Sunday, July 20, 2014

Double Bind and Cheap Grace (Part 2)

Last week, guest writer Jorge Juan Rodriguez V explained the double bind in which marginalized and oppressed folks often find themselves (important to read it before continuing below). Here, he explains how we as Christians perpetuate the issue.  

“Grace” is a concept that, though founded in all of Christian Theology, I’ve seen adopted in Christian jargon that is especially prevalent in the evangelical church under Western, White cultural captivity (to adopt the phrase by Soong-Chan Rah).* In Christian Theology, “special grace” (what people usually think of when the term is evoked) refers to Christ who was crucified for the sins of those who did not deserve a sacrifice. This powerful, theologically loaded, expression has been adopted especially in the evangelical church as a way of dismissing oppression.

Let me explain; applied to the minority experience in last week's post, often I have heard Christians tell minorities who are offended to have “Grace” on the white student because they don’t understand what they’re saying/doing. The problem with this statement is the underlying implication that the offended minority must dismiss their feelings of anger and frustration and concede that the white student simply “didn’t understand.” I call this cheap grace because it places no accountability on the offender to account for his/her actions because the offended must “extend grace, and forgiveness as Christ extended.” Such an understanding of Jesus’ work on the Cross is individualist, avoids conflict, and dismisses the whole of Jesus’ ministry.

Cheap grace forgets that Jesus fought for justice and liberation on behalf of the oppressed as it elevates a personalized salvation devoid of calling offenders to account. This cheap grace asks the offended to dismiss that they were offended and instead of calling for justice, patronizes the offender as “not knowing better.”

Cheap grace perpetuates the double bind in an amplified form: if the minority calls out the majority because of their offense they are deemed “un-Christian” because that’s not “what Christ would do.” Not only does the minority need to dismiss their emotions and frustrations under cheap grace, they need to do so under penalty of “God” –or at least the aspects of “God” we’ve overemphasized for our comfort. Though the 'too extreme approach', 'friendship approach', and 'statistics approach' are all scapegoats used to dismiss and invalidate the feelings of oppression expressed by the oppressed (see previous post), I find this cheap grace approach the most problematic because it uses the name of God to invalidate peoples made in His/Her image.

Double binds occur for oppressed peoples every single day. It can be seen with the woman who was sexually harassed and is then told she’s “being too sensitive.” It can be seen with the individual who identifies as LGBTQI, is called “gay” (in a pejorative form), and is then told the use of the phrase shouldn’t offend them because it was used “in jest.” It can be seen with the religious minority who is told they “should understand” how their article of religious clothing –e.g. a hijab- can be “scary” for everyone else and is asked to remove it.

These kinds of double binds occur every day and are dismissed in various forms. Even in writing these wordsin my original example I recognize the double bind I find myself in. Because I’m bringing attention to experiences that many cultural/racial/ethnic minorities feel under a dominant culture/race/ethnicity, and am explicitly identifying a specific cultured experience of Christianity, individuals are going to dismiss me as a “reverse-racist,” “too sensitive,” “reading too much into a situation,” “being too blunt,” “being offensive.”

Yet not addressing these issues, and specifically the use of “Christianese” within a particular religious community, allows these stories to remain untold and acts of insensitivity (i.e. social violence) to perpetuate and permeate through a community. The reality of the double bind is that the oppressed must undergo intense suffering. But only through the story of the oppressed can we realize their oppression and work towards redemption.

*Western, White cultural captivity is a phrase used by Soong-Chan Rah in The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity to describe how the evangelical church has been captured under Western, White notions that have been elevated as “norm.” The dominant expression of this captivity is individualism that manifests in its secondary expression of materialist consumerism and has produced colorblind racism. Theologically this captivity justifies itself with an individualist soteriology, notion of sin, and even of redemption that removes communities from any corporate sense of culpability.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Friday Fruit (07/8/14)

Rob Seals on Latino ministry with IVCF
On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Double Bind and Cheap Grace (Part 1)

Please welcome guest writer, Jorge Juan Rodriguez V, a DiaspoRican who graduated in May from Gordon College with degrees in Biblical Studies and Christian Social Thought. In August, he will move to New York City to pursue an MA in Theology at Union Theological Seminary. This post originally appeared on his own blog and you can follow him on twitter here!

In her essay titled “Oppression,” Marilyn Frye speaks of the perpetual confinement of oppressed groups. She writes, “One of the most characteristic and ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people is the double bind –situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation” (Frye, 150). Colloquially, the double bind forces the socially underprivileged individual to “never win.” Race relations provide a perfect arena for the double bind to manifest.

Within a dominant, majority culture/race/ethnicity, individuals in minority cultures/races/ethnicities can often feel discrimination or micro aggressions that constantly make them aware of their minority status. The minority may feel “outside the norm,” offended by statements made, constantly under a microscope where he/she needs to defend their position purely because it is different than the majority, and perpetually wonder if their marginalization is or is not due to their culture/race/ethnicity. Being part of the majority, and therefore the dominant “norm,” affords the privilege of not feeling perpetually marginalized or questioning what cultural/racial/ethnic identity has to do with isolation.

But here is where we find the double bind. The minority feels isolated, frustrated, and as if part of their core identity is constantly facing micro aggressions. To not speak up against these aggressions is allowing them, and therein isolation, to continue. Yet, in speaking up against the aggressions, the majority –i.e. the dominant “norm”- begins to feel frustrated and upset that the minority is offended. Statements often come from the majority like “it’s not a big deal,” “why are you so sensitive,” “you shouldn’t be so uptight.”

These statements inherently delegitimize and invalidate that the minority is hurt, offended, and frustrated in an arrogant way. Arrogant because the underlying assumption is that because I would not be offended in that way, you are being ridiculous to feel that way in this situation –disregarding any sense of social privilege. Thus the double bind is complete: if the minority speaks up against his/her isolation he/she is attacked for doing so and their experience is delegitimized, yet if he/she doesn’t, the aggressions that cause frustration and isolation continue.

To apply it to a concrete example: at an institution I’m affiliated with, a black student was once greeted “what-up nigga” by a white, male student who saw the black student walking toward him and his group of friends. When the black student responded to the white student, respectfully expressing his frustration with the white student’s use of that term, the white student and his friends responded decrying that the black student was making it a bigger deal than it was. Their justification was that black people use the word with each other so they felt justified joining in that experience. The white student insisted that the black student was making a bigger deal of the situation than it was and dismissed entirely that offense was taken.

Without entering into whether or not the N-word should be reclaimed by the African-American community, let’s examine the situation from the perspective of the double bind. If the black student didn’t respond to the situation, he would have carried the pain of the statement while the white student continued thinking it was an act of solidarity. However, in responding to the white student, the black student was called “too sensitive” and was further ostracized from the group. No matter the response, the black student lost.

The double bind is so strong that some people will even dismiss my articulation of this story. Some individuals who read this will take the 'too extreme approach' and say, “of course the black student should have been offended, that word is offensive.” Individuals who take this approach completely miss the double bind the black student faced by arguing that the example was too extreme to be reality.

Others will try to employ the 'friendship approach', contesting that if the students really were friends, the white student would never make such a statement. But this sentiment also dismisses the social complexity of the double bind. What if the black student attends an institution that is overwhelmingly white and the only friend group he can have is outside his own culture/race/ethnicity. If the surroundings are homogenous and the white students all agree with the comment made by the white individual, whom does the black student have to turn to? Addressing the situation with the white students ostracizes the black student from some of the only potential friends he can have. Not doing so will make him feel simultaneously accepted and isolated from the group.

Others still will take the 'statistics approach' and argue that this example is only one isolated incident and that doesn’t account for the experience of all black students. This approach dismisses the double bind by quantifying the black students experience and saying it is legitimate only if others also have this experience. Further, it discounts the fact that other people might feel that way but don’t speak up because they themselves are under a double bind, thus skewing statistics. While dismissing the double bind, this approach reinforces it.

But perhaps, the greatest way this might be dismissed is by the 'cheap grace approach.'

Stay tuned next week to learn how we as Christians contribute to the double bind...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Fruit (7/11/14)

On Fridays, BTSF offers links to other discussions about race & Christianity. It's an opportunity for you to read other perspectives, and for me to give props to the shoulders on which I stand...

Weekly Round Up:

These are some of BTSF's links of interest this week. What are yours?

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Culture, Context & Crossing Borders

Please welcome back guest blogger Brittany Browne as she reflects on communicating across
borders, and what those boundaries might actually be:

Communication issues are inevitable, especially when it comes to cross-cultural interactions. At times, among my very own inner circle, I struggle with cultural context, appreciating differences and adapting to preferred communication styles. Sometimes this depends on my lack of understanding for their previous background experiences or vice versa. Although we don’t often admit it, most of the time, we come to “the table” with our preconceived notions regardless of our good intentions.

I used to believe that crossing borders and traveling the world was the ultimate way to truly become connected with culture. A year ago, I found myself living in Geneva, Switzerland promoting internationalism and those who were of other ethnicities outside of the United States, as if they were superior to those who were American. This thought originated because I realized that for a while I resented the American culture due to the borrowing of other cultures that our country so often has taken on while passing them off as our own. I would often think “who are we to know anything about culture.” Therefore, I would add on to this thought that culture, true culture, needed to be experienced abroad.
Michelle LeBaron, professor at UBC law and author of Bridging Conflict: A New Approach for Changing the World wrote an essay in 2003 titled Cross Cultural Communication. In the first paragraph, she writes a few sentences that are worth reflecting upon:
“All communication is cultural -- it draws on ways we have learned to speak and give nonverbal messages. We do not always communicate the same way from day to day, since factors like context, individual personality, and mood interact with the variety of cultural influences we have internalized that influence our choices.”
Hearing these words, I wonder if my lack of understanding has sometimes been attributed to what LeBaron suggested in saying that our communication draws on ways we have learned to speak and give non-verbal messages. However, my question then becomes, “Can we use day to day factors, moods, and individual personalities as a valid reason for our lack of communicating effectively when it comes to cross-culture communication among others?”

My experiences abroad taught me a great deal about what culture, context and communication can look and feel like, how openly embracing these natural realms of diversity can give way to new perspectives and how they are not always a positive experience as well. But, it was not until I arrived back home in the U.S. that I was able to see those thoughts manifested in reality as I understood deeper that culture does not have to cross borders. In my everyday interactions, almost immediately from my arrival back home, I saw how the definition of culture shaped people’s responses to breaking news. Shared beliefs, values, goals, and practices of a particular group of people should not offend us or draw us away. As quoted by Stephen Covey by way of St. Francis of Assisi, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It is the living out of this quote through faith that culture and context come together.
I have had my fair share of traveling across the world with plenty more to explore. On those future journeys, I am sure that I will be met face-to-face with more cultural contextual situations that help me to realize that because you have not crossed borders does not mean that the culture is the same. In fact, crossing borders can be symbolic for simply crossing different sides of town sometimes. Along those same thoughts, every person in a particular culture does not posses the same characteristics all the time. Therefore, it is wise to count every individual, even within a particular culture, as a unique creation of God.

In the end, if we genuinely want to be more conscious about our interactions among other cultures, and truly want to meet people where they are within their context, we can start by taking a look at ourselves and the ways we learned to think, act, speak in our own cultures the way I had to take a look at my inner circle and interactions. Ultimately, this will give us a good understanding of what differences exist that make us uncomfortable and point us in the opposite direction from our cultural biases. The best part about learning in this realm is that you don’t need to necessarily hop on a plane to experience, understand and apply your results.
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By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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