Are White Churches Advocating Diversity While Maintaining Racial Hierarchy?
Updated: Oct 28, 2019
Disclaimer: more opinion than fact due to lack of substantial statistical evidence.
Origin Life Church*, a multi-site church, describes itself as a "vibrant, exciting and friendly church with a passion for you to know Jesus." It goes on, "[situated] in a vibrant world-class small city full of life and creativity and Origin Life Church is no exception." As you will discover, there is something particularly exceptional about one of its courses (though not in the right way).
Origin Life Church run a series of courses, one called the LEGACY* Course. Described online as consisting "of 6 areas. These areas point to the talents of the individual, their life story and the plans and purposes for their future... these sessions look at various exercises and opportunities to discover more of what is inside... then points the way to living from purpose and a great life for God."
The course covers a different topic area per session over six weeks; the personality session is what piqued my interest. After interviewing a friend (and contacting the church to confirm), I discovered that they use a personality test. They use a test called the Four Temperaments Test, which is the instrument they mention to use to presumably "discover what's inside." The four temperaments test is based on the four temperaments theory a proto-psychological theory that suggests there four fundamental personalities: sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic, which is where it gets particularly intriguing (Wiki Four Temperaments).
So in the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), a Swedish Botanist (who obviously should have stuck with plants) and one of the most influential students of natural history set forth his race (and racist) classification system. He used colour as a criterion for classifying races, while also assigning moral and intellectual capacities to each race. Dr Joy Degruy crucially points out that, "[Linnaeus'} classification concepts became a permanent part of 19th-century anthropological thought and language."
Carl believed that humans came in four distinct species, which corresponded mainly to racial groups and people of different skin complexions, there was also a fifth, which constituted humans deformed for various reasons.
They were "Homo sapiens Americanus (Native Americans), Homo sapiens Europeanus (Europeans), Homo sapiens Asiaticus (Asians), and Homo sapiens Afer (Africans). As I go on to explain the definition of each classification, they may sound familiar. Linnaeus in Gunnar Broberg’s translation into Swedish from the Latin in the editions of Systema Naturae from 1758 and 1766, describes each group as follows (see footnote 1):
red, choleric, straight (since they in childhood are wound at a board). Hair black, straight and thick, nose broad, face with freckles, chin almost beardless. Stubborn, happy, free. Paints himself with fine red lines. Ruled by customs
white, sanguine, muscular. Hair yellow and plentiful. Eyes blue. Changeable (clever), subtle, inventive. Dresses in tight clothes. Ruled by fashion.
yellow, melancholic, stiff (flesh dried out). Hair blackish. Eyes dark. Serious, proud, greedy. Dresses in loose clothes. Ruled by opinions.
black, phlegmatic, slack (flaccid flesh). Hair black like coal, curly, velvet-like and smooth skin, flat nose, swollen lips. The females have folds of shame. Breasts overproducing milk (reach the knees). Sly, lazy, indifferent (does not worry). Anoints himself with fat. Ruled by arbitrariness."
"And so Linnaeus' system of categorising races has not left us. Including in the world of white-majority churches. In the case of Origin Life church, a church that is actively seeking to build a more diverse membership with a racial hierarchy."
Yes, if you caught on, you may have noticed all four temperaments are ascribed to each variant separately. Furthermore, each variant has ascribed to it a colour. As, Mats writes again, "the four different skin colours of man, as identified by Linnaeus, may also easily be associated with the colours of the four humours: red blood and Americans, white phlegm and Europeans, black bile and Africans, yellow bile and Asians" (see footnote 2) Linnaeus positioned Homo sapiens Europaeus at the top of the human hierarchy and Homo sapiens Afer at the bottom of the regime.
Naturally, being centred in whiteness, Homo Europeanus is more desirable than any other category with Linnaeus placing his own people at the highest rank. It has more 'civilised' characteristics such as gentleness and being governed by law whereas Homo Afer is utterly undesirable with its 'uncivilised' qualities of 'sly', 'lazy' and 'indifferent'. It persists to this day with blackness portrayed as a synonym for crime, laziness, poverty and low intelligence. Kehinde Andrews, a black professor of black studies at BCU, writes, "The modern world is shaped in the image of whiteness". He goes on to say that, "Linnaeus gave the perfect illustration of the hierarchy of whiteness in his categorisation of the species of mankind in the 18th century" (footnote 3).
I suspect the test in general places emphasis on characteristics thought to be typical for whites. It is worth noting that Linnaeus in a later edition of System Naturae appears to have placed Americanus at the top and not Europeanus as in the 1935 edition. Bertil Lundman (a late repre-sentative of Swedish “race biology”-tradition) believes Linnaued may have changed his mind after one of his disciples, Kalm, traveled to America in the 1750s.
I think I am onto something here, however, I acknowledge in the absence of strong evidence it is hard to prove empirically and beyond the scope of this article. However, as a scholar, Mats E. Svenson has pointed out "it is relevant to ask to what extent subsequent racism can be traced back to such an obsolete theoretical foundation"?
The names for the four temperament classifications are the same temperaments as those used in the Four Temperaments test at a church. And so Linnaeus' system of categorising races has not left us. Including in the world of white-majority churches. In the case of Origin Life church, a church that is actively seeking to build a more diverse membership with a racial hierarchy.
What supports my findings a little further is a person I interviewed who did the LEGACY course and the Four Temperaments test as part of the course.
The result from his Four Temperaments test was phlegmatic, and he is 'coincidentally' a dark-skinned black man originally from Africa, now living in the UK. He is a friend. I would not describe him as impassive and tiresome (both synonyms of phlegmatic). On the contrary, I could not fit him into any temperament exclusively, and this part of the issue with the test.
I did the test too, and it came out as phlegmatic. I must admit here that two tests results are not convincing enough evidence to suggest that the test is a means of keeping blacks out of leadership position. To be more statistically compelling I have to do further evidence. I have researched for supporting evidence and from what I have found the test has not been examined for biases yet.
I believe the test, much like white society, creates the conditions that are more likely to characterise a black person as phlegmatic. However, that's a topic yet to be explored in another post. For instance, it is easy to label black African immigrants as a group of criminals and place the blame on their Africaness, if at the same time, we ignore that fact that they are barely surviving due to racist policies that lead to racial inequities such as, discriminatory landlords, low pay, zero-hour contracts and high unemployment.
"Are white church leaders actively seeking to keep black members in 'their proper place' to keep whites in the top leadership positions? Or is it another case of 'unconscious' bias?"
Cultural variables may be found to influence some personality tests (such as the four temperaments test). Including beliefs regarding discipline and aggression, values related to education and employment, and perceptions concerning society's fairness toward one's group.
As an experiment, I repeated the test because to see if I could defy the black stereotype and disingenuously strive for whiteness. I chose answers to questions in a way that I perceived as being more favourably white (though arguably an ideal rather than actual reality). As if I were a loving, respectable and law-abiding western white male, basically white Jesus, and my result was, yes, sanguine.
Why are churches still using it if it is reinforcing stereotypes? Are white church leaders seeking to keep black members in "their proper place" to keep whites in the top leadership positions? Or is it another case of 'unconscious bias'? In that, they are not aware of the disparate racial impact it could be having on non-white test-takers, particularly black ones.
The test's concepts have a long history, going back to ancient Greece. "Physician Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) described the four temperaments as part of the ancient medical concept of humorism, that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviours" (Wikipedia). On further reading of the test's development, its only use may not have been to prove the superiority of whites over all other races. Roman's did not have a race concept in the way that we do today (Mary Beard). Regardless, the four temperaments since it's usefulness as a form of classifying races (thanks to Linnaeus) has seeped into our ideas about the psychology and behaviour of whites VS people of colour.
What does this mean to have a church recycling racist stereotypes? It means the church, at least the contemporary mainstream church, has a racial hierarchy that the church implicitly or explicitly seeks to uphold.
The LEGACY course is designed to help people find their role and purpose in the world and specifically within their church family. According to the Four Temperaments model, the phlegmatic temperament out of all of the personalities is the least leadership leaning.
If you are a black person, you are therefore more likely to be assigned the phlegmatic temperament. Those roles and goals assigned to you within the church setting are delimiting because you are less likely to have a leadership position. Let alone a top leadership position. It is more or less a form of segregation. It is a racist policy that leads to racial inequity (particular in church leadership) which is substantiated by racist ideas. Unless of course, you Think Like a White Man, wear the sanguine mask and fake it until you make it.
Taking a look at thesaurus.com, the synonyms of phlegmatic are not much better: blah, apathetic, disinterested, dull, sluggish, lethargic, lifeless, groggy and more. Take a look at another phlegmatic trait (taken from the book Get to Know the Person that You Are) and its description (I've added in Blacks and Whites to emphasis Blacks position as subordinate in relation to Whites as their superiors):
Indecisive "Blacks defer to Whites to make choices, and will feel upset and pressured if they have to make a decision themselves; this comes from Blacks inability to see themselves in a 'leader' role. Blacks are natural followers, and Blacks work best when they are told what to do by Whites" (see footnote 4).
So an "inability to see themselves in a leadership role; natural followers and work best when they are told what to do", are all characteristics that make for the perfect slave, serf and subordinate. A passive, subservient individual who is easy to coerce; an ideal subject for Europeans to murder, enslave and worse during colonisation of the Africa continent.
What followed the racist policies of slavery and political disenfranchisement of colonial subjects in the 18th and 19th century colonial Africa? Racist ideas spread by Christian missionaries, encouraging blacks to internalise the belief in their own inferiority as "savages" who needed saving. How do we justify religious, racial hierarchies in the church today? With racist psychology incorporated into a gift course that has a history labelling blacks as phlegmatic as LAZY AND CUNNING. In my opinion, this revelation has considerable implications.
The reality is, outside of the racist power construct, culturally, behavioural black people are not any more inferior than whites nor are white any more superior than blacks. A white supremacist society stamps racial inferiority on blacks. Also, across races, we find the full range of temperaments, and there is probably more variation within a race than across races. Just as there is more genetic diversity within Africa than between Africa and other parts of the world (see footnote 5). Moreover, ethnic groups in Western Africa are more genetically similar to ethnic groups in Western Europe than to ethnic groups in Eastern Africa. The similarities between groups are much higher than their differences. Relegating entire populations to a set of behaviours continues to consign them to eternal mediocrity. It's behavioural racism.
The use of four temperaments by Linnaeus highlights the anxieties and feelings of insecurity that he may have had. I believe that the four temperaments test systematically under-represents minorities' true and full range of personal characteristics and qualities at that time. Consequently, they produce individual temperaments for specific groups more than others because it is conceptualised most appropriately for white people. Differences may reflect cultural beliefs and experiences of racial discrimination. Anthropologists up until the mid 20th century could not escape othering and the colonial tendencies in their interpretations of non-Western peoples and cultures. Western scholars since then have questioned their capacity to comprehend non-western peoples and their cultures, having found their research tools wanting (see footnote 6).
The temperaments were conceived from and for Linnaeus' Eurocentric view. It reinforces (and over-represents) whiteness as the superior race and the cultural standard against which to measure all other cultures. To me, the test is both culturally loaded and therefore, culturally bias. Culturally loaded because to a high degree, the most desirable temperament, sanguine is view as an ideal within white European culture that must be imparted upon the other populations of the world — leading the test to have a potentially higher cultural bias against people of diverse cultures.
It's worth noting that culturally, from a Euro-America point of view, black and white people have different personality traits. To them, such characteristics may be better or worse, though, in reality, they are not better traits. If they do then, it could be helpful to conceptualise them differently, though not unfairly like Linnaeus. For example, appropriateness of behaviour may be culturally different across races, though not superior or inferior. In other words, differences have legitimacy. The terms used in test questions, therefore, may have different meanings and connotations across cultures and maybe ambiguous to some groups more than others. Moreover, some characteristics may hold a higher value amongst one racial group than another ethnic group.
It is essential to distinguish between behaviour and culture here. Author of How to be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X Kendi, puts it best, "culture defines a group tradition that a particular racial group might share. But that is not shared among all individuals in that racial group or all racial groups. And behaviour defines the inherent human traits and potential that everyone shares." (see footnote 7) There is no "Black gene." No one has ever scientifically established a single "Black behavioural trait." To be an antiracist is to recognise there is no such thing as Black behaviour, let alone phlegmatic Black behaviour.
What is frustrating about all this self-proclaimed exceptionalism is that the same church running the LEGACY course wants to be diverse. As part of their vision statement, they see themselves as a: "multi-ethnic... church who value all people." However, as Ben Lindsey, pastor and author of the new book WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT RACE, writes "there is a huge difference between churches being diverse and churches being inclusive." There are the pews, and there's the platform, White churches might be happy as long as the seats are diverse, who cares about the platform? The issue may, as Pastor Stephen Darby puts it lie in the false beliefs of white men, which is "don't trust a black man in a position of authority.' I suspect this is a central factor in the shortage of black leaders never mind black leaders in white-majority churches.
If they envision themselves as becoming a multi-ethnic church, in what sense? The viewing of the phlegmatic temperament as less suitable for leadership in the church will lead to racial inequity in the leadership of the church. The test will produce and sustain racial inequity, with a disproportionate overrepresentation of whites as sanguine and overrepresentation of blacks as phlegmatic. If that is not the case, and there is no disproportionate representation, Blacks may have assimilated rather than integrated into the church. However, broadcaster Afua Hirsch is right, "no one should have to give up their heritage to fit in."
To me, it seems the church is not dissimilar to the missionaries in Africa of yesterday. They are encouraging blacks to internalise a sense of their inferiority and maintaining the status quo. Origin life Church is sanguine about diversity on the face of it yet phlegmatic (lazy and careless) when it comes to inclusivity.
Origin church location pastors who have a growing BME attendance have said they genuinely want to get it right with BME folk. Therefore they must stop imposing Euro-American cultural standards or any standard for that matter and equalise cultural differences among their racial groups in the church. They also need to avoid tests that have a historical association with racial group behaviour real and individual behaviour false.
Lest we forget, intelligence tests were changed when women got higher scores.
Woe to those who plan iniquity - Micah 2:1
1. Broberg (1975), pp. 222–223. Linnaeus (1758), Linnaeus (1766).
2. Svesson M. E. How Linnaeus Classified Humans: why red, white, yellow and black people were assigned particular temperament. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology 17/2012. Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.17875/gup2015-888. p.307.
3. Race as identity, Nov 11, 2019. Available at:
4. Andrews K. Retelling Black Radicalism For The 21St Century (Blackness In Britain). Zed Books; 2018.
5. Msiza S. Get To Know The Person That You Are. Partridge Africa; 2015:
6. Kendi I. How To Be An Antiracist. One World; 2019: 53.
. Hanchard M. The Spectre Of Race: How Discrimination Haunts Western Democracy. Princeton University Press; 2018: 176.6. Kendi I. How To Be An Antiracist. One World; 2019: 95.