[This is the first of a two part series that I wrote a while considering the connections between women’s struggle for equality in the American church and the struggles of racial minorities within the same body. I won’t claim that they are identical, but there are certain similarities, probably because both struggle against the same common oppressive structure].
A little about myself: I am a Chinese American, grew up in Southern California, and went to college in Wheaton, Illinois. This school was, at the time, the stereotypical 92% white, midwestern, American, insular, Christian school. The school’s prevailing culture allowed for material aspirations, but only if those aspirations were consecrated by adding the adjective “missionary” in front. For example, you couldn’t just be a businessman. You had to be “missionary businessman.” Neither could you aspire to be a successful surgeon; rather you had to be a “medical missionary.” This hypocrisy irritated me to no end, so when asked what I was going to do, I replied to the inquisitor: “I’m going to be a missionary-mercenary.” Well, God was listening, because today, I fight for the recognition and equality of colonized/indigenous peoples and women, of which I am neither.
I’m hoping to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my tangles on the race side to help those who are beginning their trek with gender-justice understand why the deck so often seems stacked against them. Let’s say you’re part of a bowling league. One day, your team is invited to a match at a different alley. When you get there, you find out that the lane you have to bowl in is actually built on a thirty-five degree incline. Well, that sucks doesn’t it? You’re probably going to lose if you play, but if you leave without playing, you’ll lose for sure. You’re not just playing against the other team, you’re playing against an artificially constructed environment—one that was designed to favor the other side.
The first thing you have to realize when you speak out against the Western Colonial/Patriarchal power structure is that you’re not just going up against your opponent’s arguments; you’re going up against an environment that is designed to defeat change and maintain the status quo. Your opposition is going to try to make you bowl on that lane with a thirty-five degree incline. The main way they are going to implement this is with a little word called “objectivity.” In their eyes, being dispassionate, distant, and un-invested lends credibility, and the lack thereof is cause for immediate dismissal of the opposing argument. Since you care enough to challenge the system by speaking out, you are already at a disadvantage, and heaven forbid if you ever speak out from your own personal experiences. The fact that you care enough to show to have your say means you have already lost. They might listen for a bit, but ultimately, the charge of being “not objective” will be leveled against you and at that point you will be dismissed.
Now let’s examine this concept of “objectivity.” The problem is, as much as the other side aspires to objectivity and “seeing both sides,” they can’t achieve it. In order to get there, one would have to be extra-terrestrially omniscient. We all share this earth together, so to say that we have no investment in the well-being of each other, or no stake in the limited resources of this planet is cosmologically impossible. As fellow human beings we’re certainly not above each other, looking down, understanding all sides. To claim this status would be, well, blasphemous.
The closest thing to a fully objective all-seeing entity is God, who does not depend on the Earth for life. But even God chose to be involved in human affairs, to the point of incarnating as a human. It’s through this incarnation that the redemption of humankind occurs. The converse is also true. Hell is often described as “judgment” and “separation from God.” And yet some among us, driven by the false ideal of objectivity, aspire to separation and judgment. If the Most High serves as any example, it is one where we judge each other from a point of relation, not separation.
When I said Western Colonial/Patriarchal power structure, I meant it. To my knowledge, nowhere else in the world is there this false idea of objectivity. It simply doesn’t exist in non-western indigenous cultures where credibility is built on shared respect, communal rapport, and most importantly: mutual investment in both parties, not mutual exclusion from the situation.
Even within areas that are considered beneath Western hegemony, objectivity is not a universally held ideal. In Black and White Styles in Conflict, Thomas Kochman talks about how African American argumentation stands in diametric opposition from the “White” style of objectivity by explicitly declaring an interest and appealing to the other party based on that interest. Simply, put: “You should care because I care; if you don’t care, why should I?” Attempting to force objectivity as a standard of discussion isn’t elevating the debate atop a universally-regarded ivory pillar; rather it’s forcing the debate to circle round a rather contrived western, ethnocentric toilet bowl: once you surrender to its current, the discussion can only go in one direction.
Jesus is our best proof that God eschews objectivity in favor of relation. Objectivity requires separation, apartness. In other words, everything that 1 Cor 12: 12-27 warns against. In fact, (especially verses 21-26) the text indicates that objectivity is not possible within the Body of Christ. We are all part of the Body: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” That doesn’t sound very objective does it? Rather it sounds universally subjective: all are to partake in the same pains and joys.
If we don’t hear each others’ hurts, how can be truly react, protect, or function as the same Body? If one part suffers, we all suffer. What a shame it is when privileged parts of the body attack and colonize less privileged parts and then attempt to disown and ignore the resulting pain, all the while making patronizing judgments about the wounded parts. Western machinations of “objectivity” too easily remove us from one another and create compartmentalization that distances us from each others’ pain. But, God’s design invokes mutual empathy. Verse 27 emphatically states: “Now you are: the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Back to the bowling alley. What can you do? What you’re going to do is call the other team on their shenanigans. They can’t disqualify you for being “un-objective” any more than they can prove that they, themselves, are objective. Reject objectivity as a standard and remind them that if they want to be a part of Christ’s Body, then they have to act like it. Call objectivity for what it is: a losing proposition–first one to propose it loses.
More to come…