It’s hard to let go of the conqueror mentality. Onward Christian soldiers. It’s also very typical in pastoral circles to talk about what “works.” What’s “effective.” To be sure, we’ve adopted the worldview of perpetual political campaigners for a cause that, by Jesus’ own model, proved suicidal:
As pointed out in an earlier chapter, the gospel offers no assurance of winning. Again, what could “winning” possibly mean? If it means what white racists mean by it – enslavement of human beings based on the alleged basis of white supremacy – then, “God deliver us!” The idea of winning is a hang-up of liberal whites who want to be white and Christian at the same time; but they fail to realize that this approach is a contradiction in terms – Christianity and whiteness are opposites. Therefore, when whites say “That approach will not win out,” our reply must be: “What do you mean? Who’s trying to win?” (41)
As Cone asserts, it is impossible for whites to view Christianity from outside an oppressor-mentality. That stings.
As I read this book my mind repeatedly, instinctively and habitually countered Cone’s passages with questions of scope, context and parallel examples. “What about whites who have been oppressed?” “What about other issues of injustice and disparity?” and “What does the Gospel mean, then, for privileged whites?” I also found myself thinking of a list of oppressed people groups in the world whose collective trauma might correlate with black America’s. Inevitably, these questions and responses are a reflection of my own privilege. As Robert M. Brown wrote: "Neutrality plays into the hands of those in power because it enables them to continue, and to discredit the Christians who oppose them." Cone’s Gospel feigns no neutrality.
The blogosphere is loaded with arguments and diatribes against “the myth of white privilege.” White pundits build strong cases to demonstrate why they never benefited from their racial affiliation, and a few black critics enjoy the praise and relief of white America by agreeing (see Don Lemon’s affirmation of Bill O’Reilly’s critique of black culture here http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/354636/cnns-don-lemon-agrees-oreilly-black-culture-gets-criticized-white-guest-andrew-johnson).
Of course there are poor whites. Of course whites suffer. But that is not a counterargument to the matrix of white privilege. Poor, suffering whites are not poor and suffering because of their racial identity. Poor, suffering whites do not carry the collective trauma of three hundred years of enslavement, torture, rape and dehumanizing commodification. According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (www.slavevoyages.org) in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, 12.5 million Africans were sent to the New World. 10.7 million survived the shipping.
In the person of Christ, God identifies with all who suffer and are oppressed, but it is important for white Christians to understand and accept that there is a real and ontological uniqueness to the systemic suffering and oppression of a group of marginalized people. This is at the heart of the Exodus narrative.
Cone writes: “If I read the New Testament correctly, the resurrection of Jesus means that he is present today in the midst of all societies effecting his liberation of the oppressed.” (31)
So I think that if I want to be changed by a Gospel like Cone's, it doesn't end in winning, but in dying. How does one go about dying? Honestly, I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve trying to justify or defend myself.
Thanks be to God.
More to come…