You wonder sometimes how to say something without being too predictable, too offensive, or just being yet another post about the latest societal soapbox. Then you realise that’s just the world we live in so I’m going to don my privilege with a shrug and give my tuppenceworth anyway.
Christian rap has never really been my thing, Shai Linne, S.O., and Beautiful Eulogy excepted. Although, I’m not sure if Beautiful Eulogy counts since it is sort of soft rap (bubble rap?). Anyway, Lecrae dropped an album recently and I like some of his work so I listened to it.
It ticked me off.
I don’t particularly care that he has joined a mainstream production company. I don’t even care that he has embraced the social justice movement. No, what really bugged me were two comments, one on a podcast and the other in one of his songs. The first is that he is severing ties (‘divorcing’) ‘white evangelicalism’, and the various comments that came along with that. The second was from a new song, Broke:
But I do know what it feel like to
Go to school with the knock off shoes
Eatin’ free lunch, tryna act cool.
‘White evangelicalism’ doesn’t understand what it’s like to grow up like that, what it’s like to grow up being made fun of for your race. Intersectionality forbid that you ever suggest that you can sympathise (or even empathise) with such a thing because compassion is such a condescending thing. But I’m going to break my unofficial rule and talk about racism because it might be a big matter of politics right now but it’s an important matter of theology too and it seems like we’re beginning to lose the plot.
Timbies and Docs (Timberlands and Doc Martins) were the in thing when I was of a school age. Adidas if you were that kid that always wore trainers, and Converse — Converse shoes were never not in style. Now, here’s something Americans don’t always get: Brits have to wear school uniform and we might all wear uniforms to school but there’s no way that means we wear the same thing. You can tell kids’ social situations apart a mile off even when you’re all wearing white shirts and black everything else.
I remember having my definitely-not-Timberlands lobbed at me in the changing rooms. I also remember being scoffed at for not being able to afford a pair of Converse because my high tops had nothing where the all-star symbol should have been.
Even had my family cared to buy brands, there were three of us children — I doubt we could have. Why would my mother spend £60 on a pair of canvas shoes (£180 if she was fair and bought us all a pair) when we could use that money for food, bills, or shoes that would last us a couple of Winters and keep our feet dry?
And I remember putting my card into the machine to check that the money had been put on it for lunch. With the government’s generous £1.85, you could get a sandwich and juice and every couple of days the leftover change would allow for a slice of mars bar cake.
Things picked up eventually and we were spared the free lunches but the only pair of Timberlands I’ve ever owned were hand-me-downs that our pastor’s wife didn’t really approve of for her daughter (they were too big anyway). I’m still keeping them good.
Don’t misunderstand, we had a happy childhood and we always had enough. I get that every other kid had £80+ All-Stars and Vans, and you were self-conscious about the conspicuous blank space on the £6 high tops that you saved up to buy from the cheap sports shop. I get that all the other kids were wolfing down chips and cheese and macaroni pies while you deliberated carefully over which combination of mayonnaise and yuck you fancied that day (slightly soggy BLT for the win!). At least we had shoes, you and I, and a government that thought to help our parents out with keeping us fed.
Are you from Africa?
Are you Chinese? Your eyes are all wrong.
Oh, I assumed you were Asian like your friend.
But you look Dutch/Belgian/French/Spanish.
All true. My friend, Wadi, and I were in the car one time and he was trying to persuade me that I should date an Indonesian (his nationality of course) and quite casually, he argued thus: ‘But you’d have the cutest babies! It’s be like chocolate and vanilla and you could have mocha kids.’
Yeah, I thought, Just like our Dutch friend from the village whose daughter is referred to as the cute little half-caste kid by Westerners and Indonesians alike.
It was easiest just to discontinue the conversation.
Aha! say some, now you know what it feels like not to be white!
Nah. I don’t know what it is like to have people be racist towards me because it’s a well-known but little stated fact that you cannot be racist towards white people.
Therefore, I don’t know what it’s like to go to school and be mocked for the way I speak and told to go back where I came from. I don’t know what it’s like to sit at the dinner table and feel practically attacked for my political views because they aren’t in line with what they’re supposed to be for the nation of my birth. And I don’t know what it’s like to silently put up with the casually racist conversation of those around me until it gets so frustrating that I have to stand up and say actually, I was born there.
I cannot know these things. How could I?
When Wadi tried to persuade me to consider ‘mocha kids’, he wasn’t being racist, he was being funny (in the interests of disclosure, I wasn’t offended, just a little surprised). When my classmates were mean to me for being born south of the Border, they were just being kids, they’d grow out of it. And when others ignorantly make unkind remarks about the people from the country I was born in, they were just kidding and of course there are a couple of exceptions.
None of it is racist because racism is a one-way street. The lighter your skin tone, the more privileged you are and therefore the more ridiculous it is that anyone could be racist towards you.
I know that a lot of you understand this but and I’m mostly calling out the liberals on this one. But I don’t say it because I want pity or because I feel it unfair that non-whites (often Americans) are getting all the victim points at the moment, I say it to make the point that people can be racist no matter which skin colours are involved and I say it because we are losing the plot.
This is not a skin-tone issue, it’s a sin issue.
The Great Divorce
Maybe the thing that upset me most was not the pity but the rapper’s statement that he has decided that he needs to become ‘divorced’ from ‘white evangelicalism’. There has been some discussion about whether this is actually a thing or not (and I would suggest that there is and it is unbiblical) but the distressing part is that anyone feels the need to put a colour on the front of evangelicalism. It’s like tagging a nationality onto your local church — in our area there is a Nigerian church, a Zambian church, a Ghanaian church, and. . .well . . .us.
When your melanin level becomes something that excludes you from a church (or because of which you feel that you must exclude yourself from a church) then the gospel has gotten lost somewhere in there.
While it’s true that there is a lot wrong with the church and it has been quite heavily shaped by western culture, we are told to bear with one another, not walk away. We are to love each other as Christ commanded and gospel loving never leads to ecclesiastical apartheid. Never. All this race identity ideology was invented by the world and serves only to divide, not to unite like it claims.
We all leave our old identity at the door when we become Christians. God makes us his children. He doesn’t adopt white children of God, black children of God, Latino children of God, or Asian children of God, he just has children who are made in his image. He gives us a new identity in Christ, one with no colour descriptor added. Allow me to clarify though: we do not become clones, that would make it a cult. We do not become historyless or cultureless when we are saved and neither do we forfeit our personality though these things are being steadily sanctified. Our nationality has changed though, we are citizens of a kingdom that takes no account of borders, languages, and earthly race.
Put it another way, the Bride of Christ may be dressed in white, but she’s mixed race. You cannot ‘divorce’ a part of the church and not the whole. It would be like me saying to my friend’s son that I want nothing to do with the Dutch half of him but I’ll happily be friends with the Dayak half.
It is not separation that we need, but unity. It will require both sides to swallow their pride, listen, and talk it out. It also, most importantly, requires God’s sanctifying grace working to change us so that we love one another enough to bear each other’s burdens and become something that is radically different from anything the world has ever seen, a people group in which race, history, and social status means nothing because we are equal (and not in the Animal Farm kind of way) in Christ.
So I get it Lecrae, whether society says I can understand it or not. I’ve done the school meals and the brand-free clothes and the being told that I don’t belong and the being unable to be that person that the church seemed to think I should be if I was saved (though they never said it outright).
Welcome to the world of sin, folks. But we are not victims in Christ, we are the redeemed and that redemption transcends all politics, skin colour, social status, and whatever other categories the world feels like packaging up for us to get riled about. The solution to the problem is not for any of us to ‘divorce’ the parts of the Church that we struggle with (tempting though it is) but to defy the world and work it out. All of us need to learn to love in a more Christlike way and to come to grips with our new identity in him. Maybe then we can grow together in a godly unity that the world will mock and envy in turns but never comprehend.