08 Mar 2022: Rediscipling the White Church–a book review
Rediscipling the White Church:
From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity
Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, 200 pages, $16.00
Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program (Acting)
Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio
Many people think the abuse of power happens only between individuals. But systems can also be abusive…. Even when acts of abuse are perpetrated solely by an organization’s leader, his or her behaviors tend to be perpetuated by a systematic organizational response with the goal of preserving the system in reaction to a perceived threat.
One needs only scan the news headlines of the day to note that conversations regarding racism, white fragility, diversity, allyship, and the like are frequent and often heated. In a polarized cultural moment, we struggle to find points of agreement and approaches that are accessible. Some respond by offering book lists that promise to educate while others develop events designed to create engagement between groups that differ. Many congregations struggle to find approaches that fit within their resources and become overwhelmed.
Some have turned to book studies, reading selections such as The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, White Rage by Carol Anderson, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David Swanson enters the conversation and offers a resource for White Christians by critiquing the practice of White discipleship and offering practical responses for the White Church.
David W. Swanson is a ministry practitioner, serving as the founding pastor of New Community Covenant Church that is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church. It is located in a community on the south side of Chicago where Swanson is also the CEO of New Community Outreach, a non-profit organization “working to reduce causes of trauma and raise opportunities for equity in Chicago.” Swanson holds an MA in Educational Ministries from Wheaton College.
Swanson wrote Rediscipling the White Church in response to “…white Christians across America [who] are waking up to the fact that something is seriously wrong—but often this is where we get stuck. The prospect of addressing racial blind spots and assumptions can seem impossible…” He addresses the White Church directly, offering an alternative to the narrative that suggest that the segregation of the Church is an issue to be resolved by seeking diversity. Rather, he posits that “Before white churches pursue racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity as the solution to our segregation, we must first address the discipleship that let to our segregation in the first place.”
Rediscipling the White Church is structured in two parts, “From Cheap Diversity” and “To True Solidarity.” In the section on “Cheap Diversity” Swanson suggests that to engage “solidarity with the diverse body of Christ’ the White Church must first have ‘reckoned with the extent of our segregation” through an honest engagement with the ways in which the White Church is “Discipled by Race.” Here Swanson describes the impact of individualism on the White Church and its practice of discipleship. Swanson suggests “a Christian disciple [in one who] follows Jesus to become like him and to do what he does.” He notes, however, that this is not a work of individualism but rather a work of community ‘oriented toward the Kingdom of God.” It is this Kingdom orientation, Swanson argues, that is often absent from the discipleship of the White Church. It is in this Kingdom orientation that the White Church must address its lack of care and engagement with BIPOC Christians. To be true disciples we must enter into solidarity with all members of the Kingdom.
Swanson continues the section “From Cheap Diversity” by considering how the genuine experiences of BIPOC members of predominantly White Churches are “Concealed by Race.” Well-meaning White Christians consider that welcoming BIPOC members immediately rectifies past centuries of segregation. Too often, “The underlying factors related to our segregation remain unaddressed.” White Christians labor under the assumption that through relationalism we have addressed the needed change. The sheer ubiquity of white voices in these settings can, despite good intentions, silence or conceal the voice of BIPOC members. In the absence of empowering BIPOC voices the underlying structures remain unchanged.
Swanson ends the section on “Cheap Diversity” noting the depths to which BIPOC Christians have been ‘Wounded by Race,” through the actions and words of their White brothers and sisters. We cannot move to “True Solidarity” until “we confess our collusion with injustice and complicity with segregation” and “…remember that the systems and structures that have discipled our racial imagination have damaged the lives and communities of our sisters and brothers in Christ.”
The second section of Swanson’s writing takes up the majority of the text and focuses on practices by which the White Church can move “From Cheap Diversity” to “True Solidarity.” This second section contains recommendations for practicing “Table Fellowship,” “Kingdom Preaching,” “Subversive Liturgies,” “Children’s Ministry of Reconciliation,” “Presence,” “Salvation from Superiority” and “Uncommon Fellowship.” Swanson notes “…we come to these practices anticipating the Holy Spirt to breath new life into our lungs, new visions into our imaginations. We are also elevating practices because they hold the possibility of resisting white Christianity’s inadequate tools—individualism, relationalism and antistructuralism—which have previously failed to meaningfully address our segregation.”
Swanson’s contribution to the Church’s conversation on race relations provides practical actions for the White Church while recognizing the systemic issues underlying the current segregated state of the Church. His call to redisciple the White Church away from conformity with a racialized society and towards the kingdom of reconciliation provides a path forward for White Churches seeking a path when the ‘depth and breadth of radicalized discipleship” becomes overwhelming.
Swanson reminds us “the kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like yeast: just a little is needed to work its way all through the dough.” Rediscipling The White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity seeks to encourage the growth of this yeast within the White Church. The addition of this text to D. Min reading lists might well encourage the spread of this kingdom yeast.