Hello and welcome to the inaugural episode of The #RacismIsHeresy Project. Our episodes have a simple format. Each guest will be asked to define the term racism, to define the term heresy, and then to argue that yes, racism does constitute heresy or that no, racism does not constitute heresy. Then we’ll have chat about the projects proposed hashtag #RacismIsHeresy as well how hashtags mediate our discussions and the choices we make about things that matter, both online and off. These are not neutral terms. Racist. Heretic. And these are not neutral times. From the outset, we want to acknowledge that the subjects we are discussing connect to human realities and have serious implications for individual lives, for our communities and for our politics. So come join the conversation. You can find us online at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology website, on Medium.com or simply by using the hashtag #RacismIsHeresy.
Our first guest is Dr. Justin Tse. Dr. Tse is a Social and Cultural geographer, with a particular specialism in Asian-American studies and Cantonese-speaking Protestants. He was lead editor of Theological Reflections on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement published by Palgrave in 2016. His work can also be found in Progress in Human Geography, Social & Cultural Geography, and online at Race Files. He’s been interviewed regularly on the topics of race, religion, and politics on WBEZ Chicago as well as being a regular columnist on geographies of religion for Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver. Dr. Tse is also a layperson in the Greek Catholic Church of Kyiv and a member of St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship. His writings on Eastern Catholicism can be found on Patriarchate: A Greek-Catholic Analytical Publication, Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, INHERITANCE Magazine and online at Patheos Catholic. He is currently working on a book manuscript titled, The Secular in a Sheet of Scattered Sand: Cantonese Protestants and Post-Secular Publics on the Pacific Rim. Dr. Tse also coined the hashtag #SexismIsHeresy in 2017.
Hi, Justin, thanks for joining us today.
All right, so out of the gate-we’re just gonna start right in with how would you define racism?
So that’s a really interesting question because I think a lot of people mix it up with believing in race.
Right. So I, when I teach about race, say in Asian-American studies where I taught at Northwestern, what I refer to is this book written by the two sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant. The book is titled Racial Formations in the United States. And they have this sort of, like, three-prong understanding of race. Right? They have racial projects, racial formations, and racism. Okay. A racial project is when an institution — the state, the market, civil society — when an institution wants to categorize people according to whatever racial categories that they might have.
A racial formation is when those people kind of internalize what category they’re in. None of these are racism yet.
Because they haven’t been ranked yet. Racism is when you rank them into a hierarchy and you say that one race is better than another. And it’s the belief in that hierarchy that makes somebody racist. So just talking about race doesn’t make you racist. Talking about the hierarchy doesn’t make you racist. Believing in the hierarchy and that it should be maintained, that’s what makes you racist. (For more on Racial Formation Theory click here.)
So do you think that someone can be racist just by virtue of their thought life, or do you think they have to enact practices in keeping with believing in the hierarchy?
I think theoretically those two things can be separated, but I think it’s really hard…
… if your thought life is that, you know, where you rank one race better than the other, I think it does come out in your actions.
So as a hypothetical category…
…but probably not in reality.
Right. So those of us who study race, we’re like, “You know, you could say that race is performative,” in the sense that most people are acting out what their beliefs in race are. But that just means that your actions tell you a lot more about your intentions than what you say your intentions are.
Interesting. Do you think that race is a real category?
That’s a really difficult question to answer because the way that I would talk about it is that it’s a productive fiction.
Right? So do the biological phenotypes of people automatically have cultural characteristics? No. Absolutely not. But has this category been operationalized for, like, 500 years?
Absolutely. Yes. So the way that people have been categorized and how they’ve internalized that psychologically, has led to it becoming a real thing in the world. So I think people go kind of on two extremes when talking about race. One is they say, “It doesn’t matter ’cause it doesn’t exist.” And the other is that “It matters because it exists.” I’m kind of, like, in the middle, where I go, “It doesn’t exist but it really matters.”
Hm, interesting. So from your first definition which was the series of, do you think… oh wait! I forgot a key question! I meant to ask you what you think heresy is.
So here I have to specify, I’m a Social and Cultural Geographer, which means I’m not a professional theologian. In terms of my own, sort of, Christian background. I’m a layperson in an Eastern Catholic church. So none of this should be, like, taken to be what my church thinks, or what, what the professionals think. This is, like, how I think as a Christian, as a practicing Christian. Right? So, I often think of heresy in relation to orthodoxy.
Right? Orthodoxy in the sense that we ascribe ortho-right, praise-doxy, doxa, to God.
And that’s a practice. It’s not just a belief, it’s a liturgical practice of attributing things to God in praise. And so, heterodoxy is like when you’re deviating from that. And so I would say that heresy, it’s not just, like, wrong beliefs- but it creeps up in your practice, too. It’s sort of like racism. Like where you can theoretically sort out the thought life and the actions, but no. The thought life and the actions are intertwined and often times the actions tell you a lot more about what you actually believe.
So from that definition, do you think that racism constitutes heresy?
I would think so. I would think so because I, I don’t see in, anywhere in Christian practice where you could rank the image of God based on biological phenotype.
(laughing) Right? Right?
Or, or even, or even attribute cultural characteristics to biological phenotype. But that latter one is just sloppy attribution.
And I don’t want to give sloppy attribution the dignity of calling it heresy, but when you rank them, then it’s definitely crossing the line, I think.
What is the line that it’s crossing?
I think, at least how I understand heresy in relation to orthodoxy. The kind of standard for what makes Christianity orthodox is the understanding that God became human so that humanity could become deified. This is classically Athanasius of Alexandria’s understanding of what happened at the Incarnation. And it was a reaction to Arianism, right?
So Arius was a guy, a worship leader…(laughs)…
… who wrote interesting worship songs about how Jesus was sub-God, not fully God. And so that was not attributing, I guess, right praise to the God who became human so that humans could become deified. Well in that sense, the history of the Church with regards to what orthodoxy means has sort of revolved around this central understanding of what does it mean that, or why is it important that God became human? So that, in Christ, we could become divinized. So anything that sort of plays with that-
Challenges that dynamic.
Challenges that dynamic because if we’re not becoming divinized, then why on earth are we Christian?
What are we doing? Yeah.
That’s a good question.
So speaking of Arianism, You actually coined the hashtag #SexismIsHeresy on Twitter.
In March 2017.
I’m sure you remember it well.
You related it to what you termed modern Arianism, and if I remember correctly, you referred explicitly to what you called New Calvinists-
…or a New Calvinism.
Can you talk me through that?
Yeah. So New Calvinism is a popular theological trend that has emerged in Evangelical Protestantism, especially in the United States and has sort of been exported, especially to Asia. And one of their central premises is this idea of complimentarianism.
Now, if we were to be fair to them, they say that it’s sort of the nice in-between between patriarchy and feminism.
And they say-
… they say that in patriarchy, uh, men are better than women. In feminism, women are better than men, or men, or women are equal with men, or whatever, and they say, “Well, no, no, no. Men and women — are compliments.” And I’m like, “Yeah. I can get behind that.” And then they go, “Well… their roles though are that men are leaders and women are followers.” And I go, “Wait. How is that not patriarchy?”
Anyways, I digress. But one of the ways that some of them have rationalized this is that as Jesus submits to the Father, women submit to men.
And this has become a sort of long-standing debate with, among New Calvinists who hold to this sort of complimentarianism. They only problem with that… they termed this eternal subordination. They’re kind of playing with that, uh, understanding in orthodoxy-
… where Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father. And so they say, “Well, Jesus was also eternally subordinate to the Father.” The real problem with that is that really skirts with this understanding that Jesus is-
That there’s a hierarchy within the Trinity that does not need to be there. And what I sort of noticed, and I think a number of other people have sort of said this too, but the people who care about it are too entrenched and so they feel like they don’t want to say too much. The people who would care about, or are outside of this… don't care about this.
And so I’m in this sort of middle ground where I come from an Evangelical background, but I’m Eastern Catholic now. And so I look at them and I go, “Ha, looks funny.” But it seems to me that this formulation of eternal subordination actually comes from the gender roles themselves.
They need a way to theologically justify women submitting to men, and so they go, “Jesus submits to God.” And I go, “Wait. No. That, see that, that’s sexism as heresy- because in order to justify your ideology of gender roles, you have to say something theological- and it just so happens that what you’re saying sounds a lot like Arius.”
Interesting. That’s fantastic. Thank you. So what do you then think about the hashtag #RacismIsHeresy?
Yeah. I think that, that would be, sort of, along a similar vein but it wouldn’t be because it’s Arian.
Right. Of course.
Right. So the Seventh Ecumenical Council talks about how icons are the image of God.
And so the general understanding there is that if Jesus is God having become human, and humanity becomes divinized, then all creation is redeemed and restored through this salvific act. Well if that’s true, then the material world is not fallen, it has been redeemed in grace. And that, and it has been constituted supernaturally. And so why a piece of wood that has an image on it can be a window into Heaven, or why a canvas can be that, or any material object can be that is because it, because that material has been redeemed in Christ. Well, if that’s the case, then racism is definitely heresy because what, what, what is happening in racism is to say that certain biological material-
… is, some is better than others. That’s, that doesn’t sound right. That, that sounds not only false, but it has devastating social consequences as well.
Right? And, and those social consequences are spiritual by virtue of this understanding of orthodoxy because what we do socially is spiritually constituted as well.
Interesting. So what arises for me in relation to that is the idea that we do think that certain materials, just on a really simplistic level, that maybe charcoal isn’t as excellent as the 1000-year-old red cedar that it was made from.
Can you speak a bit about what, how racism specifically is a negative kind of ranking… because I think we would agree that there might be some materials we think are less valuable, maybe not for theological reasons, but utility, or whatever. So yeah, if you could just speak to that a bit.
Sure. I think this gets back to, like, the invention of race. And that in the modern world there was … it’s sort of like the sexism is heresy thing, right? Like you have to invent theological categories so that you can justify your gender ideology.
We have to invent theological categories in order to justify your racial categories, in order to justify things like the exploitation of slaves…
… and the extermination of indigenous peoples. And so in order to make those justifications, you say things like, “People from a certain region of the world are less developed biologically.” Or, “People’s skulls are a certain size in certain parts of the world.” Or, that, “How you are constituted in terms of your blood has cultural characteristics.” So, these statements are all ludicrous. But they are the central building block for how racism is construed, right? And so that’s very distinct from saying, like, charcoal is different from cedar. Because this is actually saying that certain biological material can be ranked in this sort of fictional way.
Interesting. So speaking of fictions and rhetoric as constituting these things…again, you coined sexism is heresy, we’re proposing a fictitious #RacismIsHeresy hashtag.
I’m just wondering what you think about how hashtags mediate these kinds of conversations online?
Now that’s a really good question because … so, I’m off Twitter now. I’m off a lot of social media now because I need to concentrate on my actual scholarly work…
…and social media was kinda getting in the way.
Yeah, we all would do well to.
(laughing) Yeah. But I think that the most useful thing about a hashtag is that it makes a conversation searchable on Twitter. And so it’s not, I think a lot of people think that a hashtag is sort of declarative.
We’re declaring that racism is heresy. On Twitter, my sense is that that’s going to facilitate more of a conversation.
And so when you post the hashtag #RacismIsHeresy, I think what you’re gonna get are stories and examples of people’s actual experiences of how racism as heresy has affected them socially and spiritually. And I think those are the more effective hashtags, right? Because you’re not gonna get a lot of, like, heavy-duty theorizing on Twitter, but you are gonna get sort of everyday people who have Twitter reacting. And that reaction is usually in the form of a story.
Interesting. I’m gonna ask you a specific Eastern Rite Catholic thing.
Oh, okay. Sure.
Okay. So in 1872…
(laughs) I have primed you on this, a thing called ethnophyletism…
… which I’m roughly defining, correct my definition if I’ve got it wrong, the conflation of Church with an ethnic group or a nation?
… was condemned at the Pan-Orthodox Synod in Constantinople.
It was condemned as a modern ecclesial heresy.
Can you explain what that means?
So ethnophyletism is basically ecclesial racism.
It’s to equate a local church with the nation as constituted by race.
So, for example, it would be to say that the Romanian Church, for example, is the church for Romanians, and, and that if you’re not Romanian you don’t belong to the Romanian Church.
Right. That’s very bad.
Tell me why.
Because it’s basically saying that this biological and geographical fiction of blood ties, which is a race word, somehow constitutes peoplehood. Right? That’s nation.
We’re all born from the same blood and that gives us a common culture which is very problematic in terms of race.
And then equating that with the people of God-
Yep. That. There are lots of problems with this because then it becomes, okay, well, if you’re not part of these blood ties that make us a people, you’re not in, at least, this version of the people of God.
Which is a way of ranking...
Right. The races.
And this gets very problematic quite quickly. In the United States, there’s a guy named Matthew Heimbach who’s a leader of, in what can broadly be construed as the alt-right movement…
…who has said that he became Orthodox because all the local churches have nations. And those nations are constituted by race. Now he’s been kicked out of this, that, and the other church (further details of Heimbach’s excommunication for the heresy of phyletism can be found in the Notes at the end of the transcript)¹.
Fascinating reasoning, though.
For example, one time, or the first time he got Christmated, the next week, he was seen beating, I think it was a Jewish person with a three barred cross² And so he got kicked out of…
…that church and got received into another church, and then, and then, something else happened and I’m not sure what his status is, except that I think he caught his … his wife cheating with his business partner?
Oh, my word.
Yeah, this is very public information or else I wouldn’t say it. And I think that his movement has been largely discredited because of those series of events. Oh no, it wasn’t he caught his wife. It was his business partner caught his wife cheating with him.³
Okay, oh, gosh.
Right, yeah. Right.
All of these were-
And they were like, looking through the window of this, like, trailer park and um…
It was very…it was very messy.
Yeah. But all that’s to say is that ethnophyletism is a real problem with an orthodox view. And that the reason that it was condemned in 1872 was because it was a problem.
You don’t condemn things that are not problems.
And after the condemnation, it continues to be a problem as people work around that definition, in order to justify their, sort of, church as nation as race kind of deal.
So, a follow-up question to that. Do you think, then, that that condemnation constitutes a condemnation of racism as heretical?
I think it does, but okay, so this is a little bit of a difference between how like, orthodoxy versus say, the Latin church works.
When the Latin church makes a condemnation when the Vatican says something, the Pope says something, all right, then all the people who are doing that thing are all excommunicated, right? Pope Francis gets up and says, “The Mafia is excommunicated.” Well, theoretically, they shouldn’t be taking Communion. The orthodox church says something, look, there are thirteen orthodox churches.
They’re all local churches that are associated with metropolitan scenes. And then there’s people like us, who are Eastern Catholic, who the orthodox don’t see as orthodox and the Latins think are very strange in terms of our Catholicism. But we understand ourselves to be orthodox, at least, those of us who are more radical, in terms of our practice of Eastern Catholicism. And then the question is…okay, so does the synod of Constantinople apply to us?
We weren’t there. Because they didn’t think that we were orthodox. But we agree with them. So, it’s a little bit weird because, until the orthodox churches can sort of find some way to have some unity around basic questions about what it means to be orthodox it’s very hard to get a blanket condemnation.
So, for example, recently, in what was called the Holy and Great Council of 2016, supposed to be a Pan-Orthodox meeting, except four churches boycotted it.
It was Bulgaria … I think it was Georgia, Antioch, and Moscow.
Okay. Not small hitters.
Right. So four churches boycotted it. So does that mean that their resolutions are not Pan-Orthodox?
What does it mean to be pan-orthodox? Because, in the orthodox churches, there’s also the concept of reception. This is very different from the Latin church, where, in the Latin church, when the bishop…when the Synod of Bishops gets together, together with the Bishop of Rome, who is supposed to be their head honcho, they make a proclamation, and suddenly birth control is not, is not legal.
Not entirely sure that’s a clear definition of the practice in the Roman rite…But sure, I take your point.
But, see that would never happen in orthodoxy, right? Like, Humanae Vitae would not happen. Well, what we would say is that what constitutes something that’s Pan-Orthodox is when the orthodox people receive it from the Senate of Bishops. And we get this understanding from the third Ecumenical council, in Ephesus, where the Greeks held a council declaring Mary to be the God-bearer, the Theotokos. And the Antiochians arrived like, nine days late.
And weren’t really part of that. Right? So, does that mean that Mary is not the God-bearer? No, because the orthodox people received the definition of the Theotokos into the liturgy. So that would be one thing to look out for, in terms of how orthodoxy sort of works. It’s not the declaration or the condemnation- from the Synod of Bishops, however construed, it’s when the people take that into their liturgy.
Okay, so it’s liturgical reception-
…that constitutes acceptance.
Right, so, I would like to see something, for example, in say, the Sunday of orthodoxy, which is the first Sunday of Lent, where the faithful condemn ethnophyletism as an anathema. And they say three anathemas after it. That would be very nice.
Right? Or, to include something in the litanies about racism, or the equivalency of, church and nation being a falsehood that we must overcome. These are ways that the orthodox would…
Could articulate that?
…receive, would receive the teaching.
Excellent. Are you hopeful that that kind of thing might happen?
There’s always hope. Here’s something to keep in mind: Orthodox peoples have been colonized for a long time. Right? One of the things that I like to tell my Protestant friends, the ones who’ve read Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder, who say that, “Oh, you know, we don’t want a Constantinian Christianity. We don’t want a Christianity that’s been associated with Empire.”
And then, then they call my actions into question because I joined a church that has had an experience with Empire. Like, for example, the founders of our church are called Saint Volodymyr and Olha equals to the apostles. Why? Because it was when they were baptized that all of Kyiv was baptized. That’s called Empire.
Right? Okay. Now. My reply to them is, see, we are a church that has had a relationship with Empire. What some Orthodox even call a symphonic relationship with Empire so that the patriarch and the emperor are two icons of the same kind of governance.
And that Empire has consistently been taken away from Orthodox peoples through active colonization. Constantinople fell in 1453. Right? The Soviet Union sort of took over a lot of these orthodox countries in like, 1917. Currently, in Ukraine, there’s a war over territory where one Neo-Empire uh, thinks that by aligning themselves with a businessman who styles himself as a, as an Emperor, they have the right to designate Ukraine as the Russian world. Right? And whereas, in Ukraine, the churches have a different understanding of what it means to be in synchronicity with its people instead of being an alliance with Empire, theoretically, it should be an alliance with the people who, say, protest on the central civic square of Kyiv.
Okay. So this harmonization between church and empire has become very problematic in Orthodox theology. Largely because the category of Empire has become very problematic. All that’s to say because of that, I think people are searching for replacement of Empire.
One of those replacements could be nation and race.
Okay. So, one has to understand that it’s not because orthodox people are bad that they might reach out to, to church and race or, to race and nation. It’s because colonialism brings about psychic trauma that renders you unable to think about things. And so, oftentimes, this reaching out for race and nation is a reaction to the loss of Empire.
So, on one hand, of course, I agree with the Synod of Constantinople, yeah, ethnophyletism, bad. Terrible. Racist. Heretical.
But on the other hand, I understand why people even in my church might say things like, oh, ours is a Ukrainian church for Ukrainians only. I raise my hand and I go, “Excuse me? I’m in this church by…I was received by Chrismation into the Greek Catholic Church of Kyiv.”
Could you quickly define Chrismation for those of us who don’t know?
Chrismation is the act of anointing with holy oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit. So, I was received by the Holy Spirit- into this church that is the local church of Kyiv in global form.
But I’m not ethnic Ukrainian. But this church is my home. So, if somebody says, “This is a Ukrainian church, it only belongs to Ukrainians, um, excuse me, where does that put me?” But then I understand why it is that they might say that. Because they’re deeply insecure about the national status of Ukraine.
My heart goes out to that because their borders have been violated, they’ve been consistently colonized. Over the last 800 years, they have been invaded by Mongols, by Poles, by Russians, by Austro-Hungarians. They’ve been put under communism, then they’re not under communism, now they’re dealing with this Neo-Imperialist to the East and wanting to be part of something to the West, but that liberal formation called the European Union doesn’t want them. Okay, so, this is a very tragic situation, and I can understand that people in it might lash out.
But doesn’t make it okay.
Yeah, but it also means that I have to understand that people are people. Which is more fundamentally what it means to be the image of God, relating to the rest of the holy icons in my church. So I understand, but it doesn’t make it okay.
Brilliant. Thank you. I really appreciate your insight and your expertise. and sharing from your own experience. Really, really great. Is there anything else you want to communicate to people? While we’ve got you?
You know, I really think the world of these theologians of race who are emerging. I shouldn’t call them emerging. They’re kind of established because they all have tenure-
So in the 2000s, there was this group of theologians that were mistakenly called the new black theologians. I much prefer calling them the new theologians of race.
Their names are J. Kameron Carter, Willie Jennings, and Brian Bantum. And these guys have been able to articulate orthodox theologies, with a lowercase o, in relation to race in ways that are better than even what I could say.
And they’ve been fairly influential, at least on the people that I’ve been reading recently. In terms of trying to understand how this fiction of blood came to be so constitutive of the modern world in a theological way. So I would highly recommend reading my colleagues on this. What I do as a Social and Cultural geographer is that I kind of take their ideas and I engage with them in my own work on say, the Cantonese-speaking Protestants or Occupy movements, or on indigenous peoples in garden suburbs. But they’re the ones who’ve done the sort of heavy, intellectual lifting. I’m sort of gleaning from their ideas and trying to make sense of what it means in the world right now.
Thank you. Again, thanks for meeting with us. Thank you for chatting with me. We’ll probably talk to you again.
Okay, that sounds great. Yeah, this was fun. This was a pleasure.
This is fun.
All right, until next time. Again, this is Thea Reimer with the #RacismIsHeresy Project and this was Dr. Justin Tse, talking to us about racism and heresy.
- Matthew Heimbach's parish priest, Fr Peter Jon Gillquist, posted a public letter on the parish website explaining Mr. Heimbach’s excommunication. It has since been taken down but read as follows: Matthew Heimbach's parish priest, Fr Peter Jon Gillquist, posted a public letter on the parish website explaining Mr. Heimbach’s excommunication. It has since been taken down but read as follows: “On Saturday, April 12, 2014, I received Matthew Heimbach into the Orthodox communion through the sacrament of Chrismation. I did not understand at that time that he held nationalistic, segregationist views. Immediately upon learning of the scope and development of Matthew’s views, I responded to his decisions quickly and decisively, meeting with him in person and by phone on multiple occasions, and conferring with our bishop. Typically pastoral issues are best handled confidentially between priest and penitent in order to protect the privacy of those coming for counsel. If, however, a person makes inflammatory public statements in the name of the Orthodox Faith, as in the present case of Matthew Heinbach, a public statement is most certainly warranted. Though Matthew has made progress in coming to understand the teachings of Christ, he has not formally renounced his views promoting a separationist ideology. Orthodoxy rejects the teaching that churches or countries should be divided along racial lines. For, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). And again, “They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd,” (Jn. 10:16). Matthew must cease and desist all activities, both online, in print, and in-person, promoting racist and separationist ideologies, effective immediately. He must formally reject violence, hate speech, and the heresy of Phyletism. Finally, he must submit to a period of formal penance in order to be received back into the Orthodox communion.”
- On April 21st, in 2014, nine days after being Chrismated, Matthew Heimbach was part of a Slutwalk counter-protest at Indiana University at Bloomington. Southern Poverty Law Center reports: “At some point, an altercation took place between the TradYouth [shorthand for Traditional Youth Network, a “junior” branch of Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party]…a man who appears to have been a member of the IU Bloomington Antifa, a student anti-fascist organization. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, a photograph was taken showing a 31-year-old TradYouth member, ex-Marine and former Klansman Thomas Buhls, holding the man while Heimbach wields his Orthodox cross as a cudgel, bludgeoning his antagonist.” The photograph of the incident, as well as one of Mr. Heimbach holding a “Jesus Loves You” sign, along with the full SPLC article are here.
- Matt Parrott is Heimbach’s stepfather-in-law and was also a co-founder of Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party. According to a police report obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Heimbach was at one time having an affair with Parrott’s wife. The bizarre and violent series of events here alluded to is covered in two Washington Post articles, one from March 14th, 2018 and a follow-up on April 20th, 2018. SPLC was also able to obtain a police report of the incident which is available here