Let us begin by making a distinction between white people and people struggling with their superabundance of whiteness. The former is a biological category, and is found in the children’s song about how Jesus loves the little children. This kind of white rhymes with “precious in His sight,” and is just part of the cost of doing business. The latter is a pathological category, and represents some kind of odd institutional hypocrisy, and it is not immediately apparent that anything whatever can be done about it. This latter form is a weird cultural disease of the soul — the very, very white soul.
I recently finished reading Stuff White People Like, a very funny and insightful book. As with all forms at satire, humor with a point, the pointy end either has to hit the target or not. If it does, we learn something about ourselves, and if it does not, then we just shrug our shoulders at the lame attempt at edgy humor. This book hits the target over and over and over again. Ow, ow, ow.
One of my central pastoral responsibilities is that of keeping Christians away from hypocrisy, of the kind described in the New Testament. But this task, not surprisingly, is often misunderstood — and the reason it is misunderstood is that there are always lots of people who don’t want to be kept out of that kind of hypocrisy, and misdirection is that name of the game.
Of course, personal and sinful inconsistencies are hypocritical. If a man cruises around in PornDeluxe.com for most of the week, and shows up for worship Sunday morning, all bright and shiny, that is hypocritical. The same for a man who tyrannizes his wife and family, and is gentle and soft-spoken in the sanctuary. God hates this kind of stuff, and we generally know that God hates it.
But the kind of hypocrisy that the New Testament lampoons is what we might call the Hypocrisy Parade. Jesus nails not only the private sins, but also the very public ones. He mocks those who shop at the Wide Phylactery Warehouse. He skewers those whose robes flow behind them like trails of woven glory. He sends up the Rev. Drs. and rabbis and such, and pops the assembled theologians like they were so many balloons. There is a species of hypocrisy that does not fear exposure, but rather stands on the street corner, palms facing outwards, awaiting the expected applause. And it does not await such applause in vain. People do this because it works.
And this is where the American church is so bone-jarringly . . . white.
So Christian Lander wrote Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions. I had heard about it, and seen the web site a few times. But when I picked up a copy in a bookstore recently, and read a few entries, I was thunderstruck by how many of things he was lampooning were things that I saw numerous Christians (who have a responsibility to know better) advancing in the name of “being missional.” Or maybe they were “being prophetic,” I forget.
This may appear to be an abrupt change of subject, but it is not really. I usually wear light brown khaki slacks to work, and I do so in order to keep my knees from distracting the general public. Nancy buys them for me, and they get the job done. Now this is just an example of the truth that everybody has to live somewhere, wear something, eat something else, and so on. No one should fault anybody for being finite, e.g. for being here and not there. For if they went over there, one could always ask why they weren’t back over here. So this should be an example of a non-problem. But suppose I wore brown khakis in the name of missional non-conformity. I am wearing slacks they cut from a piece of cloth the size of Rhode Island, and I am doing it in order to strike a blow for nonconformity? Then what? Well, then it just gets screwy. I am reminded of the Far Side cartoon, where one sheep is standing on its hind legs, haranguing the rest of the flock with “We don’t have to be just sheep!”
As Lander puts it, devastatingly, white people need authenticity like it was oxygen. But they most emphatically do not need authentic authenticity. They need staged authenticity, they need fake authenticity, they need three dollar bill auhenticity, they need superficial authenticity, they need cosmetic authenticity, they need lightweight authenticity, they need skin-deep authenticity. Skin-deep authenticity! There’s the ticket — time for another tattoo. And if that form of posturing weren’t enough, they sometimes opt for fake tattoos for their sunny time at the pool, the kind that wash off back home. White people are in a desperate hunt for the ultimate Form of Ironic Self-Referencing Authentic Platonic Hypocrisy. And, speaking for myself, I would have to say they’re getting close.
And evangelical white Christians are like their chubby junior high little sister in an unfortunate bikini, following her older sisters to the pool, for a little missional sunbathing.
If it weren’t so funny, it would be tragic.