An Essay On Violence

Violence has long been a tool of the systems of dominance globally. The story of onImage result for pittsburgh tree of lifee group using violence to subjugate another group is as old as the self-awareness of human existence. In the United States of America violence as a tool of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is the very foundation of socioeconomic realities that make this nation a global superpower. In no way can one separate violence upon marginalized people from the success of our society. Every American advantage has been the direct result of violence perpetrated by the dominant culture on the least of these. Power in contemporary society habitually passes itself off as embodied in the normal as opposed to the superior.  This is common in all forms of power, but it works in a peculiarly seductive way with whiteness, because the way it seems rooted in things other than ethnic difference (hooks 1995). For anyone who is a student of the history of this nation it is easy to see that violence is an indispensable tool of racism. To preach nonviolence in the American context is to be countercultural at the least and antithetical to our existence at the worst. From the genocide inflicted upon indigenous peoples in order to occupy the land to the Maafa in order to work the stolen land, the wealth of this nation is inextricably wed to violence. The egregious and insidious nature of that violence is that it finds itself continually focused by those in power on terrifying those on the margins in a desperate attempt to maintain superiority.  While we have passed ourselves of on the world stage as the global standard for human rights, we are unmerciful and unrelenting in the cultural production of violence.

Our churches and synagogues, our mosque and temples are often the targets of this violence.  For people on the margins, religious spaces often serve as centers of cultural dissidence that ultimately seek to counter the ideological claims, or “hegemony”, of oppressive power (Hendricks 2011). Disinherited people know that any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls, the economic conditions that stagnate the soul, and the social conditions that dehumanize the souls, is a dry, dead useless religion of escapism (Warnock 2014). Domestic terrorist target houses of worship beImage result for pittsburgh tree of lifecause these are the very places where resistance emerges. The dominant culture is threatened whenever and wherever marginalized people refuse to accept the dominant world’s definitions of their identities and thus seeks to cut down progressive thought at the heart of its inception (Baldwin 1993).  The experience of power loses meaning if those on the underside of power fail to acknowledge it.  If the position of ascendancy is not acknowledged tacitly and actively by those over who the ascendancy is exercised, then it falls flat (Thurman 1976). The fragility of the American ruling class causes them to visit religious space with violence precisely because the religious space threatens to undermine the power dynamics which make their superiority possible.

In a time when the powers of government overtly traffic in hate propaganda and openly engage supremacist rhetoric, people of the dominant culture have become emboldened to enact violence on anyone they perceive to be outside the circle of supremacy. Religious people of every tradition must engage prophetic critique of the culture like never before. Our task must be to bear creative witness against the sin that alienates the individual self from God and to go to great lengths to struggle collectively in the dismantling of sinful structures that calcify patterns of human alienation in the society (Warnock 2014).  We must demand that the culture of hate, that hate produced, be interrogated. Until this culture can acknowledge the pathology of white supremacy, we will never create a cultural context where the madness of white racist hatred of the other does not daily threaten the safety of all humanity (hooks 1995).

Image result for pittsburgh tree of lifeReligious space must once again assume the role as the central centers of resistance. People need to hear religious leaders loudly proclaim in a clear and unequivocal voice that our preoccupation with dominant culture’s concept of liberty is killing all of us.  Decentering the idea of normativity as superiority must become the foundation of new beloved community. We must rail against systems of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and all other social schisms. There will be no change in the violence of the dominant culture until the voices of the religious faithful unite and disallow petty doctrinal differences from allowing us to push back collectively on the very idea of supremacy. Until we challenge imperialism and capitalism, which are built on the foundation of violence, and offer an alternative social construct, marginalized people will continue to be mercilessly murdered in houses of worship. Gun violence, bombs, and fires have all be used in an attempt to silence the prophetic critique of the religious community, but we who love freedom can not rest until it comes.

For more content on this topic listen to this interview with Dr. Erica Martin:

 

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. 1993. The Fire Next Time. New York: Vintage International .

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

Thurman, Howard. 1976. Jesus and the Disinherited . Boston: Beacon Press.

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of The Black Church. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

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Church Reloaded

The survival and vitality of institutions of our society are threatened in ways that are unique to the contemporary moment in history. It is not that the culture of domination has not existed, nor is that our institutions have been free from scandal and malpractice. It is that never before have we had access to the ways that scandal and malpractice collude in our culture of domination so freely and instantly.  The ability to broadcast the brokenness and corruption of our institutions has married the technology to publish these alarms immediately and directly across every social stratum simultaneously. Just as the printing press changed the shape of every social institution so have modern advances in technology made Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn the latest technological advances to reshape the world we live in. When technology meets the colonizing forces of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy in an era where hate seems to be front and center on the agenda of those in power every institution must evaluate its self-understanding and role in the larger society. We have forgotten that the individual should not be in service of society, society should be in service of persons.  When people are in service of the society, you have a monster state, and that is what is threatening the world at this minute (Campbell 1991).

The church is not exempt from the need to engage critical self-critique to determine both its role and responsibility in the larger society. Just as the whole of Western civilization is being called to question its values and systems the church must also wrestle with understanding its past and present while shaping a conversation and working earnestly toward a new way of being in the future. Theological reflection plays an important role in the life of the church because the church must be self-critical. It must be willing to examine its proclamation and practices to determine their faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the basis and norm of the church’s life and mission (Migliore 2014).   The task of the Christian theologian is to keep the biblical communities of antiquity and contemporary communities in constant tension in order that we may be able to speak meaningfully about God (Cone 1986).  As a theologian, my task in this moment of history is to enter into the conversation about what can emerge as picture of a preferable future for the church in light of my understanding of its past and present.

Perhaps a picture of a preferable future posits the Gospel of Jesus as the cenIMG_3895.jpegtral narrative of the church, which would in essence turn the theological world upside down. The plain fact is that Jesus taught no theology whatsoever. His teaching is entirely spiritual. Historical Christianity, unfortunately has largely concerned itself with theological and doctrinal questions, which in many cases have nothing to do with Gospel teaching, in that, they are devoid of the life-giving principles elucidated by Jesus Himself.  For instance, there is no prescription for ecclesiasticism, of any hierarchy of officials, or system or ritual directly linked to the message of Jesus (Fox 1966).  All creeds of the church are but a commentary on the fundamental teachings of Jesus designed to serve the institutional power needs of the church, which has historically defined itself as the source of all truth, and were intended to exclude those who refused to be subject to the ecclesiastical authority (Spong 1998). This is not to say that ecclesiology is not important, rather to suggest that the church in shaping its future must revisit the message of Jesus in light of our lived realities.

Perhaps the church will begin to talk about salvation with fresh eyes. Salvation that means both to be saved from oppressive systems of domination and to be saved to self-love and the ethic of neighbor love which Jesus says is core to engaging the realm of God. In the stories of the Jewish tradition Jesus was so versed in, Hagar’s exile is the freedom from the tyranny and soul murder of forced surrogacy. Hagar’s situation is congruent with the marginalization and disenfranchisement of today’s poor, the sexually and economically exploited victims of extreme and unjust economic systems, as much as it is congruent with single motherhood and racial disinheriting (Williams 1993).  To divorce civil rights from the evils of environmental concerns is to live in a deadly dualism in which there would be no air to breathe (Townes 1995).  God is with Hagar in surviving and developing an appropriate quality of life. To be saved from oppressive systems does not mean to be saved from oppression. Often disenfranchised and marginalized people still suffer from internalized oppression. It is internalized oppression when any group thinks the same way about themselves as the oppressor. This leads to oppression sickness that causes the oppressed to mimic the oppression of the oppressor.  The dominant culture has greatly infected the Church tradition with classism, sexism, heteroprivilege and more. Unfortunately, inferior-feeling groups often seek to make someone else more inferior (Flunder 2005).

The Church has the opportunity to reimagine herself for the generations to come, where will your congregation be found in the story of unfolding human flourishing?

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

Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.

Cone, James H. 1986. A Black Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

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

Fox, Emmet. 1966. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: HarperOne.

Migliore, Daniel L. 2014. Faith Seeking Understanding: AnIntroduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God- Talk. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

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A New Vision for Clergy

Discussing clergy abuse in the contemporary moment is important and valuable work. Clergy appreciation month is here and the temptation is to lean into a dialogue of human brokenness and failure, and yet there is also a call in this season for prophetic voices who are willing to paint for us a picture of a pImage result for clergyreferable future.  We can choose to lift the narrative of what clergy should be in a society looking to find a path away from the hate and partisanship that threatens to dismantle any civility left in our culture.  This is the time to ask ourselves what would it look like for clergy to lead the way toward a new era of human flourishing where each individual is invited into their highest self and all systems of oppression, marginalization, disenfranchisement, or dehumanization are dismantled.

Religious practices seek to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it (Allen 2008). If organized religion has at its center the task of assisting people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where soul touches Transcendence, Mystery, and Being, then the clergy’s task is to serve as a practitioner of the sacred (Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die 1998). True leaders invite us past the place of finitude into the realm of the infinite, and to simultaneously offer a principled public criticism of and opposition to systemic injustice. Clergy are those prophetic ambassadors who bring with their very presence a sense of cultural dissidence which ultimately seeks to counter the ideological claims, or hegemony, of oppressive power. It is the clergy’s job to point the community to the Divine in such ways that the fractures in our humanity become clear and that clarity allows for healing to transpire. For the clergy who will help shape a more just and humane world the religious community is one the models an alternative set of values and practices to those of the larger world (Allen 2008).

Image result for clergyThese prophetic clergy who will lead humanity into a new era will be prophetic mystic revolutionaries. Mystics as well as revolutionaries have to cut loose from their selfish needs for a safe and protected existence in order to face without fear the miserable condition of the present world (Nouwen 1972). They dare not use intimate relationship with the Divine to avoid the social evils of our time, rather they fully engage battles with systemic evil precisely because they are grounded in intimate relationship with the Divine. The prophet is creative. They return from the mystical experience to insert themselves into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby create a fresh world of ideals. Ultimately the true prophet desires to see religious experience transformed into a living world-force as a test of the authenticity of the religious experience. Courage is the primary test of the prophet. Prophets take risks and speak out in righteous indignation against society’s maladjustments, even risking their lives to do so. The wisdom of prophetic community is both radical and subversive (hooks 2003). There is no national community today in which that which is genuinely prophetic does not place the prophet in peril (Cone 2011).

Related imageIn the Christian tradition, the Gospels were written from beneath the heel of dominationist might, by dominated folk, with other dominated folk in mind. Virtually everyone mentioned in the Gospels were poor colonized subjects of Roman imperialism with all the violence, exploitation, fear, insecurity, and psycho-emotional debilitation that attended that status (Hendricks 2011). It would be impossible for a new breed of prophetic mystic revolutionaries to ignore the current imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that are the forces of destruction that threaten the demise of global culture. The church as a community of people bound together by their willingness to journey into the mystery of God, in order to maintain its leadership in the larger society must be led by voices who are completely engaged with the realities of that society. The primary task of a faith community must be to assist in the creation of wholeness. That communities raison d’être is to be the place where each person is nurtured into being for the common good of humanity. We must have leaders concerned with the disparate parts of our humanity being bound together and then kept from being separated again (Spong, A New Christianity For A New World 2001). Salvation on the lips of prophetic mystic revolutionaries means the internal civil war of our highest selves and base self is won by looking the perfection of the Holy.

What would happen if your local congregation invited your clergy persons to this work? What if it was the norm of our expectation that each clergy person reflects these characteristics? What if our liturgies supported this work in every aspect? What picture of a preferable future will you create?

 

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

Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.

Cone, James H. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. MaryKnoll: Orbis.

Hendricks, Obery. 2011. The Universe Bends Toward Justice . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

hooks, bell. 2003. Rock My Soul. New York: Atria Books.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 1972. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. New York: Image Doubleday.

Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.

—. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die. New York: Harper Collins.

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

 

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A Supreme Injustice

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in this nation. The damage that it does to women and children is rivaled only by the complete loss of humanity men suffer because the effects of the social construct and participating in it as a norm. Blind obedience is the foundation on which patriarchy stands, it is the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinkingImage result for supreme court whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking (hooks 2004). This social illness has been on full display in our nation during the confirmation hearings of our newest Supreme Court Justice. In fact, these hearings have been nothing short of the public celebration of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as the foundation of our nation’s political infrastructure.  It begs the question what can religious bodies offer to a power-sick society?

Power in contemporary society habitually passes itself off as embodied in the normal as opposed to the superior. This normalizing of power ignores the ways systems collude to silence the voices of marginalized people.  Within each set of social relations in U.S. society and culture, there is an imbalance of power. Hegemony maintains this inequality and is seen as normal and right. It also works to keep the dominant group in power by promoting its worldview as neutral, universal, normative, and right. This works so that those who have no power see the world in the same way as those with power (Townes 1995). All marginal groups in this society who suffer grave injustices, who are victimized by institutionalized systems of domination (race, class, gender, etc.), are faced with the peculiar dilemma of developing strategies that draw attention to one’s plight in such a way that will merit regard and consideration without reinscribing a paradigm of victimization (hooks, Killing Rage:Ending Racism 1995). Are our religious institutions offering an alternative narrative that empowers communities ravaged by the interlocking systems of domination that work to disinherit the great majority of people, without victimizing them again?

Image result for supreme courtAll religious traditions have a responsibility to our society in this moment to speak truth to power. 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). This work of liberation theology is done by looking at the praxis of the person Jesus and the values that can be connected with his life and work. The Biblical text suggests that Jesus possessed a perfect ministerial vision of righting relationships between body (individual and community), mind (of humans and tradition), and spirit.  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.Image result for patriarchy

We cannot afford to allow an environment of domination where victimization is called hoax to continue to be the norm in our society. Theology as an art and science is confessional, for the theologian (as exegete, prophet, teacher, preacher, and philosopher) must clarify the church’s faith in relation to its participation in God’s liberating activity in the world (Williams 1993). Viable theology has a reciprocal relationship with the community with which it interacts, and the current sociopolitical climate in the United States demands extensive liberation theology with a resistance edge. What will your response be this week as you gather in your community of faith? Who will be heard?

 

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.

hooks, bell. 1995. Killing Rage:Ending Racism. New York : Henry Holt and Company.

—. 2004. The Will to Change: Men. Masculinity, and Love. New York: Washington Square Press.

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

Townes, Emilie M. 1995. In A Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality As Social Witness. Nashville: Abingdon.

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God- Talk. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

 

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The Hidden Gospel of Kavanaugh

Image result for kavanaugh confirmationThe Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judiciary body in the land. It is a life time appointment. There is no redo when appointing someone to it and the impact of its decisions are felt everyday by every American citizen. Who should be confirmed onto the court is of great import to every citizen and a question that has been at the forefront of the news because this particular confirmation has been attached to the historical dehumanization and marginalization of women in American society. The questions raised by the Kavanaugh Confirmation are deeply theological in that they ask about evil and redemption. They challenge us to think about both the victim and the victimizer and what is a holy and just response to both. These hearings ask us if civility is a common ethic.  Can we as a society disagree without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same (Brown 2017)?  If we cannot settle on how an accuser and the accused should be treated when such an important role is hanging in the balance I wonder what we are doing in our religious institutions to respond to community brokenness.

In order for a community to thrive, there must be an understanding of faithful community-building behavior. Faithful community-building behavior suggests that each member of the community concerns him-herself with the effect of her or his behavior on the good of the community (Flunder 2005).  Community is really the coming together of a group of individuals who have learned to how to communicate honestly with each other and accepted the shared responsibility of common ethics.  When the common ethic ground upon which this faithful community-building behavior is violated by any member or members of the community, acknowledgement and repentance are the path to wholeness within a community. Acknowledgement means there is ownership of the wrong doing and repentance means there is a change of mind and corresponding behavior on the part of those who have violated the ethical boundaries of the community. Acknowledgement and repentance happen by naming our objectionable deeds as wrongs, by grieving over the injuries inflicted, and by determining to mend our ways (Volf 2011).Image result for kavanaugh confirmation

With every seat at the table comes an expected and acceptable corresponding behavior, this means that those with power at the table are held to a high standard as they are trusted to set the norms for the entire community. Without this understanding of communal responsibility, ultimately a community is ruled by unrestrained egoism. People in power pridefully considering only their own interest, fracture and ultimately destroy a community.  Dominant groups assert their will over others at all cost in order to achieve what is in their own self-interest. The danger is that they engage in every form of hypocritical reasoning to justify their advantages, and without any hesitation they will use force to maintain those advantages (West 2006). Far too much of this is being seen in our society today.  Even if the accused is innocent, there is a certain remorse for the experience of the victim or for any who have been victimized that demands a civilized, justice based response grounded in the common good.

Image result for kavanaugh confirmationThis repentance should lead us to the door of forgiveness. Not a cheap forgiveness that ignores the violation of community norms, but true forgiveness that frees the victim from the power of the victimizer and calls the victimizer to live forward as their highest self. The absence of forgiveness keeps us mired in shame. Shame breaks and weakens us, keeping us away from the wholeness that healing offers (hooks 2000). Forgiveness is not to displace responsibility nor is it to say that people who have violated community norms should be in positions of power, but it does call us to ask the question, what is just and redemptive for those who violate community norms? We should ask ourselves if they are also souls of sacred worth and how are we called to be present to their wholeness in the community. Do we have the ability to be attentive to the needs of victims and the brokenness of victimizers or does violating the ethics of community call for disposal of personhood?

Each week in our liturgies, we hold space for those who have been wounded, we wrestle with evil and redemption and ritualize good overcoming evil. How do we ritualize the tension in community when people violate our community-building behaviors?

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

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

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

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

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

West, Traci. 2006. Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.

 

 

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