My fifth post in this series (pt. 1, 2, 3, & 4 here) imagines an alternative model for church communities where the privileged stand in solidarity with those at the margins of society. I specifically draw on theologian Stanley Hauerwas’ recent work where he provocatively suggests that Christians must be in relationship with the poor. Theologian Brian Bantum is also featured in this post, as his work on the Church being a mulattic melody continues to envision a space for an authentic, alternative community. This community will doubtlessly be made up of the poor, the rich, black and white.
Stanley Hauerwas, in his article entitled The End of Charity: How Christians are (not) to ‘Remember the Poor’, makes a cogent case that it is a Christians obligation to stand with the poor. Throughout his essay, Hauerwas stresses the Biblical, historical, ecclesiological and theological emphases on God’s people being intimately connected to the poor. Hauerwas readily admits that “the poor” have become an abstract sociological necessity for the purposes of reinforcing the status quo in the United States. Therefore, to know and be with “the poor” is a foreign concept to a society that necessarily requires the poor to exist for its benefit.
Hauerwas contends that there are a good many Christians who want to “help” the poor, but they typically exude mentalities of superiority and paternalism. It is typically in the short-term mission trip or the “urban immersion experience” that these mentalities are most sharply reflected. Inevitably, these sorts of excursions “foster forms of dishonest relationships by inviting those that are allegedly being helped to be ‘grateful’ for these intrusions into their lives.” What is needed is not a short-term encounter with the poor, where Christians evade the tough task of being honest with those they may fear; what is needed is a commitment by Christians to actively remember the poor. The only way this can be done is through “genuine friendship.”
To be a friend of the poor means, first and foremost, Christians must “learn to listen to the poor.” Through listening, Christians learn how “to be with the poor.” Being with the poor is in fact a sacrament because “we find in the face of the poor the face of Christ.” Hauerwas takes great pains to stress the fact that the poor have much to teach American Christians about God and even their own loneliness. Yet many are recalcitrant to engage the poor beyond surface level interactions. Hauerwas surmises the reason for this is because,
most rich Christians, filled as we are with the anxiety about our wealth, try to do something for the poor before we have listened to their story. … I fear we often want to help the poor without getting to know who the poor may be. I suspect we do so, not from some ideology against the poor, but rather I suspect we prefer to do for the poor rather than be with the poor because the poor scare the hell out of us.
For many white American Christians, encountering the poor creates havoc in their lives because they are forced to encounter economic disparities as well as the racialization of poverty. So churches become homogeneously driven by socioeconomic and racial strata in an effort to avoid uncomfortable confrontations with the “other.” Instead of disciplining themselves to remember those dissimilar to their own community, these Christians find ways to erect barriers of exclusion.
Brian Bantum, in his book Redeeming Mulatto, heavily criticizes the white American church for its abysmal history of exclusion in an effort to remain “pure.” These methods of exclusion discount the radical nature of Christ and Christ’s Church. Bantum provocatively suggests that Christ internalizes mulatto/a existence insofar as Christ exemplifies two distinct natures that find their perfect unity in his single person. Christ’s very existence demonstrates and “confounds the notions of purity and impurity” as he perfectly identifies as both God and man. Not only does Christ embody diversity within his own self, but he also illustrates God’s desire for difference in his ministry as Christ incorporates “lepers, the blind, the poor, tax collectors, and the prominent” into his fold so that each could “become present to one another in radically different ways.”
Therefore, those who identify as disciples must mimic Christ’s mulattic existence if they wish to be part of “a new people who are born and live in the Holy Spirit.” Bantum suggests disciples are those who naturally seek to imitate Christ by seeking out persons who, prior to their conversion, would have been considered to be “strangers” or “enemies.” A mulattic understanding of Christ and his mission is tantamount to what it means to be a disciple as Bantum suggests
To resist Christ as mulatto is to resist the possibility of our own transformation and the politics of that personhood. Christ enters into our lives to perform us into new creatures and a new way of being in the world. This speech, this word of prayer articulates humanity into a new thing, resisting and disrupting the formations of identity that sought to establish personhood within the confines of race, nation, and culture. Christ’s identity as mulatto becomes essential at this point not for his identity, but for ours.
Stanley Hauerwas. “The End of Charity: How Christians Are (not) to ‘Remember the Poor.’”
 Brian Bantum. Redeeming Mulatto: A Theology of Race and Christian Hybridity. (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2010), 108. See also the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2:6-7.
 Ibid., 127. See also Rom 10:12; I Cor. 12:13; Gal 3:27-28; Eph 2:11-22; Col 3:11.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 168, 184.
 Ibid., 113.
 Art by David C. Driskell, Spirits Watching, 1986.