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(Curtiss DeYoung (lead author) and contributing authors Jacqueline J. Lewis, Micky ScottBey Jones, Robyn Afrik, Sarah Thompson Nahar, Sindy Morales Garcia, and ‘Iwalani Ka’ai,  Becoming Like Creoles: Living and Leading at the Intersections of Injustice, Culture, and Religion Fortress Press, 2019).

In 1 Timothy, Paul warns against “unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction” (1 Tim. 5:4 NIV). Today on both sides of the right-left divide, people indulge such unhealthy interests, and precisely these vices result. Becoming Like Creoles is a beautiful model for taking Paul’s advice to “flee from all this” (1 Tim. 5:11). The flight is not toward disengagement but instead leadership in the pursuit of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 5:12). DeYoung and six contributing authors “flee” toward life-long Christian leadership in matters of race and justice and offer valuable insights for others considering this path.

Rightly orienting our gaze toward the real and the true and striving for growth in virtue still leaves us in need of words and concepts that, while never precise or perfect, need to be useful. DeYoung introduces the concept of “creole” as helpful to Christian thought and practice with respect to racism and injustice, understood intersectionally. After spending time in France and in Guadeloupe, DeYoung experienced the power of creolization, the cultural hybrids, and fusions that emerge from colonial contexts. Creole cultures are defined by a mixed quality, an ongoing relation to colonial history, and an expressive, incomplete, creative, and authentic expression of ongoing violence, exile, and resistance (pp. 6-7).

Devotion to the Christian ideal of the moral or the good can dissolve into a quest for moral high ground, a place where we can engage race with clean hands and no moral stain. The concept of creole encourages a commitment to working in the world as it is, with disparities of power and dominance that reach outward to history and inward to identity and unexamined assumptions and biases. DeYoung delves into the book of Acts, in particular, to show how believers can express the Gospel in earthly contexts that never provide spaces for absolution or clarity. Creolization takes intractable power dynamics and social injustice as the context within which people from greater and lesser positions of power live together in a world that is unfair and unjust, but in that very agony offers an opportunity for creative, unexpected, emergent identities, relationships, and reforms and inventions in social institutions.

Becoming Like Creoles is written in hybrid form, showing as well as telling about creolization. DeYoung describes his life and ministry in the voice of memoir. The book also includes six contributing authors who are all women from communities of color and indigenous communities, living out the Creole process in the United States. They describe their experiences of identity and faith formation and development as Christian leaders. The book also includes a biblical analysis of the book of Acts and the early church. Altogether the book powerfully blends personal narrative, sociology, and biblical exegesis in an integrally intersectional manner.

DeYoung offers a wonderful gift that faculty at Christian colleges and universities may share with our students. The book is written at a level that will challenge faculty but is still inviting and accessible for undergraduate and seminary students. In Bible, theology, and religion courses, students may be equipped to use creolization as a concept for studying biblical texts and to see new possibilities for ministry and mission in the contemporary world. In social science courses, faculty may add creolization to the set of concepts used to analyze the social construction of race, racism, and racialization. In diversity courses more broadly, the text offers an interesting model for collaborative authoring and the inclusion of multiple voices and identities that could be critically analyzed and appreciated.

The hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” invites the worshipper to ponder, “What language shall I borrow?” in expressing gratitude to God. Both the gratitude we owe and the God to whom we owe it are, by their natures, beyond the words available in a human language. Earthly realities spark a similar question when we struggle to speak about social realities such as modernity, history, capitalism, and intersectionality, phenomena that, by their nature, frustrate our desire to understand the symbols and concepts available in a given language. Developing and sharing new words and concepts is itself a kind of scholarly creole.

On both sides of the right-left divide, race lends itself to “quarrels over words” that miss the spirit with which the words were spoken and fail to move society or local contexts toward justice. Becoming Like Creoles encourages the cultivation of courage and patience that yield meaningful personal and social action. “Cultural competency thrives when one’s lived experience of empathy and intimacy includes contact with a wide variety of people, thereby reinforcing one’s journey toward multicultural personhood” (p. 49).

Jenell Paris

Messiah University
Jenell Paris, Ph.D., is Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Messiah University in Grantham, PA.

2 Comments

  • Allen Seward says:

    Thank you for a gentle encouragement that my thoughts and speech might be more genteel. It was a welcome word. I do think the references are chapter 6 of Timothy, rather than 5.

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    This article reminds me of James 3:17-18 in the Message. While not my preferred translation for study, Eugene Peterson did a masterful job in this passage regarding the spiritual wisdom needed for right relationships:

    Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

    Thank you for this article, Professor Paris: As COVID has demonstrated, the Christian community is eminently capable of tearing itself apart over masks and vaccines, to say nothing about race, gender, gun control, and other social issues. Getting along takes a commitment to do just that, to put peacemaking above self-righteous virtue signalling.

    If we do not love one another, we cannot begin to have a positive testimony to the world. We become tasteless salt, good for nothing.

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