Intersectionality and the Church

knotThis week we celebrate the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Woman’s History Month. It is a calendared example of the lived reality of many of the women I know, the reality of intersectionality.  The term intersectional is borrowed from a Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics originally authored by Kimberle Crenshaw (Crenshaw 1989).  Her original work focused on the intersection of race and gender as it pertained legally to the ways in which race and gender cause separate, and yet compound, issues of marginalization. The work also lifts up the extreme and compound marginalization of race, sex, class, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability.  A Black female law professor, Crenshaw points out how the dominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis.

Intersectionality addresses the combination of individuals’ multiple social groups and the identification, experiences, and worldviews that result from this combination (Yarber 2015). In particular terms, intersectionality defines the ways in which the most disinherited of the marginalized experience their lived reality in the face of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. A poor immigrant Black African Lesbian woman experiences the effects of intersectionality in ways that a white heterosexual male member of the wealthy class never will.  The reality—i.e., interlocking political systems that are foundational to our nation’s politics—serves to create an extreme underclass. In the Christian tradition, identity theologies of liberation have heretofore been guilty of the same construct without taking into consideration the ways in which multiply-burdened intersectional realities might impact our words about God and the church.

This week calls us to begin to explore a new intersectional theology. This new stream of theology arises from the lived experiences of the Black bodies in and out of the Black Church. It is honed and fleshed out in conversation with Black, Queer, Other-abled, Anticapitalistic, and Immigrant theologians. It is a queering of Black and Womanist theology. To queer Black theology is to force the radical potentiality of Black Liberation and Womanist theologies in their enactment; a fresh modality and way of living the church (Crawley 2017). This Intersectional theology is a heuristic constructive theology that engages a hermeneutic of hunger that reads the Bible as an answer to what all forms of oppression bring to bear on human dignity.  It has not been suspicion that turns people away from the church; it is hunger that drives them to seek help wherever their rights to have a life are being respected (Soelle 2001). By building an Intersectional theology, the Church responds theologically to the call for respect and human dignity.

Intersectional theology is not the work of liberal erasure; it is the intentional honoring of the ways in which social systems collude to marginalize, disenfranchise, and disinherit people considered non-normative by the oppressive social systems of those in power. Racial erasure is the sentimental idea that racism would cease to exist if everyone would just forget about race and see each other as human beings who are the same (hooks 1992). This concept of erasure is not limited to race, it has become a sentimentality that moves to make all “otherness” invisible, without considering the systems that problematize difference.

Intersectional theology is talk about God that doesn’t privilege the authoritative universal voice found in eurocentric theological musing. This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality.  The authoritative universal voice usually indicates white male subjectivity masquerading as nonracial, non-gendered, objectivity (Crenshaw 1989).

In other writings, I put the meat on the bones of intersectional theology. My goal here is to call us to fall in love with the idea of new talk about God. To be brave enough to consider our God-talk from the voices of Black women, Other-abled siblings, and the Immigrant voices among us. How would the reading of the text differ if we took seriously the non-normative body of Jesus as we proclaim to the world Immanuel, God is with US!

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Crawley, Ashton T. 2017. BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham Press.

Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.

hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: race and representation. Boston: South End Press.

Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Yarber, Cody J. Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church. Louisville : Westminister John Knox Press.

 

 

 

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In Response to Violence

2015-04-27 08.19.29The American experiment has, from its inception, been an exercise in violence. Between waging war against the British Empire and decimating First Nations people, violence is so woven in the fabric of national identity that it is impossible to separate America from our violence. The Boston Tea Party, so celebrated in our pursuit of liberty, was itself violent. Without violence, the whole economy of our early nation would not exist.

The Maafa, Slavery, American Apartheid (Jim and Jane Crow): these are the violent pillars of the American economy.  Our wrestling with gun violence is as old as our presence on the continent. The trajectory of our violence is now at a point it must be confronted.

The recent tragedy in Florida, where seventeen people were murdered by assault rifle in a public high school, should serve as a wakeup call to the all those who love justice and particularly those of us in the religious sector who are tasked with increasing the moral understanding and capacity of the nation. Laws are designed partly to protect the public from unscrupulous individuals and institutions. Yet as important as legal constraints are, they are not sufficient on their own. The fact that something is legal doesn’t mean that it’s moral (Volf 2011). The task of the spiritual community is to call society not to what is legal alone, but what is right.

Our responsibility as a community of faith is less that of indoctrinating or relating people to an external power and more of that of providing opportunities for people to touch the infinite center of all things and to grow into all that they are destined to be (Spong 1998). This call invites us to take a firm stand against violence. There has been a conflating of nationalism and religion that has silenced the prophetic voice of religious witness to the point that we memorialize children murdered in schools the same way we memorialize soldiers fallen on the battlefield. Militarism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate –media multiplex and a culture industry that has hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of citizens (Jr. 2015).  These mind-numbing tributes flashed on our television screen at the close of news broadcasts place the death of our children and those who die in combat proximate in ways that are unsettling to say the least. It is national corporate sin.

swirlSin, in my theological lexicon, is an inappropriate response to a legitimate need. We legitimately need to mourn the murder of children and the fallen soldier; however, it is inappropriate to mourn them the same way. Sin is a form of brokenness, an assault on and corruption of the spirit. It is a complex phenomenon: it is communal as well as individual (Farley 1990) . What would happen if the Church and other religious institutions were so stirred by the violence in our brokenness that we sought to create new rituals of memorial for those sacrificed to gun violence?  What if our need to be safe and bear arms was called into question by our liturgies and our worship moments? How would the ethos of violence in our nation shift if those who claim to be people of spirit would question the role of violence by the ways we sing, preach, and pray?

Liturgy is the ritualizing of deep mythology on many levels. It makes concrete our theological hopes and a large part of what we are concretizing is our eschatological hope. Without denying the legitimacy of eschatological hopes, theology must seek a historical response to evil.  Otherwise consolation and hope may denigrate into excuses for remaining passive or indifferent in the face of radical suffering and injustice (Farley 1990). Let us consider the ways which our liturgies speak truth to power as a prophetic critique of the culture of violence we now find ourselves in.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.

Jr., Matin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Public Faith. Grand Rapids: BrazosPress.

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About Love

Love is one of the most written about topics in human history, yet all the volumes written on it cannot exhaust the hunger to understand it. As we celebratered-heart-tree Valentine’s Day this week I wonder if our religious institutions will be mindful of the opportunity we have to influence the conversation about love. More than just the hyperawareness of romantic love (or the absence of such love), there is a way that Valentine’s Day calls us to consider the full range of interdependent independence that is the material substance of love.  The desire for interpersonal fusion is the most powerful striving in humanity. It is the most fundamental passion, it is the force which keeps the human race together, the clan, the family, the society. The failure to achieve it means insanity or destruction – self-destruction, or the destruction of others. Without love, humanity could not exist for a day (Fromm 1956). In my experience, the brokenness and fractures of human relations and our shared relation with all of creation come as a result of lovelessness. Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion (Brown 2017). Therefore, it is incumbent upon those of us who seek justice and love mercy to remind our siblings of exactly how important and powerful love really is.

The primary task of faith-community is to assist in the creation of wholeness – not goodness, but wholeness. The healthy community’s reason for being is to provide the space where each person is nurtured into full being and this is the function of love (Spong 2002).  It is not enough for our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other religious sites to offer intellectual insight to the world of mystery they must also have emotional intelligence and socioeconomic reach in order to fully love the faithful into wholeness. Love, you see, is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s growth. It may well be easier to say love is as love does (hooks 2000). Love is manifested in the human willingness to venture beyond the boundaries of safety, to risk losing ourselves and at the same time calls us into being and expands our lives as it flows through us and to the other.red-love-heart-valentines.jpg

Life giving love can be entered self-consciously, chosen freely, and appropriated fully (Spong 2002). It is precisely this type of love that our faith-communities help us cultivate. In order to be a love filled, love centered, type of community our houses of worship will have to invest in decentering norms of classism, elitism, sexism and all other systems of oppression that dehumanize any of our siblings.  This calls for those at the center of these systems of power and domination to be intentional about divesting ourselves of privilege, in order to redistribute power.  You cannot really have a conversation about love without considering power, because true love is always based on mutuality.

Authentic love is the holiest of relationship. A holy relationship is this: a common state of mind, where all give errors gladly to correction, that all may happily be healed as one. In the holy relationship, we do not seek to change someone, but rather to see how beautiful they already are (Williamson 1992). When our inner peace is shaken by the behavior of the other then we know we have left the state of holy relationship. This is why it is the task of the faith –community to call each member into wholeness for it is only from wholeness we can truly have holy loving relationship.

Ultimately, we each seek love and are healed by Love itself.  A person radically accepted by another naturally wishes to share that acceptance, that gift of love with others. What if this week our faith-communities focus on being the space where love pervades and prevails? Can we be the site where in the breaking of bread, and singing of hymns we share forgiveness and seek justice in the face of shared evil?  Will we make room for the shadow side of the genius we encounter in the people we are connected to? A healing spirituality is not remote from the world, but engaged in it.  It enables people to be aware of their own gifts and become passionately committed to a better society (SJ 1996). We were made to love.

 

 

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

Works Cited

Brown, Brene. 2017. Braving the Wilderness. New York: Random House.

Fromm, Erich. 1956. The Art of Loving. New York: Continuum.

hooks, bell. 2000. all about love. New York: Harper Perennial.

SJ, Patrick J. Howell. 1996. A Spiritguide Through Times of Darkness. Kansas City: Sheed & Ward.

Spong, John Shelby. 2002. A New Christianity for a New World. New York: Harper SanFransico.

Williamson, Marianne. 1992. A Return to Love: Reflections on Principles of A Course in Miracles. New York: HarperOne.

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The Black Church

CuriosityThe Black Church was born in the United States as a direct response to imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. From the Maafa forward, through American racial apartheid and beyond, the Black Church has served to create space where Black people can be passionately human and express their innermost wants and desires (Walton 2009). It has been the safe harbor where Black people transcend negative cultural identifications associated with race and/or class, while having their own inner desires and spiritual longings affirmed. This year as we enter Black History Month, I am considering the need to celebrate, honor, and challenge the Black Church.

Amid much conversation within Christendom about multiculturalism being the way to follow the teachings of Jesus, I believe there is still great need for the Black Church considering what passes for multiculturalism in many cases is either the dominant culture erasing all particularities or mindless cultural appropriation. It was out of the crucible of racial oppression that the Black Church tradition emerged as a nonracist appropriation of the Christian faith, and as such represented the capacity of the human spirit to transcend racism.  No such transcendence seems present in the least among these multicultural congregations for people who engage justice work against anti-blackness (Paris 1985).  The historical role of the Black Church has been to serve as the prophetic voice and moral pulse of America. The Black Church was held as the exemplar institution in the Black Community to resist the opportunity-hoarding of the dominant culture in ways that further disinherit Black people.  Opportunity-hoarding, a practice of the dominant group, keeps good things like education, jobs, and capital within their social network (which is most often predominantly white). This habitual way of acting reproduces racial disadvantage (Glaude 2016).  There is no such function within the movement for multiculturalism in the church.  Then there is the fact that the forces of racial apartheid, classism, sexism and many other evils that work against the common good and specifically the good of Black people are on the rise.  With this cultural background, the Black Church is as relevant and necessary today as it was in 1787.

The Black Church, like the communities it represents, is not a monolith. Just as there are multiple ways of constructing Blackness, there are multiple ways of being the Black Church (Touré 2011). And while we celebrate the role of the Black Church in Black communities there are opportunities in this present historical moment for the Black Church. It would seem that whole segments of the Black Church are still wrestling with oppression sickness; that is, the internalized oppression that causes the oppressed to be infected by the sickness of the oppressor. Any time both the oppressed and the oppressor share the same view of the oppressed, liberation is impossible.  Self-hating behavior is not uncommon in oppressed populations.  Oppressed individuals often engage with systems that degrade them.  In fact, all oppressed people try hard in some stages of liberation to assimilate and prove to the oppressor that they are okay (Griffin 2010). The effort to mimic the dominant Christian culture still has witness in the Black Church tradition with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege, patriarchy, and ultimately closed doors (Flunder 2005).

The opportunity for the Black Church is to further decolonize the ways in which the Black Church talks about God, the individual, and the community. The Black Church has the responsibility to speak back to the interlocking systems of our nation’s politic by lifting the voices of those most marginalized by the insidious nature of imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, and heteropatriarchal norms.  This Black History Month let us consider the powerful potential of the Black Church to once again rise as the premiere prophetic voice in American culture that will speak truth to power amid the moral bankruptcy of our current sociopolitical milieu.

 

 

Peace Is Possible,

donalson signature.jpg

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor 

SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY

 

Works Cited

Flunder, Yvette A. 2005. Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press.

Glaude, Eddie S. 2016. Democracy In Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. New York: Crown Publishers.

Griffin, Horace L. 2010. Their Own recieved them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. Eugene: WIPF &STOCK.

Paris, Peter J. 1985. The Social Teachings of the Black Churches. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Touré. 2011. Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now. New York: Free press.

Walton, Jonathon L. 2009. Watch This: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism. New York: New York University Press.

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