Being or becoming “Woke” means, “being alert to injustice in society, especially racism.”
Recently, the “whiteness” of much of modern-day missions is coming under fire, and for good reason. Like much of Western governmental aid to developing countries, the charitable motivation to help those in need is laced with power, manipulation, and privilege. Books like Toxic Charity, White Man’s Burden, and When Helping Hurts each point to a common theme. Embedded in the dependency issue addressed by these sources is the annihilation of dignity, delivered mostly from the hands of white people to mostly people of color around the world. This is a problem.
The issues of gender, color, privilege, and racism are a growing part of the twenty-first-century missiological environment. For too long, the pattern of Western missions includes inherent problems of race and power. In many ways, thankfully, the old days of a culturally insensitive colonial mission have been tempered among those Western global workers educated to understand the issues of culture and power. However, we have a long way to go in these areas and many poor practices continue. More reform is needed. Great damage demands apologies. Deep introspection is required.
I’ve been working in Africa since 2005. I am a white, middle-aged, highly educated male. From the perspective of world economics, I am quite wealthy. The very fact that I travel from the US to Africa several times a year indicates my access to incredible resources unthinkable among most of the Africans I work with. My gender, power position, age, and wealth are elements of my existence impossible for my African friends to overlook. Add to that my skin color and the centuries-old issue of race relations between white Westerners and Africans, and the juxtaposition in our relationship is stark and profound, to say the least.
In light of all these facts, some would argue my very presence in the equation is doing more harm than good. Many voices domestic and foreign are calling for people like me (white, male, Christian) to apologize, stand down and go away. I need to sit with that, think about it and apply it before I get defensive and dismiss it. Those voices are loud for a reason. A lot of damage has been done in the name of “helping” and even in the name of Jesus.
I do believe deeply in the Lausanne commitment of the Whole Gospel from the Whole Church to the Whole World. This is the Great Commission. The fact is much of the power center of Christianity is shifted from the global West to the global South and East. Many global goers are now sent from those regions that received the Gospel in generations past. The West still has the money, but the South and East have the future work of world evangelization.
So what are we white, rich, males supposed to do now?
Philippians offers four principles for me to navigate the world I find myself living in.
- Learning and Discerning embodied in Abounding Love. “And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more in real knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” 1:9,10
My response to the voices calling us all to be Woke is abounding love – through real knowledge and discernment. What can I learn from those voices? How can I discern what I need to take in and apply? How can my love abound for hurting people who point out my hurtful actions and attitudes?
- A Posture of Servanthood and Humility. “…but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant…” 2:7.
The literal meaning of emptying is to “lay aside privileges.” I need to face the fact that I have privilege. I worked hard to get where I am in life, but I also had many advantages my African friends can’t even dream of. Jesus came as a servant, not a superior. He was driven by love, not power. He was also hated by a lot more people than loved him. This led to his ultimate crucifixion. Am I ready to empty myself?
- Beware the False Circumcision. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” 3:23
While Paul here is referring to specific false teachers, I want to apply this differently. While much of the Woke voice is a righteous call to justice and against racism and whiteness, some of the voice is a deconstructionist mandate to destroy any involvement in Christian mission by white people among people of color. In the spirit of abounding love and a servant humility, I deny the concept that the mission is better off without people like me. I believe people like me need to be aware and sensitive to the effects of our voice and presence in the mission, but we also are part of the Whole Gospel from the Whole Church to the Whole World.
- Press on to the Call of Christ. “I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us, therefore, as many as are mature, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” 3:14,15
God will make you Woke!
While I listen, respect, apologize as I reform my whiteness, I will press on to the Call of Christ. I will keep my eye on the goal until His Kingdom is established. I will play my role to the best of my understanding. I will learn from, love, root for, work with, and support in any way possible my brothers and sisters of color in Africa and beyond to join the work of the Lord around the world to bring peace, justice, and love through Jesus Christ.
Please share your thoughts. I want to hear your voice in the conversation.