By Roydon Frost.
Evaluating any culture is a hard thing. Evaluating your own culture fairly, is harder. Evaluating white culture, in South Africa, in 2018, as a white man – harder still. To keep the exercise from the inevitable oversteer into self-justification or self-loathing, we need some objective boundaries. We need biblical truth.
These milestones in the story of salvation give us a helpful framework. First, God created man and gave him the cultural mandate (Gen 1.28; 2.19-20). Every culture is born of that divine decree. Second, we wanted more than the glorious freedom given us; we wanted culture for ourselves, and that poisoned culture permanently (Gen 3). Every culture suffers the effects of human rebellion. Third, in Christ our representative, all of human civilization was judged and crucified, and then offered the opportunity of resurrection. Every culture is worthy of destruction but offered redemption in Christ. Fourth, because of Christ’s saving work, there will be culture in glory. Representatives of every culture will stand in the presence of God for eternity.
With those parameters in mind, what does the Gospel say to whiteness? Let me speak to the sub-culture of which I am a part: affluent, English, suburban, Herbert Baker whiteness. This is a culture heavily influenced by the western postmodern worldview. I can think of at least three aspects of my culture to which the Gospel has much to say:
The first thing the Gospel says to whites of my hue about culture is that we have one. That comes as a major shock. We have “enjoyed” cultural hegemony for so long we have started to believe our own PR. There is the right way (the white way) and then there are other “cultural ways”. You will often hear whites labelling something we find awkward as “a cultural thing”, by which we mean it’s not the white way of doing it. And that’s the polite liberal version. The Gospel says no. There are four large boundary stones that level the ground beneath all cultures. I’ve listed them above: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glory. Any white supremacy narrative is a human fiction. God just doesn’t see it that way, and therefore it isn’t that way.
Every (white) man is an island.
The irreducible atom of white western culture is the self. Everything is built on the self, into the self, around the self. Define yourself, become yourself, be yourself. Look inside yourself. Express yourself. Of course, this is the basic sinful disposition of every human being, but whiteness has given it a cultural expression, perhaps like no other. The Gospel says no. You only ever truly become yourself when you lose yourself for God and others. Jesus is the true human being.
Eat and drink…for tomorrow you die.
The cultural worship of the self has some nasty presuppositions and some nasty side effects. It follows from an open rejection of God. When you throw God out, all you have is this brief material existence, and so you better make merry. The “death of God” reduces human beings to consumers. We are what we eat. Get all you can; can what you get; sit on your can. Live for the weekend. That’s the basic mantra. Sure white people, like all people, do some good. But if God is not in the picture there’s a problem: the do-good is for the feel-good. Its philanthropic consumption. It’s Panado for white guilt. The Gospel says no. God is present. God is ultimate reality. And so you can’t eat your way to paradise on earth. You can’t get there on a mountain bike, or a golf cart, or through a Rotary membership. You can’t give enough back to deal with white guilt – only Jesus could. If you are in Christ you are not a consumer – you are steward and a servant. And if you are a white affluent South African, then you have much to steward, and most of what you have is off the back of ill-gotten gain. What Gospel freedom there lies waiting for us in stewarding those resources in the service of others and for the glory of God. And so, my pale-faced peers (of whom I am the worst), when the kitchen next comes up for renovation, why not put someone through school instead? And let’s not do it for the feel-good. Let’s do it for Jesus, and for our neighbour.
Hope is a hill outside the city.
The danger of course is despair – despair driving us into the false hopes of emigration, assimilation or flagellation. Do we pack for Perth, stay and try to be black (…Indian – anything but white), or just wallow in the strange stew of guilt and self-pity. None of those options pay sufficient homage to our boundary stones. Hope is not to be found in another culture (Perth or Pedi), which itself is corrupted by sin. Hope is not to be found in guilt – that is the denial of hope. The Gospel says no. The cross of Christ reminds us that whiteness, in all its dirty shades of grey, has already been judged and crucified. Now we are offered the opportunity of rebirth. What would happen if we allowed God to harness all that we are and all that we have for His glory and the sake of our society? What would whiteness look like if it was Christian first, and white a distant, almost-forgotten second? What would white culture become if we truly surrendered to the King and loved our neighbour? He is our only hope, a glorious hope, a hope worth living out.
There is so much more the Gospel says to white culture, but this blog has to come to an end. The conversation, the confession, the repentance, and the active hope of restoration, do not.