Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


Argument Culture

Whiteness Workshop

I would like make something available to you that I hope you find helpful.

This is a ‘workshop on whiteness’ that I developed in 2015 and then updated a little bit last year. PDF:  Whiteness Workshop Sanders

If you are interested in learning more about race and specifically the issue of whiteness then I want to be here for you during this important time in our nation’s history.

Let me tell you who I am looking for. Let’s say that there is a whiteness spectrum that goes from Level 1 (white normative – pull your pants up, speak English, don’t give your kids weird names) to Level 10 (Woke AF) then here is how I map that spectrum.

Level 2: not racist but snarky and defensive (they can say the N-word but we can’t?)

Level 3: I want to say Black Lives Matter but doesn’t All Lives include black ones?

Level 4: I get that people are upset but …

Level 5: Can’t we all just get along?

Level 6: Something is really wrong isn’t it?

I am looking for people who are at Level  2, 3, 4, or 5 and want to move to level 6.

  • If you don’t know what POC stands for.
  • If you get told to ‘check your privilege’.
  • If you don’t understand how race could be a ‘construct’.
  • If you think that bringing up race is racist.

Now, if you are more advanced than I am (Woke AF) then I bless you on your journey and say, ‘you know the work that you need to do – get busy – we need you in the struggle’.

Also, if you are Level 1, I am not sure I can help you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be helped – only that I am not the person to help. It is too close to some bad experiences I had when I was younger and I don’t tend to have the best reactions.

If, however, you are at Level 3 (I want to say that Black Lives Matter) or Level 4 (I get that people are up but …) or Level 5 (Can’t we all just get along?) then I would like to make myself available to you.

I offer you a couple of  things:

  • Read this Whiteness Workshop (35 pages) and keep track of any questions, concerns, or objections that you have.
  • Invite a friend or two to do this exercise with you.
  • Email me any questions you want to ask but don’t feel like you can without getting in trouble.
  • Let me know if a phone call would be preferred and we can set that up.


You may be thinking, “can’t I just ask a person of color that I know?”

Please don’t.

It is not their job to educate us white people or carry our emotional burden. Communities of color have their own work that they are doing right now. Educating ourselves about issues of race and specifically whiteness is our labor right now.

So, if you are intrigued but what I am offering and would identify yourself as within the window on my whiteness scale, then I would truly love to be a resource for you during this time.

Why Us vs Them

I am preparing to lead a 3-month book discussion of The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch for the adult Sunday school at my church.

My plan is to pair the chapter in the book with a different book, school of thought, or historical movement. Some of these include The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas, and the Anabaptist tradition.

Here are the 7 conversations that I hope will come up in the next 3 months:

  1. The church is supposed to be an alternative way of life – a prophetic and subversive witness to the world – that critiques the ways of the world and provides an alternative way of being in the world. She works best as a minority position within the larger culture and is not designed to be in charge or in control of culture.
  2. Neither the Republican or Democratic party can fix the problem of society. The Democrat and Republican parties are two sides of the same flawed coin. They are not the solution to the problem – they are manifestations of the problem.
  3. The church is not a middle way between these two camps (compromise) but it supposed to be a third way (alternative) to their ways. What we call ‘the church’ is so saturated with both Empire and consumerism that it is completely impotent to confront the ‘powers-that-be’ – which crucified the Prince of Peace (as a scapegoat) – and these powers continue to make life worse for most of humanity.
  4. The American ‘church’ is in bed with the systems of this world that reinforce racism, sexism, poverty, and militarism – 3 of those 4 things Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘triplets of evil’.
  5. There is a way of living, which Jesus modeled for us and taught about, that leads out of the muck-and-mire we find ourselves in and opens up the hopes and potential of a different way of being in the world. That is the good news of the gospel (evangel).
  6. The church has the potential (capacity) to be the most beautiful and profound vehicle (venue) for unleashing human flourishing and peace. She does this by resisting evil, acting in love, and advocating for those who are vulnerable or on the margins.
  7. The kingdom (or kin-dom) of God is actually within reach but the church has compromised and been corrupted by being in alliance with Empire and the systems of this world. What we call ‘church’ is a shadow of what is supposed to be. Us vs. Them thinking is a symptom of that disease.

Here is a quick video (5 min) to introduce the topics:

Let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

God Loves Who?

Our Left – Right politic divide creates problems for understanding and living in God’s love.

God loves us AND them.

I have been thinking about Identity Politics in the Gospel of Luke.

Identity Politics are great for politics – everyone should bring their whole humanity to the table and should vote according to their social location.

While Identity Politics are great for politics, it is not great for community.

It exposes that the Left is just the inverse of the Right – and neither is the gospel.

The gospel of God’s love transcends and even subverts our current political divide.

Check out the video and let me know your thoughts.

Conflict Case Study

Conflict Case Study: 2nd Amendment, Abortion, Voting, Police

This is a follow-up to last week’s Conflict Culture.

5 elements to each:

1) Individualism

2) Remnant Structure

3) Technology

4) Intensity/Amplification

5) Trigger

2nd Amendment

  1. Individual: gun owner
  2. Remnant: militia language and muskets
  3. Technology: Assault rifles and militarization
  4. Heat: 24-hour coverage of mass shootings
  5. Trigger: ‘don’t politicize’ in wake of shooting vs. government taking guns


  1. Individual: choice of woman v. unborn child
  2. Remnant: essential understandings of gender, sexuality, and
  3. Technology: sonogram, pregnancy tests, in vetro fertilization, sperm banks
  4. Heat: echo-chamber media (not able to see other side)
  5. Trigger: Roe v Wade, appointment of Supreme Court justices

Policing Strategies

  1. Individual: unarmed black men v. a ‘good’ cop
  2. Remnant: policing practices originated in Jim Crow South
  3. Technology: cell phone videos, body cams, riot gear, militarization
  4. Heat: echo-chamber media (not able to see other side)
  5. Trigger: access to national media provides constant new stories


  1. Individual: popular vote v what does one vote matter?
  2. Remnant: electoral college and gerrymandering
  3. Technology: Russian bots, Facebook, Citizens United, PACs
  4. Heat: Argument Culture, Echo Chamber, Social Media
  5. Trigger: Hanging ‘chads’ in Gore v Bush, Popular Vote


What issue would you like to explore with this 5-part tool?

Conflict Culture: Perfect Storm

We live in a ‘Perfect Storm’ for conflict and chaos that seems to have no end or hope for resolution.

5 Elements come together

  1. Individualism (consumerism) –
  2. Remnant Structures – fragments of previous eras
  3. Expanded Scope – oversized beyond our understanding

Those 3 create a perfect storm. But the heated environment provides a 4th element that intensifies the problem

4. Water Warmed by Media –  24 hour news and social media

These self selecting platforms create a confirmation bias, which can become an echo-chamber, which morphs into a feedback (distortion) loop when the volume is turned up too high.

The 5th and final element is a ‘spark’ that triggers the :

5. Alienated from the power to change it. Fight against resignation

In the video below I use 3 test cases: 2nd Amendment, Abortion, Policing strategies.

I may make a video just detailing those 3 and adding our voting crisis.


For more:

Why Things Seem So Bad

Fragmented and Fractured

No Such Thing As Neutral Anymore

Everyone For Themselves

Kneeling Honors The Founders

You are free to disagree with me.

And that is the beauty of this issue.

You are free and you disagree.

Welcome to America.


Three things I would like you to consider:

  1. America is founded on protest
  2. Protestants are the largest group in America
  3. The national anthem is too special to sing at every game


America is founded on protest. The founding fathers were literally protesting things like ‘taxation without representation’ and the divine right of kings.

Protest is baked in the American bread – it is embedded in the DNA of our nation.

So kneeling during the national anthem is the perfect time to do so and it honors the ideals that this country is based on. The timing is part of what makes the protest so poignant. It would be so much less powerful if players knelt during the first commercial time-out.

In fact, seen in a certain light, kneeling is probably the perfect way to honor this aspect of our rights as Americans. By one definition, Kneeling is a basic human position where one or both knees touch the ground. It can be used:

  • as a resting position
  • as an expression of reverence and submission
  • as a mark of respect
  • during childbirth


Protestants are the largest group in America. It always shocks me when protestants demand conformity and control. Look no further than our name to see that we are born in protest. The entire enterprise is based on the individual’s conscience. [1]

Martin Luther famously said, “here I stand and I can do no other”. An NFL player might say, “here I kneel and I can do no other”.

If you are a white person in America, you should defend player’s rights to kneel no matter how much you disagree with the timing or the message they are trying to convey about policing practices in minority communities. That is what freedom is all about.


The national anthem is too special to sing at every game. I love the singing of the national anthem at big events like the Olympics. That makes sense because the athletes are representing their country. I have never understood why we need to sing a worship song to America before we play baseball or football.

I stopped singing the national anthem before non-national games when I was an athlete living in Canada. At first, it was because I was not Canadian. Then I became a dual-citizen but it had stopped making sense to me.

I do honor the singing of the national anthem before USA Soccer matches – that makes sense because the players are in the red-white-and-blue. I swell with pride when the anthem is played after an athlete wins a medal at the Olympics.

Singing it before every single sporting event seems inappropriate. Let’s save it for international games and make it truly special.

Of course, you are free to disagree.


[1] Nerdy sidenote: the same can be said for evangelicals, fundamentalists, charismatics, and pentecostals, who call someone ‘heretical’ or claim ‘orthodoxy’. You might want to go to your nearest Orthodox church (they are very welcoming actually) and ask the man in charge what he thinks of your modern take on Christianity. Spoiler alert – you are not orthodox.

Civility or Resistance?

Last week on the Peacing It All Together podcast, Randy and I talked about ‘the call for civility’.

Next week at the church’s pub-chat, the topic is the same.

Randy and I came up with 3 ideas about this and I want to reflect on them here.

First, it is important in ‘The Argument Culture’ (as Deborah Tannen famously called it) that we don’t prioritize policing people’s tone or vocabulary. Yes, we don’t want to inflame the situation and make it worse… but policing tone is not our highest priority.

The bigger issue is committing to stay at the table. Part of problem right now is that people can tune each other out, turn the channel, unfriend or mute voice they don’t agree with. Our self-selecting news feed becomes an echo chamber and bubble.

Staying at the table even when things get heated is an important first commitment.

Second, humanize – don’t demonize those with whom you disagree. A gift (or grace) that we can give our fellow members of the human race is to spend our time and energy imagining them as more fully and faithfully human. It is a dangerous thing when we make people into non-human things like monsters and animals.

Third, if push comes to shove (as they say) make sure that you punch up and not down. Focus your critique and concern on those who have more resources and influence than you do. Don’t take swings at those who are marginalized or disadvantaged.

Use your voice, your influence, and your resources for those who have less access to influence, fewer resources, and less power than you.

Is there any that you would add to our 3 suggestions?

Bound In Conflict & UnBound In Love

We live in a time of division and conflict.

It is perfect timing then, that our topic this week comes from Galatians 3 and says, “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile … all are one.”

Usually when this topic comes up people want to focus on how Christ’s love “bridges” the divides between us.

I want to take it a step further! I want to look at how:

A) we are bound up in those categories of sex, religion, and politics

B) Christ’s love ruptures those categories and un-binds us from them

The love of God doesn’t just bridge the divisions among us – it binds us together in love and undermines the very categories themselves.

God’s love calls into question the human categories of:

  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Politics

Love UnBound doesn’t just help us bridge the difference between us – it unbinds us to see the other in such a different way that our categories themselves are called into question.

Here is a short video – let me know what you think …

Everyone For Themselves

I am big fan of Identity Politics.  People’s politics should be informed by, and come from, their social location. What is the alternative? Ideology? No, our identities are socially constructed and so that identity needs to inform our politics.

I am also aware that while identity politics (IP) are great for politics –they are not a totalizing approach for every area of life.  There has been quite a loud outcry recently by some over IP’s overreach into every arena and how it has come to dominate nearly everything in a media era where optics are everything.

Today I simply want to look at why it feels like it is ‘everyone for themselves’ in our culture. This is part 4 of “Why Things Seems So Bad Right Now”.  [You may want to read ‘No Neutral Anymore‘ and ‘Fragmented and Fractured’ first.]


Identity Politics rose in the 1960’s and came to prominence in the academy though various branches of what comes under the umbrella of ‘theory’. Concerns of feminists, civil rights leaders, the gay community and other minority groups brought radical critique of society and its norms in the 60’s challenging the status quo and the underlying assumption that sustained the oppressive systems of institutionalized systems.

Identity politics gave voice to many who had felt silenced or marginalized by a societal norm that instantiated by codes of conduct, conformity, and control (often through threats and actual violence). By banning together under small but vocal banners identifying the group as connected through some commonality and loyalty (race, gender, class, etc.) individuals were able to create a larger platform for their concerns and garner political leverage for change. Changes included legal protection, the removal of discrimination and practice of exclusion, as well prominence in representation whether in the workplace, government or media.


There are at least four considerable critiques of identity politics that cover a wide array of concerns from distinct perspective and commitments.  There are points of overlap between the critics, but for clarity I will group them in the following ways:

  • Atomism
  • Essentialist
  • Communitarian
  • Consumerism

Atomism: Marc Fisher is a vocal critic of identity politics (IP) as an extension of neo-liberalism and its resulting expression of autonomous individualism. Critiques like his focus on the shortcomings of the atomized conception of the individual that come out of the Enlightenment. The breakdown of social bonds (like the family and tribe), religious institutions (prevalent distrust of institutions and leaders) as well as prevalent mobility/transience has resulted in a society of individuals who often do not live in the village they grew up in, feel free to believe or not believe the things that their parents do, and have no generational supervision as they pursue their desires for promotion/status/relationship/satisfaction in isolation and without accountability.

IP then is the natural offspring of this atomized concept of self where one’s own self-interest and particular concern are central and elevated.  In this view, a black lesbian (for instance) takes her own interests and demands special consideration and a privileging of her situation to combat the privilege that has been inherited and enjoyed by those who has historically conformed to societal norms and thus their experience has been normalized.

Essentialist: Judith Butler has a very different concern about IP that it is danger of essentializing individual experience as a common and too concrete category. There is not one experience that can be called the ‘female experience’ or ‘the view of women’. The danger here is that a whole group can be lumped together and their varying experience and perspectives codified as something concrete or essential. Gender is the way (or sexuality, class expectations, etc) and its performative nature means that we have been socialized and conditioned into gender roles and expectations even as we freely act within the menu of options that we believe to be available to us.

In this sense, identity politics risks essentializing an individual or group’s experience in an attempt to gain solidarity within the identified group for the purpose of political leverage with those outside the group. Those working for ‘gay rights’ ban together to narrate a common experience in order to gain attention and allies that are required if the protections that are being sought are going to be agreed to by the majority. This, in Butler’s view, is a temporary measure that cannot be allowed to be essentialized as ‘the’ gay perspective or experience.

Communitarian: This group has a sustained critique of IP, prominently vocalized by thinkers like Michael Sandel. Communitarians view the individual within a larger matrix of social, ethical, and political structures that bind us as a networked or linked collective of groups and communities. The loyalties of IP are to the individual and promote the agenda of one group often to the neglect of or detriment to the collective whole.

IP looks to elevate the experience of a neglected or marginalized group without taking into account the possible reasons why that may have come to be the case historically. Both gays and women are addressed within the construct of procreation and the furtherance of our society and species. Communitarians are clever in the conservatism – contesting not on the grounds of some revealed or universal moral order, but on the grounds of utilitarian pragmatism before transitioning toward moralized principles of the greater good over specialty interests and minority perspectives. [1]

Consumerism: In his book “Consuming Religion”, Vincent Miller interacts with a number of Marxists critiques alongside postmodern approaches such as Jean Baudrillard to expose IP as a commodity fetish within the ‘logic of late capitalism’.  Within a consumer context such as Western culture has entered into, everything including religion experience and IP, is commodified. Consumption is ultimately unsatisfying but the totalizing nature of Capitalist society has the capacity to absorb even the most virulent dissent. The capacity of the market to absorb criticism and protest, then adopt and commodified the concern, and finally appropriate its agenda is all-consuming.

IP can easily be addressed then by the ‘logic of the market’ by taking every specialty interest group or minority and tailoring merchandise, products and ‘swag’ for their purpose and for their rallies. People want to broadcast an image to ‘appear’ that they are committed to a cause.

“The market does not distinguish between ‘Feel the Bern’ bumper stickers or ‘Make America Great Again’. It just wants you to buy bumper stickers.”

Nor does the market judge if a consumer wants to pay $2 more for a cup of coffee to ensure that it is organic – shade grown – fair trade – single region. In the same way, the interests of IP and its constituent groups are commodified and reified within the existing structure. Adjustment is made to supply personalized, modified, tailored, stylized and customized products and services for ready consumption. All resistence, dissent and protest is absorbed and appropriated into what Guy Deborg refers to as ‘the society of spectacle’.


In summary, critics of IP share in common a concern for its limitations even while those concerns manifest in disparate directions of critique.

  • First, there is no way that a few contributing markers can signify the totality of your experience.
  • Second, it is possible that identification within one minority group or special interest will suppress and minimize the full expression of your ‘self’ as an individual.
  • Third, by choosing to focus on one or a few personal markers of identity, groups create division and adversarial compartmentalization that may work against the ‘common good’ or which may end up limiting or injuring a different sub-group.
  • Lastly, by choosing to focus on one or a few personal markers of identity, there is a danger of essentializing one experience in order to promote a common voice or narrative but which may be inauthentic and intimately inaccurate committing a fallacy of misplaced concreteness in an attempt to promote solidarity or consolidate support.

I hope that this quick overview has been helpful – if nothing else, I just wanted to address why it may feel like there is such discord and animosity in our contemporary environment.


[1] This critique is very popular right now and is making big news on social media for being part of the backlash during the most recent election. Jordan Peterson is probably the most visible spokesperson for this sort of critique. The first 5 min of this video (content warning) will get you up to speed.

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