Thursday, July 29, 2010

Love Sechrest on Paul's Gospel and Race Relations

I just received a copy of Love L. Sechrest, A Former Jew: Paul and the Dialectics of Race (LNTS 410; London: Continuum, 2009), and this is what she says in her conclusion:

"Even as whites empty themselves of their privilege as an expression of interdependence and mutuality in Christ, the scandal of Paul's gospel would require that, for the sake of Christ, blacks embrace an identity that eschews a group-centered focus on social, economic, and political righteousness to a body-of-Christ-centered focus on these and other issues. Specifically, it means that Christian blacks would foreswear 'nation building' in the church as a substitute for kingdom building in the world, nation building that exchanges the gospel for the American dream. In other words, living life as if race were a matter of theology instead of skin colour means that both whites and blacks would have to live life as blood traitors, who each consider the needs of the other over their own, and the needs of Christian kinfolk above all others - no matter what their skin color. White-born and black-born Gentile Christians could only manage such selfless feats of imagination through humble acceptance of the facts of identity mentioned above. Christians no longer favor bonds of allegiance to their birth identity (Phil. 3.3-9; 1 Cor. 12.2); they are ever-conscious that they all are Gentiles who have adopted an alien history and have been transformed into an alien race (Gal. 3.26-29); and they know and live in the transformed reality that is created by God's grace and mercy (Rom. 11.17-24)."


pennoyer said...

Well said, and perhaps even courageous. Yet what is this, really, except "plain vanilla" biblical theology? The reason it sounds particularly radical and profound today may be due to its context in contemporary western culture, a culture which carries a curiously selective condemnation of racism. In that culture if you are white and racist you rightly stand condemned. But if you are member of a minority group, such an attitude is often seen as understandable or even useful. (Please tell me I am wrong!)

For Christians, however, all racism should be anathema. It should be one of those things "not even named among you." Will we achieve perfection here and now? Of course not - not even in our own hearts (unless you happen to be a saint!). But we should nonetheless strive to live as if colorblind NOW as a testimony to the fact that, before the throne of God and of the Lamb, all tribes and peoples and nations are represented without rank and division.

Mich said...

Well said.
Frankly the quotation sounds muddled to me!


Anonymous said...

Make hay while the sun shines...................................................

Paul M. Pace said...

To Pennoyer:
I would suggest reading some sociology on the development of "race" in the U.S. How it developed, why you may/may not even consider yourself "white", etc...
"Colorblindness" has been used as an excuse to push aside the issue of race and go back to doing that which is most comfortable, i.e. listening to theology which acts as if we're all the same. To pretend that I do not have incredible opportunity as a white male in this country is the real colorblindness. Also, just look at that term, colorblind. When has God ever called his people to become blind?? I thought Jesus healed people from being blind?? Just a thought.

pennoyer said...

Hi Paul:
In the course of your comment you go from mistaken (in my view) to just plain silly. "Colorblindness" is shorthand for not evaluating or treating people differently based on the color of their skin. So tell me again how that conflicts with the healing ministry of Jesus? A wise man once said that our goal should be to evaluate people based simply on the content of their character. If our sociology texts are really advocating a different position, perhaps it is time to put them aside.

Paul M. Pace said...

I just read that you called my comments silly, which is an interesting way to phrase, "I disagree with you." Maybe it was lost in translation...
I also love how people claim MLK, Jr., but if we were around during MLK, Jr.'s day, would we be on board with his program?
Paul never seemed to ignore the society around them, holding the tension between the present evil age and the age to come. But to deny that race is present and race is real, although originally designed as a myth, is to first deny the fact that people are saying it's real. If someone says, "No, race is real for me", I should say, "No, it's not, you need to act as if it's not real."
Dr. Sechrest teaches constantly about Christians being a "third race" of people and that we move toward the beloved community, not by denying our races, as Paul did not deny his Israelite lineage. Although Paul may have denied certain Jewish customs, he never denied who he was, but then embraced the Spirit shaped community, calling all people to not boast against one another.

pennoyer said...

To be fair, I said your original comment went from mistaken (in my opinion) to just plain silly there at the end.

Why is it that many people who honestly believe that racism is wrong are nonetheless constantly caught up in classifying and quantifying people according to race? I'm sure there is a sophisticated rationale for it (academics are great at that kind of thing) but I have a much simpler reason that I would like you to consider.

As you know, in Galatians 5:19-21 Paul lists "the works of the flesh." This list includes a number of attitudes that could be relevant to the discussion but note especially "factions" (or what the old RSV used to call "party spirit"). That would be to break down the Christian community (or human community by extension) into groups and treat them differently based on the group they belong to. That kind of thing is wrong.

So I stand firm that our goal, personally and as a society, should be "colorblindness" - that is, refusing to be affected by the color of people's skin. And even if, for justice's sake, there may be certain limited situations in which that kind of classification is unfortunately still necessary, we should do it "holding our nose." Why? Because we realize we are trying to use evil means to justify "good" ends. And it is morally dangerous get used to doing that.

I agree completely with your last paragraph. So where do we really disagree? Certainly racism is real. I just don't think we have to join 'em to beat 'em.

Thanks for your conversation.