Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
March 16th, 2015 by Joel Watts

The racist undertone in #UMC progressivism

umc logoI am always apprehensive when I see plans calling for the jurisdictions in the United States to unshackle themselves from Africa and other areas of the world so that we can actually vote on inclusion without the more historically conservative voices outweighing the progressive voices.

These plans are largely, if not totally, from the progressive wing of the United Methodist Church. As I have said in the past, these voices are often white, male, and heavily American-centric. I find it odd that many have no issue forcing progressive values upon other people but find it oppressive when, say, African Christian values meander their way through General Conference.

I can’t imagine a time when I will be proven wrong on those, especially when you have the  likes of Roger Wolsey, a UMC pastor who thinks of himself as something of a progressive leader.

This past week, Roger posted this:

Notice what Roger said. First, he suggests that many if not most of the Community of Christ are “citizens of Africa.” Second, I guess he thinks that since Africans trusted the non-Africans (i.e., Americans), then they were somehow able to get it “right.” Then, he alludes to something else…

He believes the CoC changed because the white members of that denomination educated the Africans enough.

To note, only 25,000 of the 250,000 are “citizens of Africa.”

This is colonialism and this is racism and this is not the first time we have seen Roger demonstrate his white privilege. This mindset is prevalent in progress circles, is an ongoing concern, and has been noted by several POC progressive thinkers (much to the chagrin of white progressives). Maybe people like Roger don’t recognize how offensive their mindset it.

Oh, and racism is a chargeable offense in the UMC.

Update: Some people deny that liberals/progressives can be racists. Science — actual, honest to God science, proves otherwise

Update: 13 May 16, from the Progressive Methodist Forum:

racitsprogressive

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

9 Responses to “The racist undertone in #UMC progressivism”
  1. Hi Joel,

    I do not know enough about Wolsey and his thinking to know whether or not you are being fair to him, but a person I know and very much trust, who I will not name, has told me of his experience listening to some of our American UM bishops speak of our African bishops in very disparaging and patronizing terms– progressive colonialism at its finest.

  2. Could we all please try to carry on without being so quick to call each other racists, colonialists, homophobes or whatever click-baitish insult strikes our fancy? Maybe there is a time for calling out something egregious, but it seems to me that this post by Roger Wolsey is not that time. And we should be fair to consider the overall tenor of his writing and ministry which provides ample evidence to the contrary.

    So I’m a bit mystified by this post, Joel. I only know you and Roger from your blogs and some social media interactions. I appreciate that you are both supportive of a more LBGTQ inclusive church even while noting that you each have strongly held theological convictions to my right and to my left. You are both caring Christians who write very well and at times refreshingly iconocastically while still aiming to teach others. So you differ in some strongly held theological convictions, but you’re both good men, and neither are racist.

    Next if we can avoid individual name-calling, could we also please not over generalize about broad groups? In particular, if we see read something we don’t like about one person, let’s not then condemn a broad group we associate that individual with.

    I’d agree we as a society have a racism problem and it touches most priviledged groups to varying degrees. Id say no white American is immune and indeed some underlying tribalism affects all humans. But to single out progressives as a group as being particularly racist is simlpy very far off base.

    • Dave, I actually do think Roger is racist/colonialist. I those who hand out “swag” to the African delegation (from the Right) are the same way. And, as I have pointed out — wait, not I, but a host of others, namely progressives — there is a huge racist undertone in progressive movements. It is shocking and deserves more attention exactly because it is coming from progressives.

      If I was calling out conservatives for their racism, I would be called a prophet. Rather, because I am calling out what are usually my own (on inclusion), I am called a host of other names.

      • Well, we are entitled to our differing perspectives about Roger as an individual.

        I hope you see that in my comment, I was not calling you “a host of other names.” [I didn’t feel that was directed at me, Joel, but I just want to be crystal clear here]. Other than disagreeing about Roger and the extrapolation to whole of progressive movement, my post was complimentary of you personally and your body of work. I appreciate that we agree on inclusion.

        And, in that vein, I accept that you have extra room and indeed obligation to call out those with whom you feel kindred (on inclusion). And indeed racism and privilege infects progressism, middle ground institutionalism, middle ground generous orthdoxy, and the conservative wing as well. I just wish you’d do that with more explicit balance at the same time.

        Please understand that I was reacting negatively to (1) calling out progressives as especially racist because I see that wing has done more and continues to do more to combat racism than others and (2) the extrapolation from one individual to a whole movement. It’s worth noting that the some-called progressive coalition at General Conference includes many ethnic caucus groups along side RMN, MFSA and others (http://gc12.org/about/coalition/). To focus on RMN (given same sex marriage was root of the original post), their staff and board are very much racially and globally diverse.

        Doesn’t mean that progressives didn’t need to hear James Cone’s message, but give them credit for being the ones to invite him:
        http://gc12.org/blog/james-cone-the-cross-the-lynching-tree/

        Moving on from white America’s (and humanity’s) inherent racism and all of our need to check our privilege and work towards justice… I have to say that the colonialism critique is misplaced. Colonialism is a system of economic and military/political hegemony which is not applicable here. Also colonialism involves one national government controlling a separate foreign territory typically without much (or without any!) say-so given to the residents of that territory. There is a long and fraught history of it of colonialism which only adds overcharged emotionalism to your critique. I guess you can call it cultural or religious hegemony if you want to describe the influence of the idea and/or the proponents of the idea. Calling it “cultural hegemony” is bad enough. But it’s not colonialism. [BTW, I hear both progressives and conservatives misuse the word “colonialism” with some frequency. I wish both wings would be more precise in their language.]

        In my opinion, it is neither racist or colonialist to suggest that UMC global connectionalsim might be better served by having some decisions made at a more regional (or national) or annual conference level. Our denominational troubles over same sex marriage are made much worse by trying to have one church rule apply worldwide.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      I would be interested to know what it is you feel is the intent then of trying to separate the American (largely Caucasian) UMC from the rest of the world, particularly Africa and Asia (largely not Caucasian). It seems, on the surface at the very least, to have a racial undertone, and if not a racial undertone, then it surely seems to not be as socially inclusive and that is supposed to be one of the broad points of progressive Christianity isn’t it?

  3. If only it were so simple. Having been raised in the Deep South, where the confederate flag still flies on the state house grounds, it took me leaving that place to realize how deep and unconscious my racism was. I am racist, and a la Paul, I am the worst of sinners. If only we could move from worshipping jesus and paul to doing what they did. So I spend time with people who are different than me and it’s uncomfortable. Often fear inducing. Interestingly, the fear only comes towards American blacks (and homeless and many other unconscious stereotypes). I have never experienced any such fear from African refugees and immigrants. Racism is not simple. If I (or anyone) cannot acknowledge my racism, it only reveals that I am an ignorant racist.
    And relationships are about change. We change for our parents, our spouse and our friends. In an equinimous relationship, Africans will change (leaving behind the violent, guttural reaction towards gays they learned from non-Methodist evangelical colonialists) and we will change (perhaps by becoming less american-centric and less consumeristic).

  4. Joe Stallings says

    In the advocacy for this “jurisdictional unshackling” of American Methodism, is there not also an imperialistic undertone that progressivism is the position most closely aligned with God?

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