Rediscipling the White Church – David Swanson

Rediscipling the White Church David Swanson
Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David Swanson
Published by IVP on May 19, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Leadership, Theology
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"Many white Christians across America are waking up to the fact that something is seriously wrong--but often this is where we get stuck." Confronted by the deep-rooted racial injustice in our society, many white Christians instinctively scramble to add diversity to their churches and ministries. But is diversity really the answer to the widespread racial dysfunction we see in the church? In this simple but powerful book, Pastor David Swanson contends that discipleship, not diversity, lies at the heart of our white churches' racial brokenness. Before white churches can pursue diversity, he argues, we must first take steps to address the faulty discipleship that has led to our segregation in the first place. Drawing on the work of philosopher James K. A. Smith and others, Swanson proposes that we rethink our churches' habits, or liturgies, and imagine together holistic, communal discipleship practices that can reform us as members of Christ's diverse body.

From the title alone, I knew that Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity would be something I needed to read carefully and consider deeply. I grew up in a rural midwestern small town where the population was 96.47% white. And given the population hovered around 6,000, well, there wasn’t much opportunity for diversity. Every church I went to growing up was, to my recollection 100% white.

Then I graduated seminary and accepted a calling at a primarily Asian church. There were eight times as many Asian people in this congregation as in my entire hometown. For seven years, that was the context in which I ministered. Awkwardly enough, for a white person, this is where I first began seeing the need for diversity—while at the same time beginning to understand the motivations for and legitimate reasons for homogeneity.

It was through this experience that I realized what many white churches considered diversity was really just subsuming minorities into the white cultural experience. And I knew this because every white person who ever attended our church—save one—eventually left because their cultural was not the culture in control. White people are (and here I use generalizations) only interested in diversity that conforms to their norms. I didn’t know that in myself until I experienced it, wrestled with it, and got rid of it in my own life.

I read Rediscipling the White Church just a few weeks after formally resigning from my church position to move to a time of sabbatical and reentry to higher education. The book caught my eye because I realized that I really had never experienced white church from a position of authority or leadership—and that, likely, my next church position would be much, much whiter than my previous. I knew I’d want to develop a diverse culture where my children would feel comfortable in their skin (my adopted children are Black and Middle Eastern) and where there would be many languages spoken and cultural backgrounds celebrated. But I wasn’t sure how to effect that. Rediscipling the White Church has been added to the blueprint as a necessity for my next church calling.

David Swanson spends three chapters explaining what cheap diversity looks like. It’s a helpful foundation, because most primarily white churches never think of themselves as “white churches.” Perhaps you’ve even been cringing at the use of the term in the title. But it’s accurate. White churches—no matter their ecclesiology—assume their culture as the default with diversity about joining the default. Swanson walks readers through an undoing of that assumption with a call to focus on discipleship that leads to solidarity.

That solidarity is what the majority of the book is about and Swanson highlights seven different practices that he believes will build this solidarity.

  1. Practicing Table Fellowship
  2. Practicing Kingdom Preaching
  3. Practicing Subversive Liturgies
  4. Practicing Children’s Ministry of Reconciliation
  5. Practicing Presence
  6. Practicing Salvation from Superiority
  7. Practicing Uncommon Friendship

I could easily write a half-dozen paragraphs about each of these points, but I’ll spare you. Read the book. It’s better coming from Swanson himself. The most poignant chapter, for myself, was on the reimaging of children’s ministry. Maybe this hit me hard because I’m the white father of two non-white children, I don’t know, but I had never really considered this sort of solidarity at that level.

Swanson provides reasonable, practical, actionable suggests for developing solidarity and partnership with minority communities and building a truly diverse congregation who all find unity in Christ. Rediscipling the White Church is going to be required reading wherever else I serve—assuming it’s a white church. It gives a firm bedrock foundation for the type of change this world so desperately needs.