Goodbye to White Male Theologians (for a while, anyway)
Posted on June 5, 2014
Earlier this week, in a single Tweet, one of the three administrators of the Bad Christian* Twitter account reflected on a conversation that had taken place the day before.
I had read part of that conversation when it was happening. It was tense, and emotions were running high among many of the people involved. When directly asked, the guys who make up the Bad Christian multimedia platform were unable to state that they are gay affirming**. This led to several LGBT Twitter users trying to explain to Bad Christian why their inability to say, “Yes, I affirm all of those things” is hurtful to LGBT people. Just because Christians are trying to be nicer about their belief that being gay is a sin than their theological predecessors does not take away the sting of rejection, judgment, and criticism that LGBT people feel. Plus, to many, a Christian’s inability to affirm LGBT orientations and marriages is a big red flag to the rest of the theology held by that person.
Here’s the Tweet that summarized Bad Christian’s takeaway:
“I don’t want to learn from you and have no interest in Christianity unless you’re a queer Christian.” — Lively discussion yesterday.
I’ve been aware of the Bad Christian media brand for a few weeks now and have been reading their Tweets and reading some of their blog posts. I haven’t listened to their podcast yet but have planned to. From what I’ve learned of them so far, it is clear that their feelings about that kind of statement are negative.
The guys at Bad Christian would likely say it’s a bad idea for any person to only listen to one group. It’s bad to only want to listen to people who are like you.
I can understand why they see such a statement as narrow-minded. I can understand why they are critical of it. But what I don’t think they understand yet is that sometimes, you just have to take a break from listening to the point of view of people who are more powerful than you. That’s especially true of the people who are more powerful than you have dominated the conversation on a particular topic for, well, ever.
As a straight, cis*** woman, I’ve never had to say, “I only want to learn about Christianity from queer Christians.” You know what I have done, though? I have said, “Enough! I don’t want to hear from white male theologians anymore!”
Right now, I am considering swearing off white, male theologians for a time. (Let’s call them WMTs from now on.) I realize how much this one group–this one powerful group that has never really been asked to examine how their identity affects their beliefs.
Like the rest of us, WMTs tend to approach Scripture to discern the truth. They view it as the truth because they studied and found it. Rarely do they say, “This is the truth as I perceive it as a white male.” When women theologians study scripture, it’s called feminist theology or a woman’s approach to the Bible. When LGBT theologians study scripture, it’s queer theology. When African American theologians study scripture, it’s liberation theology.
But when white, male theologians study scripture, it’s just called theology.
Why do they get the “regular” theology, and the rest of us just get offshoots? It makes it seem like other perspectives are the subsets of “normal” theology. It positions non-WMTs as challenging or undermining the truthfulness of regular theology, when in reality we are contributing to a greater understanding of scripture.
It’s wrong to believe that women, scholars of color, and non-straight/non-gender binary individuals are all looking at scripture through their lenses of identity, but that white, male theologians don’t have any special lenses to look through. We are all approaching scripture via the identities we carry.
Now, I am not powerless. I have privileges because of certain groups I’m a member of. I have straight privilege, white privilege, socio-economic privilege, etc. Every one of those things influences the way I view the Bible, even if I don’t recognize it. More WMTs need to recognize that they do not have a monopoly on truth, and that the voices of non-white, non-male theologians are not fringe voices. We are not offering supplemental interpretations. We are not special interest groups.
For a while I’ve been trying to integrate more diverse voices into my spiritual reading and study, but now I realize I need to take it a step farther. Thanks to the clarity from that tweet, I realize that what I need to do is take a break from the voices that have defined my spirituality in the past. Even though plenty of WMTs have great things to say, I need to take a break from listening to them. I need to listen to women, to queer writers, to scholars of color, and I need to stop listening to the white men who have defined so many aspects of my faith. It’s not because they’re saying bad things: it’s because they speak so loudly. In order to listen to the quieter voices that don’t get amplified by our culture, I need to turn down the loud voices of white, male theologians.
I’m going to be skipping over the WMT posts in my readers. I’m going to put books by WMTs back on my shelves and avoid picking them up for a while. I’m going to try not to click on article written by WMTs, or listen to podcasts by WMTs (sorry, Bad Christian–I’ll get back to you later). I’ll keep going to church even though I have a white, male pastor, but hey, Matt: I’m going to be ultra critical of everything you say for a while. I’m sure you understand. I’m also going to be looking up and spending time with any non-WMTs that you mention in sermons, so I hope there are a lot of them.
I hope that this experiment allows me to stop viewing non-white, male theology as fringe or supplemental, and rather as essential.
*Note: I used to read and enjoy a blog that was hosted at www.badchristian.com, and I had hoped that the same person was behind this new iteration of the name. However, I don't believe that is the case, which is a shame, because I would love to read that writer's voice again.
**"Affirming" is a word typically used to refer to a Christian who believes that all sexual orientations are a gift from God, that sexual orientation should not be a factor in one's ability to serve in church leadership, and that same-sex marriages are equally as blessed as traditional marriages
***Cis means not transgender.