Here’s a controversial idea that’s been on my mind lately: the current trend in “exvangelical” deconstructionism actually highlights another example in which European-descended people have an advantage over others questioning their faith. Whereas many white evangelicals and former evangelicals are in a painful season of deconstructing their belief system—unpacking, examining, questioning, throwing away, holding onto, revising, rebuilding, etc., etc.—evangelicals and former evangelicals of color have an additional gargantuan task: decolonizing their faith.
So, maybe I chose this post’s title as a bit of clickbait, but if I’ve managed to lure you in, let me say that I’m really not trying to be more incendiary than necessary but rather wanting to raise awareness to an important reality for any person grappling with a religious system that they inherited from a colonizer (namely European Christianity). In addition to questioning the various tenets of their religious beliefs, colonized peoples have the complicated assignment of disentangling essential core ideas of the religion from the hegemonic cultural add-ons or harmful hermeneutical practices that have allowed colonizing nations to abuse others. Imagine the appalling situation of acknowledging that the inheritance of your religious upbringing is the result of a foreign power conquering your ancestors!
(Note: Part of the deconstruction process for any person of any ethnic background involves questioning the subjective cultural influences that have shaped and transformed the religious system; that is not unique to decolonization. In fact, decolonization could very well be subcategorized under the broader umbrella of deconstruction, but it is a critical piece that I’ve chosen to pull out and examine separately.)
abusus non tollit usum (abuse does not take away from its use)
Simply because something has been abused does not mean that it is completely invalid. I believe that, which is why I still identify as Christian, why anyone who identifies with anything is able to do so despite inevitable abuses from their tradition in the past. This why an urgent emphasis has been placed on reframing theological lenses to incorporate non-European perspectives. A couple years ago I had the privilege of reading Justo Gonzalez’s small book Mañana published in 1990 (before a lot of the conversations surrounding this topic in recent years) in which he examines Christian theology from a Latin American perspective. He doesn’t mince words in confronting the painful realities of the colonized aspects of his own tradition. And yet, he was able to clear a path through the forest of abuse and come out the other side hopeful.
I hope people of color can find that hopefulness of the Gospel through the muck of colonial abuse. I hope they (and everyone) can recognize the thoroughly un-European nascence of the Middle Eastern religion, Christianity, which may have spread almost immediately to southern Europe but is still absolutely founded upon the life and message of a brown Jewish carpenter-turned-preacher, a message that is inextricably tied to the history of Israel and its earliest ancestry in the Ancient Near East.
I think of how the earliest teachings (pre-Constantine) of Christianity spread: not by colonization and conquest but by preaching and by love. Not by force but by grace. This is not to say that nothing good came after, but that is the root of my faith.