Rocking the White Citadel
Book review of "The Next Evangelicalism" by Soong-Chan Rah.

My life and worldview will never be the same after living seven years in Uganda. My wife and children, our mission team members, and I all made friends with and learned from people who were struggling out of poverty but still lived full of joy and hope.

Unfortunately, few Western Christians have the opportunity to learn from believers in other cultures. As a result, we impose our own perspective on Christians worldwide.

In The Next Evangelicalism, professor and pastor Soong-Chan Rah says the evangelical church has been held captive to Western-white power and must be released in the same way the early Christian church was released from Jewish ethnic control. Nearly 95 percent of Christian churches in America have more than 80 percent of one particular ethnic group. Most evangelical churches are white monoliths.

"Racism," he says, "is America's original sin." Our culture and economy were built on the backs of Native Americans and black slaves. But American individualism and consumerism keep Christians from understanding and confessing corporate sin.

According to Rah, today's "slavery issue" is immigration.

Rah says church leaders maintain a "conspicuous silence" on the issue of immigration. Though some view immigration as a huge problem, Rah interprets law changes as far back as 1965 as catalysts for making immigrants the next hope for evangelical churches.

But the road to change is long and full of pitfalls, and the cards are stacked against non-whites. A 2005 Time story featuring 25 influential evangelicals included only two non-whites. Rah tells stories of churches resisting ethnic change in their communities, but has hope for a few shining examples of churches learning from and embodying ethnic change in their neighborhoods. He says the "colorblind American" approach is superficial and serves only to cover over and hide racial hatred.

Korean-born and raised in a Korean immigrant community, Rah is critical of the modern church growth movement and repudiates the homogenous unit principle, saying God never intended church leaders to target a particular race of people. Rah claims that race itself was never used in the Bible but "nations" is the preferred category, that slave trading states created the concept of race to perpetuate manifest destiny.

The author also finds the term "emergent church" offensive, saying "the real emerging church is the church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America," which now makes up 60 percent of the world's Christian population. He says these immigrant communities form a social network that cannot be extricated from their religious practices. The community helps people find jobs and homes, and white Americans can learn much from immigrant communities.

September 04, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments


September 11, 2009  12:29pm

"The next evangelicalism...would embrace a theology of suffering as well as celebration..." The immigration issue would build border walls that would transform USA into a virtual prison. People would suffer, but would celebrate as well. "It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through human hearts. So bless you, prison, for having been in my life." - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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September 10, 2009  3:10pm

sheerahkahn's post is right on. cultures are racist, and people get poisoned by them and their own insecurities and sinfulness. Try seeing the good in people and other races. And the problems with yourself. Amazing the difference it makes.

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September 08, 2009  11:12am

What the… Here I am, scanning for new topics and find this thread still going on. Racism isn't limited to just whites in the US anymore. Racism is wildly rampant, and here is the gist of it all…everyone, regardless of race has an axe to grind…some of the issues are legit, some are stupid beyond belief, and some are just plain ignorance…as my old boss from long ago once told me, "if anyone ever says they ain't racist…they're just lying to you, and to themselves. Hell, even I'm racist." She was black, and the incredible thing is she was completely and totally honest with me which I appreciated. She didn't like me because she thought I was another crazy-@ss white boy (she was right about the crazy part)…but that was okay, because she was honest with me. We had a great relationship because she taught me the secret of how to get along with people of differing races which I will share with you… If you want to break the racist cycle here is what I recommend. Take your under-informed opinions and throw them in the trash. They're useless and will only make things worse. Go out to the outside world, and get to know people and their cultures. Doesn't matter which one, pick one if you have a lot around you…just pick one. Eat their food, listen to them talk, and you'll find something incredible…you'll find that regardless of race, sex, or education people want respect. Show respect to them as a living, breathing, reflection of our living G-d and you will be amazed at how quickly things change around you. Now the other person may not know how to express their appreciation for the respect being shown to them, hell, they probably don't even know how to respond to kindness except to suspect a quid pro quo that they think you're setting them up for, but just show respect and a little kindness to everyone. And then…pick another culture to learn about and repeat the steps above. And here is something that'll totally surprise everyone you meet…and this is the secret I learned…treat everyone like they are your better…it's amazing how unthreatening that position is…and how willing the other party is to trust you. It's called…humbling yourself. There you go…no costs except for your ego and pride, and no book, so it's all free of charge. Now go, and do as Y'shua would do.

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Prophetik Soul

September 08, 2009  7:47am

Tim, there is a difference between acknowledging white privilege and complaining about it. I have enough friends of all stripes to discuss this issue, whether we agree or not. In my experience, what I find most telling about the issues that Rah addresses is that there is hardly any meaningful conversation across the aisle. I have my own prejudices which is why I reach across the aisle especially being in a multiethnic church. That has been a huge benefit to me but it comes with a cost that many of us Christians dont want to experience. Jesus addressed the issue of privilege in the Bible at the micro and macro level and reached out to the oppressed so much so that his rep was questioned. That was Jesus' example.

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September 08, 2009  1:16am

Prophetik Soul You must be spending a lot of time in or looking at Christian institutional structures. This is where the hierarchy, the privilege, and the pecking order are refined and justified as "godly". "Doesn't the Bible talk about "OVERseers" and "obey those that have the RULE OVER you." These are twisted proof texts that must be interpreted in light of Jesus own words: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, What you are concerned about is not just white pedestalized over black. It is also black over black, just as slavery continues in Africa black on black and there is no uprising among blacks here to stop it. Arm yourself with the Word and prophesy against this false tradition in your current fellowship. When they reject you, shake the dust off your feet, leave Ur, and follow Jesus in faith into church life with no institutional power structure, no pooling of money for us, and no perpetual dependency of any leader. Jesus will connect you in His time. When I did this, the first believer God connected me to was a black brother with cerebral palsy confined to a wheel chair who needed my help going to the bath room. God taught me more through this brother than any Dr., Pastor, Founder, Author, etc. If your faith is not ready for this, then you will reject it and continue on a treadmill complaining about privilege.

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Lorissa Medrano

September 07, 2009  9:10pm

I am deeply saddened by the type and tone of the responses to this article. May God's power continue to be at work healing the racial issues we struggle with in His church.

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Fr. Paul

September 07, 2009  6:47pm

My new parish is 80% Hispanic. More than 10,000 people. We have to rent the fairgrounds for big feast days. Best days of my life were living in Mexico. And I now have a much better understanding of their culture when they come to the USA. The racism is present, no doubt. I don't preach against, I don't preach for. I preach for understanding and mutual respect, that we are all children of God.

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September 07, 2009  3:08pm

many of the more irate reactions to this book's proposals only serve to prove its point.

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Prophetik Soul

September 07, 2009  2:23pm

Question for all of you: As the author stated, have you ever placed yourself in a position to learn from and/or be accountable to Christians of color who possibly come from historically marginalized groups? Some of you take issue with his idea of racism. I agree that American slavery did not create racism BUT this country still struggles with the idea of white privilege. Forgiveness should be extended from those of us that are people of color. But the recognition of the privileged place white people still have in our society seems to be ignored by many Christians who are white. I am not surprised that people think Rah's book is overblown. That seems to be the typical reaction to racism and privilege from the majority. Do any of you know people of color that you have had consistent meaningful conversations about this subject? I have some white friends who have and they are few and far between.

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September 07, 2009  12:42am

"But American individualism and consumerism keep Christians from understanding and confessing corporate sin." I think it is more institutionalism and consumerism. It is the institutionalized form of faith that demands believers devote 75 - 85% of their giving to buy staffing and crowd gathering comfort facilities for themselves. It is now more important for brother Joe and sister Sally to hear a hired Bible lecture every week of their lives than for those who have never heard and have no one within 2 days journey to tell them even once. Perpetual dependency on hired experts sucks up more "giving" than any other institutionalized church "thing". Crowd oriented gatherings (50+) are almost always very style and performance focused. It trains the saints to only be able to "worship" if the style is just right for their tastes. God designed believers gatherings to be relationship focused. The kind of relationship that is eager to ignore style in order to connect at the heart level. There are probably 25 different styles for blacks and 40 different styles for whites. Each must have their own building and staff. Emerging churches are just another style offering nothing different of any substance. Having grown up as an MK, I've watched Americans export our very expensive institutionalized system to very poor countries. What a tragedy! They think hired staff and special buildings are inspired by God, just like Catholics think their pope is God's design. I also believe the institutionalized "pooling of money to buy stuff for ourselves" instead of actually giving beyond the givers is why American believers seem to be locked into giving on average up to only 2.3%. Why would the H.S. bother to convict saints to give any more than that when it's just going to buy more staff and buildings for themselves.

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