IMG_3005Killing unarmed Black men is an American sport. Black and Brown bodies are under assault walking down the street carrying skittles, driving in cars, listening to music, and yes even minding their own business in their apartments. From the dehumanizing chattel slave trade to the demoralizing institution of slavery, and from the era of lynching to contemporary police brutality the most dangerous thing one can be in America is Black. Without a serious response to this reality religion ceases to be of any real usefulness in our current cultural reality. For any spiritual people to ignore this fact or downplay the insidious evil visited upon Black and Brown bodies is to make that religious group complicit in each death. For me, as a constructive theologian with a liberative lens, Christian theology is language about God’s liberating activity in the world on behalf of the oppressed. Any talk about God that fails to make God’s liberation of the oppressed its starting point is not Christian (Cone 1999). That is not to let any religious group off the hook, rather it situates me particularly in my own religious sensibilities. This however extends to  all faith traditions in that authentic religious engagement is that which leads to human flourishing through relationship with Mystery.

The task of theology is to critique and revise the language of the church. This includes not only the language of uttered speech, but also the language of radical involvement in the world (Cone 1997). Theology is always political, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement is one of the most important theopolitical movements of our time. Politics is the ancient and honorable endeavor to create a community in which the weak as well as the strong can flourish, where love and power can collaborate, and justice and mercy can have their day (Palmer 2011). By its nature, which includes its social engagement and praxis, the #BlackLivesMatter movement is both a political and theological movement. It is a movement of radical solidarity not born from political theory, but rather out of a shared, lived experience and circumstance.  #BlackLivesMatter is more than a slogan; it is indeed a movement because—based on its tenets—it seeks action. Movements are not mere intellectual pursuits; they are primarily concerned with how one changes the system (Fromm 1994). It is our task, as practitioners of the sacred, to assist people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and then to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world (Spong 1998).IMG_3004

The ethos of the ministry of Christ was constantly befriending the friendless and identifying himself with the underprivileged.  According to the New Testament (Luke 4:18-19), Jesus’ self-proclaimed mission is inexplicable apart from others. Others, of course, are all people, particularly the oppressed and unwanted of society.  Here is God coming into the depths of human existence for the sole purpose of striking off the chains of slavery, thereby freeing humanity from the ungodly principalities and powers that hinder people’s relationship with God (Cone 1997).  As Jesus becomes a friend to outcasts (Matt. 11:19), inviting them to eat with him, he epitomizes the scandal of inclusiveness for his time. What is manifested in his healing of the sick is pushed to an extreme in Luke 11 by his invitation to the ritually unclean to dine with him (McFague 1987).  Even the crucifixion of Christ models the praxis of his ministry in that it most clearly and radically identifies Jesus with the slave community. It forged an inextricable bond between the two. Through the cross, Jesus’ suffering and the slaves’ suffering of his era and all times become one (Douglas 1994).  The life and praxis of Jesus then does three things: (1) reflects an intimate relationship between Jesus and the oppressed; (2) radicalizes the oppressed to fight for their freedom; and (3) highlights the contradiction between the Divine and the oppressor.

IMG_2999#BlackLivesMatter is an important social transformation movement, not only for Black people but for the whole of U.S. society. It echoes the themes of dignity of the Black Power movement for the Black community and speaks truth to the power of the dominant culture.  It is true that talk about liberation becomes hard to justify where freedom appears as nothing more than defiant self-assertion of a revolutionary racial consciousness that requires for its legitimacy the opposition of white racism. However, it is also true that we are in a historical moment that demands opposition to imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchy (Sanders 1998). What the church must do in this era of police brutality and the worthlessness of Black bodies is more than chant #BlackLivesMatter. The church must center Black and Brown bodies and their survival as paramount to its message and mission. We must respond.

Ask yourself in what ways is my church intentionally centering Black and Brown bodies in our message and mission through each liturgical exercise and budget decision?

Please feel free to comment below.

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

Cone, James. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1999. Speaking the Truth:Ecumenism, Liberation, and Black Theology. MaryKnoll: Orbis Press.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Fromm, Erich. 1994. On Being Human. New York: Continuum.

McFague, Sallie. 1987. Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Palmer, Parker J. 2011. Healing The Heart of Democracy. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sanders, Cheryl J. 1998. “The Problem of Irrelavance in Black and Womanist Theologies.” In What Does it Mean to Be Black and Christian: Pulpit, Pew, and Academy in Dialogue, Volume 2, edited by Forest E. Harris Sr, 73-82. Nashville: Townsend Press.

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

2 comments

  1. Thought provoking… I’m called to help leaders align their ambition to creat wealth with their desire to fulfill their God-given purpose. Business development is a very powerful agent of change. While the #blacklivesmatter movement is focused on holding the oppressor accountable for their actions, I’m curious if the movement is also working to address our need for greater accountability within our communities, for transforming how we see ourselves and supporting our entrepreneurial endeavors.

    1. Julaine, I hear your heart and I think it is a matter of both/and. We both need to hold oppressors accountable and have internal accountability. While you are working advancement from your platform here are the published tenets of #BlackLivesMatter that speak to their specific areas of focus: Tenets of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement

      DIVERSITY
      We are committed to acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating difference(s) and commonalities.
      GLOBALISM
      We see ourselves as part of the global Black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black folk who exist in different parts of the world.
      BLACK WOMEN
      We are committed to building a Black women-affirming space free from sexism, misogyny, and male‐centeredness.
      BLACK VILLAGES
      We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, and especially “our” children to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
      LOVING ENGAGEMENT
      We are committed to embodying and practicing justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.
      RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
      We are committed to collectively, lovingly, and courageously working vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people. As we forge our path, we intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
      COLLECTIVE VALUE
      We are guided by the fact that all Black lives, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
      EMPATHY
      We are committed to practicing empathy; we engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.
      QUEER AFFIRMING
      We are committed to fostering a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or, rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they disclose otherwise.
      UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK*
      We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a necessary prerequisite for wanting the same for others.
      TRANSGENDER AFFIRMING
      We are committed to embracing and making space for trans brothers and sisters to participate and lead. We are committed to being self-reflexive and doing the work required to dismantle cis-gender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
      BLACK FAMILIES
      We are committed to making our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We are committed to dismantling the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” that require them to mother in private even as they participate in justice work.
      INTERGENERATIONAL
      We are committed to fostering an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with capacity to lead and learn.
      Coined by BYP100. (BlackLivesMatter 2015)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s