“Every culture is fallen, but every culture can be redeemed by God.” My InterVarsity friends first taught me this decades ago, and I continue to lean into this truth today. Here are two questions worth pondering: Do we white people have a culture? If yes, can it be redeemed by God?
This subject was initially very difficult for me to come to terms with. For years, I was not able to see the water in which I daily swim. In fact, it wasn’t until my wife and I displaced ourselves and immersed ourselves in an African-American church community that God opened my eyes to my own deeply-held cultural values. During those life-changing three years, I began to see the values that had been imparted to me through my family (and through my friends and through my wider context). God used this displacement experience to help me become grateful for the positive values I had been given via white culture.
Since that time, in conversation with friends from other cultures, I have also realized that even though some of my cultural values are distinctly white, they are not uniquely white. For example, my parents imparted the importance of hard work. I got my first job in junior high. A few years later, my dad helped us start our own family wholesale sunglass business. The first year of launching a business was tedious, lots of work with little to show for it. But in the second year it started to take off. This work ethic that I inherited has been in our family for generations. It is also Biblical. But it is not uniquely white. My Korean-American in-laws have an incredible work ethic. The story of how they started from scratch when they moved here in the 1970’s both humbles and inspires me.
Some of my friends would prefer if I would say that my values are German-American instead of using the term white cultural values. I hear that. And I do use German-American sometimes. They prefer if I use cultural labels, avoiding the racial labels. Other friends tell me that my pathway toward redemption, my pathway toward being a “good white person” is to renounce being white altogether. By renouncing the racial label, I set myself free from the worst parts of whiteness, past and present. Looking back at the history of Whiteness in America, they have a great point. But we come back to our opening question, Can God redeem white culture?
Let’s see if we can answer that question by looking at the fall and redemption of the city in scripture. We humans begin in a garden in Genesis. All is good. But after we rebel, we are banished from this perfect garden, this shalom. How do we respond once we are away from the grace of God? In the next chapter, in Genesis 4:16, Cain leaves the Lord’s presence. How does he survive? In the next verse, he and his family build the first city. In the legacy of rebellion, the city is created for self-protection and self-preservation. From this rebellious starting point, you might think heaven will be a return to the original garden of shalom.
But in Revelation, we find ourselves in a city, of all things. A city redeemed, made of gold, no sign of the line of Cain. God chooses to redeem that which we created to protect ourselves. So too in America. We originally created Whiteness to protect ourselves. (If you are interested, there are a number of books which deconstruct the history whiteness, how whiteness was originally created to create an elite racial class.) We take great hope in the fact that our Living God can and will redeem all things, even the city, we also take hope that God can redeem white culture as well.
As we discuss this important subject, let us step into our redeemed identity in Christ. We pray and expect that God will move us from passive to proactive, from ashamed to courageous, from silent to prophetic. Our country and world cry out for this movement.
(For more on God redeeming white culture, please read chp. 12 in Being White, p. 130)
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