Wednesday, June 19, 2013

If You Called me a Racist (or Sexist or Homophobe), Would I Blog Against You?

I should hope I would not do so.

A controversy has been brewing in the blogosphere, especially within emergent Christian circles, about the phenomenon of White Dude Defensiveness regarding issues of inclusivity and diversity. Some dudes, who might want to be identified as "liberal" or "progressive" have been facing tough questions about their own complicity in racism, sexism, heterosexism and class privilege and the ways in which such complicity shapes their writing, speaking and practice. (For an excellent entree into this controversy, with many of the relevant links, read the intrepid Brandy Daniels' fine post on the "Women in Theology" blog.)

I don't identify myself as an "emergent Christian": I'm just too traditional, conventional and boring for that. But I have friends who are involved in emergent Christianity, and because I care about them and about the future of the church, I try to listen in to their conversations as best I can.

Now, I'm not going to name names or weigh in on the acrimonious (though not unhealthy) debates that center on particular individuals and their posts, articles and talks. But I would offer this general advice to any white dude out there who ever gets caught up in such a crossfire and feels the urge to rush to his own self defense:

Grow up.

For the record, I've rarely faced such accusations personally, and my first impulse no doubt would be self defense if I did. This post is my attempt to lay out, rather, what I hope I would do and say. Although I'm not nearly important enough to ever be flattered with an attack on something I've written or said, I have thought about how I hope I would respond if someone ever did charge me with cashing in on my white, male, heterosexual privileges to the disadvantage of others. I've come up, so far, with three basic steps:

1.) I listen. I don't argue. I don't rehash my credentials as a solid progressive ally to the oppressed. I don't, above all, rush to defend myself. I shut up and really try to listen. Stephen Covey advised: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

2.) I acknowledge that I'm a sinner saved by grace alone. Not only am I guilty of personal sins, but I'm a beneficiary of systematic structures of oppression that are beyond my personal control. If I take advantage of such privileges -- and who doesn't? -- is there not at least some sense in which I must acknowledge: "Yes, I am guilty of racism. Yes, I am guilty of sexism. Yes, I am guilty of classism. Yes, God help me and try as might might not to be, I am guilty of homophobia." Because of that time I didn't stand up to hate when I should have done so, because of that time I laughed at that joke that I knew was beyond cruel, the blood of all the innocent victims is on my hands as well.

And what should I do? Should I complain about the "unfairness" of this situation? Should I bemoan this body of death in which I'm trapped? Why, indeed, would I have any basis for complaining when Jesus himself, who was guilty of none of these things, not only bore all my sin -- all our sin -- but became our sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21). I'm in no position to justify myself, for I stand condemned too, in sinful solidarity with all human beings throughout history.

That's all well and good, but it's not enough. The gospel has more to say to me on this issue and so, finally:

3.) I repent. Not necessarily in sackcloth and ashes, lest I risk making a show of my contrition. Rather, this means I commit myself to renouncing, as best I can though usually haltingly, the web of privileges from which I've benefited. I enter the painful path toward solidarity with the oppressed. Such repentance and effort at change does not justify me. It doesn't make everything okay. It is, simply, my due response in gratitude for what I've been given and for what I've been forgiven.

None of this will be easy for me. Am I a hypocrite? Yes, indeed. And I have an ego too. At some level I probably care more about impressing you with this blog than I do about really tackling the difficult personal decisions that such a divestment of privilege would entail. Still, it is how I feel called to respond.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

All I Really Need to Know about Remythologization I Learned in Kindergarten

Richard Beck of "Experimental Theology" fame has given us the definitive blog post on a subject very dear to my heart: the classic original cartoon series Scooby Doo: Where are You?

I endorse his reading wholeheartedly, but I demur only on one particular: While I concede that the original series of 1969-71 remains superior to later series within the franchise, I have grown fond of the most recent incarnation, Scooby Doo, Mystery Inc. I think the latter makes a brilliant contribution to a genre that includes such notable programs as Lost and the The X Files and offers plenty grist for the mill for those who cast a critical eye on late modern capitalist-consumerist society.

My own neo-Marxist-Weberian-Stringfellonian interpretation of Scooby Doo, Mystery Inc. is forthcoming on these pages and will be available just as soon as I can clear a few much less important projects out of the way.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Nazis and Natural Law

In doing some research into the life and thought of William Stringfellow, I came across a fascinating (albeit brief) discussion of debates over natural law theory in the aftermath of World War II. In the post-war period, Stringfellow studied at the London School of Economics and traveled throughout western Europe, where he met members of the resistance movement. It was at this time he decided to pursue a law degree, which he would later earn at Harvard.

My source is Anthony Dancer, An Alien in a Strange Land: Theology in the Life of William Stringfellow (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011). Dancer quotes a work from 1946 (A.R. Vidler and W.A. Whitehouse, eds., Natural Law: A Christian Reconsideration) as follows:
While many writers among the United Nations would say that the Nazis threw over the conception of a Natural Law...Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party organization, said: 'We National Socialists sat before ourselves the aim of living as far as possible by the light of Nature:  that is to say, by the law of life. The more closely we recognize and obey the laws of Nature and Life, the more we observe them, by so much the more do we express the will of the Almighty (Dancer, 38, emphasis mine).
As a number of scholars have shown, Karl Barth's vigorous repudiation of natural theology in the early 1930s and his very public and acrimonious break with other members of the dialectical theology circle was driven largely by his strong political opposition to National Socialism: In other words, Barth was deeply worried that any form of natural theology or any appeal to a "point of contact" between the Gospel and some ostensible human capacity for revelation would serve to aid and legitimate Nazi ideology. The foregoing quote helps illustrate Barth's cause for alarm.