This is part of a series of guest posts and dialogues around the question: How does Whiteness Separate us from God?
WRITTEN BY Rachelle Regner
Decolonizing my mind, worldview and faith is an ongoing process that requires a lot of listening and relearning. It has been both freeing and terrifying, healing and painful, beautiful and messy. Just when I think I’m in a good, stable place, it takes me deeper into the suffering of all creation and deeper into myself. Recently, it has brought me to a crossroads in my faith as I seek to discover my deepest self and relationship with the Creator and creation.
Growing up in rural western Pennsylvania within conservative evangelical Christianity shaped my identity and worldview in a whiteness I didn’t even know existed. The Bible I was taught to trust as God breathed and inerrant, as the “Truth”, was used to teach and defend this whiteness. Now as I am learning to see and name the whiteness and the inconceivable harm it is causing, I am recognizing the “Truth” I was taught to believe has actually separated me from God.
Whiteness has separated me from creation. (Genesis 1:26) I was taught that humans are the superior creation and given the right to dominate the rest of creation for their own use and benefit. This led to a lack of concern and hardness towards animals, plants, and the earth. It taught me to support and participate in policies and practices of over consumption, greed, and exploitation that are killing our planet. These actions were justified with a belief that the rest of creation did not possess the same inherent dignity as humans. Writers and speakers such as Kaitlin Curtice and Robin Wall Kimmerer both members of the Potawatomi Tribe and Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Priest, are teaching me to see not only the outer beauty of creation, but the intricate, complex design, interdependence and pattern of life, death, and resurrection in all things.
Whiteness has separated me from others. Whiteness within my evangelical faith taught me that I am an individual and my faith is individual. It taught me that my faith was the only way to God (John 14:6) and to focus more on evangelizing hearts than opposing the structures of oppression because people’s suffering was the result of their individual choices. It trained me to ignore my complicity and participation in the structures of oppression through viewing myself only as an individual. The individual approach to my faith focused on getting to heaven and ignored the suffering of the world. Whiteness taught me dualistic thinking and to negate other faiths, spirituality and experiences. It taught me to be blind to God in others and in all of Creation. It trained me to judge and call out the “sin” in others and not see through eyes of compassion and grace. Whiteness in my evangelical faith trained me to believe I had the truth that would save others and to separate from others until they believed in that same truth.
Some of my past memory verses
I have defined myself as stable and even keeled; someone who doesn’t cry a lot or experience many extreme highs and lows of emotions; an individual who is able to use my mind to make decisions rather than my heart, my intuition. I have considered this a strength of mine, but this process of decolonization is revealing to me that this is one of the central ways I have been separated from God. Whiteness has separated me from emotions and feelings, from my heart, my intuition. (The heart is deceitful above all things. Jeremiah 17:9) Whiteness in my faith told me that the heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted and that emotions are misleading and even sinful as they come from our sin corrupted heart and not the truth. I separated myself from experiencing and processing my emotions because I was taught that the way to listen to God was not listening to my heart, but instead only listening to the written word. So, now as I am trying to discover my deepest self and connect with my emotions/heart/intuition, I am finding it hard to go into the depth of my emotions. I have been so trained to disconnect, connecting is unknown to me and even scary.
Whiteness has separated me from my body (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Romans 7:18, Romans 8; Galatians 5). My faith taught me that my body is temporary; I would receive my eternal body in heaven. Even further, I was taught to separate my body from my soul and that there was nothing good in my body. I was taught the desires of the flesh were “sin” and at war with my soul. Therefore, I was not only taught to ignore my body, but to force it into submission to “holiness” often causing harm to my body. I was taught to deny it pleasure; viewing pleasure as purely “sinful”. I didn’t recognize how intricate my body is and how interdependent it is to the Creator and creation. I didn’t know how to listen to my body and pushed it past its limits. I couldn’t hear it screaming at me that it wasn’t well until it stopped functioning and my health declined. A long healing journey for my body is teaching me its unity with all things and that I must not only recognize and live in that unity for the healing to continue, but learn to trust and listen to my body.
Whiteness has separated me from the very essence of who I am. My evangelical faith was built upon the belief that I am a sinner and separated from God (Romans 3:23). I was constantly reminded of that sinful nature within me and that I could never be “good” enough for God to accept me. Being made in God’s image was proclaimed, but quickly overshadowed by “the fall” (Genesis 3) and our sinful nature (Romans 5:12). Love and grace were preached, but drowned out by the wrath and judgement of a god who could not see past “the sin” within the people he created for relationship with himself (Romans 1:18; **use of male pronouns for god as taught in my evangelical upbringing). These conflicting messages and the emphasize on sin and separation have separated me from understanding and recognizing God within me. It has separated me from truly experiencing the love of God and my unbreakable connection with my Creator.
Whiteness has shaped and polluted Christianity. An individual approach to faith, truth, and redemption have ignored the connection between God, humans, and all of creation. Whiteness has taken a story of love, peace, justice, and a message of opposing power and structures of evil and used it to defend greed, violence, and oppression. Whiteness has distorted the Bible leading to individualism, meritocracy, and a focus on “getting to heaven” as fundamental belief systems within Christianity, which are tools to continue to ignore and feel the impact of being an oppressor. Whiteness is separating us from God, from others, from creation, from our feelings, and from our truest selves. Whiteness is killing us. I am discovering to find my way to a life of connection and love, I first have to acknowledge the violence of whiteness towards me and through me (as an oppressor), especially through a faith that was taught to me as the salvation of the world (1 John 4:14).