Saturday, July 16, 2016

Confessing & "white supremacy" The misuse of confession, the misuse of language

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) co-moderator, T. Denise Anderson, in her article, “Confession time: How white supremacy hurts white people,” on the Presbyterian Outlook web-site, calls on individual white people to personally confess their individual racism.

Anderson insists that all white people in the United States are involved in racism and white supremacy because the founders of America were colonialist and involved in slavery. Referencing Kelly Brown Douglas, Anderson writes, that the puritans contributed to white supremacy believing themselves to be “the pure remnant of the freedom-loving and exceptionally moral Anglo-Saxons.”

Anderson continues, “The idea of American exceptionalism is intrinsically linked to not only faith, but Germanic (and Norse) heritage. That exceptionalism necessarily excludes those not of that heritage.” She also writes:

“Let me be very clear: One does not have to be malicious or hateful to be racist. One needn’t even be intentional about it. White supremacy is so pervasive, insidious and thoroughly woven into the fabric of our society that it is quite easy to be racist. In fact, it’s difficult to not be racist.”

I was troubled by Anderson’s essay for at least three reasons. The first is historical. The nineteenth century saw a rise in some ideologies that produced racism. And they were based on religious viewpoints and historical views about Germanic and Norse exceptionalism, but they had nothing to do with the puritan’s beliefs about their place and purpose in God’s kingdom.

I was troubled by the use of the term “white supremacy.” Having studied and written a great deal on many of the racist groups in the United States I believe it is a misuse of language to attach the term white supremacy to all white Americans. White supremacy groups are known for their vileness, their hate and their ignorance. It does not help to write that “White supremacy is so pervasive, insidious and thoroughly woven into the fabric of our society that it is quite easy to be racist.”

No it is not easy, among moral people, to be racist. To say that and to say that all whites are racists is to partially eliminate the evil of racism. This is harmful to all ethnic groups. Surely Anderson would not say that because some Arab groups are terrorist all Arabs are terrorist! Or because some husbands have abused their wives all husbands are wife beaters!

But my greatest concern is the idea of personal confession. I have read one of those confessions and I was dismayed. It consisted of private matters that should have been confessed, not on social media, but privately to those hurt and most of all confessed to God. And this is where some in the church may misunderstand what it means for members of the church to confess the ills of society. It may be one person confessing but it must be for the whole church.  It is after all the Church which makes confession. In a sense those who ask for individual public confession are themselves tyrants.

Daniel’s beautiful prayer of confession is the biblical example. He confessed to God the sins of Israel including himself in the prayer. He did not say I did this or I did that, but the people of God, including Daniel, are the sinners confessing before God their sin.

Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant and lovingkindness for those who love him, and keep his commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. Moreover we have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.” (9: 4-6)

There is much more; read the whole ninth chapter.

Bonhoeffer, in his book, Ethics, lays out a confession for the church. And before he begins he explains that the prayer is not meant to be a time of pointing fingers at any particular group such as the “blacks” or the “whites” but rather it is the church speaking of their failures and sin. It is individual in that individual sin hurts the church. But it is corporate, as the church, because only in Jesus Christ can humanity recognize their guilt and find grace. [1]

Yes, there is racism, still, in the United States and the Church has a calling to eliminate that sin from their own institutions, displaying the beauty and goodness of Jesus Christ in their midst. But we will not display His beauty by accusing brothers and sisters of the vileness of the world.

[1]In 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution concerning racial reconciliation entitled, “The Resolution on Racial Reconciliation on the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention.” It was a time of confession. And the Presbyterian Church in America passed an overture on racial reconciliation in 2002. Both statements can be found in On Being Black and Reformed by Anthony J. Carter. I highly recommend Carter’s book.


Andy Vloedman said...

It is clear from her recent posts comoderator Anderson can not be
taken seriously as a source of social commentary. After the horrendous slaughter in Orlando, she stated in her blog The Church is in the "same business" as the gunman in the Pulse killings it is just not "as efficient". In this article as you point out she states all white people as a result of their heritage are practicing "white supremacists". That term as you also point out is associated with vile and despicable conduct. We have serious issues in this country that require serious people offering serious solutions that will require serious sacrifice of time and resources. This simply serves as a distraction.

Viola Larson said...

Exactly Andy. Your statement, "We have serious issues in this country that require serious people offering serious solutions that will require serious sacrifice of time and resources," is so true.

Jodie said...

Viola, you have a point here.

I think that xenophobia is a human instinct we need to be aware of and resist because it does cause evil, and we are seeing the evil it causes and we have people in this country that are actively promoting it today.

But turning it inward is not the answer either.

The Body of Christ is not xenophobic. The central core of the Gospel states that God so loved the World - all of it - that he gave it his only Son. Incarnational theology is the opposite of xenophobia.

Maybe she is trying to strike a conciliatory note by first removing the log in her own eye to then address the speck in her neighbor's eye, but today we are past that point. The gesture is week and lost in the noise.

It's also a case of fighting yesterday's battles.

What is called for today is for the Church to re-connect with its Prophetic voice. We reject fear. We reject violence and hatred. We reject religious and personality cults and false ideologies. We preach the coming of the Kingdom of God, and Christ crucified.

Trim the fat. Stick to the point.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA