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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.


  1. The whole Original Sin thing and the logic of penal substitutionary atonement is actually one of the problems I think. This "we live in a fallen world" line provides little impetus for people of privilege to check themselves. In our increasingly individualistic world, especially with threats of impending ecological doom, people are less concerned about the well being of their children and their children's children. "They'll have to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like I did," we are taught to think. The institution of Original Sin is so ingrained in our rhetoric and Christian worldview I'm not sure it's worth saving. I have other reasons beyond it being a barrier to racial reconciliation. There have been myriad "heresies" throughout church history, a lot of them I have been comfortable at different times holding as my own view. I struggle with normalizing and making Original Sin the monolithic Christian perspective because we should all be free to approach scripture and theology from how our subjective context allow us and come up with interpretations that make sense to us and because the doctrine of Original Sin was one of the main motivators in settler colonialism in the US, likening Natives to Adam and Eves who need to be reborn in Jesus aka white or killed.

    All that said racial reconciliation requires a multiplicity of approaches, and this piece is a good word from the majority/dominant understanding of Christian theology. I just drank too much coffee probably and I'm a bit of an (intellectual and political) anarchist so there you go.

  2. Interesting thoughts! Here, I do indeed examine, as advertised, racial reconciliation from a Christian theological perspective. Nevertheless, dialing within that, the atonement-theory framework is also work worth reexamining, as you allude to. Though the fundamental conclusions of living in a system of injustice, and our need work to alter it, may not change, I'm still working through how the case logic itself may evolve outside of atonement theory. I do believe there is something fundamentally not ideal with the way the world is right now, and that we continue to perpetuate that brokenness. Is that due to an Original Sin that requires retribution? Not necessarily.

  3. Good article. Our generation is in a unique position to be held accountable for the brokenness that still exists from ongoing pathologies but also, to offer a solution by presenting Christ to the world. Racism was planted as a seed from the enemy, and the quicker we convey that to the world, the more progress we will see. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought."

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