JCFJ Webinar: God is Not White

Poster for God is Not White

Next Thursday, November 25th, at 12:30pm Dublin time, JCFJ is proud to host Dr Taido Chino for a conversation about racism and Christianity. Dr Chino, who teaches at Augustana College in Illinois, will explore not just the problem of racism, but the ways in which our spiritual convictions can help us to make a meaningful contribution on this critical cultural issue.

Attendance is free and you can register here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the event. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] if you have any questions.

We took the opportunity to talk to Taido some more ahead of this event, by asking first:

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an American theologian currently teaching at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Prior to coming here, I have lived in a number of places in (and out of) the United States, but most of my life has been spent in central Arkansas, where I was a pastor at a non-denominational church for a number of years. The legacy of racial strife in the Deep South is well-known, and I was regularly confronted with the unique challenges of engaging in ministry with a community marked by generations of racial animosity and segregation. Nevertheless, we had a fruitful season of ministry there, and the church was slowly able to overcome the divisions which tend to characterize the American church.

About a decade ago, I discerned that my vocation was increasingly shifting towards theological education with students of various kinds. In preparation for that work, I undertook doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen to reflect on the nature of scripture and its role in the church. My time there was immensely rewarding and it led to post-doctoral work in Tübingen, Germany, and then to my current teaching position here.

I’m married to Alison, my better in every respect, and we have four children.

The webinar is called “God is not white”. Where did the idea of the blonde-haired blue-eyed Jesus come from? 

How Christians came to understand God as a “white” man is a long and complicated story and, in truth, it isn’t one that I fully comprehend. A relatively well-trod path is to trace the artistic depictions of Jesus throughout history and to observe that around the time of the Renaissance, Jesus is being portrayed as white. Whether the art is a reflection of the church’s beliefs or came to shape the church’s belief – probably both – it seems clear that in the European Christian imagination the son of God so identified with them that his enfleshment was with ‘white’ flesh.

But the art only tells half the story: mix this common (mis-)understanding of Jesus’ racial identity with a mode of theological reasoning which favors abstraction over the concrete, and one has ready recipe for a self-styled God who authorizes a colonial project which seemingly required a racial hierarchy in which the white European Christian is at the apex. My hope is to explore some of these twists and turns together in the seminar.

What are the real world consequences of Christians absorbing the racist narratives in their societies? 

The journey from “God is like me and, therefore, for me” to “God is not like you, nor for you” does not require much imagination, and of course, we see the signs of this way of thinking regularly expressing itself on the American landscape throughout history and in the present. While this more overt form of white supremacy should be opposed and rejected at every turn, I’m much more concerned with the subtle ways that churches have embraced a racialized picture of the world which shapes its understanding of its worship, leadership, mission and praxis. By not more straightforwardly confronting these less egregious and less discernible ways of enacting a racialized narrative, churches run the risk of perpetuating a distorted Gospel and a distorted God.

What can Christians do to counteract the white supremacist influences in their societies and their churches?

If I had the answer to this, I would probably be on Oprah and regularly flown to the White House for consultations. I don’t think there are any easy answers or one-size fits all solutions. That being said, I think that a step any church or Christian can and should take is raising awareness. Honestly, for all the controversy around the phrase “white privilege,” at least one observation must be true: those who inhabit the dominant culture don’t need to think about questions of race if they choose not to. As people become more aware of the pervasiveness of a racialized worldview, then they tend to think about their ecclesial involvement and sorts of things that happen in religious spaces with a different perspective. I don’t think race is the only, or even the most important, lens to look at our world through, but it is one neglected at our peril.

Taking a different tack, I’m convinced that the church (at least in America) has no idea what to do with questions of race and racism theologically speaking. Some of what I hope to explore in our time together in the seminar is what sorts of neglected theological resources or concepts might be available to the church as it thinks about how to direct its energies in ways that are faithful to the God who was revealed decisively in non-white flesh.

The presentation will be followed by a time for discussion. It is open to everyone. The webinar takes place on November 25th at 12.30pm Dublin time. Registration is free and easy.