Drew Yoos, a pastor at Light of the Cross Lutheran Church in Bothell, writes that it's time for a more complex conversation on race and theology.
Editor’s note: When we were putting together Under Our Skin, we knew we wouldn’t be able to include many important perspectives in the original set of videos. That’s why we’re offering the chance for more people to write guest essays to be featured alongside the project. We received the following submission from Drew Yoos, a pastor at Light of the Cross Lutheran Church in Bothell.
I’m a newcomer to the Seattle area, arriving here less than two months ago. My journey has taken me from South Carolina, where I was born and raised, to Chicago where I attended seminary school to become a pastor, to Bothell where I am a Lutheran pastor.
Growing up in one of the most racially charged states in the country, just minutes from where the first shots of the Civil War were fired, I was raised on the narrative that skin color doesn’t matter. That was the gold standard on race. It was what everyone should aspire to say.
Looking back on it now, I believe it’s time for a more substantial theology when it comes to race.
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I place the phrase “skin color doesn’t matter” in the same theological category as what I heard from some of the people in the Under Our Skin project, the ones who said things like, “Diversity is a gift from God” and “We are all created in God’s image.” One person in the video even accurately noted “there was one time when colorblindness was the goal.” These platitudes have become the hymn of the white church in this age of postmodern racism. We use these words to talk about our relationship with God and with our neighbors, while lacking the theological depth that would call us out of our structures of racism.
And the church is as guilty as any other institution in perpetuating racism. It is easy to sit inside a church where everyone looks like you, everyone has been told the same stories as you and interprets them in the same way as you, everyone knows the same songs as you, everyone prays in the same way as you, everyone appreciates the same polity as you — and yet everyone in that church makes the claim that diversity is a gift from God.
To see myself and my church as part of the problem has been a difficult and reflective journey. My dad marched with the NAACP to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House in 2001. My mom spent almost her entire teaching career in mostly black, underfunded South Carolina schools. I was one of about eight white players on my high school football team. And still I could, with confidence, utter the phrase “skin color doesn’t matter” and believe it. It wasn’t until seminary, in a way similar to what Bishop Greg Rickel described, that I had the blinders taken off and dove into the deep and murky waters of anti-racism.
That’s why now, in this place, at this time, we should shift our theology of race to something more complex than “skin color doesn’t matter.” I want to tell the story of a God who became a human with a dark-skinned body, lived a life under an oppressive empire, and was murdered. God’s incarnation should be all the proof that Christians need that skin color matters. I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus is evidence that bodies matter. If this is our theological foundation, we can finally move beyond the trite Christian claims about diversity to a theology that values skin color and bodies in a new way.
Drew Yoos and his wife, Sara, are in the process of forming a new church in the North Creek area while also serving as pastors of Light of the Cross Lutheran Church in Bothell.