Advertisement

When God Became White: Dismantling Whiteness for a More Just Christianity

"The pervasive images of a White Jesus and language that presents a White male God, further emphasize the assimilationist attitude that was and is prevalent in Western culture." — Jo Wiersema on "When God Became White"

Grace Ji-Sun Kim
InterVarsity Press, 200 pages
Published May 7, 2024

Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s When God Became White: Dismantling Whiteness for a More Just Christianity interweaves the modern understanding of Christianity and its common presentation of God as White and male with a high-level introduction to systemic injustices. She covers these deep topics – including racism, police brutality and patriarchal oppression – at such a high level that we are left wanting more. And yet, Kim’s experiences as a Korean American immigrant and her focus on the experiences of Koreans throughout history bring so much to her work. It is this personal approach to her topic that makes When God Became White unique.

Numerous churches (Baptist, Korean Presbyterian and other) offered others a “White” version of Christianity, which Kim connects with Korean history, specifically the negative role western Christian missionaries played in their teachings: “They taught that whiteness was good, almost like a gift from God.” Similarly, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, Japan attempted to erase Korean culture, history and language.

While I appreciated Kim’s perspectives as a Korean American participating in White churches, as well as her personal stories of Korea, I struggled at times to follow the thread; she connected her experiences with such a broad range of topics in quick succession, sometimes brushing the surface of complex issues. Her work is much stronger as she depicts the oppression of the Korean people and describes the White church’s unwillingness to support Korean culture — even within the Korean Presbyterian Church. The pervasive images of a White Jesus and language that presents a White male God further emphasize the assimilationist attitude that was and is prevalent in Western culture. This was, perhaps, the strongest section of the book; Kim’s personal experiences in Korea and as a Korean American make the narrative particularly engaging.

Additionally, Kim dives into the default understanding of God as male that many White Christian traditions perpetuate. Kim explains how her father understood his role as a father made him closer to God, and she describes the ways he limited the role of women in her family’s home. Kim responds with an exploration of the feminine dimensions of God, such as “Sophia,” (the Greek word for wisdom) and utilizing these to make God less patriarchal and more approachable to women.

Based on the title, I expected Kim would address the larger historical narrative of how “White Jesus” came to be — and might even suggest next steps for White churches and individuals to liberate themselves from a White God. While Kim does share ideas, she presents them in such broad strokes, (such as “rethink and re-create our liturgical language about God”) that they are less actionable than hoped.

Regardless, When God Became White is a strong entry point for those looking to deconstruct White Christianity and understand racism within the church, particularly for those with little exposure to the systemic injustices that have contributed to it. While this isn’t the book I anticipated, I would recommend it to individuals and congregations at the beginning of an anti-racism journey. More experienced groups working against racism may find the text too rudimentary, yet newcomers to anti-racism work might find that the questions for reflection and discussion lead to the kinds of critical insight and reflection they need.

Presbyterian Outlook supports local bookstores. Join us! Click on the link below to purchase When God Became White: Dismantling Whiteness for a More Just Christianity from BookShop, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. As an affiliate, Outlook will also earn a commission from your purchase. 

Want to receive book-related content in your inbox once a month? Sign up here.

LATEST STORIES

Advertisement