Randy Woodley recently critiqued the Emergence movement for hosting an upcoming conference that features only white speakers. He calls on white Christians to boycott “whites only” conferences. His call is important because he is asking evangelicals to finally take the project of dismantling white supremacy seriously.
However, a question arises, why would a movement that claims to critique the oppressive structures of Christian evangelicalism continue to support the logics of white supremacy? While Emergence Christianity’s refusal to address racism is regrettable, this refusal is not particular to the Emergence movement. Rather it demonstrates how deeply engrained white supremacy is. Addressing racism goes beyond simply challenging racial “prejudices.” Rather, it is about dismantling the way ideologies of white supremacy structure the very way we see the world in myriad ways.
In this particular case, the Emergence movement’s complicity goes beyond simply an inability to be “inclusive,” but in fact this movement is founded upon a logic of racial primitivism. As Alexander Weheliye notes in his upcoming book, Habeas Viscus, [white] postmodern theory [upon which the emergent movement relies heavily] is completely indebted to the work emerging out of anti-colonial struggle. Yet these anti-colonial thinkers are never discussed postmodern theorists. Without the work of anti-colonialist and anti-racist thinkers who challenged the meta-narrative of manifest destiny, there would be no postmodern theory. However, people of color are reduced to the add-on to the intellectual trends emerging out of Europe despite the fact that these European trends are actually the product of anti-racist work often centered in colonized and racialized communities. After white postmodern thinkers incorporate the work of people of color, they then claim ownership of these ideas, disavow the contributions of people of color, and then feel entitled to ignore the continuing critiques of people of color because white theorists are the ones who can do the “real” analysis.
Similarly, the Emergence Christianity seems to forget that it is the work of people of color who challenged the meta-narrative of [white] evangelicalism that enabled Christian Emergence to develop in the first place. Rather, people of color can only talk about their “identities” and “experiences.” We need white evangelicals to talk about Christianity or evangelicalism in general. As a result, the analysis that then emerges from this movement is superficial because it fails to fundamentally address how white supremacy and colonialism are continuing to inform our Christian practice – even when we think we think we are being counter-cultural.
Even within evangelical strands that claim to support justice and social change, people of color are relegated to the task of “Native informant” or “ethnographic object” that white evangelicals can “learn from.” White evangelicals are those who are capable of analysis and self-reflection; people of color are just there to enable the self-reflection of white evangelicals. As long as we reduce the problem of race to one in which white evangelicals just need to get to know more people of color, we will fail to see how the logics of white supremacy actually inform the very way we define Christianity itself (including our critiques of it). As Soong-Chan Rah’s germinal text, The Next Evangelicalism, notes: Christian evangelicalism, including Emergence Christianity, has become a disavowed white evangelicalism.
Thus, inviting people of color to evangelical conferences is the very minimum required of Christians. Rather we must challenge the racial primitivism that is endemic within Christian evangelicalism in which the intellectual work of people of color is always viewed as the primitive precursor to the more “evolved” white evangelical analyses. As Matthew 7:3 states “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your eye?” While Emergence Christianity makes many important interventions in Christian evangelicalism, it is ignoring the plank of white supremacy that is clouding its vision.