“There is no place for the proud and mighty, for people who think that God called them to rule over others. The cross is God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”
–Dr. James Cone
White supremacy has been something of a talking point in the news lately, brought to light by white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville and elsewhere, by the ceaseless parade of mass shootings, and by racist robocalls attacking African-American political candidates. An honest Christian engagement of supremacy must not end there, however. When we cast blame entirely on overt hate groups without examining our own families, churches, and personal identities, we allow the steady undercurrent of white supremacy to move through every facet of our society.
For our 2018 graduating students working on their capstone Integrative Projects, white supremacy was a recurring theme in a wide range of theological, psychological, and cultural topics. Two Master of Divinity students, Laura Stembridge and Alex Mrakovich, fully dedicated their projects to wrestle with living in a supremacist system as white people, people who have participated in and benefited from that system.
As Laura and Alex present on their projects in the videos below, they are responding to a call from the late Dr. James Cone: “It is time for the Church to be relevant by joining Christ in the black revolution.” For too long our styles of relating and our traditions of worship have separated white Christians from the God who unconditionally identifies with those who are abused and oppressed. If we hope to speak honestly about resurrection hope, and if we seek to join the healing movement of God, the white Church must disrupt its old modes of being and begin listening to those it has sidelined and subjugated throughout its history.
“Whiteness has hindered our ability to see. It has hindered my ability to hear.”
In the first video, Laura explores white supremacy as a vehicle for the anxieties and insecurities of white people, and the disruptive, messy in-breaking of the Holy Spirit as an invitation to a new way of living: “Being messy is the antithesis to white supremacy. It admits the failure of the family of origin, and does what that family could not: open itself up to the grief, terror, and vulnerability of being human in relation to another.”
Next, Alex reflects on the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose disillusionment with theological institutions opened him to learning from the Harlem Renaissance. Alex argues that our allegiance to white Christianity—rather than to the person of Jesus—has disfigured our ability to be in relationship with God, ourselves, and our neighbors, and that, if we aspire to something different, white Christians have much to learn from their Black sisters and brothers: “What undergirds and tethers many professed Christians together is perhaps not the story of Jesus of Nazareth or the animating power of the Spirit, but the seductive social imaginary of whiteness, a kind of haunted religious ceremony—one that keeps its followers from the very possibility of participation, intimacy, and life together.”