Should white Christians stop exhorting one another to embrace their “Identity in Christ”? That’s what one Mainline Protestant clergyman proposes.
United Church of Christ (UCC) Pastor Jordan Leahy cautioned the American Church about discovering their “Identity in Christ” in a recent blog post. He pointed towards understanding Jesus Christ through the lens of Liberation Theology instead.
His complaint was that white male Christian leaders distort Christ into their own image when using this phrase with other “mostly White” Christians. He said white Christians’ false perception of Christ renders them “colorblind, gender blind, status blind, sexuality blind.”
Leahy labeled such teaching as “Christological carelessness, and at worst, heresy.” The effects of this allegedly careless teaching resulted in perpetuating negative cultural values, specifically “Eurocentric, patriarchal, and heteronormative” norms. He encouraged his readers to identify with “Christ’s lowliness” instead:
Rather than a Christology that paints Jesus as on a faux-incarnational mission trip, we would have to grapple with the implications of God’s incarnation in an unskilled peasant from an occupied people. We would beg the oppressed to show us the way to Freedom.
Of course, Christians should seek an accurate understanding of Christ. But whatever the threat may be of identifying our Savior along our own demographic lines, we must also avoid simply reacting by trying to fathom Him in the opposite terms.
Leahy’s proposed language emphasizing oppression seems to echo Liberation Theology. The implication is that accepting such an understanding will make our churches more diverse and accessible. However, adopting Liberation Theology tends to drive away the very people it supposedly brings into the fold.
The Roman Catholic Church’s failed experiment with Liberation Theology in Latin America provides a case in point. Social scientist Rodney Stark recalled this episode in Christian history within his book The Triumph of Faith. Western intellectuals and some Latin American clergy pushed this perspective, although it never gained widespread appeal among the poor, its intended audience. Stark noted that “liberation theology led nowhere because it was neither revolutionary nor a religious movement; rather it involved a weak, self-canceling mixture of both.”
The same problem characterizes Mainline Protestantism in general. Supposedly inclusive progressive theology simply fails to resonate with a wide audience. The UCC, Leahy’s own denomination, provides a striking an example. Pew Research Center data indicates the denomination ranks among the least diverse in America, since 89 percent of its membership is white. The average member is 59 years old, tying the UCC as the oldest denomination in America with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Instead of progressive theology, the demographically healthiest Christian traditions in America and around the world tend to preach biblically faithful truth and emphasize the active work of the Holy Spirit. Leahy and other Mainline clergy would do well to remember that what the American Church needs is not to reinvent its theology, but to renew its commitment to Scripture and the primacy of the Gospel.
Spiritual truth derives not from demography. Rather Christianity’s universal message – the good news of the Gospel – celebrates our unity as the Body of Christ instead of accentuating our differences. This unity occurs as we embrace our primary identity in Christ.
The Apostle Paul summarized this message beautifully in his letter to the Galatian church: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28, ESV)