Summary: Minorities consistently talk of the feelings of alienation within White church culture. We should listen.
Part of what should be convicting is the consistent voice of love of the church by minority believers AND the stories of alienation or outright racism from White believers as individuals or as institutions. The fact that they are often paired together should mean that as White Christians, we need to listen to what it is that alienates minorities, especially those that are potential leaders.
Anthony Bradley is a professor and consistent critic of racism within the Reformed church. He has earned his place at the table, but often White believers want to reduce him to ‘angry Black man’. When you read what he has put up with in order to serve the church (and I have not read any of his longer books that he has written only shorter social media posts and blog posts), it is a wonder that any minority believers stay within the White church.
Aliens in the Promised Land, a book of essays introduced by Bradley, was published in 2013 in the midst of one of his bouts of active persecution. As with any set of essays, there are some essays that grab you more than others. But other than the essay by Carl Ellis, which was fine, but about urban minority youth discipleship and felt a bit out of place, I thought they all added to the book well.
There really are a number of different issues and Aliens in the Promised Land did well to address them. First, this is not just a Black and White issue. Amos Yong’s essay as an Asian in a ‘post-racist’ evangelicalism and several essays from a Hispanic and Latino authors illustrated to me that minorities are much more aware of the needs of different streams of minorities than many Whites who tend to reduce racial issues to Black and White.
Another issue highlighted by Aliens in the Promised Land is the different needs and expectations of different minority communities. Juan Martinez on the different needs of students as one of the problems of theological education and Vincent Bacote’s focus on how many minorities and Whites view orthodoxy differently (Whites tend to focus on language of orthodoxy, while minorities tend to look at actions of orthodoxy as a prerequisite for words of orthodoxy) are good examples.
Normative assumptions of White theologians as standard, while minority theologians are ‘Black Theology’ or ‘Asian Theology’ or ‘Latinx Theology’ is a good example of the blindness of institutions to their own assumptions.
Personally, my seminary Systematic Theology class was taught by Dwight Hopkins, a well known African-American Liberation theologian. At the time, I did not understand how important reading Womanist theology and Feminist theology as examples of systematic theology was. I had previously had a good understanding of the basic concept of (White) systematic theology as an undergrad.
For years, I thought that the class was a good second step for my theological education. But I assumed that my fellow classmates that had less theology background were probably missing basic systematic theology. That may have been true. Because of the modern bent of the class. But it was not true because of the choices of minority theologians by themselves.
What continues to be illustrated as I listen to minority Christians is that White churches and institutions want minority faces. But are rarely ready to actually hear minority critiques. And when those critiques come from younger, and less experienced faculty or pastors, they are often dismissed as either ‘liberal’ or ‘confrontational’ or just ‘immature’. Vocal critics rarely get to places of actual authority and decision making because White churches, denominations and other institutions make it too hard to persevere. That leaves many wounded minority leaders along with crippled organizations that are unable to hear and accept the legitimate critiques of how White culture impacts White Christian institutions.