Giving Up The Ghost, Part III: Holy Spirit

by | Aug 29, 2016

By Kenneth Pruitt

In May of last year over at Ministry Matters, I began calling us to create a new theology of White allyship, a practical theology that proclaims, without equivocation, that Black lives matter. We now arrive at perhaps the least understood and least predictable person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Our examination of God proceeds from a Trinitarian perspective not out of a yearning for orthodoxy, but so that we continue to imagine God within a frame of community, of relationship, of eternal interpenetration. In looking at the Holy Spirit, we will imagine her via a feminine expression.*

From a Wesleyan perspective, we might connect the Holy Spirit most readily with the transformative process of ongoing salvation made available to us through sanctifying grace. If we are, as my pastor says every week at the end of worship, surrounded always and everywhere by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we are moving on to perfection even when we are in places and among people outside of our comfort zone. This, of course, revisits our concerns with contemporary Western Protestant missiology and its colonialist echoes. If our ideas of evangelism envision us reacting to the biddings of the Spirit (or worse, implicitly as sole bearers of the Spirit herself) by heading to places we have deemed less holy (in our modern parlance, “secular”), then we reconstruct the veil that Christ worked to pull down. This theology of White supremacy has repercussions in our current climate in the United States.

For example, on Friday, July 22, David Duke declared his candidacy for the United States Senate representing Louisiana. A former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke said, “The climate of this country has moved in my direction….I believe my time has come….The people of this country, the patriotic, decent, God-fearing people of this country are now right with me.”

When I began this series last year on a new theology of White allyship, I had no idea I would be writing about an actual White supremacist saying that the current tenor of cultural conversation was a positive one for someone with a legacy as a leader in the most infamous hate group in the United States.

This is our reality. We must now face it. And if you identify as White and Christian, the burden of responding to this hatred is squarely on your shoulders. So how can we do so?

First, we must recognize that we are listening more intently to our own fear than we are to the Holy Spirit. In my beautiful city, foreign-born residents are far more likely to have a college degree and to start a small business than a native St. Louisan. In other words, immigration stimulates our economy, which means that immigrants are job creators. While police are safer than ever before, and have been killed in the line of duty with steadily diminishing frequency over the last three decades, people of color are killed by police in numbers alarmingly disproportionate to their representation in the population. John Wesley found it helpful to use our reason to struggle through a theological concern. Perhaps we should take his advice.

Second, we must notice how fear creates stagnation. We do not progress forward as disciples while full of fear. We remain in the comfortable theologies constructed for us by our surroundings, rather than participating in the new work that the Spirit is always doing with us. But fear has such a loud voice. It has a voice that tells us we need to create walls, literally and metaphorically, between ourselves and others, while the Spirit calmly proclaims that we cannot love God without loving those whom we would other most readily.

Fear has a voice that tells us that more purposeful inclusion of people of color in our historically White churches is pandering to political correctness, while the Spirit reminds us to stay open-hearted to personal change and open-handed to working for systemic justice, especially in the Church.

Fear takes the voice of David Duke when claiming that those who are not with him are indecent, unpatriotic, and do not fear God…and let’s be really clear: are either not white or who ally themselves too much with those who are not. The Spirit whispers in a voice that is barely a late summer breeze and says, “Remember how surprised you were at the Samaritan.”

At Pentecost, the Spirit powerfully showed us that she can unite us in God and yet respect our differences. This is a subtle, yet crucial bit of understanding we must absorb if we are ever to end what sometimes feels like chaos in our contemporary cultures across the globe. I can be my own weird, unique, complex self who is convicted of my own selfhood and my own identities, and not have that be exclusive of you.

We are all different. We are all the same. Both/and. Not either/or. And thanks be to God for that.

*Just as a new theological perspective on allyship must creatively and inventively imagine being saved by a Black Christ, so could we imagine being transformed every moment by a female Holy Spirit. The toxic normativity of Whiteness not only prevents a celebration of racial and ethnic differences, but it also suppresses female visions of God’s identity which have been lost for centuries. Intersectional theology is good theology.

Kenneth J. Pruitt is a teacher at heart, a diversity and inclusion professional for a living. He is proud of St. Louis, his adopted home. He loves what you’ve done with your hair.