45 Responses

  1. Tammie
    Tammie July 8, 2014 at 8:30 AM |

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this crucial issue. You have given me much to think about and direction for growth.

  2. Kurt Rietema
    Kurt Rietema July 8, 2014 at 10:24 AM |

    It’s interesting for me to think about white men as the “secret weapon” as the social justice-minded equivalent of the evangelism approach that was popularized by Young Life. If we can “win” the cool, popular kids in a school over to the gospel, then they can use their social capital to win the entire school. The cool, popular kids were the secret weapon, even if the cliquish, stratified, social hierarchy that gave them their privileged position was antithetical to so many of the values that are inherent in the gospel–which ultimately cheapened the gospel and commodified it. Likewise, focusing on white men as the “secret weapon” in social justice efforts ultimately undermines the social change that it seeks to alleviate.

    It’s tempting to give into because there are short-term, pragmatics at stake that make life easier for oppressed people. I’ve felt this a lot in some of my work in immigration advocacy. Some of the “strategies” and the language about immigrants that is tossed around by politicians and other would-be allies is sometimes bristling and fundamentally demeaning, but you oftentimes want to simply turn the other cheek because small gains, albeit palliative seem better than no gains at all. Then again, rejecting the demeaning language and degradation of personhood is ironically a way of exerting one’s agency and reclaiming the personhood that has been stolen from you. In that sense, maybe it is “progress” even if the oppressive environment around you hasn’t changed.

  3. suzannah | the smitten word
    suzannah | the smitten word July 8, 2014 at 11:24 AM |

    this is SO true and important. i’ve experienced similar dynamics within feminism (and what the above commenter describes in youth ministry) and any sort of emphasis on convincing the powerful is just so backwards and counterproductive to the principles of liberation or the Kingdom of God.

    so grateful for you work and witness, christena. you really are the secret weapon:)

    1. Amanda Furman
      Amanda Furman July 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM |

      Yes! Let the powerful (the privileged, the beautiful, the rich, the whole, the “natural” leaders, the influencers, etc) more and more be witnesses, instead of leaders and facilitators, to the liberation that comes “from above”, from the margins in, instead of from the center to the margins as is the way of the world. Then they will know that the Kingdom of God has come upon them.

  4. Alyssa
    Alyssa July 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM |

    YES YES YES. I’ve often seen conversations around race & justice watered down or sugar coated as not to offend the privileged. POC have the burden of not being too angry, too passionate, too quick to cry racism, too ANYTHING or else we might scare away white allies. A lot of conversations I see get re-centered on the feelings of the privileged rather than the injustice suffered by the not-so-privileged.

    This is such an important conversation, Christena. I hope people are listening.

  5. Rebecca Trotter
    Rebecca Trotter July 8, 2014 at 12:50 PM |

    I’ve found it helpful to view this issue as a co-dependent dynamic. When people are in a co-dependent relationship, they lose sight entirely of what is normal, reasonable and healthy. Normal, reasonable and healthy get defined as whatever the dominant party says they are. The less powerful party will often respond by trying to get the dominant party to adjust normal, reasonable and healthy to something which is more respectful and mutually beneficial. But this still grants the dominant party the right and power to decree what normal, reasonable and healthy is. Often, even when the dominant party is willing to change, the less powerful party ends up being held hostage to the dominant party’s demands to be convinced and unwillingness to do more than make concessions. The only real solution is to disrupt the co-dependent dynamic altogether.

    One of the things I adore about the healthy African-American Christians I have known is that they have figured out the way out of this unhealthy dynamic and are unshakable in their commitment to it. “We learned to love ourselves” is their answer to the problem. They still love the other, but having learned to love themselves fiercely and unapologetically means they have taken back their power from those who don’t yet know how to love.

    The answer to the co-dependent dynamic really is to stand firm in what is good and true and not take on the struggles of the other as your own. You can speak to those struggles and love people where they are. But ultimately, as you say, a changed heart is for each person and the Holy Spirit to create together. I’ll bet the great cloud of witnesses enjoyed watching that class on reconciliation, BTW. It was probably a sight to behold from the vantage point of heaven!

  6. extrovertedquaker
    extrovertedquaker July 8, 2014 at 2:11 PM |

    This so rings true with my discomfort in putting a view out there as an “ally” trying to “speak for those whose voice is marginalized.” When it comes to race stuff I feel a lot better connected to my brothers and sisters when I listen for others’ voices and encourage people in appreciating the voice of others as they live out that of God within them in a different context. I have been blessed to have some older brothers and sisters in the faith who mentored me that come from many different cultural backgrounds and taught me the value of listen to perspectives that make me uncomfortable, that challenge my comfort and what it is built on. I believe that your voice and the voice of others who are marginalized need my ears more than my promotion.

  7. ebonyjohanna
    ebonyjohanna July 8, 2014 at 2:14 PM |

    I absolutely love this post, Christena! White men are not the heros in the racial justice movement, the Holy Spirit is. Imagine that!

  8. Dan Baker
    Dan Baker July 8, 2014 at 2:43 PM |

    Your words about the Holy Spirit are convicting and powerful. Ive found that the more Progressive we get the less we are willing to cling to the supernatural character of the Spirit’s work. God help us rely on your spirit and not our strategies. Thank you Christena!

  9. Michael B. Sylvester
    Michael B. Sylvester July 9, 2014 at 3:55 AM |

    Excellent. Thoughtful. Spirit-led Wisdom…

    Kingdom Agenda…Excellent

    Blessings, Sister. Keep your hand on the plow…


    Peace in the Struggle

  10. Michael B. Sylvester
    Michael B. Sylvester July 9, 2014 at 3:58 AM |

  11. Brian Langley
    Brian Langley July 9, 2014 at 6:41 AM |

    Thank you so much for helping Christians focus our attention around who God is and what God has done for us while courageously calling out the unjust social reality in which so many people live. As a white male, part of me wants to be offended by blog posts like this, even though I agree with everything you share here and have been working cross culturally with vulnerable populations for over a decade! Thats probably the point, that God’s truth ALWAYS offends those who benefit from power structures. Thank you for your voice and courage!

  12. joe d
    joe d July 9, 2014 at 2:48 PM |

    Christena, as a white man who probably likes to talk about his passion for God’s kingdom and social justice way too much… thank you so much for this post.

    I agree with your final point about the “turn toward the oppressed.” It reminded me of Costas’ notion of following Jesus “outside the gate.”

    But, I wanted to ask you about something that I heard not too long ago from Jay Pathak that seems to challenge/balance(?) this perspective. Of course, it’s from the life of the apostle Paul, specifically his calling in Acts 9:15. Jesus appears to Ananias in a vision and describes Paul (Saul at this point) as “an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles **and kings** and before the people of Israel.” Pathak emphasized the part about “and kings” to make a point about a church’s role in influencing people in power such as elected officials. Thinking back over Paul’s life, he does seem to be talking to people in power fairly often (please correct me here if I’m mistaken).

    So, what do you think? What do we do with Paul’s ministry (as a Jewish-Roman citizen) toward Roman power-brokers?

    Thanks in advance!

  13. drwayman
    drwayman July 9, 2014 at 6:40 PM |

    “No group has more power, access, voice or influence than white men.”

    And statistically, white men commit the majority of crime in the US.

  14. urbanmissionblog
    urbanmissionblog July 9, 2014 at 9:33 PM |

    Thank you, Christena; well said. All things considered, white men are privileged. But not all white men equally. White? Then distinctions are made based on other factors. And thus power, the world’s brand of power, is assigned. The white male industrial complex is just one part of a larger power complex.

  15. Beth M
    Beth M July 10, 2014 at 2:07 PM |

    Thank you for this – and like many said, your words about the Holy Spirit are an important part of the dynamic that is often overlooked or casually tossed in. Thank you for placing them prominently and giving me something to chew on.

  16. Tim Essenburg
    Tim Essenburg July 10, 2014 at 3:31 PM |

    Over the past decade or so, I’ve been reading articles and books on the topic of justice by Nicholas Wolterstorff (an excellent non-academic understanding is given in Wolterstorff, 2013, “Journey Toward Justice,” Baker Academic). And find his arguments winsome. From these juxtaposed with my experiences and ideas I offer the following.

    I think many many Christians (especially the more socially conservative evangelical types) have a partial misunderstanding of Jesus’ “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” [Jn 13:34]. “Love” is not a new commandment, else how would the expert in the law already know the answer to his own question? [see Luke 10:25-28; Parable of the Good Samaritan]. We know this by reading Deut 6:1-9, especially verse 5, and Lev 19:18b, which likely is a summary of verses 9-18a. Maybe what is new is the “as I have loved you” part. What’s new seems to be Christ’s unswerving commitment to human dignity (upholding it for those who society puts down, and calling out/pulling down those who fail to do this) and a willingness to forgive before being asked [see, for example, Mt 18:22 and Rom 5:8].

    If love is not completely new, then love must include justice (primary–upholding the dignity of all [e.g., sufficient income to engage in proper self-determination, employment which allows for creativity and responsibility, equal dignity in the eyes of the beholder, access to high quality education] and secondary–various retributions). Jesus says to forgive seventy times seven, and this has a bearing on retributive justice. But justice in both the OT and NT is really about primary justice. Too many of us Christians, of the upper-middle class, simply fail to love (uphold primary justice) all and hold accountable Christians in positions of power to do just this. Instead, we have interpreted “love” to mean do no active harm (nicely fulfilled by both the Priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan Parable) and generally be a nice person. Love has been misinterpreted as benevolence–something optional and which keeps the focus on the alleged good and good intentions of the benefactor. Benevolence justifies our “vacationary” and “voluntourist” trips. I think God prefers the focus to be on the extent to which the marginalized are included, the extent to which primary justice is upheld. This shifts our focus off of ourselves and our notions of what counts for love (often little more than “good motives”).

    Reconciliation is about justice in love. It is about “shalom,” a word I am becoming somewhat hesitant to use because it has more recently become a go to word as a way of baptizing our ideas, actions and attitudes. Shalom is about peace, justice and the enjoyment of all relationships (God, self, others, nature).

    So, a most definite “yes” to the Holy Spirit. And also, a more biblical understanding of love. Something which all Christians need to hear and live. And maybe most especially upper-middle class, white males :), like me :)


  17. inapart11
    inapart11 July 12, 2014 at 2:57 PM |

    So far, since the advent of the “liberal messiah” Barry Soereto, a/k/a Barry Hussein Obama, we’ve seen the result of the LIBERAL SOCIALISTS’ DIVERSITY fall flat on it’s ass……”DIVERSITY” proved to be nothing but a phony drummed up rallying cry for that FAILED social just scam……diversity proved to be a TOTAL FAILURE…..

  18. Sarah Quezada (@SarahQuezada)
    Sarah Quezada (@SarahQuezada) July 13, 2014 at 6:58 AM |

    Thank you for your insightful perspective, Christena. One of my biggest struggles when I used to teach was the defensiveness around privilege and structural injustice. It would discourage me so deeply. I appreciate this reminder that God has already won and that only God has the power to soften hearts and call for repentance and restoration. I need to remember to pray for that! Thank you.

  19. Holden Andrew
    Holden Andrew July 13, 2014 at 9:33 PM |

    I feel new to this conversation but I am so glad I’m gaining awareness of this topic. I suppose it will take me sometime to dismantle the things in my mind that are there because I am a ‘Prince of Privilege’. But I suppose awareness is where it all starts. Any resources you recommend to further explore this I would surely eat up.
    May God have mercy on my ego based cynicism that has hung like a bad relative for years while others aren’t so lucky to have an automatic audience or a ticket to the show.

  20. Kurt
    Kurt July 15, 2014 at 11:13 PM |

    “Remain unconvinced and unrepentant”. What is it that they need to repent from? Being white and being male? Tell me more about this sin.

  21. For your reading pleasure – favorite links from around the web | The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors

    […] Christena Cleveland wrote this excellent piece: “Dismantling the white male industrial complex” […]

  22. Rob
    Rob July 18, 2014 at 3:41 PM |

    Christena, thanks very much for your thoughts. I find myself “amening” much of what you’re saying. I’m right there with you in regard to your comments about the role of the Spirit and the finished/finishing work of Jesus. Continuing to court the favor of the powerful on behalf of the powerless indicates, to me, an anguishing alienation from the heart of the message and witness of Jesus and is evidence of a misplaced hope. Thank you for sharing your convictions in this regard!

    If you’d allow me to dialogue with you a bit, I’d like to bring up something that sticks in my mind and heart as I read your analysis – that is, the benefit and appropriateness of continuing to to use the fantasy of “whiteness” as a meaningful category in the pursuit of Jesus-shaped reconciliation and justice. Two things make this question salient for me.

    The first is the work of Dr. Willie James Jennings at Duke. I recently finished his book “The Christian Imagination” and found myself deeply convinced by his concern that the construct of whiteness has deeply damaged everyone and everything it has touched (in the church and in the world at large), both those who have taken hold of it for their own benefit and those who’ve suffered at their hands. Convinced by his reasoning, I question any approach toward reconciliation that would seek to benefit from the continued use of this fantasy rather than seeking to deconstruct it as a part of the larger work of working for the Beloved Community.

    The second is my own relationships. I realize that in some sense it is convenient to use conjure the idea of the “privileged white male”. And I recognize that this is convenient because it certainly includes within it the people we mean to be talking about…namely those men of mixed European ancestry who, by a variety of factors including lineage, economic status, education, and geographical location, do hold an intractable, disproportionate advantage and influence. But we also realize that the category “privileged white male” includes many who don’t fit. Like my friend Rom, who will never be courted for the benefit of his “influence”. Instead people will think about the most polite way they can refuse his offer to mow their lawn when he knocks on their door today. We could spend time arguing that Rom actually does fit…that if someone of color, or a woman, in his same position (which is admittedly a really low position) would have even less influence and power than him…if such were possible. But what does that do for Rom? Rom…who is loved by God with reckless abandon and who has a special place in the Kingdom (if we believe the author of James)? In our desire to quickly frame an argument, our imprecision, our continued use of a concept we all know is really inaccurate and ultimately almost meaningless, my friend gets rolled over and rolled up with the CEO of Google and various University presidents.

    And that makes me as disappointed and frustrated as our continued courting of the powerful in the name of the pragmatic concern that “it will produce the results we are looking for, at least kind of.” It’s really very similar, in my mind. So we can keep using the idea of the privileged white male while we work for justice and reconciliation, acknowledging that in doing so we’re harming vulnerable people (that is my contention at least), or we can dream and scheme about a better way. Can we work and write for justice and reconciliation AND deconstruct whiteness? Or do we need to hang on to it because to let it go, to blow it up, would make it harder to talk about what we want to talk about? Is there a more loving way?

    I wonder if toppling the white male industrial complex begins, or at least includes, deconstructing the whole concept of “whiteness” as an integral part of the work. If Jennings is correct, to do so would be, perhaps, a more loving way forward…truly working to set EVERYONE free from the baggage and alienation of a powerful fantasy.

    Again, I sincerely appreciate your writing here and would love to hear more about your thoughts on this.

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