As a proud native of New Orleans, I have absolutely no reservation in sharing that gumbo is my favorite food on the planet. I love the shrimp. I love the sausage. I love the chicken. I even love the okra.
Gumbo brings diverse ingredients together, each maintaining their individuality, while simultaneously creating a collective community. As someone who also loves to make gumbo, I know that each diverse ingredient is supposed to complement, not compete, with the other ingredients. The shrimp complements the sausage, just as the chicken complements the okra.
In recent years, I’ve come to realize that what’s good in a gumbo should also be good in the country.
Gumbo is not a soup. It’s not the proverbial “melting pot” America was often described to be in yesteryear. While gumbo’s ingredients complement each other, they do not blend together in an amalgamation where diverse ingredients and perspectives become one.
With a theology of gumbo for a very divided America, I believe differences should be celebrated instead of forcing assimilation. Racial and ethnic diversity are good for America, just as is diversity of religious perspectives. Since I love the diversity of gumbo so much, I wonder why some are trying to make America a bland soup.
The So-Called Replacement Theology
On May 14th, America witnessed yet another incident of racism and racially motivated violence. This particular racism went directly to my core because I am a Black pastor, serving in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
A sick, 18-year-old white supremacist targeted a predominately African Americans community in Buffalo, New York, and deliberately plotted to kill Blacks shopping in the one grocery store in the area. He drove more than 200-miles, surveyed his target area, and opened fire, killing ten innocent people.
Before the shooting, however, he published a manifesto that articulated a “replacement theory,” espousing a fear that Blacks, Jews, and immigrants were replacing whites in America’s hierarchy.
"GUMBO BRINGS DIVERSE INGREDIENTS TOGETHER, EACH MAINTAINING THEIR INDIVIDUALITY , WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY CREATING A COLLECTIVE COMMUNITY."
The shooter’s replacement theory particularly hit me, because it was the same logic that motivated another white supremacist to deliberately seek out a Black pastor and Bible study participants, in June 2015, in the Emanuel 9 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church, a sister congregation in my beloved denomination.
The racism fueling both assassins’ so-called replacement theory doesn’t see America as a gumbo with diverse peoples living in community and complementing each other. Their racism sees people in competition with one another. The uncertainty of this “competition” apparently made them insecure.
Someone once told me that if violence is the language of the unheard, absolutism is the language of the insecure. They apparently want the absolutism of white supremacy, where all “others” are blended into an American soup, instead of a diverse gumbo. In eating a blended soup, you’re sure to get the same thing with each bite. In eating gumbo, you’re sure to get something different in each spoon.
White Christian Nationalism in America
If the language of the insecure is absolutism, those who are insecure work to maintain the status quo. America is currently going through a period of regress, where the appeal of diversity and complete citizen inclusion is being combatted by a dominant white power structure. This dynamic manifests each day in the form of what sociologists call Christian nationalism or specifically, white Christian nationalism.
Christian nationalism is a cultural and political framework that has little to do with any church orthodoxy, but everything to do with preservation of America’s social order that has historically placed an increased value on white Protestantism, and a decreased value on all “others.” With roots in American exceptionalism, (white) Christian nationalism embraces an “us against them” political framework where America is God’s chosen nation—just like the Bible portrays the Israelites as God’s chosen people—and any opposition to America’s original operational structure is against God’s will. A part of this political framework was coined by the term “manifest destiny” as a justification for the taking of Native and indigenous people’s land. It is also the political framework of power preservation that was widely displayed during the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In 2016, Donald Trump was elected president by speaking a language that emboldened the fearful demographic of replacement theorists. He promised to “Make America Great Again” by taking her back to her darkest days, where the bland soup of white Protestantism ruled the day. With a “whitelash” that responded to Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, how could any “fair election” in 2020 result in Trump’s defeat? As violent vigilantes stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, many wore paraphernalia exclaiming, “Stop the Steal: In God We Trust” and “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is My President.” Some even carried life-size replicas of Jesus’s cross.
To preserve the political power that has been the status quo, Christian nationalism is also undergirding voter suppression bills that have been filed in so many state legislatures, to ensure that as many people who voted in 2020 will never have the same access to voting again.
Given our religious and political factions, does anyone have a recipe for gumbo?
"RACIAL AND ETHNIC DIVERSITY ARE GOOD FOR AMERICA, JUST AS IS DIVERSITY OF RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES."
My Theology of Gumbo
Although I most certainly love gumbo, it’s not just my favorite food; it’s a recipe for life. Just as different ingredients are celebrated, different peoples must be celebrated in America, too. My theology of gumbo creates an America of racial and religious inclusion, where diverse peoples complement each other, not compete against one another.
If America is to make gumbo, both theologically and politically, its factions must be willing to come together and work together. When do we stop buying-in to wedge issues? When do we look for commonality, as follow siblings, with God as a common parent? If the church can make a good gumbo, she can be an exemplar and serve it to society-at-large.
Much like a pot of gumbo, different peoples must be willing to come together and complement one another, acknowledging their differences, rather than feeling that we are in competition and must therefore fight against each other, attempting to assimilate to a melting pot-like status quo. The American church must create community. I hope you will join me in the kitchen!