Posts Tagged ‘white privilege’

I read Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer: The Church and the Famine of Grace by Father Jarel Robinson-Brown for the Social Justice in the Anglican Tradition class I am taking online at EDS at Union with the Computer Scientist, the same class for which I read Song In a Weary Throat and books by James Cone, Kelly Brown Douglas, Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson, Stephanie Spellers and Liz Theoharris last fall. Which is to say, this isn’t the first book I’ve read about the ways the Church has missed and is missing the mark.

Also, when we lived in Georgia, I volunteered with an organization working to help people living with HIV in our county, and one reason some of the folks in the group gave for the higher than average infection rate among African Americans was that the Black church’s homophobia caused many people to hide their sexual orientation, which can lead to unsafe sex. Robinson-Brown critiques the Black church and quotes a fellow scholar, Anthony Reddie, who says that the Black church is “studiously wedded to White Euro-American fundamentalism.”

But Robinson-Brown also notes:

“It is the worship of the God of the White imagination that has led to the famine of grace in the Church. A White God who sends a White Jesus into a White world to save White people through a White church is a God whose interest is reserved only for the powerful and the comfortable, and who has no good news for the Black and Brown LGBTQ+ poor.” He goes on to say “While it has been busy telling LGBTQ+ people what to do with their desire and telling its Black members how to express their anger, it has lost its desire for the one thing that matters: God and God’s children.”

This is something Kelly Brown Douglas has lectured on in our course extensively.

Like Dean Douglas, and Howard Thurman, and James Cone, and and Pauli Murray, and many others, Robinson-Brown powerfully preaches in the final chapter of the book the true message of Jesus which was not one of power and privilege, nor of excluding people (even those his community felt were undesirable), but exactly the opposite. Jesus was radically inclusive in his ministry. So what has happened to the Church? How can followers of Jesus cause so much harm, and participate in and uphold racism and homophobia, deny women a role in ministry, etc.? Robinson-Brown’s diagnosis is the famine of grace in the subtitle of his book.

Lest you think this is a depressing topic and a book that simply spells out what’s wrong, let me share the simple, powerful message that Father Robinson-Brown builds from beginning to end in this book: it doesn’t have to be this way. He’s too good a writer for me to paraphrase, so in his own words:

“What is needed is an urgent prioritizing of a theology of grace that situates grace as the primacy of God’s love in every word we might say about the ‘other,’and that takes the crucified love of God at its word.”


“The demand on the White Church is quite simple: we are asking you to be more like Jesus, to let us breathe, to let us sit as equal kin at the table. It’s only difficult because if you’re honest, you do not want to give up your power and privilege.”

Yes. That is why racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, and xenophobia exist. The people who have power and privilege (and as a white cis straight woman that includes me) have trouble giving it up. Not always because they don’t want to (plenty don’t want to) — the systems that make them privileged are designed to keep them that way. Which makes it hard even for people of good will — people who know grace and want to share it — to effectively change more than their own interactions with others. It’s like other kinds of reform — prison reform, police reform, education reform, etc. How can you reform what is inherently unbalanced, unjust, unfair, inequitable? Abolition may be the only way. I never understood that about policing until the beginning of the pandemic when I had a long in depth conversation with my two twenty-somethings and finally, finally, it was clear to me (you may recall that the elder suggested I read The End of Policing, which I wrote about here). Thirteenth and The New Jim Crow explain vividly why our criminal punishment system deserves to be abolished, not “reformed.”

And Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer makes the case for the abolition of the Church, which is the establishment in England. Perhaps in the U.S. the Church has already lost more of its influence at the community level. Many people don’t consider any church a necessary part of their lives. That may be less true in the “bible belt.” And the Evangelical/White Nationalist iron grip on the Republican Party is a frightening and heretical strain that reminds me in some ways of what James Cone describes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree — church folk howling about critical race theory, stolen elections, mask mandates, or two summers ago, about BLM, are really just the latest iteration of the same church folk who justified slavery and lynching.

I don’t know how I feel about church abolition (of course I don’t — see above, I’m mostly privileged when it comes to church). I get that the church needs to be different than it is now. And it makes sense to me that following Jesus more closely is what it needs. I’m frustrated by the ways the Church causes harm or isn’t bold enough or makes excuses about not being “too political.” But I also belong to The Episcopal Church, which is trying to solve the famine of grace in many ways. In fact the EC recently took up as part of its formation a call to be A Church That Looks and Acts Like Jesus. I find that hopeful — I there is a better chance of the Church becoming grace-filled than of American democracy recovering or prison and police abolition taking hold. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I am glad to be in the course we are taking. We are of different ages, races, gender identities, sexualities, geographic and cultural origins, and backgrounds learning together about the Church, what it has been and done, and what it could be and do.

But I digress. The point of this post is to say, if you’re interested in the church, read this book.


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Cork Boat is one of the titles I picked up at the Five Colleges Book Sale. Yes, I am going to read The Scapegoat; it’s our June book club pick. It hadn’t arrived yet, anyway, so I decided this would be a good distraction from the various stressful things in my life. I was right.

John Pollack was a political speechwriter when, disgusted by the gridlock in Washington (sadly, about twenty years ago), he decided to take some time off to pursue a boyhood dream: building a boat made of corks. In Cork Boat he tells the story of how he organized dozens of people — friends, relatives, neighbors, and even strangers — to help him and his good friend Garth Goldstein bring the boat to life. Along the way, he took a job writing speeches at the Clinton White House, returning to his previous job working for Michigan Congressman David Bonior after the election, and even taking a job writing for an expedition to Antarctica. None of this kept him from pursuing his dream boat, and when it was finished, getting it shipped to Portugal where he and Goldstein and an assortment of friends and family members helped them travel from Barca d’Alva to Porto on the Douro River.

It’s an enjoyable book, one that might make you want to travel off the beaten path, or cause a little wistfulness for whatever you dreamed of as a child. It’s also a good reminder that in a world often fraught with conflict, hardship, struggle, and hardship, we could all benefit from paying attention to the cork boats in our lives. Maybe no one you know is doing something on this scale, but you probably know someone who is pursuing a hobby or past time just for the joy of it, or to prove to themself that they can reach a particular goal, or to bring people together around a common purpose. If you seek those stories, they’re out there to enjoy among the din of political rancor, intolerance, and human suffering. Cork Boat is a decent place to start.*

Quick aside: for May, my book club read Waking Up White by Debby Irving. It’s written in a style I didn’t enjoy — very brief chapters with questions at the end of each, which makes it kind of choppy and occasionally repetitive — but it was thought provoking, and led to a good discussion about white privilege and racism. We decided we’d recommend it to people who haven’t really explored these issues.

*Good News Network isn’t a bad place to look, either.

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