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Postmodernism and Being White

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : September 13, 2004

My friend Jeff Gauss recently wrote this on his blog:

Isn’t it strange that a worldview that values diversity, tolerance, and relativism would be so short on voices from different cultures?
Is this a form of white power and/or racism and are we in danger of segregating ourselves even more from those we say we value?

I think people in the emergent conversation value the IDEA of diversity more than valuing diversity. I know this is a generalization, and that there are exceptions, but the evidence points to this reality. If I truly value diversity, I will feel uncomfortable in homogeneous environments. I will cultivate and seek out friendships with those different that I am. I will view those who aren’t from my culture more like people to learn from and enter into relationship with–instead of looking at them like they’re projects.

Too many emergent churches have “social justice” or “diversity” as one of their values. Do they assume that if they make it known that they value such things, that people of color will be grateful and show up? Is their value wishful thinking…a statement of intent that they desire to come true? In a way it is wishful thinking that causes Missio Dei to have this in its vision statement:

Missio Dei is eclectic. We are eclectic in that we are a gathering of people who are diverse in their backgrounds. We believe that God is pleased when his Church doesn’t let differences divide us. Instead, we are committed to tackling issues of racism, classism, injustice, and division within the body of Christ.

In all honesty, Missio Dei is still predominantly white. And most of us are in our 20s. There are exceptions. But odds are that when we have our official launch in October, and we invite the neighborhood to visit us, that mostly whites will be attracted to us. We have white leadership, and our sense of style reflects that. If we want to counteract this whitening effect, we need to incorperate diverse styles into our teaching, preaching, and music. If we desire diversity, we have to make friends with different kinds of people and invite them into our community. If we value diversity, we have to humble ourselves before others, and not be a colonial church–a church where the whites in the congregation secretly believe that THEY are more enlightened and that minorities should adopt our sense of style, values, and philosophies.

So, overall, I think the postmodern movement is pretty much a white thing. Postmodernism and the emergent church are in a rut where they look at diversity as a good idea, but not as something that should cause them to reorder their lives.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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