The Beautiful Ugly of Racism

There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about racism. The inventiveness and genius of the system of racism is ever unfolding. It mutates and redevelops itself as people become more cognizant of its terror. Racism is one of the most complicated terrains I have ever had to navigate through in my life. It hurts and it frustrates in sacred places that society refuses to allow grief. Racism redefines love while reproducing hate. It dismantles any notion of reconciliation because it refuses to admit that there was a separation in the first place.

Racism has become so embedded in the fabric and essence of (a)merica that it now functions as patriotism.

Thus, objection to racist behavior makes one anti-(a)merican and a terrorist. The lived perception is that black people should consider it a privilege to be in (a)merica and willing to endure racism because of this privilege. It would make the presumption that the privilege of being in (a)merica outweighs any racism projected at black, brown and red people.

The beautiful ugly of racism is so manipulative that it fails to adjust its transformative lens, even when it encounters God. This produces a hermeneutic of oppression that discerns racism as media hype with blatant disregard for the “other.” This type of understanding of God soothes the soul of the racist rather than unhinging the lies that have prevailed in a colorblind and passive (a)merica.

A Christian that fails to interpret and oppose racism, in a society, can never be trusted to effectively transmit the Gospel to all.

Drew Hart writes in Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church views Racism,

“Dominant groups are always in danger of thinking that their perspective is synonymous with God’s perspective.”

This failure to critique and question one’s personal thinking stifles the opportunity to be sensitive to the needs of the other. In such a space, racism is acknowledged as adiaphora that is only significant to the black church as an illegitimate excuse to hate whiteness. Racism is a nonessential issue that brings division. Interestingly, in such spaces, racism appears to be the only thing that can be changed, transformed or resolved without any form of deliberation.

It is this type of privilege that embodies racism: this privilege to ignore the trauma that has become the aftermath. Racism provides the dominant culture with free passes to criticize without be criticized. It “thrives of colorblindness, while simultaneously engaging in highly racialized practices,” writes Drew Hart.

My good friend Martin Quick posed a question to me:

I know God does not get glory in racism from Christians, but…how do we respond to racism in a way in which God gets the glory?

I am not sure how to answer that question properly. The privilege that comes with racism presses the black, brown, and red people in (a)merica to be the ones that sacrifice the most. We are being asked to fix a broken system that will allow the people in power, to stay in power, but in some minimal space we obtain some level of equality. That is not justice but lunacy being ambushed by absurdity. I am left exploring that question but he answers with a quote from Dr. Dora Rudo Mbuwayesango:

Sometimes the call to and celebration of unity frightens me. I would rather have justice but maybe one leads to the other but I do not know…

We still wrestle…

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Quotes and Notes from Black Theology of Liberation by James Cone (1970 edition)

  1. There can be Christian theology which is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused. pg17
  2. Theology ceases to be theology of the gospel when it fails to arise out of the community of the oppressed. Pg17-18
  3. Theology becomes a servant of the state, and that can only mean death for black people. Pg22
  4. Black theology is a outcry and failure of white Christian to deal appropriately with the suffering of black people. Pg23
  5. Black Theology centers around the belief that the black community is where God is at work. Pg24
  6. …in a racist society, God is never color blind.- James Cone pg25
  7. Theology by contrast cannot be separated from the community which it represents. Pg30
  8. A community that does not analyze its existence theologically is a community that does not care what it says or does. It is a community which has no identity.- 31
  9. …white theologians see no connection between whiteness and evil or blackness and God.- 31
  10. God has taken sides in the struggle…pg 36
  11. The black community must reclaim it’s history “by unraveling new meanings in old tales so that the past may emerge as an instrument of black liberation.- 39
  12. Black Theology is survival theology because it seeks to provide the theological dimensions of the struggle for black identity.-39
  13. The search for black identity is the search for God, for God’s identity is black identity,- 40
  14. Black Theology is the theological expression of a people who lack social and political power.-40
  15. Cone is very clear that the only to combat the structures of white power is to embrace pure essence of black being.- 41
  16. To be human in a condition of social oppression always involves affirming that which the oppressor regards as degrading. – 41
  17. Black Theology is a theology of survival because it seeks to interpret the theological significance of the being of a community whose existence is threatened by the power of nonbeing.- 43
  18. The eschatological promise of heaven is insufficient to account for the earthly pain of black suffering. We cannot accept a God who inflicts or tolerates black suffering for some inscrutable purpose.- 44
  19. American theology is racist; it identifies theology as a dispassionate analysis of “the tradition”, unrelated to the sufferings of the oppressed.- 46
  20. …racism is incompatible to the Gospel of Christ.- 49
  21. To be black is to be committed to destroying everything this country loves and adores.- 49
  22. Since white American theologians do not belong to the black community, they cannot relate the gospel to that community.- 53 (I may disagree with this thought in general)
  23. There can be no Black theology that does not take seriously the black experience – life of humiliation and suffering.-54
  24. What does revelation mean when one’s being is engulfed in a system of white racism cloaking itself in pious moralities?-54
  25. Black Power is the power for black folks to make decision regarding their identity.- 56
  26. The black experience is a rage that “strikes against the enemy of black humanity by throwing a Molotov cocktail into a white owned building and watching it go up in flames.”- 56
  27. Black is the experience of carving out an existence in a society that says you don’t belong.- 57
  28. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him.-59
  29. The black experience lead the black community to want to encounter with him now.- 64
  30. By taking seriously the witness of Scripture, we are prevented from making the gospel into a private moments of religious ecstasy or into the religious sanctification of the structures of society.-66
  31. It matters little to the oppressed who authored scripture; what is important is whether it can serve as a weapon against the oppressed.- 67
  32. …Literalism is being used by white scholars to encourage black people to be nonviolent, as if nonviolence is the only expression of Christian love.- Cone
  33. We cannot use Jesus behavior in the first century as a literal guide for our actions in the twentieth century.
  34. While the white church in America was rationalizing slavery through clever exegesis, the black church ministers were preaching freedom and equality.
  35. Theology cannot take some existential leap over the very issues pressing black folks in order to prop up an universalism.-76
  36. Black people have heard enough about God. What they want to know is what God is saying about the black condition.- 77
  37. It is so tempting to take the white Jesus who always speaks to black people in the terms of white interest and power.-79
  38. the Christian gospel offers men an authentic response by assuring them of God’s participation against human suffering -84
  39. The most gross sin cannot be forgive in America because it has been overlooked by America.-90
  40. Cone is very aware that God is in a personal relationship with humanity effecting the divine will of God.-90
  41. Revelation is God’s self-disclosure to humanity in a situation of liberation.-91
  42. Faith is the community’s response to God’s act of liberation.- 95
  43. We do not need to read the Bible to know that human enslavement is ungodly, and the slaves will do everything possible to break the chains.-99
  44. As the oppressed community recognized their situation in the light of God’s revelation, they know now that they should have killed him instead of “loving” him.- 101
  45. There is no revelation that does not provide man with an understanding of his own authentic self.- 103
  46. To know God is to know about ourselves…-105
  47. When oppressed people come to know who they are they will not tolerate oppression.- 105
  48. The courage to be black in the s pace of white people is what revelation means in our time- 106
  49. …the true prophet of the gospel of God must become both “anti-Christian” and “unpatriotic.”-107-108
  50. Black people are not elected to be Yahweh people of suffering.-108
  51. The black theologian must assume the dangerous responsibility of articulating the revolutionary mood of the black community.- 109
  52. The white God will point to a heavenly bliss as a means  of directing black people aay from earthly rage-110
  53. Freedom comes when we realize that it is against our interest, as a self-determining black community, to point out the god elements in an oppressive structure.-110
  54. If whites were really serious about their radicalism in regard to black revolution and it theological implications in America, they would keep silent and take instructions form black people. – 119
  55. How do we find meaning and purpose in a world in which God is absent? Are questions for an affluent society.- 120
  56. There is no place for a colorless God is a society when people suffer precisely because of their color.-120
  57. White theologians would prefer not to do theology based upon color.- 122
  58. …blackness or salvation (the two are synonymous) is the work of God not man.-125
  59. When wrath is removed from the nature of God it weakens the central biblical truth about God’s liberation of the oppressed from the oppressors.-131
  60. Black people want to know whose side God is on…-131
  61. What we need is divine love as expressed in Black Power which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors- 132
  62. If the wrath of God is his almight No against man’s Yes, then black people want to know where the No of God is today in white America.-132
  63. Love without righteousness is unacceptable to black people…-133
  64. Love means that God will accept the whites, and black will not seek reprisal.-134
  65. It takes a special kind of reasoning to conclude that God’s love means that he is no respecter of persons in a society filled with hate…-135
  66. Black Theology will accept only a love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.- 136
  67. Black Revolution trumps reformation because reformation leaves the assumption that there is still something good left in the system, it just needs to be cleaned up.- 141
  68. The hermeneutic of now is the very expressive nature of black people it captures the essence that God is entering into the struggle of black people.-142
  69. God cannot be the God of Black people and also will their suffering.-149
  70. It is not difficult for the oppressed to understand the meaning of freedom. They are forced by the very nature of their condition to interpret their existence in the world contrary to the value-structures of the oppressive society.-162
  71. …whatever we s ay about sin and man’s inability to know God because of the Fall, it must not in any way diminish the freedom of man to be in revolt against his oppressors.- 169
  72. Black Theology then emphasizes the right of black people to be black and by doing so to participate in the image of God.- 170
  73. In a world in which mean are oppressed, the image is man in rebellion against the structures of oppression.- 170
  74. Satres’s “the age of Reason” ability to capture the essence of irresponsibility is reminiscent of white privilege in America.-172
  75. Whites tell you what you have to do to be a part of the larger society and if you resist they kill you.- 174
  76. No black man will ever be good enough in the eyes of white people to merit equality.- 177
  77. There is suffering because there is no hope that  the reconciliation will be possible, and the only authentic response is to face the reality on the absurdity in rebellion.- 179
  78. Sin is alienation from the source of humanity in the world…-190
  79. Sin is not only the condition that produces lynchings, but it also makes white theologians define the theological enterprise as a “safe” venture.-193
  80. If Christ is to have any meaning for us, he must leave the security of the suburbs by joining black people in their condition.-199
  81. If Christ is white and not black, he is an oppressor, and we must kill him.- 199
  82. In baptism Jesus embraces the condition of sinners, affirming their existence as his own,- 205
  83. As long as the oppressor can be sure that the gospel does not threaten his social, economic and political security, he can enslave men in the name of Christ.- 208
  84. This means that blacks are free to do what they have to in order to affirm their humanity.-219
  85. Only oppressors can turn in upon themselves and worship their own projected image and define it as God.- 234
  86. To be oppressed is to encounter the overwhelming presence of evil without any place for escape.- 234
  87. For black people, death is not really a future reality; it is a part of their everyday existence.- 240
  88. The proper eschatological perspective must be grounded in the historical present…-241

Two Brothers Talking: A Running Dialogue on the Incarnation and Being Black, Part 4

The essence of being incarnational, in a system that practices such heinous oppression, would appear to be asinine. The missional ethos of coming to a place that has no perimeters and no appreciation for life registers as blatant stupidity. Suffering in such as place would be and is inevitable – (a)merica is just that type of place. A place where black folks experience high levels of suffering without the benefit of promoting privilege to soften the impact of such suffering. It is within the incarnation, where we can see God’s love for a people that consistently reject God.

I return back to the thought that the incarnation is dangerous. The incarnation pushes the oppressed to love people who will not return that love back to them. It is then, that we can say that the incarnation is a sacrifice predicated upon love, still extremely dangerous but promulgating robust love. Black folks in (a)merica extend this type of love every day, in a world where systemic racism has become the norm. We are incarnated into a system that does not play by a fair set of rules, but expects us to be satisfied that we are just able to be in the game.

The incarnation for the oppressed and those in the margins of society has the potential of being imprisonment. The good news is that Jesus did not work from this perspective. He worked from the perspective that the incarnation would benefit the world regardless if the world wanted it or not. The “word becoming flesh” (John 1:14) should revolutionized how we understand love. The incarnation becomes a radical move of love with major implications that transformed the entire world. Leaving privilege to endure suffering does not constitute intelligence but it sure does highlight love in a special way.    

A Theology of the Other in an Ecumenical Reality (Part 2)

“The Beauty of” and “in the Eucharist”

Is there a greater example of ecumenism that is readily available like that of the Lord’s Table? It is within this sacred ritual that we experience the clarion call to connect with the Lord in service. It is this call that invites all who will, to come and sit at the table regardless…and God will do the changing, reshaping, redeveloping and the saving. Timothy George tells the story of William Carey going to India:

William Carey went to India as missionary to share the gospel of Christ with those people. He served seven years and did not win a single convert to Christ. But once he began to win people from Hinduism to the Christian faith, and they desired to be baptized, he refused to baptize them until they would renounce caste because caste was one of the artificial forms of distinction. He saw that you could not really be a truly baptized Christian as long as you kept caste. The one dramatic symbol of breaking caste was being willing to share a common meal with an untouchable. When you can breach that barrier and come to the table with me, then we are in some ways involved in katallagē (reconciliation) and then you are ready to be baptized. To say you are a Christian and still separate yourself and remain at table with your own kind is a pretty good sign you have not really accepted Jesus as Lord. Well, that was a very prophetic thing for Carey to do in India, but it was based on this same principle that we are talking about.[1]

Carey’s story exhibits how the Lord’s Table breaks down the variables of difference and designates them as gifts. At the Lord’s Table the Eucharist becomes the feast of the “chosen.”[2] This is not exactly exclusive or inclusive language but an ontological analogy to the believer.[3]  The inclusive language is actually an exclusive behavior hidden within progressive rhetoric. While the exclusive language is discriminatory with disregard for social progression and awareness. Within these two frames of thought, two polarized conclusions, sit at the table while the grace of God mediates reconciliation. Thomas White describes his use of analogy as having an” ontological foundation” in a “propositional mode of signifying realities” that is characterized by “analogical terms.”[4] A further explanation of this thought centers around the concept that an “analogy is sometimes meant to denote one of two senses more precisely than another, neither sense of the word is meant to exclude the other, nor are they meant to be identical, but rather interrelated, as the analogical mode of signifying realities as “being” is meant to signify in fact the real distinctions and likenesses between the analogical modes of being in the things themselves.[5] The conclusion justifies the reconciliatory presence of the Lord’s Table that provides seats for all while mending the broken.

The Eucharist breaks down barriers translating them into familiar avenues for those who have been disenfranchised by life. The Eucharist is the incarnation in pragmatic form at its best. The incarnational aspects of the Eucharist represent a robust engagement and invitation to connect. Matthias Scheeban articulates,

“The Eucharist is meant to be the continuation of the Incarnation . . . As the elevating and transforming power of the Incarnation is continued and perfected in the spiritual mode of that body’s existence, so the union of the invisible with the visible, of the divine with the human, which we observed in the Incarnation, is distinctly brought out in its sacramental existence.”[6]

The Eucharist is the residual, eternal effects of Christ coming and dwelling among us. [7]It is the Eucharist that allows authenticity where pretenses become fragmented by acts of love. This is the moment when we identify that the Eucharist is a reconciliatory agent. Racism, sexism and classism are trumped by invitation- the invitation to come and partake. If you are invited to engage in the Eucharist, then all of our “isms” are subpar. Christ through his work on the cross, recalibrated our realities to make them whole in order that our “isms” would take a backseat to his presence.  St. John of Damascus writes, “He in his fullness took upon himself me in my fullness and was united whole to whole that he might in his grace bestow salvation of the whole man. For what has not been taken cannot be healed.”[8] So within this healing and restoring of the whole, we find that our” isms” have been recalibrated to resemble Christ. In this Eucharistic recalibration, we continually come to the table re-dressed because of the deeds of Christ. Thus, all perception is centered on Him and not us, which calls for “high functioning reconciliation.” The admittance of all at the table ignites the flame of ecumenism that places Christ at the center. Regardless of the denominational differences, Christ recalibrates individuals through his redemptive work done through the Eucharistic experience.

The TCTCV appropriately engages the process of ecumenism when addressing the subject of communion. Their understanding of cultural aesthetics without surrendering overall unity is handled with precision and care. There are clearer outlets for cultural expressions, but, at the same time, unity has to stay at the forefront of the mission.[9] The understanding of this legitimate diversity embarks in new areas, highlighting the intentionality of ecumenical dialogue.[10] The Eucharist provides an opportunity to display an image of Christ that needs to be revealed to those that have become disenfranchised to the gospel. It serves as an invitation to the “Other” that they are welcomed despite visible differences –the freedom to participate without being locked in, or provincial.[11] The TCTCV declares that Christians are called to be in solidarity with the “Other” as a sign of love because Christ sacrificed himself for all and now gives in the Eucharist.[12]

 

[1] Timothy George and Robert Smith Jr., “A Conversation on Race and Reconciliation”,  The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 8 No.2, (Summer2004), 54-55

[2] The TCTCV emphasize that there are sacramental elements and ordinances that have been followed by the church for years. The WCC wrestles with the notion that these can be interchanged to meet the desired need of the body of Christ. When it comes to communion some denominations’ view it as sacramental which opens the door for more opportunistic responses to participate. But, other view communion more from an ordinance perspective which allows for more institutional control. The combining of the two by the WCC bridges the two together to get to a more convenient and common solution, that will inevitably become a win-win situation for the church. Ibid. The Church, 25.

[3] Through him all things were made (John 1:3): The Analogy of the Word Incarnate according to St. Thomas Aquinas and Its Ontological Presuppositions., Thomas Joseph White, ed., The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God?, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011,248.

[4] Ibid.,White

[5] Ibid.,White.,248-249.

[6] Matthias Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, translated by Cyril Vollert, St. Louis: B. Herder, 1951 (from 2nd ed., 1887), 522.

[7] See John 1:14.

[8] Translated by E.W. Watson and L. Pullan. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 9.,Chapter 6 Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1899.), Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/33043.htm

[9] Ibid., The Church,16.

[10] The TCTCV coined this term legitimate diversity to find ways where God gifts could be used to enrich the lives of all while allowing all to have their own cultural connectors. As stated in TCTCV, “There are limits to legitimate diversity; when it goes beyond acceptable limits it can be destructive of the [very] gift of unity. Ibid.,17

[11] Marianne Afanassieff, “The Genesis of “The Church of the Holy Spirit” ‘, in L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit, Nicholas Afanassieff, translated, Marianne Drobot, Cogitato Fidei 83, Paris: Cerf, 1975,17.

[12] Ibid., The Church,25.

A Theology of the Other in an Ecumenical Reality (Part 1)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) takes the call for unity to task with its historic document, The Church Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV). Their objective, highlighted in their 2012 bylaw, suggests that they exist

to serve the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ , through witness and service to the world, and advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe. [1]

This “mutual calling” is an urgent push to embrace perichoretic moments that seek to stabilize the church.[2] These perichoretic moments represent episodes when “we are ‘habitable’, for one another, giving one another open life-space for mutual indwelling. Each person is indwelling and room-giving at the same time.”[3] The WCC’s desire to append itself to the needs of the “Other” is an essential element to bring forth systemic change. Paul Collins asserts that “the ‘Other’ may relate to intra-Christian and extra-Christian relations and dialogue. The ‘Other’ may be seen in terms of the difference as in stranger/foreigner, whom ‘we’ might welcome or reject. Another might be in the terms of the opposition of friend/foe. This in turn leads to the drawing of borders or boundaries and begs questions of how the ‘Other’ is to be assimilated…The question of the relationship of the church to the ‘Other’ also impinges upon the theology of the church itself…”[4]

Mitzi Smith denotes in her defining of other(ness) as a “description of interaction.”[5] She further states that “Other(ness) is about proximity not alterity; the other who is most like us is most threatening and most problematic…Difference is constructed in order to distinguish ourselves from proximate others. Our constructions of the other generally function to subordinate the other to us.”[6] The intention of this paper is to give a perspective of  TCTCV on how attending the relational needs of the “Other” make ecumenism paramount in a postmodern and racial society –an ecumenical reality that is shaped more around culture rather than God.

 

[1] World Council of Churches.  The Church:  Towards a Common Vision.  Faith and Order Paper No. 214. Geneva:  WCC Publications, 2014 (Note:  Download from the World Council of Churches web site), vii.

[2] Ibid. The Church.

[3] Jurgen Moltmann,”Perichoresis: An Old Magic Word for a New Trinitarian Theology” in M. Douglas Meeks ,ed., Trinity, Community and Power: Mapping Trajectories in Wesleyan Theology. Nashville: Kinswood Books,2000.,114.

[4] Paul M. Collins, “The Church and the ‘Other’: Questions of Ecclesial and Divine Communion” in Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, ed., Ecumenical Ecclesiology: Unity, Diversity and Otherness in a Fragmented World. New York: T&T Clark,2009.,101

[5] Mitzi Smith. The Literary Construction of the Other in the Acts of the Apostles. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2011.,3.

[6] Ibid.,Smith.,3.