My Black Rage Sensibility

(This is part of a larger work entitled, “Perspectives of a Black Rage Sensibility: (Reshaping) God Through Spaces of Blackness”)

Albert Pero classifies blackness or the black experience as “a certain dark joy” that “celebrates the triumph of human beings over a social order which would degrade.” [1] This very same “dark joy” fuels my own Black Rage. My reaction of a lifelong struggle to be recognized; my Black Rage sensibility governs every facet of my life. I search daily to find sectors of safety.  My Black Rage sensibility carries the weight of waking up as the face of America’s perceived problem and waking up as a Christian with the “absurdity of a people who claimed to be Christian” but live in proverbial contradiction.[2]  When the black body is assumed as a prescribed conclusion of criminality and ungodliness, the quiet assent of racism profoundly sanctions the annihilation of the black body and safety is a major concern at all times. For others and myself, Black Rage, ultimately, becomes a strategic defense mechanism against human fears that have been weaponized by the media. In response, anyone who loves the black body becomes anti-American, which is merely, anti-white. This reaction results in further marginalization efforts and consent to remove the presence of black bodies.

Being a student at a Lutheran seminary and simultaneously being a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America prompts me to consider Black Rage in a context that is not filled visibly with black bodies. The constant need to reaffirm my blackness perpetually lives in the front of my mind. In this context, I did not have the ease of familiarity, but rather the brisk interplay of racism that goes undetected. I heard the quarantined compliments of how intelligent I am, and the over the top appreciation for my articulation, that are part of the complex-simplicity that monopolized many conversations. Black Rage cannot be expressed in my life without the awareness that the Black body was infiltrating a sacred space of the church, an official place that some may have seen as off limits; a place where fear of difference and diversity appear as negative quantifiers. I was becoming a candidate for Lutheran orders, in a denomination least integrated in the South and in the Midwest.

The impression of Black fear is not one that is placed in Black bodies, but a fear that it thrust upon Black bodies. This constant Black fear that in some fashion or form, Black bodies will enter into this designated white spaces. This is the fear of the “undesirable strangers” or “unloved strangers,” who enter into places their privilege has not been availed to them.[3] This ill-informed identifier, instantly places Black bodies in danger. James Baldwin’s use of the “unloved stranger” illuminates the hatred that is levied on the backs of Black bodies in America.[4] He believes that all Blacks experience this “paradoxical adjustment” where we must come to grips with the unalienable fact that we are dark, dangerous and unloved strangers –simply niggers.[5] For Blacks, this is not a personal identifier, but denotes his perception of what he believes white people perceive, when Black people enter into sacred white spaces. As these “undesirable strangers,” Blacks are brutalized at the hands of the very people who are charged to protect and serve citizens. Joy DeGruy explains that the impact of extreme racial systems have left a mark on the minds of Blacks as well as whites. She denotes that these racist power structures have constrained the life of Black folks with little “time to catch our collective breath.”[6] Categorically, an intrusion of the “undesirable stranger” in the sacred white space alerts fear both in the stranger and the entered communal space, that “makes for a dangerous situation because white people are compelled, by divine law nonetheless, to protect their space from intruders.” [7] Black fear is the direct result of a societal racial lens that equates Black with crime. Khalil Gibran Muhammed accentuates this point:

For white Americans of every ideological stripe—from radical southern racists to northern progressives—African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment, and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.[8]

Kelly Brown Douglas equates this criminalization of Blacks with a heighten sense of awareness that for the American whites, the Black body does not have the “presumption of innocence” that is afforded to whites. [9] Black fear is a learned and manufactured emotion that serves as another example of the numerous ways that the Black body is continually is danger.

 

[1] Albert Pero. “Black, Lutheran, and American,” Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African and African-American Theologians, Edited by Alberto Pero and Ambrose Moyo, Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1988, 161.

[2] Otis Moss III, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 2015.,23.

[3] See footnote 161

[4] Ibid., Baldwin, Notes of Native Son,42-43.

[5] Ibid.,42.

[6] Ibid., DeGruy , 107-108.

[7]In a previous paper, Reflective Thoughts On Kelly Brown Douglas’ “Stand Your Ground,” I go into more detail about this subject.  Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, New York: Orbis Books, 2015.

[8] Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.,4.

[9] Ibid., 86.

 

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Why am I in the ELCA?

The road to integration is an unforgiving assault on the hearts and minds of black clergy that serve in predominately white denominations. The continuous reshaping to make one’s authenticity fit into another’s warped shape of the Gospel becomes a perpetual task that tries to hijack one’s sense of being. The tragedy of being present, in spaces, where my humanity is only confirmed by my acceptance to assimilation is a solidarity to injustice, which I refuse to accept.

It is clear that the many within the ELCA camp voted for Donald Trump. (Lenny Duncan wrote a good piece about it) I am left to wrestle with this problem, “Why I am in the ELCA?” Why do I continue to connect with people who are so opposed to equality, equity, and justice? I used to say it was a sense of calling to the mission fields of whiteness but now I stand bewildered beyond reasonable thought. The constant awareness of having to explain your presence is insulting. I was assisting with the officiating of a funeral at the church. It was a very small funeral so there were no ushers. I took the liberty to greet friends and family as they arrived. Well, as I was opening the door, a lady comes to the door and says, “I almost ran when I saw this big, black man standing at the door.” Why am I in the ELCA?

Every day, it feels like the very essence of my being is sucked out of me. There are a lot of good people in the ELCA but there is no emotional safety. The task of naming and eradicating racism has been co-opted as racial reconciliation: the place where Black and Brown must become like us (white) instead of us becoming like them.

There were moments, when I thought that being in the ELCA was an honorable journey. I understood that it would be a hard road ahead, but I never considered the theological racism that masks itself as legacy and doctrine to be such a high mountain to climb. My faith has run out of faulty forgiveness that amounts to more opportunities to be dehumanized. I am tired of hearing that this is just how Lutherans are…The truth is that a Lutheranism that is still steeped 1517 rhetoric and liturgy never really had me in mind from the beginning.

Why am I in the ELCA? Well….

Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 1

Over the next 8 weeks or so, we will have a few of my friends, classmates and fellow pastors write on their feelings of the church, their thoughts, hopes and theology after Orlando.  Some you may agree with while other you may be the voice of dissent. Nonetheless, it will hopefully spark honest dialogue for change:

I am Brian Foulks. I am a heterosexual male and married with children. I am black male that grew up in the Black Baptist church but now part of the ELCA. Yes, the ELCA that is 96% white. Yes, the ELCA that ordains folks for the LGBTQIA community. Yes, I am pro-black but I am not anti-white. Yes, I read James Baldwin and James Cone. Yes, I love Hip Hop. I have three master’s degrees but still get looked at strange in many Lutheran circles. Yes, I grew up in a two-parent home where my parents have been married for 43 years. Yes, I grew up in Lexington, SC. Yes, I have friends and classmates who are Muslims and I care deeply about them.

Why did you say all of that? Because in the midst of all those labels and categories, I am lost for words. My honest critique of the church and the concern  for human life, after the terrorism in Orlando, has left me numb once again. It is that same numbness that I felt after the Mother Emmanuel terrorist attack: It was that feeling of what do we do now. Where will all of our “believe in Jesus” and “trust the Lord” rhetoric get us now? When the senseless slaughter of human life becomes synonymous with a loving God, then it may be time for us to create a new god. Some may declare that creating a new god teeters on the verge of heresy but so does condoning of the murder of LGBTQIA lives and the owning of a AR-15.

Honestly, I don’t understand everything there is to know about the LGBTQIA culture. Somethings I may not understand or can reason but, I do have friends in that community of beautiful people. Yes, the brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community have taught me how to love in the midst of the terrible face of evil. I have been made better by interaction and fellowship with this community.

As I wrestled through the murders of Mother Emmanuel, the love of a crucified Christ looked more like a crucified Christ finding no reason to love. Then to imagine 50 or more, brothers and sisters, mowed down by an AR-15 becomes a place where love is non-existent but the crucified Christ stands in the midst of the bloody dead bodies. The Crucified Christ standing, heart torn asunder because 50 lives have been stolen by sin. The Crucified Christ, always present. We mourn the lives of the brothers and sisters stolen too soon. There is no celebration for me. There is anger. There is unease. There is fear for my children. There are places where faith has appeared to relinquish its mode of life. The Crucified Christ is present…but sometimes I ponder on Langston Hughes’ Goodbye Christ:

Listen, Christ,

You did alright in your day, I reckon-

But that day’s gone now.

They ghosted you up a swell story, too,

Called it Bible-

But it’s dead now,

The popes and the preachers’ve

Made too much money from it.

They’ve sold you to too many

 

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers-

Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,

Even to Rockefeller’s Church,

Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

You ain’t no good no more.

They’ve pawned you

Till you’ve done wore out.

 

Goodbye,

Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,

Beat it on away from here now.

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-

A real guy named

Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-

I said, ME!

 

Go ahead on now,

You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.

And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,

And Saint Pope Pius,

And Saint Aimee McPherson,

And big black Saint Becton

Of the Consecrated Dime.

And step on the gas, Christ!

Move!

 

Don’t be so slow about movin?

The world is mine from now on-

And nobody’s gonna sell ME

To a king, or a general,

Or a millionaire.

Then I remember, the Crucified Christ is present. He gets down in the mess with us. He stands in the bloody mangled bodies weeping for the broken fellowship. So what can we do as the church: be present.

 

Just a Few of Us: Being Black in the ELCA and SC Synod

First appeared at Love Sees Color

I came back to the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2012 after having a conversation with a professor that would later become a mentor. At his prompting, along with many others, I made a decision to enter into the ordination process of the ELCA. For me that brought mass levels of trepidation because of the horror stories I heard about the process. It became another process in my life that would become a part of my redemptive story. I knew the commitment would be stringent and I decided to make that plunge.

My journey was completely different because I already had pastoral experience and two master degrees- one from Liberty University and the other from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (the seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University). It was a step into a world that was foreign to my world – the “Black Church.” Yes, we serve the same God but my experience in life was vastly different than most of the Lutherans that I had met. Then on June 17, 2015 my life and work was flipped upside down as 9 black bodies were massacred while attending a Bible Study at Mother Emmanuel AME Church. Honestly, my quest to finish the ordination process almost came to a squelching halt as I debated becoming a pastor in the AME church. I wanted to show my solidarity with the good people of the AME and the black community in general, and being a part of the ELCA seemed counter-cultural.

Yes, I wrestled with how can I be a part of a denomination that would produce a murderer of beautiful black people? How would the ELCA respond to such a tragedy? How would the SC Synod respond to such an atrocity? These are the existential questions that pummeled my mind daily. The queries that stood as constant reminders that as much as I try to ignore it…color does matter.

My being a part of the ELCA in the SC Synod heightened my awareness of the lack of cultural competency that we have in America. I watched as white Lutherans tried to make sense of this terrorist act and to find answers. I watched as black people mourned yet again, wrestling with the constant reminders that there are no safe spaces; tired of forgiving white folks for their senseless hate at the expense of their black bodies. And, here I was in the beginning stages of being a part of this denomination.

Reflecting on the past three months has brought me to strange places in my faith. I wish I could say that I have it all figured out and I am comfortable in all the confines of the ELCA and SC Synod but I can’t. I see the stares, not sure if they are disbelief, utter rejection or simply shock, but they are noticeable. I still feel the overcompensation because of the overtly racist atmosphere that is cultivated in the south. It is understandable, but it also resonates with my soul that we still have so much work to do. There are many beautiful people in the SC Synod of the ELCA that I have met in the last three months. We have talked and broke bread as well as visited with each other during a Sunday service, but, I state again, we have such a long road ahead.

I have been asked, “Why would a black man decide to become a part of the ELCA –the whitest denomination in America.” (according to Pew Research) Then on top of that become a part of a synod that has only ordained one black clergy member.

How does one really reconcile that in their mind?

God is up to something a lot bigger than me…