On American Identity

There is no static, essentialist definition of what it means to be an American. The boundaries of “American identity” are permeable and continually re-negotiated. Historically, European males have had significant economic, cultural, and political incentive to guard closely the definition of “American” so that it doesn’t encompass too many people beyond themselves.

This is why backlash inevitably follows African-American racial progress. Emancipation gave way to Jim Crow. The cvil rights movement gave way to mass incarceration. The first non-white president was followed by the man whose name is inextricably associated with birtherism, a modern manifestation of the historical sentiment that black persons by definition cannot be American.

Restrictive and racialized conceptions of “American” are so interwoven with our national history that they influence our cognitive processes even without our conscious consent. The structures of our government have been organized upon the premise that some are more American than others. Access to capital has been controlled by gatekeepers who denied the full humanity and citizenship of the Africans whose forced labor produced that capital.

Such history should compel us to ruthlessly interrogate the racial contours that whitewash our definition of American identity. If we think a naturalized citizen of Somali origin is somehow less American than a white citizen of German descent who coddles neo-Nazis, perhaps it means our definition of “American” is more racialized than we think. Or, perhaps it just means that white normativity is about as American as grandma’s apple pie on the fourth of July – in which case, it raises the question of why we’d even be eager to claim American identity for ourselves in the first place.

Advertisements

Southern Baptists: The Gatekeepers of Christian Orthodoxy?

 

The Southern Baptist twittersphere has been up in arms about the Revoice Conference. One of the most extensive criticisms is from Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Strachan’s article has been approvingly retweeted by numerous other Southern Baptists, including Jason Allen and Albert Mohler. Since the conference is hosted at a PCA church and features a speaker who is a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, Strachan implicates both the denomination and the seminary in his criticism.

The Southern Baptist reaction to this conference has led Anthony Bradley to ask why Southern Baptists see themselves as the church’s gatekeepers of orthodoxy – our doctrinal and moral exemplars who have the prerogative to regularly condemn other denominations, churches, and individuals for supposed errors. It’s a good question, and one that I have thought about recently.

Continue reading

The Formative Power of One’s Personal Story

Photo from Andy Savage’s Facebook profile.

 

Speech is power. And because speech is power, stories are powerful. Our stories help determine who we are. The way we narrate our stories determines how we define ourselves. But when our stories get wrested from us and revised by others, it inevitably does injury to our self-identity. Silencing someone’s narration of their own story is an act of oppression and violence. When we tell our own stories, we defy the attempts of others to control and define us.
Continue reading

Book Review: Doctrine and Race

Mathews, Mary Beth Swetnam. Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2017. 157pp.

Summary

The basic thesis of Doctrine and Race is that during the interwar period (c. 1920-1940), which was dominated by the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, African-American Christians largely adhered to fundamentalist doctrine but adapted modernist views of social justice and race relations. To support this thesis, Mathews shows that the constructs of “fundamentalism” and “modernism” were “racialized term[s]” (7). The category of fundamentalism was created and defined by white Christians, and modernism was also a primarily white phenomenon. Therefore, African-American churches do not fit this binary, so the polarity of fundamentalism-modernism is an inadequate lens through which to view African-American churches during this period.

Continue reading

When God Seems Unjust

person looking at sunset and mountains

 

Have you ever felt that God is acting unfairly or unjustly?  Looking at the world can create a disconnect between who we believe God is and what we see Him doing.  We believe that He is good, just and fair; yet when we read the news, we see an unsettling lack of goodness, justice, and fairness in the world.  If God is good, why evil?

Perhaps a tragic circumstance in your life has created for you a dissonance between who God is and what He is doing.  After all, He is completely sovereign over everything that happens, including tragedy and hardship (Prov. 16:33, 21:1).  Why do His justice and compassion not compel Him to step in and right the wrongs happening all around us?

Continue reading

Book Review: What Is Biblical Theology?

What is Biblical Theology

Hamilton, James. What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. 127 pp. 

A question that fascinates me is: How does the entire Bible fit together?  How does Scripture – with its diverse human authors, cultural settings, stories, literary genres, and writing styles – coalesce to form a unified message and narrative?

Continue reading