Some thoughts on Fitch's post about Missional Whiteness

I really appreciate Prof. Fitch and his contribution to American Christian dialogue.  A great big “thank you!” for all he’s said and done seems in order at the outset;  I am a long time admirer.   The Great Give Away was a book that voiced things I had only felt shadows of, and I recommend it as often as possible.  I also genuinely appreciate his post “The Missional Movement is Mostly White and What We Should Do About it.”  Again, Prof. Fitch has voiced important dynamics and convictions that my WASP-ish self  thinks are great. So this is the spirit of my reflections; some analysis couched in appreciation.

The primary problem I believe with the “missional” movement in engaging cross culturally is that it reenacts the identity violence Carter lays out in Race: A Theological Account.  That is to say, that inherent in the missional movement is an aspiration to be a thing.  In reifying its identity instead of receiving it, the field of possible cross cultural action is already limited.  I suppose this is a fancy way of saying that the missional movement is a white thing, made by white people in the womb of white churches, and as much as it seeks to establish its own identity as a movement, it cannot, by design, meet people of color.  The effort to be a movement may actually inhibit things.

As Fitch's article (correctly, I take it) wonders about the 2 different narratives, I find myself wondering if he has bumped up against the limits of the white container that holds the missional movement's identity.   My concern is that the movement is a power now, a force in the church marketplace, albeit small, and in the process of asserting an identity a philosophical violence of identity happens that reinforces the walls of hostility. "Why aren't there more people of color here?"  Because you are not where  people of color are, perhaps.

And to be honest, "missional movement" just sounds like saying "Hey, we're not evangelicals or fundamentalists so what's left?"  I think the two narratives Fitch describes speaks to this, but instead of a call to repristinate the historical narratives of Christ's work in our denominations, the missional movement is an allegiance to an ideological abstraction born from evangelicalism that from the outset did not include people of color.  The generality of the movement seems awfully evangelical in its means of propagation, and if it does not emphasize the particulars of denominations or cities its churches are located in, the missional movement might  betray its own call to local engagement by its abstraction of the race problem at times like these.

"Why aren't people of color coming to our conferences?"
Because you got no friends in town to invite?
Or you are inviting to a generalized theological position that doesn't reach anyone...
"Wait.  Who are you again?"

Now, there are 1000’s of more practical reasons why cross cultural engagement is hard for white  missional churches.  Practical problems.  Real interpersonal problems; structural problems.  But while there is talk about inviting minority voices to the table at conferences, in discussions, etc., there doesn’t seem to be an impetus to go and learn from those voices in a way that displaces our white claims on identity.  A faithful missional ethic might involve abandoning a missional identity, abandoning the invitation for people of color to participate in this missional identity and instead challenge white folks to leave white churches and go submit to someone else’s agenda.  Can one be missional and give up ideals of what church should be like?  I think we have to if we have any hope of real reconciliation and justice.  

I suppose this may read like the nuclear option; dismantling missional as an operational category, but that is not my intent.  I just think that as attractive as the missional movement is to me, I am also aware that there are conferences, publishing contracts and seminaries involved.  These things are reasons to not abandon one’s self fully to the other, ideological constructs we can be more committed to instead of the people in our cities.  I am naïve enough to believe that if we give ourselves to caring for our cities and towns and states we will inevitably be brought into relationships with different folks and have to work through things together.  That is where the voices will be shared, diverse and univocal; not at a conference missional folks want to put on and ask black people to. (Where are the A.A. and Latino voices, among others?)   Go to someone else's church.  Read someone else's books.  I also agree that some rudimentary conversation must always take place for any community to happen.  What I am wary of is always being the inviter, not the attendee.

It might just be that it is precisely here, on matters of race, that the missional movement must die to itself and hope for something on the other side. Carter has forced me to rethink things, and this is another exercise to try and think anew about the politics of Christian identity, so forgive my clunky writing.  I am also grateful to Prof. Fitch, too for publicly displaying his whiteness in a way I hope more white men will see as a struggle for Godly freedom and responsibility in Jesus.  It's a good discussion, thanks.

*edited 8/5/13 for grammar and readability.


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