All Peoples in God’s Kitchen
DR. TODD M. JOHNSON
PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY AND MISSION
(Continued from last week’s post “Justice for All Peoples”)
Esau McCaulley’s book Reading While Black reminded me that what I have been doing all these years when reading the Bible was “Reading While White.” You’d have to look long and hard to find a book in any theological library with that title. In fact, if such a book were to exist, it would likely be cataloged under “General Works of Interpretation,” whereas one would find McCaulley’s book under “Black interpretation,” sandwiched between the separate categories of “Demythologizing” and “Feminist criticism.” In other words, the Library of Congress classification assumes that reading the Bible through a White lens is normative and that “non-White cultures” read with perspective. Dr. McCaulley addresses this problem when he writes, “Everybody has been reading the Bible from their locations, but we [Black people] are honest about it” (p. 20). Do I really want my reading to be based on the myth of a raceless, context-less, normative reading of scripture? I, for one, am grateful for Richards and O’Brien’s Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, which offers specific examples of the hazards of “Reading While White.”
The invisible White perspective is pervasive. Even facial recognition software excels at recognizing White male faces while failing to recognize Black female faces. This is not surprising because one definition of white supremacy is “The systemic evil that denies and distorts the image of God inherent in all human beings based upon the heretical belief that white aesthetics, values, and cultural norms bear the fullest representation of the imago Dei.” (C. Walker-Barnes, I Bring the Voices of My People, p. 11). Dr. McCaulley consistently pushes back against this heresy because it is out of line with the biblical view of God’s image found in all the peoples of the world. The gospel cannot be viewed primarily through the lens of one culture. We can be grateful that God recognizes every face made in his image!
Consequently, White Christians cannot simply add diversity to their churches (or seminaries) to embrace this global biblical vision. White perspectives need to be acknowledged and decentered for us to be global, equally representing the various cultural perspectives of Evangelical faith.
Allow me to illustrate this further. While at an Evangelical conference in Wittenberg in 2017 celebrating 500 years of the Protestant Reformation, I presented our research showing that over 40% of all Protestants were Africans. Yet, out of the 100 people at the meeting, only a few were African. I was sitting next to a leader from Ghana when someone from the stage said that Africans were welcome at the table in this Evangelical movement. It was then that my colleague quietly recounted a Ghanaian proverb to us: “It is good if you invite me to your table, but it is far better if you invite me into the kitchen.”
His point was clear: Why are Christians from the Global South simply invited to a table in the Global North when they should be found with everyone else in the kitchen? What would it mean to have Africans as decision-making hosts instead of being relegated as perennial guests? And why, in light of Rev 7:9, are Black, indigenous, and people of color always invited to a White table?
It seems to me that Dr. McCaulley’s book is all about the kitchen. With exegetical prowess, he takes seriously the Black context and as a result, reveals vital insights missed by others. That, in itself, is biblical evidence of the gifts of all cultures. Though I’m a strong advocate for learning from the global church, Dr. McCaulley’s book shows that you don’t have to go the other side of the world to experience the beauty of Christianity’s diversity. And this reality, as it turns out, is more normative. All cultures have unique perspectives on God’s love and, when they are all in the kitchen, there is no telling what delightful creations will be offered to the whole human family.