Friday, May 17, 2013
Seeing yourself through the eyes of others can be transformative, but only if you let their critiques lead you to serious self-reflection rather than dismissal or denial.
A few days ago, Christena Cleveland - the Center for Diversity and Reconciliation keynote speaker at the recent Subverting the Norm II conference - wrote a post in her blog series “Diversity Repellent" (a series about "the subtle but powerful things that we do and say that make diverse people think twice about building community with us"), which reflected on part of what Tony Jones said at that conference.
Under the 5th (“Be loyal to this tribe”) of his 13 points, Tony said, “We have a better version of the gospel than the regnant view of the gospel in the West today”.
Just as Christena did, I took Tony’s “we” to indicate those gathered at this conference - academics and practitioners interested in the relationship between postmodern or radical theology and church practice. But, this form of theology is located within a specific trajectory in western thought. And this heritage means that neither it (postmodern or radical theology) nor we (those gathered at the conference) are particularly diverse (see also this post here where I reflected on the question of diversity after the STN2 conference).
In her post, Christena asks,
How can a gospel that is mostly (if not entirely) interpreted and articulated by a homogenous group of people (in this case, white, well-educated males) be the “better version”? But in a more subtle way, his statement sent a clear and powerful message to all of the diverse people in the room (e.g., women, people of color, people without advanced degrees, etc.). No need to join our movement; we don’t need diverse voices. We’ve already got the best version of the Gospel and we only needed white, well-educated men to figure it out. Diverse people need not apply.
She concludes that,
people of all cultures run the risk of alienating diverse people if they mistakenly believe that their homogenous group has basically figured out how to think, worship and live.
We might say we want diverse people to participate in our group but we are often too enamored with our own culture (e.g., our version of the Gospel) to invite diverse people to influence it. Rather, than actively seeking input from diverse people, we require them to assimilate to and bow down to the dominant culture. This approach might work to attract people who look diverse (in terms of race/ethnicity, etc.) but it will repel people who offer culturally-diverse perspectives.
Responding more to Christena’s choice of visual illustration than perhaps to the substance of her critique, Tony then said, ‘I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist”. He wrote, “Are her words, combined with that image, meant to imply that I am a racist? The answer can only be yes.”