How Slippery is the Normativity Slope?

I listened to a discussion among Asian-American PCA pastors about race and ethnicity and was surprised to hear the use of “white normativity” as frequently as they did. They object strenuously to white normativity in the church. I wonder about that way of putting it since John Frame and I are both white and yet the differences he and I have about worship have little to do explicitly with being white. I do, by the way, like the idea that Frame’s brief for Contemporary Christian Music has as much white culture attached to it as exclusive psalmody since the old canard about so-called traditional Presbyterian worship was that it was too white, male, European, and suburban (even though none of the Westminster Divines had a clue that Levittown was on the horizon of white cultural normativity).

Here is one example of the use of white normativity from one of the interlocutors’ talks/homilies/speeches:

That leads to a deeper and better informed repentance, does it not? One that names with far greater specificity, repenting of specific sins specifically…one that names with far greater specificity the problem of white cultural normativity and supremacy in the church.

If you wanted to know the instances of white normativity in the church, like too much stuff that white people like, you might be surprised to hear that wealth is an instance of white dominance in the church and a way to repent is for whites to pay ecclesiastical reparations to black and people-of-color congregations. But wait, isn’t currency itself a form of white normativity? Can you really make up for it by relying on it in the way you make up?

Aside from that logical speed bump, the real point here is how do you head down the rhetorical path that relies on intersectional ideas like white normativity and turn off before you arrive at heteronormativity. After all, for the leaders of Black Lives Matter, the systemic nature of injustice does not stop with skin color but runs all the way to sexual identity:

We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.

We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.

We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.

We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.

This is not some threat about where ideas lead. Some PCA pastors could make a real contribution and explain how to address racial and ethnic inequalities or discrepancies while excluding discussions of sexual orientation, gay marriage, and Christian-family-normativity in general. Since I don’t rely on the arguments that lead someone to detect white normativility and then reject it with contempt, I can’t do the heavy lifting here.

But since the PCA is at a difficult juncture about homosexual identity, some in the communion may want to ponder whether white normativity and heteronormativity tend to pick up speed on the slope of normativity.

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11 thoughts on “How Slippery is the Normativity Slope?

  1. D.G.
    Well said. Once you start complaining about normativity of one kind or another, there is no end.

    About ecclesiastical reparations: Seems to me that they are already being paid in the PCA, albeit in non-monetary forms – First was the PCA Strategic Plan which called for giving minorities a “seat at the table.” Second, was the Overture on Racial Reconciliation passed in Mobile, Alabama in 2016. Once again, once you start down the road of reparations, seems that there is no end.

    I wish my former colleagues in the PCA well, but unfortunately, this stuff isn’t going to end any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I sent a letter to Duke Kwon’s session about his ill-advised public comments in the press about Rev. Keele’s ministry. I never got a reply. Now that I’ve seen him live, I’m wondering how this guy ever was ever ordained. He sounds like a raving Marxist, not a Christian. If “white normativity” is a problem for him, he’s in the wrong religion because the Reformers were all white. White people are just part of the reality of Protestantism. Furthermore, it’s OK to be white. I wonder if he’d like his standards applied to the Korean faction of the PCA?

    I was hoping the PCA could be saved but it looks like schism is the better course of action if people like this aren’t going to be kicked-out.

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  3. “you might be surprised to hear that wealth is an instance of white dominance in the church and a way to repent is for whites to pay ecclesiastical reparations to black and people-of-color congregations. But wait, isn’t currency itself a form of white normativity?”

    Uh oh … the Chinese invented paper currency during the Tang Dynasty. True enough, Puritan Massachusetts was the first western government to use it. Is that cultural misappropriation?

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  4. Walt,

    Minor point, but you should have written to his presbytery. They hold his ministerial credentials, not his Session. Am not saying that you would have had a different outcome, but it is not surprising that his Session was silent. They do not have jurisdiction.

    I share your concerns about his theology. What’s particularly sad is that he is a go-to person when the media wants comments on race relations in our circles. His comments about the synagogue shooting in Poway, California were not very helpful either:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2019/05/01/alleged-synagogue-shooter-was-churchgoer-who-articulated-christian-theology-prompting-tough-questions-evangelical-pastors/?utm_term=.c1f6180dfd1b

    Of course, he is not alone. At least one brother has begun seeing how hurtful his comments on racial issues have been…

    https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/errata-apology-white-evangelicals/

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  5. Dave,

    When I sent a letter to his session, I was hoping they would realize I’m representative of a large number of people who find Duke Kwon’s behavior offensive to the church and disturbing of its peace. The ruling elder should handle this. The OPC BCO states

    Chapter X
    Ruling Elders
    1. Christ who has instituted government in his church has furnished some men, beside the ministers of the Word, with gifts for government, and with commission to execute the same when called thereto. Such officers, chosen by the people from among their number, are to join with the ministers in the government of the church, and are properly called ruling elders.

    2. Those who fill this office should be sound in the faith and of exemplary Christian life, men of wisdom and discretion, worthy of the esteem of the congregation as spiritual fathers.

    3. Ruling elders, individually and jointly with the pastor in the session, are to lead the church in the service of Christ. They are to watch diligently over the people committed to their charge to prevent corruption of doctrine or morals. Evils which they cannot correct by private admonition they should bring to the notice of the session. They should visit the people, especially the sick, instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourning, and nourish and guard the children of the covenant. They should pray with and for the people. They should have particular concern for the doctrine and conduct of the minister of the Word and help him in his labors.

    See the last sentence. Every case of discipline should be handled at the lowest level possible before being escalated. This is in keeping not only with the conservative principle of subsidiarity but also with the pattern laid-out by Jesus in Matthew 18. Perhaps public sins – and his insinuation of Keele’s ministry and Marxist sermon are serious – should be escalated to the presbytery right away?

    Kwon seems to have a big problem with white people. I had to explain in my letter that Keele’s wife is black and his kids part black so it’s idiotic to suggest that the Poway shooter got white supremacy in any way from Escondido OPC. Are facts admissible in these sorts of discussions? One would hope that Kwon would at least care about his own reputation .

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  6. Walt,

    I do not dispute the text of the BCO. Yes, ruling elders ought to be concerned about “the doctrine and conduct of the minister” but in the final analysis, all they can do is advise and implore. They cannot discipline him because his membership resides at the presbytery level. Thus, you were correct to write to his session, but their silence tells you all you need to know – they see nothing wrong with his doctrine or conduct. If you have the time and energy, go ahead and escalate this to his presbytery. Even better is publicly airing these things.

    But remember, notifying a presbytery does not guarantee action. I signed a letter along with 26 others requesting Missouri Presbytery investigate Jeff Meyers regarding Federal Vision theology. We all received a 7 page letter in response chastising us (“How dare you impugn the character of TE Meyers”) and accusing us of breaking the 9th commandment. Eventually there was a trial and a not guilty verdict, but anyone could have predicted that outcome. Sadly, I think any request to investigate TE Kwon will end similarly.

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  7. Dave,
    The ruling elder can also escalate, correct? Agreeing violently with you, I think the presbytery will do nothing or agree with him as happened with your letter to the Missouri presbytery.

    Why are the PCA men doing nothing about these rogue presbyteries at general assembly? If they want to save their denomination, they’re going to have to do more than flaccidly affirm statements and approve study groups. They’re going to have to excise these tumorous presbyteries. This will be unpleasant and feelings will be hurt – feelings that we’ve idolized above God and His truth. The fathers (sorry to gender shame here) of the early church fought many doctrinal wars where they defeated heretics and expelled them from the church body, didn’t they? Do these “mushy middle” PCA elders think things are going to get better by their passivity or just work out in the end somehow? They must act. I think there are many conservative PCA men who want to do something but feel defeated by the passivity of the mushy middle.

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  8. Walt,

    Yes, you can escalate to the presbytery. BCO 31-2 addresses this: “It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great
    discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character.” Since this is a public matter it ought to be pretty easy to demonstrate your concerns.

    Your analysis about presbyteries is also correct. However, finding the votes to excise a presbytery will be difficult. I don’t sense that even the most conservative folks are willing to do that much less the leaders of the conservative side (who seem to have made peace with the progressives). There are a handful of conservative presbyteries that are able to withstand the theological drift of the PCA, but they do not constitute a majority. Perhaps you are in one of them. I was not.

    As noted above, I used to be in the PCA. In 2017, after quite a bit of prayer and reflection, our church left and joined the OPC. Part of the reason had to do with being out of step with the progressive side of the PCA but equally, I got tired of being snubbed by a number of conservatives in the PCA. If you want to talk further contact me off line.

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