Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home) Part 2: A thought experiment on being a Missional Negro Christian



In part 1 I indicated my desire to imagineer a church where a negro can feel at home. I want give some of my thoughts on being missional. Here is a portion of writing (rough rough draft) from my presentation I will be giving at the After-Evangelicalism conference next month in Grand Rapids. I am talking about Pentecost:

The pouring out of the Spirit makes way for us to participate in the reality or new creation that has come about through Christ’s cross and resurrection. This is dangerous. For this participation is much more than an inner private experience with God. It is also a social-spiritual and, dare I say it, political reality that witnesses to the inner life of God. We are to be “one” as Father, Son, and Spirit are one. The apostle Peter once said that we are to be partakers (I read as dynamic participation) of the Divine Nature. The Spirit-led church is a community, a particular social embodiedment that witnesses to God’s intent for human communities.

This participation in the life of God is energized by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Such a gift clothes us with power from on high to be communal sign-posts that point to the kingdom of God. Such a participation is often thwarted by what Paul calls the principalities and powers.

‘They [the powers] seek their own goals; they build their own structures; they establish their own domains. Human ambitions, desires, hopes, and fears are their driving forces, and just because of this they become superhuman systems, demonic spiritual opponents of God that subject human beings to their own domination.’ (Stormfront, p.89)

The powers, though created by and for Christ, manifest a rebellion against God’s salvific will for humanity and creation. For the purposes of this paper one of the powers that has rebelled against God in divers ways is the power of ethnicity (or what a cadre of European scientist during the Enlightenment came up with, the category of ‘race’). One of the ways that race has rebelled against God is the emergence of ‘whiteness’ becoming synonymous with ‘universality’ and ‘normativity’. This has a long history dating back to early modern Europe when cultural elites engineered conceptions with concomitant political and economic practices that buttressed European global hegemony.

This history of universalizing whiteness was embodied in ecclesial practices (e.g. liturgy, church art, worship styles, preaching styles) that were and are assumed to be normative for ‘all’ Christians. There resides in this practice of ecclesial whiteness a long history for which we don’t have space to cover. My point in bringing this up has to do with how the powers of whiteness, as universal normative ecclesial culture, plays itself out in churches where non-European American Christians are told, “forget about color and worship Jesus.” What many European Christians don’t realize is that such a ‘call to worship’ is a call to non-European Christians to join in on this universal ecclesial whiteness. Most of the time this is not done intentionally, but done with a sincere desire to see diversity in worship. But such ‘worship’ is not a diversity I would think is Spirit-led.

Spirit-led worship is a worship that displays the unity in diversity that images God’s nature. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit gifted the worshippers (who displayed a wide array of ethnic backgrounds) with tongues of fire. In these tongues each participant heard his own language being spoken from a person not from their cultural/ethnic background. They were speaking in tongues. What were these tongues?

I said all that to say this. A place where a negro like myself will feel at home will be a place where fellow worshippers learn to speak in tongues. We will be learning about speaking in tongues in part 3 of this series.

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5 thoughts on “Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home) Part 2: A thought experiment on being a Missional Negro Christian

  1. Ant,

    These words are both painfully and prophetically true. And they need to be stated, especially in conversations about evangelicalism’s future.

    Any place in the essay for “thought experiments” to become “exercises in praxis”?

    I sent the James Cone essay via snail mail yesterday.

    Phil

  2. Phil,

    My next post will be from a portion of the paper that talks about a particular praxis I believe (and have actually seen) can provide a way for Christians to resist the power of ‘whiteness’.

    I do want to differentiate ‘whiteness’ from European American culture in general. ‘whiteness’ is simply the practice and belief that Europeaness is ‘normative’, ‘universal’, and ‘standard’. A belief and practice that has a long history and has roots in colonialism, racism, and in particular forms of global capitalism.

    The praxis I will be offering will be that of ‘speaking in tongues’.

    Thanks for the comment brother.

  3. The ubiquity of whiteness of is so dominant that the white/European descendents who occupy it and perpetuate do, as you note, tend to be oblivious to their very whiteness except when those considered “the other” remind them that they are normal and everyone else is a deviation or aberration.

    Those of us outside the mainstream culture, such as African-Americans are oftentimes more conscious of whiteness than white people themselves. We are those with the double-consciousness that DuBois spoke of: both American (white) and Negro (black).

    In the world, cultural hegemony is expected and even necessary, but it has no place in the Kingdom of God. In the Body of Christ there is no preferred culture or ethnicity, which is why all backgrounds have to embraced. Culture and ethncity which are much better terms than the ambiguous and dubious “race” (black/white) can and should be exchangeable, but one should never simply be replaced by another. What rises above culture is the content and quality of the Gospel message. The Word can incarnate flesh of any ethnicity, so long as it submits to Him.

    What is interesting is that hip-hop (A very African/African-American influenced art form) has subverted some European hegemonic space and achieved a place of prominence albeit with controversial results. Anthony, I am interested in what you feel the value and place of hip-hop would be in a truly multicultural Christian community (I believe the church should be like Ray Charles in an artistic sense – fusing multiple genres like gospel, blues, and country, while staying true to the message).

    I look forward to the finished essay that you have begun.

  4. Great article Ant, we certainly are thinkining along the same lines, you are just a bit more “high brow” than I am.

    Here are my two quick observations:

    1. Current global popular culture with regards to music is pretty much controlled by inner-city black youth. Along with this, we know that Jazz, Rock and Roll, all come out of the African American experience.

    Further, Gospel music, a quintensential African/American artform is huge in different parts of Europe and Asia.

    2. The Christian Church, though it has its roots in the Mid East, has become more identified with the West. Most of the current denominations were started and are maintained by whites. Even though the most explosive growth happening in the Church is in Africa, Central America and Asia, but for the most part, the denominations are still controlled largely by the West.

    To me the real issue at hand is God’s glory and the sake of the Gospel. God is too big to be contained in anyone culture. God deserves to be praised in the context of all cultures. Further, if people are going to become Christian, we cannot make them jump through cultural hoops to do so. This was essentially Paul’s concern in Romans and Galatians. He did not want Gentiles feeling like they had to become Jewish in order to become Christian. Likewise, we dont people of color feeling like they have to become white in order to come to Jesus.

    Finally, there is life when are what we have been made to be. There is death we try to be something other than who we really are. This is not to say that a black man cannot enjoy a “white” hymn, rather, he has to also embrace what he brings to the table as well. So the best worship to me is when all cultures are present in the same place giving their gifts back to God. That is the sound of Heaven.

  5. Hi Ant,

    Pentecost served as a bridge for a cadre of ethnic groups. It was a uniting factor. Coming from a Pentecostal backgroung, I think we often remained stuck in the experiential, euphoric aspect of the Spirit, and failed in many ways to leave the upperroom. We didn’t realize that the biblical results of pentecost also had a social component to it. they took care of one another and met the needs of the community.

    i’m wondering if you are referring to “tongues” in its supernatural manifestation? or are simply looking at this as a way to honor the different expressions/languagues of worship across cultures.

    Ant, I also emailed you something on a separate note…

    jose h.

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