Reclaiming My Theology

...From White Supremacy: Either/Or (Binary) Thinking w/ Sarah Akutagawa

July 16, 2020 Brandi Miller Season 1 Episode 6
Reclaiming My Theology
...From White Supremacy: Either/Or (Binary) Thinking w/ Sarah Akutagawa
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Brandi sits down (you know virtually...because we are still in a pandemic) with Sarah Akutagawa to talk about either/or thinking. We talk about how binary thinking starts early and impacts almost all parts of how we see God, ourselves, and each other. We talk about how living in the both/and offers freedom to throw off the falseness that white supremacy puts on, and in doing so, that we can become more free. 

If you like what you hear, please subscribe, rate, and review. Thanks you so much to everyone who already has. You can join in financially supporting our work on Patreon (, just $5/month gets you extra content and my gratitude (which probably isn't as good a stuff...but...who can know). 

Taking our theology back from ideas and systems that oppress.

Reclaiming My Theology, Episode 6: Binary Thinking

Brandi: Hello, and welcome to Reclaiming My Theology, a podcast seeking to take our theology back from ideas and systems that oppress. Today, I’m joined by my friend, Sarah Akutagawa, to talk about either/or, or binary, thinking, and the ways that it impacts how we see scripture, ourselves, right and wrong, good and evil, and a host of other binaries that we experience in our lives.

I want to acknowledge that there are limits that Sarah and I have as we enter this conversation. As we begin to talk about binaries, especially in the midst of non-binary people’s day this week, I want to specifically honor our queer siblings, whose unique contributions have historically been and often presently are excluded from Christian spaces. If the antidote to binary thinking is nuanced complexity and spectrum-thinking, I’m aware that many of us need to press more deeply and into queer voices and, really, a queering of our faith—not just in terms of sexuality and gender, but in all ways. And that we need queer folx to be the leaders in doing so.

I would recommend Reverend Mihee Kim-Kort’s book, Outside the Lines, as a starting point in doing so. Additionally, I encourage folks who, like me, identify as straight, to not only lean into the voices of nonbinary people, but pay folks for their work. To do the work of educating ourselves, and to unlearn our internalized homophobia and transphobia. Because it turns out, unlearning one form of oppression, in our case, white supremacy, usually helps us unlearn others, in this case homophobia and transphobia. So with that, I invite you in to my conversation with my friend Sarah.


Brandi: Sarah, thanks so much for being on the show today.

Sarah: Hi Brandi. Thank you for having me!

Brandi: Every time people come on, I want folks who don’t know them or their work to get to know them a little bit. And so I would love for you to share. Sarah, what does it mean to be you?

Sarah: Okay. What does it mean to be me? So, I am Sarah. I’m third-generation Cantonese American; I am originally from San Francisco; I live in Santa Cruz, California, just a little bit south of there right now; I’m a mom. I – I was raised in a Chinese immigrant church, which is where I think a lot of my faith began and was shaped, but I feel like my faith came of age in, kind of, American evangelicalism of the 90s and 2000s, and so that includes things like listening to Plus One, um—[Brandi laughs]—Stephen Curtis Chapman, those were kind of my jams.

Brandi: Yikes.

Sarah: Um, I went to a lot of summer youth camps and, like, large high school revival meetings, um, and that was kind of like what I think my faith has been shaped by as well. And so that’s who I am. I would also just say that I still just really love the Chinese immigrant church. It’s still kind of a source of my theological rootedness and kind of where I come from, and so it’s something I look to very often, even today.

Brandi: I love that. And I just recognize how massively cross-cultural that is, because I can’t imagine that the crossover between the Chinese immigrant church and evangelicalism in its Left Behind, Michael W. Smith, Barlow Girl, See You at the Pole kind of things really intersect.

Sarah: Oooh. I went to that concert. I was there. [Brandi laughs] And I – I would say that, particularly being third generation, that’s where the crossover really happens, as I think a lot of Chinese American Christians are figuring out, “Well, what part of my faith is going to be relevant in the school that I go to or the culture that I’m coming in to?”

And so I think the answer that a lot of Chinese churches found was a very white Christianity. I recognize that, you know, the Chinese immigrant church started off as a place in which, like, bilingual services, where there was a very urgent need to be able to speak for, kind of, these multiple cultural experiences. But I also recognize that part of the immigrant church experience is that, as each generation continues to develop and ask questions about identity and culture, oftentimes, the momentum is towards whiteness, because that is what it means to kind of – even Jazzy, last time, was talking about maturity of faith and how, I think even a lot of times Chinese American churches have assumed that to get to a greater maturity of what their congregation looks like, it must look more like a white evangelical space. So that was kind of my experience growing up, and that’s kinda brought me to where I am today.

Brandi: Yeah, and that is so concerning in so many ways, that assimilation becomes maturity or proximity to whiteness becomes maturity, or even faithfulness. So there’s so – there’s so much in there. And I appreciate even what you’re bringing already.

But I’d love for you to give us a sense of – what’s your sense of vocation? Not necessarily what you do, but, yeah. What is your sense of vocation? What fuels what you want to see happen in the world?

Sarah: Right, so right now, I, in terms of vocation, I’m working as a D and I, Diversity and Inclusion, director for an evangelical organization. And that does capture a lot of what I really care about—not just in the community that I live in and work in, but I think when I think about the larger kingdom of God, I’m very much motivated by issues of justice and having a more expansive understanding of what the gospel is meant to do in the lives of all people, and I think diversity and inclusion work is a big part of that.

Brandi: Well, I feel really honored to have you on today, and I’ve maybe overly excited about this conversation—[Sarah laughs]—because I think it’s one that really undergirds so much of Christianity. As we talk about reclaiming our theology from white supremacy, the thing that we’re saying is not that all of these values that we talk about are bad. The problem is that they’re normalized, and they’re used to create a sense of what is central, normal, dominant.

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: So, today we’re going to talk about either/or thinking, or binary thinking. And, so as we start doing that, I’d love if you could describe for folks, when you think of either/or thinking, or binary thinking, what comes to mind for you? What is that?

Sarah: Yeah. So, I think either/or thinking, or binary thinking, is this insistence that the world can be fully interpreted in a way that designates things as wholly good or bad, right or wrong. It’s this assumption that we have about reality that, regardless of how complex it is, that it can always be simplified to these, like, clear lines that makes this thing acceptable and its opposite or its alternative unacceptable.

And I think what I would say is many times we can look at either/or thinking and assume, “Oh, that’s neutral. That’s just what your brain does, it perceives information and it sorts it, it categorizes it.” But what I think you and I are very eager to talk about in this is that that’s not neutral at all when it’s used in the context of whiteness. Because what it is is it’s a categorization, a designating that is actually framing the world in a way to preserve power, and that’s what’s so dangerous about either/or thinking. Particularly in the church, right, is that there’s a way of interpreting the world that doesn’t just say, “Oh here’s one thing and here’s its opposite.”

It’s very much placing value and assessment and worth according to one particular worldview.

Brandi: Yes. It is so, as we say, dangerous. Yeah, I think what’s interesting about all of what you’re saying is that either/or thinking, or binary thinking—we keep saying it that way. [Brandi laughs]

Sarah: I know! It’s because either/or sounds – Ok, imagine a slash, everybody, like, when we say “either/or.” [Sarah laughs] It’s not just two words.

Brandi: Yeah. [Brandi laughs]

Sarah: Let’s – we can stick with either/or, but just imagine the slash there, because then it doesn’t sound as awkward. But you can say binary thinking, too! [Brandi and Sarah laugh]

Brandi: Yes. Either one works just fine; I just realized that we’ve been saying that.

So, as we consider binary thinking, or either/or thinking, I realize that this isn’t just a white value or just a Christian value; that it exists very intimately at the intersection of the two. And even as I think about history, and the history of Christian colonization, I see the connection between white supremacy and Christianity as pretty much fundamentally built on either/or thinking, because it’s what creates black-and-white thinking, which is what creates white supremacy and anti-Blackness. And that undergirds all of our racial injustice system.

And so I’m aware that historically it is pretty much impossible to find a time where Christianity and white supremacy aren’t bound together by binary thinking.

Sarah: Right. I think a lot about the Christianization of Indigenous folks, and how, upon this encounter in which there is this categorization that happens, this sense of, uh, what I would interpret as, for – for the white people encountering Indigenous people, this sense of entitlement to name and to declare, “Okay, in this difference that I’m observing, in this different people, I am deciding right now that they are not human as I am human.”

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: And that, to me, is at that very root of what you’re saying, of that intersection of whiteness and Christianity, where, in order to make the, quote unquote, Indian more of a man, right. It was the “kill the Indian, save the man” mentality, in which a person would become human in that either/or thinking by way of becoming a Christian. Whereas before, in that thinking, the humanity and the soul did not exist. And how many systems were built upon that kind of assumption that we don’t see today but what was very much instrumental in building an entire country that we operate in now?

Brandi: Yes, and undergirding that is the reality of what you said earlier, which is that every binary has a judgment attached to it. It has a good or a bad. In the case that you’re saying, the binary – there’s two types of binaries: there’s human and inhuman, and then there’s the civilized and the savage narrative. And so if we see ourselves, or, if white people see themselves, as being civilized and that being good, and then what they consider to be uncivilized as bad, then you can do whatever you want to people and justify whatever you want, because you know that you are the one who is in the good.

And that’s so easily undergirded by scripture, if you use scripture in that way. And so, as we start talking about this, I think that we can talk a lot about scripture. But I’m wondering if there are other ways that you see us learning binary thinking in our development, in our lives; even as a mom, I’m sure you see some of that playing out.

Yeah, I’m just curious, where else do you see binary thinking so that we can kind of paint the landscape of what this looks like before we enter into the theological weeds of it, because there’s so much there, where I’m sure we’ll spend most of our time.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. So, when I think about how either/or binary thinking enters in and kind of internalizes itself into people, I think a lot about how Christians are constantly categorizing a person as either a sinner or a saint. And like – or, in more vulgar terms, right, like a virgin/whore kind of narrative around purity, even, in the ways that a person, particularly even a woman, would be designated as worthy if pure and unworthy or inhuman if not, right. That has very much been a part of, like I said, American evangelicalism in the 90s and 2000s was built on that, of being able to help people understand that they can categorize themselves and others based on this kind of binary thinking.

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: The other ones that I can kind of name, just in terms of individual ways that we identify, would even be the labels of Christian and non-Christian, and the assumption that we have that if that person is Christian, then they are altogether good and true and worth listening to. But if they do not have that prayer-in-the-chapel moment and are considered a non-Christian, then what good might they offer? Like, is it possible that any truth could come from their mouths?

Brandi: [Brandi laughs] Yes.

Sarah: There is that weird binary, right?

Brandi: Yes, totally.

Sarah: Of feeling some entitlement to name that, if they are in this camp, if they stand on this side of the line, they have worth, they have truth, they have – they are able to have power. And the church really can participate in stripping the power of all people who do not stand on the line that they kind of designate. So those would kind of be some quick individual ones, but the church ones, that is what gets me, where I’m like, “Oh I actually see it the most when I see how churches talk about other churches,” right?

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: And it sounds super benign when they’re like, “Oh, they’re more seeker friendly. Like, we’re more gospel-centered.” Or like, “Oh, but they’re really about justice. We’re – we’re about Jesus.” [Sarah laughs]

Brandi: Yes! [Brandi laughs]

Sarah: Or the like, “Oh, well, right now we’re in a season of in-reach; I don’t think we’re ready for outreach.” Right? All these words that are kind of meant to – as if these are opposing things that cannot exist together, as if God doesn’t care about all or both of these things. Churches begin to choose kind of who belongs within their circle and which people ought to join their circle based on these very much either/or categories.

Brandi: Yes. And what feels so challenging about that is that we just see those categories as being very natural. And I think we actually learn those really early, um, particularly in childhood.

Sarah: So early!

Brandi: I was thinking about a couple of, uh, binaries that come to mind that we learn when – when we’re really young; like, that kids play games that exist in binaries. So, there’s good guys and there’s bad guys—and there’s nothing in the middle. There’s cops and there’s robbers—and, in our current political moment, that ideology is so specifically troubling.

That we can’t – I think that’s part of why we can’t actually have a conversation about police brutality in the United States, is because we’ve so created binaries, even in children’s games, that stay with us for our whole lives, that we can’t have that conversation. Or, if we want to make it more racialized, we have cowboys and Indians.

So, we have all of these binaries that we see that we create in games for kids that then become good and evil; then we superimpose that into the church, and it totally makes sense. And so there’s no reason to question binary thinking, because it’s so deeply rooted in who we are.

I think there’s reasons that we do that—I think it’s so parents can keep their kids safe and so that we can have categories to put things in our minds. But, to me, what a lot of this does is it reduces or completely eliminates the capacity for complexity in our church spaces, in our theology, in our world. And I think it causes us to perpetuate very specific types of evil and erasure all over the place.

Sarah: I do think that that’s an interesting point around how do we help people move from what I think could be very helpful – like, there are binaries that are going to be very helpful when you’re little. Like, I really don’t think my son should eat the pistachio shell on the ground. That is bad. I can draw a binary of, “I think you should not eat that. That is a bad thing to eat. But – and I do think you should keep your seatbelt on. That is good.” Right?

So, saying things are good and bad is not really the issue. It’s the way in which, I think, as we get older, and the world reveals that it has shades of gray, and our experiences of God and of each other don’t easily fit into those things. But we have this urge as people and as churches to think that we can continue to disciple our people as if they are still that two-year-old trying to decide whether to eat trash on the floor. When actually, like, what if our discipleship could be this richer, like you said, more complex, less overly simplified journey in community to really ask hard questions and to discover God on the other side of that? That he is not thrown off by or intimidated by the complexities of this world, and the binaries actually cannot hold him?

Brandi: Right. And it feels like, what you were saying earlier, it’s particularly true that binaries themselves aren’t bad, but the issue with – I used a binary to describe what binaries are. This is so challenging. [Brandi and Sarah laugh]

But the reality is that binaries always have values assigned to them. They always have value. And so, when whiteness is our dominant sense of right or wrong, good or evil, or is the lens through which we engage with binaries, it creates a very specific subset of issues, especially theologically, for us.

And so I’d love for us to talk a little bit about how we see either/or or binary thinking in our theology as it is connected to whiteness and white supremacy.

Sarah: Yeah! So, I don’t know if this is the angle that you want to go with, but I see a lot of the times that, when people are trying to catch Jesus, they often are bringing to him binaries. They’re often are asking him, “Well, Jesus, should we give to Caesar, or not? Is it good or is it bad? Is it right or is it wrong?”

And Jesus, instead of playing into that way of thinking, brings a response that actually makes them reflect on their identity, on their allegiance, on what citizenship means.

And I think that happens quite a bit throughout the gospels, where we see that the thing that Jesus is highlighting to the people who are following him is that the world will throw these binaries at you, and there is a way—the kingdom way—that’s going to throw everybody off their game.

And I think about, um, Jairus and the bleeding woman would be an example of where I think Jesus is really given that option of, “Who is more valuable?” Like, is it better to save this woman or this man? Like, this religious leader or this very needy unknown, unnamed woman? Jesus manages to, in the course of the whole story, show you that it’s both. That there is a way to save both and, even though for both, it takes immense and very distinct risks and experiences with Jesus, that in the end, Jesus doesn’t just say, “You should always pick the bleeding woman” or “You should always pick Jairus.” There is the journey that both of these people go through with him to discover the care that he has for them.

So, I think when I look at scripture, I realize oftentimes we do go with this desire that it would break down all the binaries for us. And I grew up listening to a song that I think called the Bible, like, the basic instructions before leaving earth.

Brandi: [Brandi gasps] Yeahhh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

[Brandi and Sarah laugh]

Sarah: Do you know about that song, and how it – yeah, I mean it’s actually kind of clever, but I think it’s true that oftentimes we’re looking to scripture to – honesty, if the Bible could just be a chart of either/or comparisons, I wonder if that’s what the church oftentimes just really wished that it was.

But in reality, it’s not, right? Like, the Bible is actually written very intentionally very differently. And it is a book that sings, and it rebukes, and it rhymes, it tells story, it cries. And so in the midst of, I think, so many questions that, throughout history, people have been looking to it to reaffirm and to enforce binary, I actually see scripture giving us a much bigger answer about who he is and what it means to belong to him, that scripture itself helps us understand that the binary cannot hold who God is calling us to be and who he is revealing himself to be.

Brandi: Okay, so then if all that is true, then how is it, in particularly white-influenced spaces, that we end up entirely capsized into binaries? Because I can think of a million. I think about salvation/damnation, heaven and hell, good and evil, God and Satan, truth and lies, human and nature, which is western worldview thinking for sure. In our context now, it’s Republican/Democrat and the ways that that gets embedded in faith.

How does that happen? What – like what do you think is happening for us, living in a white-dominant culture that capsizes the beautiful story that you’re sharing with us about the expansiveness of God. What – what’s happening there?

Sarah: I think that binary thinking is the most comforting thing you could ask for. I think that when someone can tell you based on your action where you land on all those things you just listed—“Oh, don’t worry Brandi, you land on the side of truth and good and heaven and, right, like, belonging.” And then I think it really just reinforces so much of the fear and the insecurity and maybe just the sense of being lost that people have as they’re going through the world. And I think that binary thinking is ultimately just a very comforting mechanism for people, because it helps an individual to define, “Who are my people, and where do I belong? And then what do I believe in if I belong to these people?”

Brandi: Aw man. I’m seeing how that comfort piece makes it so we just erase the middle of every story in scripture.

Sarah: Yeah. [Sarah laughs]

Brandi: I think about how we read the gospels in predominantly white spaces, and it’s about Jesus’s birth and then about Jesus’s death. And everything in the middle is just, kind of like, “I mean, we’ll do what we can with it, but we’ve got Paul, so—”

Sarah: Ugh. [Sarah laughs]

Brandi: We have this life and death narrative, we have beginnings and ends, and everything – everything is in – we erase everything in the middle.

Sarah: We erase everything that doesn’t fit into our binary—[Sarah laughs]—because it – right, like, we have set up a system in which we wish we could eliminate the majority of the Bible because when we read it, it makes us so uncomfortable when we cannot get out that very clear picture of, “Here are your basic instructions.”

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: And I think that’s why so many Protestants today really just hate—not hate, that’s a very strong word. I don’t know anybody who would say they hate it—but maybe have a strong dislike for many books of the Old Testament that present a worldview and present, even, heroes of faith, like Abraham, as being actually very shady people. Like King David: hella shady, right?

Brandi: Yes!

Sarah: There’s all these heroes and so much of what, particularly in the American exceptionalist mind, we want to see the man hero perfect and Captain America without any stain or blemish. And so much of scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, is a story of repeated failure and some really awful stuff that – yeah. And it makes us feel super uncomfortable, to the point where maybe some of us would rather just be able to pick and choose a few verses from Paul to say, “Well, here’s my line. Good thing the new covenant’s here and erased all the old stuff.”

Brandi: [Brandi laughs] Yeah.

Sarah: And we don’t realize that, “Oh, the authority that we are exerting on scripture to maintain our binaries is exactly why we have no other, like, spiritual tools to wrestle with the very questions that we wish God would answer.”

Brandi: I think even about the story of Rahab the spy. Because there were all these ways, when I was learning the story, that we had to do these really specific spiritual, textual gymnastics—[Sarah laughs]—to make sense of stories because they didn’t fit in binaries.

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: Because the story, right, becomes a story of, “Oh, did Rahab lie and was that sin, or was she supposed to betray life by telling people they were hiding on the roof? So is she deciding between sin and sin?” And I’m like, “Why were these men at the brothel?” [Sarah laughs]

There’s like this whole – there’s an expansive story that’s behind this thing, and we reduce it to, “Did she sin or did she not sin? Was there a worse sin or a better sin? Was she good or was she bad?” And we miss so much of the critiques that are happening in the story, and that is so sad.

Sarah: It’s sad. And it translates into how we see God judging us, when we’re looking at scripture, and we’re interpreting it in this way, and we kind of gloss over the things that make us feel that tension of, “Oh, there’s something in here that’s not fitting in my framework.”

I think one of the things that it also does is it doesn’t just shrink what scripture can do in our lives, but it completely perverts how we think God judges us as people or his role in our lives. Like, we carry this stick around with us, kind of judging people and situations according to what we think fits, and I can’t help but think that that’s exactly how we imagine God doing the same thing to us.

Brandi: I can see the ways that that has become super dangerous in white supremacy, because it gives us the judging stick, and it says that we get to decide, because we are proximate to God, what is right and what is wrong and who is right and who is wrong.

And so even as I – even going back to thinking about, in how white folks enslaved Africans, it was a – firstly it was a human/inhuman designation and binary, and then when that no longer worked, it was a Black and white binary. What it did was it associated whiteness with goodness and Blackness with being bad, and then it Christianized all of that and created a bunch of language for it, and we’re still parsing that out today.

So even when I think about churches’ inability to say, “Black lives matter,” I don’t think that’s because people are ignorant and mean. I think it’s because we’ve been so taught a binary that’s been historically embedded, that to say, “Black lives matter” actually is to fight against a visceral feeling that we are doing something or saying something or associating with some kind of evil.

Sarah: Right. Right. I think, as an Asian American, looking at the history that we have kind of become a part of, both in our complicity but also in our own victimization, I’m especially grateful for how we can reflect on either/or thinking. Because I see Asian Americans constantly trying to toggle this, “Okay, how do I respond in a way that recognizes my privilege, in my, kind of, the proximity to whiteness that I have chosen or that my people have chosen through the model minority myth”—or even, the other thing that we’ve talked about a lot, is the temptation to, particularly now, try to be absorbed into Blackness, as this way of like, “I can be the perfect ally by just trying to please Black people as much as possible in this process.”

And that doesn’t say that we shouldn’t amplify voices and listen and learn and repent and confess. But, particularly I think in how complex Asian Americans in the history of America are kind of finding themselves as they respond to the murder of George Floyd and to Black Lives Matter right now, I wish there was a way that we could step outside of that binary and find that, as Asian Americans, we can have an honest, creative solidarity that can hold the complexity of our narrative as wide and as – as diverse as it is, that can own our privilege, that can honor legacies of people who have gone before us in resistance, that can join in lamenting the shared oppression of folks of color, and can confess our anti-Blackness. Like, that’s what’s available to us when we can step outside of the either/or of “Are we white, or should we be more Black?” Because that’s not actually the – nobody’s asking us that question!

Brandi: Nope! Not helpful. Brandi laughs.

Sarah: But we, I think – yeah, when we internalize that, “Oh, well, those are our only choices,” we rob our entire community of being able to engage in this moment in a very different, unique, and I think just a very essential way. So.

Brandi: It seems true that the story that you’re sharing right now is at the foundation of white supremacy stays intact is that it separates people into “us and them”

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: And if Black people in this situation are the “them” and then there’s an “us” somewhere else, we’re trying as hard as we can to stay in “us” so that we don’t become treated like “them.”

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: The thing that I see that we lose out on that, right, for Asian Americans or non-Black folks in general, who are under the thumb of white supremacy, it is such a cheap trade-off to get whiteness in return for oppression, right. I see the loss of a coalition of communities of color who could actually do the work to upend white supremacy collectively, but we can’t do that because one of the tools of white supremacy is a binary of “us and them” that punishes those who are the “thems”—to use a grammatically incorrect statement. [Brandi and Sarah laugh]

Sarah: Right, there’s, I mean, the binary has been sold to us as the answer, and the treasure, and the gold—when it actually is dehumanizing us, and it is completely truncating our imagination, not just for our own community, but for the world. Because we’re just told, “Here are your two options,” and the entire richness that could come out of stepping outside of that way of thinking is off the table.

Brandi: And that there are consequences when you do step outside of that. And those always lie in binaries, too. So, if you step outside of it, you’re liberal instead of conservative; if you step outside of it, you’re sinning instead of being righteous. If you step outside of it, you’re choosing something secular over something spiritual.

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: And so we use and weaponize all of these binaries to try to keep people in line and in these theological frameworks that the Bible itself doesn’t uphold and that you – like you say, make a chart of what is right and wrong or good and evil, and it’s just such a disservice.

Sarah: We lose so much as Christians and as the church when we’ve allowed our relationships with one another, and our relationships with scripture and then with God, to get put into these categories. And the practices that I know that we’re missing out on are things like interdependence. Like, what would it look like if we practiced patience with one another to be able to hear out what we needed to, to be able to go beyond the either/or and actually create a new way of imagining the kingdom in which all people actually have a place and are not just caught up with the – the us and the thems and the safeguarding of power?

And I think that’s really what you keep coming back to, which I appreciate, of these things seem so neutral, and they seem so assumed, right. When someone’s just asking, “Well, isn’t that a little too political?” and that line is immediately drawn, like right there. It’s really important to be able to step back and ask, “Well, in your definition of political, what is the ‘us and them’ that you are assuming and who gets to preserve and sustain their power in the definition that you’ve just created from that question?”

Brandi: And that you back up, like, three binaries in that. You have political/apolitical—

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: —good and evil, us and them, right and wrong, and you have to work through all of the levels of things and the internal triggers that we have around those things to make sense of them.

So, in the church, this plays out in a lot of different ways, and I want to talk about it, because I think there’s ways that folks who are listening are probably more deeply impacted or shaped by binary thinking than we are aware. For me, one of the things that I’m thinking about is the deep fear that I held as a child when I was taught Calvinism as a spiritual framework. Because it was—

Sarah: Oh, TULIP.

Brandi: —utter depravity – Yes, TULIP! The U in TULIP. [Sarah laughs] Utter depravity.

The foundation of something like Calvinism is to create binaries that simplify God and require us to submit in a certain way to white ideologies in order to combat our utter depravity versus what God wants, which is our perfection.

And I just remember being so scared as a child, like, “Oh I’m utterly depraved, how can I get God to love me?” And so it became this reality where I feel like I was doing ideological violence to myself to try to get God to love me.

Because I do think that the result, if I can be presumptuous to say, of almost all binary thinking is violence. That it justifies violence, and it creates the context for violence, because it allows some people to step away in the name of ideology, good/bad, right/wrong, order/chaos, to control other people.

And so I’d love if we could talk a little bit about other ways that we see that playing out in the church and in Christian culture, because I think there’s a service that we can provide people in this conversation.

Sarah: Yeah, having been in campus ministry for about a decade, I think a lot about that particularly vulnerable season, in which college students are coming in, having been raised up with, similar to me, right, and similar to you, TULIP and this similar way of pursuing Jesus that fits into some very narrow categories. And they arrive in college and many, I think—who fear a lot of that same fear of, “Well, how do I make sure that I keep the right guardrails in my life to continue to be loved by God”—will seek out communities that continue to offer that level of control and dictate what they’re able to do and not do, even when they’re in their twenties.

And I’ve seen so much of the pain that comes out of – these are adults in these communities that ultimately I really perceive as cults, because of the power that’s exerted by the authorities that are there to set up binaries to control who they date, who they marry, where they live, what jobs they have, how they spend their money, whether they should have kids—which, they should—, how many they should have, right.

There’s a whole way that what—it’s not an industrial complex, that’s a very strong way of describing it—but I can’t help but think that, for kids who that got the same kind of VBS education that I got, the same kind of, like, Chinese summer camp education that I got, I can see why it’s so appealing to join communities that will continue to tell you, “Here are the rules for what’s right and what’s wrong, and we will be with you until you die.”

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: Like, “We will form you from this high schooler to this college student to this worker to this mother or father, and the entire time, you will not be in want. Because we will give you the road to walk, and it will look like every other person who’s in this community.”

Brandi: Yes. Yes.

Sarah: And I see that all the time with college students who are seeking a home and a place to belong and wondering if it’s still possible to find that even as the world gets more and more complex.

Brandi: Yes. And it sounds like what you’re describing in that is indoctrination. That, when we learn to be indoctrinated, there is a comfort in being indoctrinated, because there is community in indoctrination, there is safety in indoctrination, and there is some sort of certainty in it. And so I think we come to a very vulnerable place when we start to reject binary thinking, because, like rejecting things like paternalism, it costs us some degree of our family or our community or our fellowship, because any exploration outside of the binaries is seen as sinful or as doubting or as a whole cast of things we don’t want to be seen as.

Sarah: Or heresy.

Brandi: Heresy!

Sarah: Yeah.

Brandi: Freaking heresy. As though Jesus didn’t ask more questions than he gave answers. That somehow our questions make us evil or that questions are evil or to pull us away from God. because even that binary, you’re either close or you’re far, you’re never on the journey, when all of Jesus’s work is developing and discipling people on the journey.

I think maybe what I see, as I work with students, is as we undo binary thinking and give some freedom to think and to process, that traumas they experienced in the church because of binary thinking start to get very loud and very prominent.

And so as I disciple queer students specifically, I realize that there’s ways that, for folks who don’t identify in gender binaries or that don’t identify just as straight or gay, that there’s no space for them even to explore what that could mean for them, and that they’re expected, in the context of an indoctrinating faith, is to just choose something. And to choose something is to choose in or it’s to choose out, it’s to choose God or it’s to choose the world.

And so I am deeply grieved by that reality that we cannot see spectrums as plausible spaces that God can interact with people and that a lot of Christian leadership in binary communities is about, like you’re saying, narrow-roading people out of asking questions, out of exploration, out of knowing themselves and experiencing themselves, and not just going with what they think will get them closer to God, but actually having a rigorous experience with God to figure out some of those questions. And I just see all the pain that comes from that.

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she was talking about a conversation she had been having where we were talking about how Genesis had been weaponized around gender, marriage and singleness, human/not human, all of those things. And what she was saying was that yeah, we can think that way. But even in that narrative, there’s evening and morning, there’s day and night—but there’s also an afternoon. There is the land and there is the sea, but there’s also swamps and marshes.

And so there’s ways that even our creation story has space for spectrums that we haven’t made, so I can tell that there’s ways that when we start to undo binary thinking, what we’re doing is creating space for folks. But I think the first step out of binary thinking often is deep sadness and deep trauma that comes up because we’ve been so stuck in that kind of indoctrination.

Sarah: Yeah, and there’s a certain – it feels like a breath that has to take place when you take that step back and you realize that you don’t know. [Sarah laughs] Right, like, so much of what binary thinking does is it tells you, “You don’t even need to think about it, because we’ll tell you what you need to know. We’ll tell you what you need to say or do or think.”

And I think when we get to take that step back and we breathe and we don’t know, the loss hits us, and the grief hits us. And I’m so grateful for that moment, because I think that’s the spiritual muscle the church needs today. Is like, when we have had those moments where we’ve pulled back, and we’ve been able to just listen to our bodies, for even a moment, or to the cries of those who’ve been pushed to the margins for centuries. That breath just gives us that space to be able to say, “Oh, there’s a new way of engaging. There’s a new way to follow Jesus, but I needed to take that step back to really hear and understand what I just didn’t know.”

Brandi: And that the questions become not, “Am I right or wrong, am I good or bad, am I inside or outside?” It becomes, “Am I on a journey with Jesus?” And to me, that sounds a lot more like that I see in the gospels.

I think of this passage a lot in Luke 9, where the disciples go out on their first mission, and they come back, and Jesus is about to send out a whole bunch of other dysfunctional people out to do the same thing. And, in the in-between, we get these stories of these disciples on a journey with Jesus walking along the road, two of them go off and go to a different city, and they see that someone is casting out demons in Jesus’s name, but they’re not one of the disciples.

And they come back to Jesus bragging about it, and they’re like, “Jesus, we saw someone casting out demons in your name; they weren’t doing the thing right, they weren’t us”—they weren’t in the us, they were a them—“and we told them to stop.” And Jesus is like, “Yeah…that’s not – that’s not it. Whoever isn’t against you is for you.”

And so, I see in Jesus’s answer that Jesus’s view of the world of spirituality, of family, of community, of discipleship is so much broader, and when we live in a world that is so used to fences, broadness seems so terrifying.

Sarah: Right. It feels like a wilderness.

Brandi: Yes. What would it mean if I thought that everyone who wasn’t against me was for me? I don’t know that I’m actually spiritual enough to be in that place, but what if I could think in ways that were more expansive, what if I could think about scripture in a way that let the middle of the story exist and matter?

Because we all live in the middle of our own stories! We’re not just being born or dying; we’re living in the in-between, and that in-between is where we find God, where we find each other, and where we grow. And so I just feel often upset that church spaces don’t trust parishioners or congregants or members enough to allow people to explore things outside of binary thinking, because we’re so afraid that we’ll lose people or that people will fall outside of what we think is righteous or holy. And in that way, I think we just play God in a way that God never intended for us to.

Sarah: Right. And the thing that they’re trusting is not only that they’re not trusting their congregations, but they are not trusting the very spirit and father and son that they say should undergird the work that we’re doing, right.

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: It’s that God cannot be trusted if he cannot fit into these binaries. As I am in my own journey of trying to decolonize my theology and pursue justice in the work that I do, can I be very honest about something? [Sarah laugh]. I mean – I – I think the more that I am asking myself, How – how deep do some of these internalized mechanisms go? 

Particularly with either/or, with the naming and the categorizing, I think one thing I’ve had to check myself on is that I have to be careful not to dehumanize other people, even when I think they deserve it. I’m noticing in myself that I have a tendency, or I have the propensity, at least, to categorize a church or a person as being “pure enough” to like, or “pure enough” to follow or be influenced by. And I don’t think that that’s the right way forward for me. Like, I – I think as I’m just trying to be honest about where these things that have impacted me have actually taken root in me, I have to be very honest about, “Oh, there’s something in me that feels this entitlement to name and to categorize.”

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: “That’s actually not of God. That’s very much a replica of the very power that’s been used against me and other communities.”

And I think that’s where I just feel like I always need to be checking my own power, I need to be checking the spaces that I’m in where I am feeling like I have the right to categorize. And that’s very different if I’m being able to just name what’s toxic and removing yourself, right? That’s not what I’m saying isn’t appropriate.

But I think the more I learn about how toxic this is and how pervasive it is, when I see myself doing it, in the ways that I name who gets it, who doesn’t, right, who’s woke enough to be on my feed and who’s not, I find that that’s actually a very sad reflection of that same classifying and categorizing that has impacted me and my family.

I mean, I have to do my own work, you know, I have to make sure, you know, the theology that I’m constructing, is it an ableist theology, is the community that I’m building around my family excluding queer folks, right, I have to be on the lookout for these blind spots that I have—that’s part of my work. But it’s also part of my work to make sure I am not perpetuating that same type of either/or, us and them that got us here in the first place.

Brandi: Yes. Absolutely. And I think what you’re describing there is fundamentalism, is that you’re – we’re turning from one type of fundamentalism that uses a certain type of binary thinking, and we’re trying really hard not to become the other type of fundamentalism.

So, for me, I run pretty adjacent to what I would call fundamentalist progressive spaces; it’s where the birth of “cancel culture” comes from, where, if you don’t check the boxes of “us” neatly enough, or if you make one mistake, then you’re cancelled, because you proved that you weren’t one of us. And I think there’s spaces to cancel things, right; I don’t need to play R. Kelly’s music, I don’t need to use any of Bill Hybels’s material after he has been accused of sexual assault by many people in his community. I don’t need to do it. But I can cancel someone’s work without canceling their humanity. But there’s no way to do that in either/or spaces, because nuance doesn’t exist in any kind of fundamentalism.

Sarah: Right, right.

Brandi: Because it’s always us and them, and it’s always how can we gain power and exert power over them? I think that it can quickly become a slippery slope into ambiguous, utter subjectivity into, “We’re just as bad as they are!” and I don’t think that’s true when we sit in white supremacist systems.

Sarah: It’s not. Nope.

Brandi: I do not think that something like canceling someone is the same as police brutality.

Sarah: Mm, no, I don’t think so. [Sarah laughs]

Brandi: They don’t sit on the same plane. But I think it is important, as you’re saying, to do our own internal work, to eliminate some of the – I guess one way to think about binary thinking is that – as filters. We have filters that we put – I’m a nerd with coffee, I use AeroPress, and so I think about a single filter that I have, and I put it in, and it keeps the things I don’t want from getting into my coffee, to my final cup.

But I think what binary thinking is if I kept taking different filters and shoving them in there and then trying to get the coffee through. Instead I would just get backlogged, backlogged, and have something sitting in there and never produce the thing I want it to.

And so I think when we put things like cancelled or in, us or them, salvation/damnation, heaven and hell, when we – if we shove a ton of binaries together, we actually never produce the things, as Christians, that we say we want, which is love and inclusion and generosity and peace and kindness and all of those things. Because the filters that we put in inherently keep the goodness from coming through.

Sarah: I think the saddest thing that I see on the other side of this is when either/or thinking has made us hate our parents. In the context of the Chinese American experience, which I think might be similar to other immigrant experiences, I think the definition of whiteness has sometimes created generational division, because of the way that people define what Americans should be like: the way that they should sound or dress, or the foods that they should eat.

And when I see this kind of binary creeping into kind of my own family’s experience, I think a lot about the ways that I judge my parents’ accent, and I judge their humor, their cooking. And there was this internalized binary of whiteness that was in me that made me reject parts of them that I saw as falling short of what they needed to be to be accepted to belong in this country. And that would morph in me so many times into a huge sense of shame or self-hatred.

And so when I think about the Chinese American Christian experience, I see how so many of my paradigms of what Biblical leadership and authority were supposed to look like, and that was mostly things like seminary trained, probably famous, and definitely attractive. And that kind of either/or binary paradigm would cause me to exclude the abundance of different kinds of leadership that I actually had around me, like aunties and uncles that had mentored me and prayed for me, that had carried my family, for generations, through every stage of our lives.

And so my limited worldview of Christian discipleship just didn’t have room for, like, the uneducated grandmothers who actually, like, carried our church. And I think we miss out on so much rich theological development when we eliminate the voices that fall between that binary that we’ve been given.

Brandi: Yes, because if we do that, the result is that we’re literally waiting for our families to die to feel content with the kind of justice we’ll do as a family.

Sarah: Oh my gosh, that makes me so sad!

Brandi: It’s horrible. But that’s what we’re doing, when we give up on people like that. And I think there’s times to separate ourselves from traumatic situations, or from situations that bring violence to us, for sure, there is space for that. But I think a lot of us just don’t have thick enough skin to manage disagreement or to manage conflict. And what we inevitably do is we wait for people to die so that we don’t have to deal with their nonsense. One of the things that I hear in what you’re saying is that another tool of white supremacy is being weaponized in that, and that it’s that there’s only one right way: there’s only one right way to engage in justice, there’s only one right way to have these conversations, there’s only one right way to respond. And so the dovetailing of binary thinking and one right way is pretty palpable in this scenario.

Sarah: And there’s also the – I mean, it’s the one right way, the binary thinking, and there’s also individualism of, as an individual, you choose how you operate in this particular context; it only depends on you, and if you’re objectively correct, you do not have to feel any ownership or responsibility for the people who are around you. And that doesn’t fly in my community. That’s not helpful; that’s not healthy.

Brandi: Not at all. And I guess I wonder, because I think we have painted a pretty sad portrait of the world that we live in—

Sarah: It got very dark. It got very dark. We started talking about our family members dying, and um – 

[Brandi and Sarah laugh]

Brandi: But this is reality, right, again, I think it’s violence. Binary thinking creates violence. It creates war – it’s war and peace, it’s who is good and who is bad, and who can I do what I want to to keep them in or out. And the church has been, I will say, maybe the worst institution at perpetuating this kind of violence. [Sarah laughs]

And so I’m wondering, as we move toward closing, what is the other way? If binary thinking does this to us, if it robs us of our humanity, if it indoctrinates us, if it keeps us from having compassion for others, if it caused this rifts in our families and trauma in our experiences, what’s the other way?

Sarah: So many people will say that on the other side of the either/or is the both/and. Right? It’s the – instead of holding a binary, how can we hold two even opposing in dialectic thinking of holding two things together at the same time simultaneously? I think there’s a lot of value to that, to being able to say, “Well, what is able to be created or imagined when we can hold these two things together, when we can build in a community practice of patience and of listening, of confession, long enough to be able to hold two things that we have too quickly categorized and bring them into one place?”

I also think that, actually, the way from here is also just to be able to admit, as Christians, that we don’t know. We don’t know everything! Like, we don’t know. We could be wrong. Like, I think to even just admit that I’m human enough to be wrong. And I can extend compassion to that human who is also loved and a reflection of the Creator God, and I just don’t know. And I am choosing that kind of assumption of dignity for both of us, that assumption of both of our humanities.

And I am dismissing the binary that so wants to be able to come in and, like you said, be this filter in my world, so that I can have my safeguards of power and comfort, but to reject that and say, “Actually, that wasn’t the treasure after all.” Like we said, there wasn’t a great prize at the end of that. The greater prize, this larger imagination, this thing that the kingdom of God can be, if we can hold the both/and together—that’s where the prize is going to be.

Brandi: Yes.

Sarah: And it will be missed by so many. But for those of us who, right, are willing to go through the sometimes alienating, disorienting, displacing work of rejecting those binaries, it’s so worth it.

Brandi: And that is a long journey.

Sarah: Oh my gosh. I don’t think it’s just in us. Like, I just don’t think it’s just going to end with our lifetime.

Brandi: I don’t think so either. Because part of what I specifically think about for folks of color who have been indoctrinated into binary thinking specifically connected to whiteness is that we have been told our whole lives that we are not wholly good. That who we are in our fullness, if we are to be fully – if I am to be fully Black, is not good in the kingdom, that it is not good in God’s world, and that I need to reject my Blackness in order to become more proximate to whiteness, to become closer to good, which is to be closer to God.

And so I think that there is an invitation for folks of color to lean into the fullness of their cultural, ethnic, and racial identities, even if that’s messy, and even if that causes some issues, to reclaim our inherent goodness outside of white supremacy. Because if we cannot do that, then I think we will just continue to live into binaries that support the cis-hetero white supremacist patriarchy in ways that damage us and that damage our friends, or, for those who that deconstruct, will leave us with nothing left. Because the whole enterprise of Christianity is irresponsible and unable to hold us in the messiness of that process, of doing what God already does, which is affirms the whole goodness of people before they do anything.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s taking back that we have been named by whiteness, that we have been designated and claimed by whiteness, and particularly communities of color or for other marginalized folks, being able to allow God to name us in our complexity and saying, “Whatever names you gave me, right, whatever your anglicized name was that you could pronounce more easily was, I give that back to you. And I make space in my spiritual practice to allow God to come and to, I think to almost sometimes surgically remove all of those categories that white supremacy has had to kind of fit us into to kind of give us that second-rate acceptance.” And really say, “God, if that naming was never appropriate, and it took its root in me and in my community, and how can I make room for the God who knows my full name, who pronounces it perfectly, who knows its origins and knows the people and the land that it comes from, to sing that name over me.” Is I think that spiritual practice for me as an individual. And I – I wonder what it could be like when that kind of like multiplies and there are whole communities of people throwing off names that have been given to us in order to choose the one that God originally intended for us.

Brandi: Yes. That’s so good. And I think that that both – it does two things. On kind of a terrifying level, I think it creates the context for us to feel very raw.

Sarah: Yeah.

Brandi: Because I think about – or even – the word that comes to mind, actually, is naked. Like, that we’ve been clothed with all of these things that are negative images or views of who we are through the lens of whiteness, and as we take those off, I think it feels very exposing, because maybe we’ve never been given permission before to know who we are. And I think for white folks then, the work really is to unlearn the innate need to name and categorize everything. It is to notice in yourselves the ways you might want to make flash judgments about things and to ask not only, “Is this a judgment I am to make?” but also “What in me makes me feel like I am the one who can make this judgment?”

Sarah: Yes. “What gave me the entitlement? What made me assume that it was my place?”

Brandi: Yes. And I think that that is the plight of most non-denominational church planting white men—[Sarah laughs]—is that no one has given that authority.

Sarah: [Sarah laughs] What?

Brandi: They’ve given themselves that authority.

[Sarah and Brandi laugh]

Sarah: What? To write all the blogs and start all the podcasts during this pandemic? What? 

Brandi: And to write all the books?

Sarah: All the books.

Brandi: But that’s the overflow of this kind of limitless, entitled thinking that then imposes binaries onto people that traumatize them. That is not what God intends. It isn’t the story in scripture; but it is the story of whiteness in the United States. It is quintessentially the story of whiteness in the United States. To assume that you are the one who is able to make a judgment about someone to pursue the common good for other white people.

And it may not feel like that or sound like that, but I think that as we think about what we consider to be sin, or what we consider to be right or wrong or good or evil, we might find that a lot of that is shaped much more by indoctrinating principles than it is by the God that we find in scripture who makes space for the journey, who makes space to be in process, who allows his disciples, for lack of better terms, to be total fuck-ups, to move them forward in a journey that doesn’t require their perfection before they start.

Sarah: Right. Right.

Brandi: And I think that there’s so much freedom in that. To be able to be wrong, to make mistakes. Because there are very few binaries that Jesus sets up. Actually, I can only think of one. And it is about who is the greatest and who is the least. And I think, for white folks, that is the binary to lean into. Is that the greatest among you is the one who becomes the servant of all. Is that you can have the binary of entitlement to being the greatest, but know that that means a laying down of power, a laying down of binary control through indoctrination, of laying down judgments and choosing to be a servant for folks who have been historically marginalized by white theology.

Is there anything else that you want to add as we close out this conversation?

Sarah: I recognize that it can be very difficult to think about another way of seeing the world that isn’t either/or if you haven’t lived in a different worldview before. And so I wonder if even just saying that, for example, when I think about East Asian culture, I think about concepts of like yin and yang. Right? Like there are kind of these diametrically opposed concepts that represent light and dark and good and evil.

And so, it can be tempting to say, “See, there’s an either/or kind of way of thinking as well.” But I think what I would point to as well, and maybe encourage listeners to think about, is the way that yin and yang and, kind of, the other ways of seeing very opposite forces in other cultures is actually that these two things are mutually dependent. That, actually, it’s impossible to have good without bad, it’s impossible to have darkness without light, that there is this wholeness actually, in a lot of the ways that other cultures might think about these binaries that requires them to be together and doesn’t do the same kind of instinctive categorization and naming and exclusion that comes with the type of either/or thinking that we’re kind of describing when it comes to its relationship to white supremacy.

When you were talking about how, when we remove ourselves from the binary, it can feel very naked, I couldn’t help but think about that moment in the Garden of Eden in which there is this fruit that allows this knowledge of good and evil and the shame that comes with some of that. And I wonder if you have any thoughts about that being the origin story around naming, entitlement, and even just a reaction to our sin and to our estrangement from God?

Brandi: Yeah, I mean I think it is fascinating that the thing that we are supposed to avoid in the tree is the ability to binarily think. The – the one thing that God says that you cannot do is know the difference between these two things, because I think that – I don’t even know that, when they eat from the tree, they actually know the difference between good and evil, but it is that they think that they do.

And for the next, right – for the first eleven chapters of Genesis, what you see is people defining for themselves what is good and what is evil, what is good and what is wrong, what is productive, what is not, what is progressive, what is not.

And we see that in the story of Cain and Abel, we see that intergenerationally, we see that in the good and evil binaries in the Noah story, that there’s good people and there’s bad people. And what happens is that we get to Chapter 12, with the story of Abram, where God complicates people’s attempts to do binary thinking. Where God takes a really messed up person—well, that even happens with Noah, right? Noah starts out as this person who we see as a hero, and then he has this major falling out.

Sarah: Very.

Brandi: Immediately after – and it happens immediately. And so it seems like scripture refuses to let us sit in binaries even when the stories themselves are rooted in things that we think are binaries. So we get the story of Abram, where instead of things getting more closed, God opens things up more for more complexity, for more questions, for more mess-ups, for less control. And we see that it’s not just good and evil; it’s life, it’s complexity, it’s nuance.

And so I don’t know that there’s – I have a cohesive thought around all of that, but that’s what comes to mind. I think that we have a lot to lose and everything to gain in unlearning white supremacist binary thinking. But to me the thing that feels like the greatest gift of it is to be able to see ourselves, white folks and folks of color, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, alike, that we get to see ourselves more clearly in a way that doesn’t put more pressure on us to perform whiteness, but to actually figure out who we are ourselves. Because, at the end of the day, what binary thinking does is it kills the ability to critically think, and it kills creativity.

Sarah: Right.

Brandi: And I love critical thinking, and I love creativity. I’m not great at them, but I – but I love them. And so, I just wonder what the church might look like if we embrace—this is going to sound like so much shade—but I wonder what it would look like if the church could embrace critical thinking. And not just white critical thinking or academic thinking, but critical thinking and creativity that creates more expansive use of scripture, that creates more expansive programs that creates space for more expansive, less spectrumed, less binary, frankly, more queer people; queer in the most broad and narrow sense of the word. I think that the invitation of both/and or something that’s not either/or is the queering of lots of things in our lives.

Sarah: At the very, kind of, at that moment of the fear that comes with wanting to leap into the binary, there is that choice of alienation, with ourselves and with people, and there’s that choice of creative transformation, not just for the individual to know oneself, but for a whole community.

Brandi: And I think just on a very selfish level I think it makes scripture so much more fun.

Sarah:  So much more fun.

Brandi: Because I unlearn the need just to ask who is the hero and who is the villain, another binary we use, and to just say, “Where do I find myself in this complex story of complex, messed up people? How do I live in the now and the not yet, a complete lack of binary, right? How do I live in the in-between? And how do I do that with other people?” Because, to me, there is so much freedom in that, to not have to perform my Christianity, but to actually live it.

Sarah: Yeah. There’s a new home that we can actually find in the kingdom of God, right, one that isn’t going to be shaped by what we perform and the binaries that we’ve opted into just to preserve our survival. But there’s this new home in – in what it looks like to follow Jesus with people who are willing to take that risk with us.

Brandi: I love that, and I think it is my personal commitment in that way to learn from queer folks and queer theologians in all of that, because who better to teach nonbinary thinking than nonbinary people? And I don’t know if the church is always willing—mm, I actually don’t think the church is willing, most of the time—to hear that, and I think we lose some of our salvation, our ongoing knowing of God and moving toward God in the ways that we do that.

And so, Sarah, thank you so much for being on. I think you’ve offered me and listeners a gift. And, again, we’re just working this out along the way. We don’t claim to have all of the solutions, but I’m grateful for the breadth of knowledge, experience, and life that you’ve brought in this conversation today.

Sarah: Thank you, Brandi. Thanks for having me.

Brandi: Absolutely.


Brandi: Thanks for joining for another episode of Reclaiming My Theology. Once again, thank you to those of you who have subscribed, rated, and reviewed on whatever platforms that you get podcasts. It’s been super helpful in helping other people find the show, and I’m getting emails all the time that people are randomly finding it out there because of the work that you’re doing to help this podcast get a little farther.

Thanks again to Patrons who have been out here helping make this podcast possible. Truly, you really do. And so, please check your inbox if you haven’t already for a primer on white supremacy. Hopefully, it will give a little bit more robust of a theological undergirding for all of the work that we’re doing with this podcast.

Please continue sending your questions about the podcast to Pretty soon, we’re going to start compiling those into a Q&A time with some of my friends who have maybe already been on the podcast and some special guests in the future. We want to be a community that’s full of questions and doesn’t just try to give answers to the things that we’re still in process in.

So please, as you consider your questions, the podcast, what you’re hearing and who you’re sharing it with, let’s continue to just try doing a little bit better together.