Browning Helsel

Insights: Interpreting Whiteness (Spring 2017)  

The Spring 2017 issue of Insights is on the theme, "Interpreting Whiteness" with the feature essay by Professor Carolyn Browning Helsel