Can White People Be Saved

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Book Review: “Can ‘White’ People Be Saved?” edited by Sechrest, Ramirez-Johnson, and Yong

Can “White” People Be Saved? The provocative title of this book is sure to catch many an eye, cause head shaking, visceral anger, or curiosity. Of course white people can be saved! Anybody can be saved! But how we react to this very challenge to being as white people–myself included–may tell us something about our need to read the content of this book.

The titular essay begins by noting that, of course, white people can be saved. But the concept of “whiteness” is itself a social construction (for more on this, see The History of White People, a book that shows how the concept of “white” person developed) and it is the defense of this “White” concept that leads to truly anti-Christian behaviors, both historically and to this day.

The book is a collection of essays, and like any collection, it has both ups and downs throughout. Perhaps the most important insight of the entire book, and one that I have thought of time and again, is found in Andrew T. Draper’s chapter entitled “The End of ‘Mission.'” Therein, Draper calls for people to truly listen to the “other”:

White folks need not protest that our hearts are in the right place but instead must focus on how the white economies of privilege we have constructed marginalize others. Imagine the transformation in relationships marked by difference if even a fraction of the grace that White folks extend to one another in regard to intentions were extended to all people. For instance, we as White people are often defensive when confronted with something offensive we have said and protest that “we didn’t mean in that way.” But, if our ignorance has hurt others, it doesn’t matter how we meant it. (183)

I was so struck by this passage because it’s something I’ve observed time and again. When racism is called out, too often the response is “I didn’t mean to offend you” or “You’re too easily offended” instead of “I’m sorry.” Ignorance is sometimes even appealed to: “I didn’t know that was offensive” is seen as a defense rather than as a call to get informed and learn about cultures and beliefs outside of our own. Imagine if, instead, we simply said “I’m sorry, can you help me understand how I offended you so that I can avoid doing so in the future?” or “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me and help me take steps to avoiding hurting you.” Those are truly Christian responses to harm–perceived or real. It is not our place to determine when others ought to feel offended–or not. Instead, it is our place to work for unity and forgiveness.

Later in this same essay, supersessionism was effectively equated with anti-Semitism (185). Though Draper is certainly right to note how that theology has led to applications of such, to equate the two seems to be going farther than the data allows. However, more and more recent evidence seems to suggest the two are often linked. The essay on mission in India by Daniel Jeyaraj was fascinating and shows how no matter how good intentions are, outcomes can lead to colonization. A stunning epilogue by Erin Dufault-Hunter, written in the style of C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters offers insight into many of the themes found throughout the book and a call to action.

Can “White” People Be Saved?  is a challenging book that asks readers to rethink assumptions and think about things in ways they may never have done so before. If only for that, it is worth reading, but the depth of its insights are more than offset by the occasional question I have. I recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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