Living under the Progressive Gaze

Living under the Progressive Gaze

The particular men that we fear or people that we seek to please may vary. But the temptation to do so is universal. And the Bible places a sharp antithesis between seeking the approval of men and seeking the approval of God. As Paul says in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

A week or so ago, I was observing the way that certain Christians write, preach, and engage on social media, and a phrase came to mind that I’d picked up from conversations about race in America. The phrase was “the white gaze.” Popularized by novelist Toni Morrison, the concept has to do with one’s default reader or observer, the idealized audience for which someone writes. Black authors writing under the white gaze feel constrained to adapt to the assumptions of white readers, which are taken to be normative. As the entry in Wikipedia puts it, “Various authors of color describe it as a voice in their heads that reminds them that their writing, characters, and plot choices are going to be judged by white readers, and that the reader or viewer, by default, is white.”

Morrison once wrote, “What happens to the writerly imagination of a black author who is at some level always conscious of representing one’s race to, or in spite of, a race of readers that understands itself to be ‘universal’ or race-free?” No doubt he is suffocated and strangled by the pressure.

I thought about the concept, because it seems to me that many Christians write, speak, and act under “the progressive gaze.” That is, the default unbeliever, before whom we live and move and have our being, is presumed to be urban, liberal, and progressive, and thus, we write and speak in such a way that our words (we think) will have maximum persuasive power to them.

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