eucharist, liturgy, race, Traci West

The Church and Race Part 2: Proper Liturgy Only When in Diversity

I am excited to hear that at my undergrad, Multnomah Bible College, Dr. John Perkins is giving lectures. Coming to Union last semester was dramatically different to say the least (though it was something I was looking for) and in that difference I found myself reading and listening to critiques, some solid and others flimsy. Here following is part two of three responsorial writings to three books I read for Social Ethics as Social Criticism dealing with race, as I presume some of Multnomah is going through too.

Part 2Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter, by Traci C. West (Louisville: Westminster Press, 2006).

I was particularly interested with the chapter on liturgy. Having read Theopolitical Imagination (I am sorry if I am beginning to sound like a broken record), I was looking in West’s chapter on liturgy specifically for a treatment on the Eucharist. Cavanaugh, in my opinion, writes wonderfully about the death of Rutilio Grande and the response of Archbishop Oscar Romero – a single mass (121-122). The Eucharist broke through economic barriers bringing together rich and poor. And so reading Disruptive Christian Ethics, I was excited to see that liturgy was included. I would have liked to have seen more from West on baptism and communion, but even with the limited treatment, I feel like she brought an important component of race to my thought, which I will tease out here.

Liturgy accomplishes multiple functions: personal reflection, a visible representation of the body of Christ, unity, and “recogniz[ing] and contest[ing] repressive cultural norms like white superiority” to name a few (112). For instance, the Eucharist: prompts personal reflection on the person and work of Jesus Christ; visibly depicts the body of Christ in both time and space before one’s eyes; brings to light the unity in the body of Christ (both visible and universal); and thus, in theory, portrays each Christian as a human being of equal worth and equal acceptance.

However, white dominance (117), or white isolation, breaks the tangible image of the body of Christ existing in the world. The universal body of Christ is made up of all types of people, of all skin colors, and for a local church to be racially dominated by whiteness creates a Eucharist that is fundamentally myopic and thus a poor misrepresentation of the Eucharist. The body and blood no longer visibly shows the breadth of the church, nor does it portray each Christian as equally accepted. The representation of only whiteness can only lead to personal reflection (a personal reflection that is probably inherently white too), unless the Christian is confronted by a church that looks like him/herself.

The specific liturgical form of the Eucharist in my church in Portland, Oregon is different from the norm and I think one of the most powerful ways I have ever encountered the church and subsequently the Eucharist. The way in which they give the elements is helpful in retaining a sense of equality and importance – they share it together, literally. Instead of getting in a line to individually receive the bread and drink, they circle around the drink (the bread has already been dispensed), pick up the cup, take it to another person, let them drink, and then give words of encouragement or solidarity. They do this over and over again, making sure no one is left out and that we each gave to those whom we individually sought to affirm. Across racial lines (and there are multiple racial lines), this congregation personally ministers to itself, and in my mind, truly fulfilling the function of the Eucharist ritual.

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