I would not feel safe and whole in the face of an altar that includes Alma White.
I didn’t know who she was until last night. I was introduced to her by Nadia Bolz-Weber in her new book, Accidental Saints. Bolz-Weber’s memoir Pastrix was pivotal for me. I bought her book a few times for friends and constantly referred to her work. Her rawness and authenticity is refreshing. It’s honestly too bad that it is SO refreshing for a Christian to just be genuine and to swear once in awhile to be considered refreshing, but here we are.
ANWAY, back to Alma White. Bolz-Weber’s church celebrates All Saints Day and she came across White upon stumbling on a church White founded in Denver.
So she’s this feminist who started a church in the very earliest 20th century. Bad ass!
And she was a member of the KKK and hated immigrants.
Why did the conversation continue? Why did Bolz-Weber agree to honoring her on All Saints Day? Because she was a woman who stared a church? Even though that church probably hated people that looked like me and my family? Does her feminism trump the reality of her racism?
Maybe I’m being a bad Christian. Or maybe I”m just not into getting reminded of the violence inflicted on people of color.
We want to love sinners, because we are also sinners. But as people of color (and queer people of color)– what to do with those oppressors in the face of our “duty” to forgive?
“Personally, I think knowing the difference between a racist and a saint is kind of important. But when Jesus again and again says things like the last shall be first, and the first shall be last, and the poor are blessed, and the rich are cursed, and that prostitutes make great dinner guests, it makes me wonder if our need for pure black-and-white categories is not true religion but maybe actually a sin.” –Accidental Saints (p.6)
“I explained to Bill that what we celebrate in the saints in not their piety or perfection but the fact that we believe in a G-d who gets redemptive and holy things done in the world through, of all things, human beings, all of whom are flawed.” –Accidental Saints (p.7)
Given a certain kind of theology, I understand this perfectly. It makes sense – aren’t we all sinners? However, when Jesus talked about the first shall be last and the last shall be first – was he talking about oppressive folks whom people of justice would consider “last?” Jesus was on the side of the poor and marginalized, no question. That is the Gospel – good news for the poor and oppressed. Yes, Jesus shook up categories all the time. The results of which shined a light of the divine reality in those who have been kicked and left out of the temple gates. When the rich young ruler walked away, Jesus let him walk away. The liberating news wasn’t for him, because he couldn’t understand it coming from his place of wealth. The status quo was working for him, he didn’t need Jesus messing all that up.
James Cone perfectly wraps up my concern with this, “There is no divine grace in (the Bible) that is bestowed on oppressors at the expense of the suffering of the poor.” – God of the Oppressed (p.62)
I would protest the presence of Alma White in my sacred space. Maybe I’m not being forgiving enough, but I’m not sure I totally care. For me, White’s racism and xenophobia trumps her “feminism.” Her sainthood is not accidental, it’s woefully misguided.