In Stormfront: The Good News of God, a book that’s a part of the Gospel and Our Culture Series, is given an excellent description of these ‘principalities and powers’ put forth by the apostle Paul:
“Subtle or not so subtle, direct or indirect, overt or covered with layers of pretense, the powers of our world represent profound patters of resistance to the power of God, coming as it has in the form of a cross.” (p.x)
Profound patterns of resistance to the power of God as pre-eminently displayed through the cross of Christ. What an excellent way to describe these ‘heavenly’ realities. Within this past century theologians and pastors have sought to unmask, name, and engage the principalities and powers within our context. In postmodern/emerging church discourse there has been much ado about consumerism, nationalism, foundationalism, constantinianism, etc. Rightfully so! Lord knows such conversations are still in the margins of North American Christianity. There have been some profound reflections on the powers. Stanley Hauerwas’ theologizing about the powers that undergird liberal democracy, Jacques Ellul’s reflections on technique, John Howard Yoder on the constantinian compromise of the church. All of these voices (and more I am sure) have contributed greatly to these discussions. These theologians and thinkers are gaining a growing readership. A readership that wants to talk and walk out the best of these reflections in our own time.
Yoder, echoing Hendrik Berkhof, teaches us that the principalities and powers referred to in Paul’s writings are similar to “religious structures (especially the religious undergirdings of stable ancient and primitive societies), intellectual structures (-ologies and -isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race and nation.
While many Christians would affirm that these ‘powers’ extend beyond the individual one ‘power’ often gets reduced to personal prejudice, race-ism. As the authors of Stormfront remind us, these powers can be and are oftentimes subtle in a profound way in how they resist the cross of Christ. Just as many Christians would attest to the ‘market’ extending beyond individual consumer choices or how the ‘state’ extends beyond individuals voting and media soundbytes so too with race. That race is a power not unlike the market, the state, ideologies, moral codes, and customs has been given little attention in this kind of discourse. There are several reasons for this I am sure. Perhaps, it is due to the fact that most of the people that theologize about these realities are European American Christians. Which brings me to the issue of the principality of whiteness as an extension of the power of race.
Whiteness, as I will propose in this brief series, is a ‘principality’ often goes unacknowledged by well-intentioned European American Christians.
What I am not saying here? I am not saying that Jesus needs to get rid of European American Christian…not save us from European American Christians (Although that would have been great for Native Americans, African Slaves, etc.). Neither am I saying that there has been no good brought forth by European American Christians.
What I am saying is that the lack of unmasking, naming, and engaging (to borrow from Walter Wink) the principality of whiteness has had dire consequences for the church in our North American context. The less we engage this principality the less faithful the church will be in making known the manifold wisdom of God to the powers and principalities. The less we are equipped to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s kingdom. Ultimately, the goal is to be witnesses to the inner life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…participants in the missio Dei.
In his book Journey to Jesus, Robert Webber prophetically declares to us that “the church is to actively witness to the victory of God’s redeeming power in a fallen world.” The principality of whiteness is a part of that falleness. BTW…what is the nature of this principality named whiteness? That’s next. But before you jumped the gun and call me a racist…let us not forget that we are not contending against flesh and blood…I am not contending with European American Christians…I am contending with a power that has used European American Christianity in a way that has made it quite difficult for people to live out their baptism into a new creation and be faithful participants at Eucharist.