Can God redeem white culture?

“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 Family of 5.  Christmas 2015when 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)

Please post: What are your questions or reactions to this post?

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2 thoughts on “Can God redeem white culture?

  1. I think the analogy between whiteness and the city is interesting. Just as the city is a site of defiance and protection and domination, so whiteness is a social construction for similar purposes.

    The biblical case for the redemption of the city–its glorified appearance in Revelation–is pretty clear. But just because the city is redeemed doesn’t seem, to me, to mean that therefore this other thing we created will also be redeemed and glorified. What’s the scriptural warrant for whiteness’ redemption and glorification?

    OK, yes, it’s true that Paul says in Colossians that through Christ God is reconciling all things to himself. But we can’t isolate this one verse and use it as a proof-text all by itself in order to carry whiteness on through to the eschaton. After all, there’s a certain amount of destruction that has to occur first, e.g. Jesus burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. Isn’t it just as possible (and in fact given whiteness’ fictive and oppressive origins, more likely) that whiteness will be burnt up and destroyed?

    Assuming, arguendo, that indeed “every culture can be redeemed by God,” why can’t we just rename our culture something other than “white culture” and see that redeemed? Why can’t it be German-American, or majority American?

    After all, I probably have more in common, culturally speaking, with many non-white, second or third or fourth generation, college-educated, suburban-dwelling, CA Bay Area dwellers than I do with working class Appalachian white people. So perhaps it’s regional culture that’s more important… Why should we privilege a racialized version of culture as the one God will redeem? Why not a class based one? Or a geographical one? Or a political one? Or some combination thereof?

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  2. Ryan, thanks for your good feedback and thoughts. I will respond to 3 of them.
    1. The redemption of the city in scripture is not a “promise” that God will redeem white culture. Instead, it is a pattern of hope, showing the power and priorities of God. It also shows God’s unexpected ways of changing the script on us. Something that seems destined for judgment, instead is redeemed and even honored. So when I get focused on how certain I am that God will judge something, I should pause and remember the city. Back in Genesis I could never have guessed how this redemption would unfold.
    2. In academia, it is popular to tell white people to renounce their whiteness, and instead claim their European heritage terminology instead. I have seen many students do this very thing. However, I have not seen this purging of lingo change anything else about them. Instead, it actually breeds a strange arrogance. They seem to think to themselves, “Now that I am enlightened and I refer to myself as German American, I am better off those those other uneducated white people who have yet to ‘get it.’ I will now lecture other white people about this, and I will generally feel superior about myself.”
    3. I agree that the fact that I use the term “white” to refer to myself does not mean I am necessarily very much other white people around the country. As you mention, class and geography are powerful shaping forces in our values and lifestyles. But just like Nehemiah in chapter 1 owned all of his Jewish people’s sin over the previous century, so too it helps me to own my white people’s history, my aligning myself with my people, instead of only identifying with German Americans.
    Thoughts?

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