More Post-Colonial Deconstruction...

A recent comment here said "I see the Christians as individual people, all in their own stage of maturity," in argument to the idea of Christianity - as a global organism - repenting and owning its sins and atrocities through history.

The problem is, this is a hyper-western concept: Christians as individual people.

The third world doesn't view individualism the way wealthy Americans do (and really, always have). Africa, Asia, South America... even Western Europeans don't carry this attitude. It's the reason the conservative base continues to demonize a political agenda that values providing universal health care. "If there isn't something in it for me..."

And that's what I hear when Christians say things like, "I never owned slaves," or "I never beat up a queer," or "I didn't kill Native Americans/First Nations people. That was THEM!"

But WE are them.

And I would argue, based on New Testament attitudes in Scripture, that writers like Paul wouldn't have spent much time differentiating their actions from those of the catholic Church. The Body of Christ is the BODY of Christ. Singular. We are one in Christ. Which means your sins are on my hands, and so are Jerry Falwell's and James Dobson's and Emperor Constantine's. And mine are on yours. And this is a far more global vantage than our American one - it's more than just me here: I am white, I am a man, I am an American, I am a Christian, a heterosexual, educated, middle-class, and all of those identifiers carry tragic histories of pain and violence... and in whatever ways are helpful, I'm willing to repent of each of those, each day, to as many people as may heal by hearing it.

Healing DOES come from repentance. Sharing responsibility IS human. And entire communities DO bear shared guilt (and thankfully, redemption), even in the Biblical narrative.

The only thing self defense leads to is hardened hearts - on all sides. One of my heros, Desmond Tutu, has helped to literally transform a society raped and desecrated by apartheid, through the power of repentance and reconciliation. Watch some beautiful clips of him speaking HERE.

A year ago a good friend told me, "Walker, the only reason you're voting for Barack Obama is WHITE GUILT."

That wasn't true - I like his politics, his worldview, and I like him (but this post isn't about that). But my friend WAS right: I DO carry a lot of white guilt. And I realize that can be a very hollow thing. In fact, I've heard multiple black thinkers - recently - say that white guilt is often just a waste of time. It's a waste of time when it doesn't LEAD to something. Guilt and repentance are two different things - we know this as Christians. Repentance leads to something. I believe my guilt, my confession, and my repentance are leading to something. For one, they've led to a lot of new and exciting relationships that literally began with me saying, "I'm so very sorry..."


Brent said...

I see all people as unique in there being. So I see Christians the same. If you believe in Existentialism and existential Christianity I don't see how you can push the individual into a mere collective mass. In doing that you are wholesale judging or, in essence blanket condemning all instead of individually judging each one’s own decency or rottenness. I know it feels better and is easier to judge the whole instead of the person, because the whole is a non being. Something we don’t feel guilty about judging because it has no feelings. But the only problem is it’s a fictitious character of our imagination: a characterization and generalization of real people. But in trying to escape judging the individual you have blanket judge every individual.

It could be easy for me to wholesale judge all (Christian, Gays, and Hispanics) as fitting their labels, but I have to run from that thinking and focus on loving each individual in their uniqueness. Applying guilt to all only molds them together in a mass with no individual responsibility or conscience. And in wholesale judging I would be able to escape the responsibility of my own judgments and turn all humans into faceless mechanized machines, a biological stimuli and response, forgetting that the human is a deciding being with the ability to choice his response to the stimuli. Being that every human has a freedom to choose how he will respond to his stimuli, I think he should be judge on an individual basses.

One of the only problem I have with the Western world is it seems like many of the people lack personal responsibility. Many lack responsibility for their choices and outlook on life. They are only responding to stimuli and instinct like an animal which they are not. If they don’t know they have a choice they will never actualize their freedom that God has given every human. And being in this state they are almost sub-human, a being lacking freedom, lacking what separates us from the animals.

I don't know of the third world created any substantial health care.

How does collective guilt fit in with existential thought? I'm not understanding your leap.

Al said...

If 'WE' are 'THEM", then we are also the various incarnations of Christianity we see around us today--fundamentalists, conservatives, etc. So then we need to feel the need to apologize for not only past atrocities, but present (and likely future) atrocities that will be perpetrated by people who we may well be intentionally distancing ourselves from.
I'm not sure where I stand on that. I think recognizing shared guilt and asking forgiveness for past wrongs is humbling and healthy. In the case of stuff from generations ago, we don't have too many choices--either bring healing today between whites and First Nations (for example) or do nothing and allow the pain to continue.
I don't mind discussing the vast gulf between various Christian standpoints on certain theologies today, since that gives me an opportunity to share where I stand on them. But I guess I want to make sure people know that I do not share the opinion of some outspoken Christian fundamentalists. So, I'm not sure I am as willing to share the guilt with someone who is still alive and should be seeing the results of their stand, and asking forgiveness.
Maybe I'm just too worried about my own reputation.

Peter said...

Brent, you said, "the whole is a non being."

No, who told you that? The whole is a living organism, just as the individual is. The whole is the Body of Christ. That isn't some esoteric metaphor - it's doctrinally, supposed to be quite literal. That doesn't make it easy to lay blame on the whole - it makes it DEVASTATING. Individual accountability is so much smaller - so "manageable." The fact that the collective Body of Christ is responsible for deep and chronic sin is absolutely devastating to our conception of who and what Christ is. But if we shy away from that - if we try to justify the whole and blame the individual - we're guilty of refusing the very forgiveness we've been promised. If we can't own up beyond mere individual sin, then we are denying reconciliation with God and with Creation.

Brent said...

Like "a non-being" in that it can't be dealt with like an individual being in a one-on-one since.

The whole is made up of living individuals, with their own conscience and their own personal responsibility. They will be accountable to God for what they have done.

Is Christianity's new slogan, "come share our guilt" I just don't get it. If this will bring people into our family then they will trade being wronged for being guilty with the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong here I'm as guilty as everybody else falling short of what God wants. But this collective guilt just doesn't jive with me yet. I haven't delineate if its a truism or even helpful.

Thanks for the stretching this is helping me find what I really believe or don't. But personally I just want to get better at loving those I'm around everyday. The ones that know God loves them and those that don't. This is a big enough task for me.

Luke said...

I think the idea of collective guilt is a hard one to swallow, especially for anyone in the West, but also a very important one for anyone in the Body of Christ to come to terms with.

First, though, I don't think that we can define collective guilt exactly the same of individual guilt. When we think of individual guilt, often we think of feeling bad for doing something wrong, of those deep emotions that come from a recognition of messing up. So when we think of the idea of collective guilt, many times we think of something that happened, of which we were not personally involved with, and then wonder how, and in what ways, we should feel bad. Collective guilt is more, I think, then just feeling bad. It is a deep recognition of injustice and evil that was done within a group, organization, or community that we belong to, and that, as a member of that group, we are participating in a group system that stands upon injustice and evil that were done. I think that anyone who benefits from a system, organization, or community that is built, in some way, on injustice and evil, than they bear some of that guilt.

Take the massacre and assimilation of the Native Americans in this country. None of us that are alive today were anywhere near the evil and injustice that was done to them at the hands of the Europeans. We are hundreds of years removed from the bloodshed and forced assimilation that was put onto them. Yet those events were one of the reasons that our country was able to grow and expand so fast. If Columbus and all the other settlers who came over had let the Native Americans keep much of their land and resources, and tried their best to live at peace with them, than what we know as America today, built with that land and those resources, would not exist. So, I believe, as people who benefit in numerous ways from the unjust system that helped grow this country, then we, in some ways, share in that guilt as Americans.

Now I do not mean that all Europeans were evil that came over, but as a whole, the early settlers were downright evil to the Native people. I think this is the same for any group, organization, or community with bad things in their past, including the Body of Christ.

I don't think that the point, thought, is feeling guilty. Collective guilt should not simply make us feel bad, but inspire us to repent (change the way we think) as a community and work toward an understanding of our past that recognizes our failings and our sin, and enables us to move forward without putting our past under a rug.

This is where it gets hard, I think, for how do we repent as a community? How do we show the Native Americans today, many of which are still living in the shadow of the last 500 years, that we are truly repenting? This is where it must take some community imagination.

Thanks for reading my thoughts. I feel like I have been having numerous conversations on collective guilt lately, so all of this was in my brain.


Brent said...

When my spirit is healed or healing, that healing can come to another.

This is one of the reason I find collective guilt to not have any real impact on the individual. And if you really reduce it clear down, Humanities sin, our sin is guilty of hurting each one of the other. We are all guilty of sinning against each other every day. Collective guilt is just label containment. Like me scooping some smooth granulate sand from the beach putting it in a jar and calling it evil, then closing my eyes to the rest of the surrounding landscape.

Wouldn’t it be much better if I dealt with my own guilt. Then if and when I have healing I point yours out? I just want to focus on God and the healing that comes from Him. It is deep in my chest that I can feel a groaning for Him. The healing he has for me, the healing that is… His essence.

Peter said...

Brent, you don't come from a people-group in need of collective healing. That's why you don't understand it. I don't either, but I believe people when they tell me their story. I don't stand in indignation, asking them to submit to my privileged experience. I hear what you're saying, and I appreciate your struggle with connecting to these comments, but it's dangerous to presuppose the same prescriptive spiritual needs on societies with radically different histories.

Luke, thanks for the illuminating comments. I completely agree. It's very difficult to talk about HOW to move toward repentance. I wish I had better answers for myself - my wife and I were just talking about this tonight: how in the WORLD do we atone? How in the world do we have a positive impact.

I feel the same way about black American descendants of slaves. It doesn't matter that I wasn't a slaveowner. My skin color still represents pain, oppression, and CONTINUAL, ONGOING injustice and racial inequity in America. Sins of the father... generational guilt...

I own it. I am sorry. But what next? All I know is that self-defense isn't an option.

Brent said...

The problem is I do understand.

I just don’t want to justify thinking that can be destructive to an individual. It’s okay to acknowledge how they feel, because they really are feeling these feelings. But I can’t elevate their circumstances as greater than anyone else’s. Because I am more concerned with each individual’s existential struggle and if I elevate one then I unfairly de-elevate the others that are around them. I don’t think that benefits anyone. Because then somehow It gives people in these group the okay to stay in their present state of mind because their circumstance is greater than an others. I just want to treat all the same and I think in someway concentrating on collective guilt will take away from this. It seems like social engineering and I think that can lead to manipulating individuals. And manipulating always end in the rebellion of those being manipulated. They will eventually see they have been used. I do see the plight of these individuals but I see it like every others person. For me personally I have too. If your conscience tells you differently then you are responsible to listen to it.

My own life lends to understanding these feelings. I have struggled with feeling like a victim of my circumstances for most of my life. But your elevating these other groups as being more needing of empathy and healing makes me feel somehow worth a little less to you than them. Because somehow my perceived privilege or whiteness, in your eyes devalues your own idea of my needing your attention. And I think others in my “group” might feel the same. That’s how I think this thinking can be harmful.

I understand because one can always work toward victim-like feelings if they continue thinking and believing lies. And I have done that. I became passive in my life, not responsible, not in control of the only one I should control. But in my passivity I develop the destructive ability to manipulate things and people. I don’t think I did it that often because I fought doing it so often. But I will except that I probably did it more than I consciously know. I was to reserved, scare to be who I am, scare of being rejected, to go about obtaining those things I wanted the right-straight forward way. So I see that I have dealt with this type of thinking (victim-like thinking) for a good majority of my life. Even though I knew victim like thinking was bad and destructive to me, I tried to use it to somehow manipulate God into giving me what I wanted. Who would have guest He saw right through it:) A few years ago this struggle came to a head in my life. To make a long story shorter, my wife and I both were stuck in this thinking in our own ways. I have come to realize I lacked setting a higher goal in my life, a greater meaning for what I am meant to do. I did not accept my responsibility to my life, to God or my wife. To say the least our victim like thinking led to destroying our marriage. I have now seen my responsibility to my existence and am grabbing onto it with all I have. I only wish my former wife could also do the same and find the healing I have found. In healing I believe she could see me in a better light and see that she did not have to divorce me. To have reconciliation would be nice. It is through this personal experience that I see how destructive letting a human stay in victim like thinking can be.

Love you

Existential Punk said...

What about Nehemiah, who repented for his nation? If we are to use BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES, wouldn't that be an example of someone taking responsibility for others sines even if he were NOT personally responsible? Just my 2cents worth!

Peter said...

Agreed, Adele (and GREAT to see you!!).

Reading about Irenaeus, one of the early Church Fathers this morning, and found this:

"What is the mechanism by which the incarnation itself transforms and saves humanity? First of all, it must be understood that Irenaeus assumed a solidarity of humanity in both sin and redemption. That assumption is foreign to many modern Christians, who tend to think and live in a much more individualistic - if not atomistic - fashion. Irenaeus and his colleagues in the early church were no 'Jesus-and-me' Christians. He believed and taught that what Adam did in the Garden of Eden and what Jesus Christ did through his entire life (including his death) affected other human beings automatically because Adam and Jesus Christ (the "second Adam") are not merely individuals but fountainheads of humanity."

The notion of individualism is so hyper-American that it's hard to even comprehend (for me, still, as well) how the early Church viewed redemption. "Between me and Jesus" is not an Orthodox attitude.

I'm not sure if I care whether something is Orthodox or not, but most American Evangelicals should, because most of them think what they have is Orthodox. It isn't.

Brent said...

My problem is not so much collective guilt. If collective guilt is a psychological definition of Humanities sin nature.
Because with that, I do groan for my nation and all humanity to be reconciled to God.
My problem is with isolation of individuals into a group. Isolating people labels them as a type. And a person is not a "type" Adelene is not "a gay" she is an individual with her own uniqueness' But if she is grouped in a persons mind like that they draw on correlation to who she is because of their stereotypical thoughts. This is also true in "typing" of Christians. I just think isolating these people muddies our vision of the real person. In that is could isolate one's mental focus to only these "types" and miss all the others around them.

This idea of collective guilt(isolation type) will never reconcile anything because it deals with two imagined "types" of people and does not see the individual for who he really is but who you think he is as a "type" in a group.

I believe we do need to be humble in sharing the good news. But humble to ALL individually.

Pete if you have a stronger calling to reach these specific people that is awesome! But If you want the "Church types" to ask forgiveness from those "types" that have been wronged in the past in a collective way. I would think the "wronged types" will just believe they are meaningless words. Because I think the real type is looking for something real and tangible. So if these "wronged types" which are really "individuals" encounter another authentic christian individual and that authentic christian is concerned with touching those that they are around everyday with God's love. That is an awesome thing with real application! And if we really want to help bring anybody else or these groups into a better relationship with God. We should appeal to the Body's Head. The head is what commands the body. And I think that is the only tangible collective ability that can be had.

Since I don't believe I can convince you differently. I would like to know how we could do this collective repentance?

Anonymous said...

I know I'm commenting on this post late, but I happened upon it and feel compelled to comment.

I am a Native woman who is also a freelance writer and I have done extensive research on my own tribe and Native American History in general – this is not taught in schools by the way. And because of shame of being Native was passed down from my ancestors who were forced into boarding schools and taught that “being Indian” was bad, I am only in the last several years learning the truth.

I was raised in the white world as my ancestors were forced from their villages and put into Indian boarding schools where our people were stripped of our ways in a cultural genocide. We were stripped our Native names and forced to choose more “civilized” Christian names, our language is nearly lost because children had the language beat out of them, and they were basically told to forget they were Indian. This was done by white people all in the name of Christianity because they believed they were superior and God gave them the land as the “Manifest Destiny” and that Native ways were filthy and demonic.

Our children were abused sexually, physically and emotionally. Hundreds of Native children across America and Canada died without the love of their families – many were pregnant girls. In fact, these so-called Christians showed them no love at all. The children were malnourished because they never had enough food. One book I read said that the children were given burnt toast and porridge for breakfast as the white Christian teachers feasted on bacon, eggs, and potatoes from the farm in front of the children. For dinner the children ate thin soup and hard rolls, while the teachers ate meat, vegetables, and corn.

This is devastating to me and my heart is broken in a thousand pieces.

Our tribal membership is just over 2,000. One person speaks our language fluently and she is in her 80s. There are no words to describe the full sorrow and aguish of my heart that my tribe is almost extinct.

Because of this I struggled with Christianity for a long time. I thought it was the white man’s religion. But, God has shown me that it is for us ALL and that we are all EQUAL. Also, where I have found answers is in Richard Twiss’ book, One Church Many Tribes. What he has written is slowly helping to heal my soul. He is the head of Wiconi International, a Native ministry. I highly suggest you read his book and visit his website.

Al said...

I have previously commented on this post, so was notified of your comment, anonymous. I wish I knew your name so I could be more personal in this response.
My heart was touched as I read your thoughts. As a Canadian, I know our country was just as guilty of the same atrocities as your family has suffered. My first thought is, I want to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry that my people (Europeans) thought they had the right and privilege of treating your ancestors the way they did. I'm sorry that many used their faith in Christ to justify their actions. I'm sorry it has taken this long for us to see how wrong we were. I'm sorry we are still guilty in various ways, and still have to change our ways.
I'm glad God's grace has worked past the pain and is bringing you healing.
I have heard Richard Twiss, and I really appreciate his heart and truth. It has helped me understand that God has placed His heart and creativity in all cultures, and we can all be blessed by what He has put within the people of the world.
Thank you for your gracious, generous heart.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your kind words. Forgive me for the bitterness and hatred I have been carrying in my heart. Letting go of that is not easy and I am still praying that I can fully leave the awfulness I feel at the feet of Jesus. The hardest part for me is the evil that was done to innocent children in boarding schools. I am still grieving this. I have cried many tears over this just this week rereading a picture book I have written about the destruction of my Oklahoma tribe (I am looking to get published as teaching about my tribe and the truth about history through writing is my passion) and upon my further research.

Recently, I have learned the speechless rendering atrocities of the mass graves of Native children that have been found in Canada after joining a group on facebook called Mass Graves of Residential School Children Identified- Where is the media? The stories I read and photos I saw on this group further grieved my soul.

I hope to one day go to many of these sites and pay tribute to their loss and weep at their graves. I want them all to know that they are not forgotten. Here are a few links to the discovery of mass graves in Canada…

My husband (of European dissent) and I cannot even come close to imagining how devastating it would be if our own children were yanked away from us and placed into these prison-like schools. But, this was a reality for hundreds of Native families and we are all STILL reeling from the affects as the sorrow and pain is passed down from generation to generation.

I wish everyone could understand that we are all (every tribe, nation and tongue) an integral part of the body of Christ just as He made us and He meant for us to worship Him in our own unique cultural ways. God is not White, Indian or Black, he is multicultural. He created us in His own image.

I grew up in Churches where paintings on the wall and pictures of Jesus portrayed Him as an Anglo man with blue eyes and blonde hair. Jesus was a Middle Eastern man after all. His family ethnicity would surely reflect that.

Thank you again, Al. I would hug your neck if I could.


Al said...

My dear sister Kim;
It is true for you, and me, and hopefully Christians everywhere--our faith is growing, changing, evolving. We become aware of something in our own hearts that needs to be touched by love, and God begins to change us by His love.
Thanks for responding, thanks for responding in honesty. (As I write back, I am visualizing a wonderful First Nations lady I know named Rose. She is very actively seeking to help relieve the cycles of poverty and homelessness that affect many here in Canada--particularly First Nations people. Permit me to see her face as I talk to you.)
Thank you for sharing those links. I am not a parent, and can only try to feel the pain involved in having ones' children taken away, perhaps never to see them again or know what happened to them. Time does not diminish the effect of that kind of torture, and I know that must be part of the cause of the pain and struggle many of our First Nations people deal with.
There are many ways we (European Christians) have painted God as someone like us. Unlearning that is a big part of my spiritual journey these days. I am starting to see how God is bigger than male or female, not limited to one cultural expression, and somehow each of us carry part of His image in us.
Kim, I forgive you for any bitterness you have had for the evil committed against your people. It is completely appropriate for you to need to grieve about the loss of so much--innocent children, hope and joy for a good future for them, loss of your own culture, identity, language, art, and so much more.
May God empower you to recapture some of your own story and through your writing bring it back to life. May your own heritage, language, art and other creative gifts come back to life as did the bones in Ezekiel's vision.
A big hug back to you!

Peter said...

Kim, Al, wow. Reading your words to one another actually gets me choked up - I'm humbled and inspired by the generosity, respect, humility and love each of you demonstrates here.

Kim, I'm honored by your visit here, and the comments you have shared. I think I'm only just beginning to come awake regarding the plight of Native and First Nations people in North America. Yes, we know The Trail of Tears, but "we" (comfortable-middle-class-"me") take for granted that there has been some sort of resolution. And why not? I live in a sterile bubble without any daily contact outside of my culture of origin.

Kim, how can we get the message out? You have been brave enough to approach or re-approach the Christian church, despite its many sins. Many other wounded people will never make that step. I would love to hear more of your vision for repentance and reconciliation.

As a side note, George Fox Seminary has welcomed Randy Woodly as an adjunct professort, teaching Native History and Spirituality.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for posting this topic on your blog. That is one way to get the word out. There is no doubt that God is working here as He has brought us together to discuss this topic. Also, you mentioned, Randy Woodley. I am currently reading his book, Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity.

I think it is imperative that everyone in America and Canada learn ALL sides of their history. In America, we are not taught American Indian history in school. Only the so-called victors’ side of history is acknowledged. I will bet that Native history isn’t taught in Canada either. Even, myself, as a member of an Oklahoma tribe did not learn about my tribal, Oklahoma, and American Indian history in general until my own personal recent in-depth study.

Like I mentioned, I have written a picture book about the destruction of my tribe. I am in a few writing critique groups. When one of the groups (all Caucasians) read my story, they asked me if they could read about this information in the library. I told them it was all there. They actually wanted to know more!

They were all shocked to find out that the land run (that our state celebrates each year through reenactments in our public schools etc.) actually stole land away from tribes. Yes, Oklahoma was formed on land thievery. Oklahoma schools even celebrate this. My son’s third grade class dressed up in European attire and had a land run reenactment. I wrote a letter to the school telling them that he would not be attending that day to celebrate the stealing of our tribal land. We celebrated our Native history instead with a trip to the Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, Oklahoma. The interesting thing is as I child I participated in the land run reenactment at school as my own parents did not know the history. My dad’s family was from Anadarko, Oklahoma and my great-grandfather wanted a better life for his kids and moved them to the city (Oklahoma City). My dad then went to an all white school and pretty much did what was passed down -- forgot he was Indian. We are all reclaiming that part of ourselves and it is like coming home.

Here is an interesting article regarding the history of the Oklahoma land run…

I know that the Trail of Tears story is taught in schools, but did you know that tribes like my own tribe which is actually aboriginal to Oklahoma already owned the land in Oklahoma? My tribe is one of those “uncivilized” tribes. Only the tribes that adopted the white lifestyle like owning slaves were considered civilized by the way.

Also, many people do not realize that the worse genocidal efforts were not of the Holocaust against Jews. It was the American Indian genocide that happened right here in America. Did you know that the U.S. government sterilized thousands of Native women, in many cases, without their consent?

I’m not sure how we can get schools to teach the truth about American Indian history in schools. That is one of the reasons why I wrote my picture book. All I can do is pray, write about Native topics and teach my own children the truth. I told them the true story of Columbus and Thanksgiving.

As for my own journey of repentance and reconciliation, I am honestly still working on that. God is slowly healing my soul. He has ignited a passion in me for writing the truth about history for children. I have a journalism background, but have finally found my calling.

Thanks again, Peter. I am so glad you are taking a stand and discussing topics such as these. You are a brave man. May God bless you!


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