We are doing a series on J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account. When I say “we” I mean a number of folks, and today’s post is written by Soong-Chan Rah, professor at North Park Theological Seminary.
For the past few weeks, I have become a complete news junkie. I am glued to CNN. I?m perusing all the political blogs. I?m constantly checking hulu.com for SNL parodies and clips from Comedy Central. Like many Americans, the presidential election has taken over my life.
Even if you are following the election less closely than I am, you could probably still conclude that race is very much a part of this race. An AP-Yahoo news report documented what many already guessed, but had not verbalized or quantified ? that there are many whites who will not vote for Barak Obama, simply because of his race. Some reports claim that racism could yield up to a 6% swing towards McCain. Much of the hidden racism in America is being exposed (see McCain-Palin rallies from last week).
My main concern, however, is how Christians have been at the center of two of the more explicit examples of racism in the Presidential campaign: Obama Waffles (created by two Christian writers) and the hanging in effigy of Senator Obama at a Christian college. These shameful examples serve to further the media perception of the deep level of racism rooted in the American Christian community. So I am personally thankful that we are having a serious theological discussion on race.
In the first chapter of his insightful and revelatory work, J. Kameron Carter examines the link between the problem of race/racism with modernity as well as with Christian theology. As Carter states: ?modern racial discourse and practice have their genesis inside Christian theological discourses and missiological practices, which themselves were tied to the practice of empire in the advance of Western civilization? (p.3).
Drawing upon the writings of Cornel West and Michel Foucault, Carter asserts that ?race functions to support the coming-to-be and the sustaining of modern society at an inarticulate level? (p.39-40). In other words, the problem of race is directly related to the problem of modernity. ?West is out to isolate . . . what it is about ?the very structure of modern discourse at its inception? that allowed and even mandated it to ?[produce] forms of rationality, scientificity and objectivity as well as aesthetic and cultural ideals? that ?require[d] the constitution of the idea of white supremacy?? (p.44-45).
?Foucault?s analysis of the problem of race is bound to an analysis of the problem of the modern nation form ? to the problem, that is, of how the modern state gives form, shape, and substance to the political? (p.43)
Put boldly: Modernity needs the problem of race in order to justify and further its existence.
There are two implications from chapter one I?d like to focus on. First, how has the establishment of ?the other? in modern society been expressed in American evangelicalism? West states that [modernity] ?establishes a ?normative gaze? by which it is determined that blacks do not adequately measure up to the standards of truth (in science), the good and morality (in philosophy), and beauty (in the aesthetics of culture)? (p.49). Foucault, meanwhile, speaks of modernity?s need to ?employ bellicose mechanisms to address the problems, deviancies, and so-called abnormalities of the population? (p.55). In other words, we create a sense of otherness (yielding a virulent racism) to justify and perpetuate modern systems.
If indeed, the problem of modernity, the problem of race, and theology are intertwined, how have Christians bought into the concept of otherness, in order to justify the modern systems of Christianity?
Second, even as we move away from a modern framework to a more postmodern framework, does the problem of race continue (i.e. ? race plays the same role in postmodern society that it did in modern society), but now in its postmodern form. So that postmodern expressions of Christianity are just as much in danger of becoming inter-twined with racism as modern theology.
My response to both of these issues is to point out that for many centuries we have been witness to the Western, white cultural captivity of the church. Christianity has more accurately reflected the norms, values, and practices of Western, white culture than the Scriptures. The Western, white captivity of the church has meant that non-white voices are often marginalized and placed into the category of ?exotic? and non-normative expressions of Christianity (such as the black church or the immigrant church). The problem with evangelical Christianity, therefore, is not merely a captivity to modernity (as many postmodern Christians would claim), but captivity to white supremacy (which could include postmodern Christians).
Despite what politicians might claim, it is actually imperative that we understand the causes of the problem in order to formulate the answers to the problem. Is there a problem with the American evangelical church? If so, is it simply the way evangelicalism has gotten into bed with modernity? Or is there a way that theology, race, and modernity have been intertwined and that this white captivity of modern evangelicalism could also creep into postmodern evangelicalism.