I know, I know. One of the worst types of writing there is in the world is a white person writing about their discovery that they are privileged and this is deeply engrained. I know. This post isn’t that, I promise. Just stay with me for a little bit.
Having worked in social work for a little over five years now, I’ve grown in my understanding that racism is about a whole lot more than individuals feeling an active, conscious dislike of someone just because of their race. It’s structural, cultural, political, economic, and systemic.
(Still, I’ve really missed this at times, and old habits and ways of thinking die hard. I’m really, really sorry for that.)
Recently, I had the honor to speak at one of my church’s ministries for those in homelessness. Afterward, I walked around saying hello to the almost-exclusively black crowd there. As I made eye contact with different people, I would offer a smile to them and give them as warm of a look as I could. I did really feel a genuine warmth and love for this group.
And yet, I started feeling this…thing…within me. As I gave my smiles away to the crowd, I realized that this was a problem. I was giving my smiles to them. Something in me felt as if I, as a privileged white male, was “serving” these people by “granting” or “bestowing” upon them affection. Does this make sense? Do you see the problem?
Donald Miller put up another post sort of talking more about his church attendance thoughts, this time talking about how the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” means he does sacraments on his own and whenever he wants because God has given us all “agency” in this world to do that kind of stuff. He longs that pastors would empower their people to feel free to do these sort of things as well.
I made my thoughts clear last week about how wrong I think he is on this stuff (especially so with the sacraments. He even says he does baptisms for other people even though he himself has never been baptized). I won’t rehash that here. I did want to bring up one thing I noticed in his other posts that was more explicit in this last post. He writes:
To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in.
I can’t get past the the feeling here that Miller is saying that “most people” (read: “those that go to church”) at least primarily go to church because they want to “do it right” and “play by the rules”; that not going to church is an act of freedom, while those that still go are bound by something Miller thinks he has freed himself from. It’s not that he necessarily thinks he’s “better” than others, but I fear he makes a dangerous division within the Body of Christ between himself and “most people”.
For my Gospel, Culture, and Church course this past week, we had to read the opening chapter of this book on the Church as mission, rather than seeing the Church as something that does mission. We also had to read some mind-blowing pages from Hans Kung’s epic work The Church. It got me thinking a lot about what precisely the “church” is and how it is that thing. I just wanted to share some disjointed thoughts today.
Throughout the readings, the (perhaps over-used) term “Being in Becoming” kept coming to mind. (For my more philosophically-trained friends, forgive me if I’m simplifying this term too much; My main exposure to this has been cursory, in the context of the Trinitarian theology of Karl Barth and how he describes God).
In others words, the Church’s very Being is in its efforts to more faithfully “Become” what it is. It is not and cannot become a static entity into which we invite people. As we are caught up in the missional plan of the missional God, it propels forward into places where the old notions of Christendom and privilege are not relevant and are shown to be the anemic frameworks they are.