Christian Discipleship & the Problem of Racism

Christian Discipleship & the Problem of Racism

Explore the connection between Christian discipleship and the problem of racism with an eye toward our collective and individual commitments to change these structures by aligning them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This free, public seminar is offered by St. Chrysostom's Church in Chicago, in partnership with Bexley Seabury Seminary

To register, please visit or contact us at

Sermons, webinars and additional information will be posted on this website.


DATES: July 26th | August 23rd | September 27th | October 25th

PRESENTER: Rev. Dr. Nicholas Pearce

Professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

Founder and CEO of The Vocati Group

Assistant Pastor of Chicago’s historic Apostolic Church of God 


The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work


Sunday, July 26th Sermon:

Sunday, July 26th Coffee Hour:

If you experienced audio difficulties during the July 26th coffee hour, please refer to the Partial Transcript


TUESDAYS 6PM via ZOOM Links Listed Below

 July 28th: Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams - Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago - Breaking Free from Ideologies that Hinder Our Christian Discipleship

August 25th: Rev. Dr. Jason Fout - Associate Professor of Anglican Theology at Bexley Seabury - The History and Sin of Racism,  presenting and in conversation with Dr. Williams

Join at:

September 29th: Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams on a panel with faculty from Bexley Seabury Seminary – conversation moderated by the Rev. Wes Smedley

Join at:

October 27th: Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams - Practical Next Steps 

Join at:


 Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and An Ethic of Resistance


July 28th:


Small Group Conversations:

Starting in September, we invite you to create or join in a small group to further explore and discuss what you can do in your community. At St. Chrysostom’s, there will be a six-week Pathways to Reconciliation program to dig into the history of The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and St. Chrysostom’s with regard to racism, and help us to identify what we want to commit to doing in the coming years.

Workshop Partners: 

The Rev. Dr. Nicholas Pearce, professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, founder and CEO of The Vocati Group, and assistant pastor of Chicago’s historic Apostolic Church of God

The Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams, professor of Christian ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago

The Rev. Dr. Micah Jackson, president of Bexley-Seabury Seminary in Chicago

The Rev. Pei-han Peggy Lo, priest at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Chicago

The Rev. Wes Smedley, rector at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Chicago


The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work, 2019, by Nicholas Pearce;

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and An Ethic of Resistance, 2014 by Reggie L. Williams;

Justice and the Way of Jesus: Christian Ethics and the Incarnational Discipleship of Glen Stassen, 2020, David P. Gushee and Reggie L Williams, editors

Additional Reading: 

Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, 2015 by Kelly Brown Douglas;

Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, 2016 by Rowan Williams;

A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, 2012 by Glen Harold Stassen;

Ethics, 1955 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer;

The Cost of Discipleship, 1959 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Primary Reading

I.       Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and An Ethic of Resistance, 2014 by Reggie L. Williams

The modern European imperialist worldview introduced race as a process of classifying and assigning value within an emerging understanding that human beings exist in different types. Racialization was legitimized by a Christian endorsement of colonialism within the Europe-as-center imagination by use of a diseased theology and grossly misrepresented biblical narratives. One such narrative made use of the “curse of Ham” myth.

(footnote: The curse of Ham myth is a misrepresentation of Genesis 9:20-27, where Noah pronounces a curse on his grandson, Canaan, the son of Ham. The distortion came to be understood as a biblical curse on black people, since Ham was mythologically understood as the father of the darker races where the climate is hotter.)

The racialization of continents corresponds with the curse-of-Ham narrative in which people of color—typically of African descent were destined to be subjugated.

The marker of membership in God’s chosen European people, and of one’s position in the newly emerging hierarchy of humanity, depended upon one’s physical similarity to white European bodies.

The language of race in the modern Western world was first a theological concept connected to a distorted vision of creation that reduced the understanding of non-European bodies to that of properties classified and organized by Europeans for European trade and utilization within European colonies. The theology that was distorted to aid in turning bodies into commodities was mobilized by distorted claims about Jesus; Christian redemption became synonymous with assimilation into the community of God’s chosen people—the European body of Christ, who saw themselves as burdened with the salvation of the world. As a result of this distortion, God’s gift of salvation was now co-mingled with a social principle and a racial optic; social value and moral proximity to God were racialized and measured by the likeness to an idealized humanity, the white European male body. Israel was replaced by Europe as the community of God’s chosen people, and Christ became a European white man. 

Human identity and social intimacy were reimagined to correspond with a racialized European Christian worldview, making Eurocentric humanity—white supremacy—the God-endorsed norm. This was not only theology tailored for colonial domination; it was also theology constructed for an identity that resisted the practice of incarnation, empathy, and transformation. It took a Christianity born of the sensibilities described by incarnation, empathy, and transformation and modified it to make it resist them. The Christian imperialist worldview altered Christianity in the practice of colonialism from Christ’s victory over death in his body to the victory of terror and death in the subjugation of supposedly inferior populations of people. (BBJ, 46-47)

In their racism, white theological and cultural leaders crafted a counterfeit Christ whose sole job was to legitimize their radicalized social imagination. White power structures created a racist Jesus. The man-made white Jesus disallowed them from recognizing the real Christ, whom they wanted to avoid. Racism turns white Christians into idol worshippers, and disallows authentic Christian discipleship. (BBJ, 57) 

II.    Justice and the Way of Jesus: Christian Ethics and the Incarnational Discipleship of Glen Stassen, 2020, David P. Gushee and Reggie L Williams, editors

“Incarnational Discipleship” stands on three legs:

  1. Recognizing God’s sovereignty throughout all of life in opposition to any body-soul split, or two kingdoms, or body-soul dualisms;
  2. Interpreting the teachings of Jesus “thickly” in a way that provides concrete norms for daily living, and not merely as high ideals or principles; and
  3. Practicing continual repentance to resist the temptation to interpret the Gospel as justification for ideologies.

It was at the beginnings of the United States when the way of Jesus was stripped down, turned into thin principles that transform commandments like “turn the other cheek” uno high ideals and universals, seeing the commandments as spiritual teachings rather than concrete claims on actual behavior. 

Harmful ideologies and hegemonic belief systems [are those] that are “invented in order to defend special privilege for an in-group and provide justification for excluding other groups while covering up what the belief system is doing.” (Glen Stassen, A Thicker Jesus) Hence, chattel slavery was fueled by Christian ideological support. Christians empowered slavery in the United States with a thin Jesus, emaciated to such a degree that he could make slavery a Christian franchise by dwelling within the lucrative slaveocracy as theological justification. The thin Jesus is at home with social evil, and an adversary of social justice. 

Thin Jesus was the religious object of the Christian slave owner’s devotion, and of all subsequent Christian devotion that is not equipped to recognize and to resist that historically menacing spirit. Because the emaciated Christ is a fetish crafted as a religious support for domination and exclusion, it is a rival to God’s truth. The prophets described rival truth as idolatry, and Jesus referred to it as hypocrisy. 

Alternatively, the gospel of a thick Jesus is guided by concrete norms like justice, which is referred to in the Bible 1,060 times. Emptying Jesus of that substantial content leaves a void for Christian discipleship that is filled in by -isms and phobias that co-opt the way of Christ for evil. It is a Christianity guided by ideologies as norms: racism, classism, heterosexism, patriarchy, ableism, and greed become normative for a warped Christian life. 

The problem of a thin Jesus who distorted Christianity at the beginnings of the United States is thus not merely that he is thin, but that he is white. White Jesus is the template…God’s image on earth has been identified with white men. We must address this distortion. A slaveholding society was also a deeply religious one, and its corresponding Christian traditions persist. 

Whiteness is a system of belief that structures a deviant discipleship. We must address the way that the Jesus of whiteness represents an ideology of human difference as a fetish of hegemonic power. 

The social encounters between black people and racist Christians in the overtly racist United States demonstrate that if they do not problematize their influential history of racism, white Christian traditions have nothing to offer society beyond racist dreams of an idealized humanity for an idealized community. Their faith tradition prioritizes right belief over social interaction, which makes it possible to be cruel while claiming to be Christian. In such cases, discipleship is about pedagogy rather than embodied obedience to “love your neighbor.”

III.    The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work, 2019, by Nicholas Pearce

Vocational courage is about taking the risk that you cannot afford not to take in order to be able to look at yourself in the mirror with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Ultimately, that’s where courage comes in. 

Vocational courage is not the absence of fear, it is looking at all the reasons why you should not follow your calling in life and coming to the realization that you must do it anyway. It takes courage to overcome the voices that say you shouldn’t follow the path laid out for you, and it takes courage to overcome your own self-doubts. 

Vocational courage in an organizational context is having clarity about what that organization’s unique purpose is and making the difficult strategic decisions that are necessary to ensure that the organization’s activities and strategies continue to align with that purpose. The organization fails to be itself when it acts in ways that are not consistent with its purpose, and if the purpose has strayed, then the organization is essentially losing itself.

It all comes down to an organization’s culture, which has three important building blocks:

-Its purpose—the foundational reason it exists

-Its principles—no more than a handful of core values that align with the organization’s purpose and express how the organization goes about its work

-Its practices—the organization’s routines, policies, processes, and activities

So part of vocational courage for organizations is making sure that what we are doing is aligned with who we are. 

Every organization should have a clear sense of purpose, just as every individual should have a clear sense of purpose. Purpose is not what we do but why we exist.

Secondary Reading

I.       Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and An Ethic of Resistance, 2014 by Reggie L. Williams

The history of European colonialism contains the story of what Willie Jennings (The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, 2010) describes as a diseased social imagination. The infection occurred when theology was merged with the colonial system to provide religious authority for centering the world on a European imagination, making Christ a white European man, and to offer an apologetics for domination and authoritarianism. 

Until the fifteenth century, Jerusalem was the center of the Christian world. From the fifteenth to the early twentieth century, Europeans recognized their community of empires as the center of the world and the hope for humanity, culturally, geographically, and religiously. In the process of colonial expansion, the Spanish “discovery”of he extreme Western continent, the Indias Occidentals, followed three centuries later by the invention of the Middle East and the Far East through Orientalism, Europe became the geographical, philosophical, politics, economic, and spiritual center of the world. 

The Eurocentric perspective gave to some imperialist nations the concept of “discovery,” which was descriptive of a world with one history and a Christian social imagination that racialized continents as it “discovered” them, defining humanity according to the European ideal norm, as explorers came into contact with native “others” in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Fundamentally, the Eurocentric worldview saw Europe as more than a geographical location; the language of discovery turned Europe into a people-making process.

The theological element of the Europe-as-center worldview was a Christian social imagination that was diseased by its blending with the modern European notion of ideal humanity.

II.     Justice and the Way of Jesus: Christian Ethics and the Incarnational Discipleship of Glen Stassen, 2020, David P. Gushee and Reggie L Williams, editors

Shame is perceived as something that is wrong with the self. It is a negative self-assessment that we hide from others behind emotional walls. Because of shame, we practice evasion from others and from God, and we replace God with some other source rather than living in the presence of God and basing our social ethics on God’s revealed word, doing justly and walking humbly with God.

One response to shame is a refusal to accept finitude, which results in a prideful will-to-power that is a mask for insecurities. Another response is a sensual abandonment of responsibilities in a refusal to accept freedom.

It is a reaction to shame that leads to abuses of power, the desire to dominate others, and authoritarianism. Racism misleads us. It directs its hosts to hide from God in defense and denial, even posturing as faithful Christian discipleship to give the appearance of moral legitimacy, while refusing to face failures and limitations. Unable to deal honestly and without defensiveness with their historical sins, white people react with a buried shame that only heightens expressions of racism.

Shame is the emotional product of an internal civil war. White shame is an internal conflict for whites that occurs as a result of membership in a racial community that one rejects on moral grounds. It is the catalyst for forming a white racial identity in response to the wounds of childhood, as the first victims of white supremacy are not people of color, ironically, but white children. Whiteness causes distress in the psyche of the developing white child that functions as a type of child abuse.  The process of learning to be white occurs as a defensive response to traumas that produce shame about one’s white racial identity.

Christ as empathic representative moves through our walls of shame, entering into the places where we hide our inadequacies, and there Christ accepts the self we seek to hide. Christ sees us in our shame, accepts us as we are, and turns our heart toward God and our real neighbor, thus enabling us to love our real sisters and brothers by participating with God in God’s ongoing empathic work in Christ. In America, entering through the barriers of shame means dealing with the history of distorted humanity that is the root of racism to repentance and into life together.