Leaving Evangelical spaces does not mean you’re leaving whiteness

Too often we get our minds set for objection when we hear something like “whiteness.” We get arguments ready, like, “I can’t help being born white.” We don’t stop to think through terms and so we choose to be offended and cut off everything that follows.

Which is why I put “whiteness” in the title.

If people quit reading at that point, fine. Or, they may jump on my social media and begin arguing without understand the term “whiteness.” Such is life.

In a previous post I pointed out some podcasts regarding black Christians leaving white evangelical spaces. Those are podcasts worth your time. We need to HEAR our brothers and sisters in Christ.

This post by David Swanson addresses other issues regarding whites leaving the evangelical space. This highlights what I say most of the time: White people problems.

For years, there has been a vocal leaving of evangelical churches by mostly younger white people and the question becomes, “Where did they go?” That’s where get get the rise of the nones. They don’t go other church spaces. They walk away. A lot. Another term is “exvangelical.” Sometimes, they leave for more liberal … white spaces.

Swanson says this:

“But I’m interested in a significant difference between what The Witness is doing and the trends Du Mez observes. The white people leaving white evangelicalism often find themselves with no idea about where they are going. Theirs is an exodus into a void. Whiteness, including its Christian forms, acts as a totalizng lens through which the world is seen and, importantly, erased.

One way to observe how this crisis plays out is to watch the decisions left to the departing white Christian. Sometimes they walk away from their faith entirely, not even attempting to replace their previous experience. But other times they move to a different Christian tradition or find their home with others who are deconstructing where they’ve been. What remains the same with each of these choices is the pervasive frame of whiteness. Rarely, if ever, have I heard a white Christian on this exodus who chooses to worship with, for example, a nearby Black congregation. A problematic expression of Christianity has been upended for these white women and men but they’ve left the foundation of whiteness undisturbed.”

For black brothers and sisters leaving white evangelical spaces, many are going back to black churches or other Christian spaces… and they are working through that space being intentionally not white.

Our issues, as white Christians, is we may leave an evangelical space, but we are not leaving our whiteness.

White people problems.

And this is the challenge I have faced. I have left explicitly white evangelical spaces and have found home in a more liturgical space, but the challenge has not gone away for me. (And this is where I agree/disagree with Swanson. He writes as if no white person is processing this, when we are. It’s just there aren’t a lot of us verbalizing it.)

I find myself in a liturgical space… in a predominately white denomination… in a very white congregation. And I am acutely aware of it.

So… why?

For me, it’s a space where I am learning. I have come to find a path of formation in the liturgical church I have needed and I want to learn in that space. It is an ancient path, not a “white” path.

I also have come to a place where the congregation we attend is intentional in pushing us, as whites, to consider “the other.” We have leadership that has Asian American representation. This week has been a challenge because we hurt with our leaders as a result of this murder rampage in Atlanta. This has helped me deal with my “whiteness.”

Our congregation works hard to build relationships with other churches NOT like us, so I make sure I visit African American churches on a regular basis and I work to forge relationships with those brothers and sisters.

I also challenge myself to read wider. I have taken up the writings of Howard Thurman, James Cone, Jemar Tisby, Lisa Sharon Harper, Marlena Graves, Dennis Edwards, and more because I need those voices in my life. These are folks who love(d) Jesus deeply and expressed their faith in ways I have not known because of their experiences. I have found this to be a priceless education.

While I don’t have this working perfectly in my life, my point is that in leaving an evangelical space for me, I know I was dealing with my whiteness tendencies. I wasn’t going to “leave the faith” altogether. I was going to cling to Christ and figure out where to land and how to live outside a space I’ve known all my life.

I haven’t left the evangelical space mad at God or desiring to leave orthodox theology. I have left the evangelical space because we were refusing to deal with our spiritual blindness and over time I became all too aware there was an attitude that basically said, “What problem?”

Again, I don’t have this “down.” I still deal with the cultural whiteness in my own life and in spaces around me. But I have done so knowing I have to keep dealing with my attitudes and perceptions. I deal with it in a context that keeps me anchored to Christ and in a space where I know the Spirit is speaking.

As white believers, I would encourage us not just to leave evangelical spaces. I would ask us to cling to Christ as we ask, “What’s next?”

It IS possible.

white wooden door beside concrete wall
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

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