It is good and right to give thanks, however the American celebration of Thanksgiving as a holiday is morally and religiously bankrupt. I suggest that in this season of thanks we implore Gratitude Day, where true appreciation for the beneficent Universe is divorced from the imperialist capitalist history of Thanksgiving’s puritan roots. To celebrate the gifts God has allegedly bestowed upon the European settlers, at the expense of the indigenous peoples that were demonized, robbed, displaced, disposed, and disinherited was a theological and moral failure rooted in a deep hypocrisy. To continue this practice under the same name and without proper repentance is to be complicit in the ongoing alienation and dehumanization of indigenous peoples. It further dehumanizes all those who engage the ritual without a critical eye to the ways in which socio-religious ritual is used to support systems of supremacy in North American culture.
American racism and white supremacy is a religious expression, in that religious practice seeks to provide a way for individuals and communities to name their experience and to live in response to it (Allen 2008). White supremacy and racism is a theological dogma grounded in distorted Constantinian Christian understandings of the Biblical text. These corrupted Biblical and theological ideas did not take shape initially among unlettered or unlearned southerners, rather they were first the product of colonial era northern intellectual Puritan ideologues (Griffin 1999). Whiteness emerged in America as a mark of human superiority, although we know that there is no biological basis. In fact, race itself is a social construct, one that emerges from cognitive mapping, interpretations, and practices based in historical and social manufacture and replication (Copeland 2010). This social construct has as its insidious goal imposing upon people the status of marginalization in order to secure exploitation in various forms. Whiteness in the formation of early American culture was a central factor in holding together a motley throng of European people and as such became a measure for denigrating other human beings beginning with, but certainly not limited to, Indigenous peoples (Douglas 1999).
Thanksgiving as a celebration is inextricably linked to the emergence of whiteness as a social construct and centers the painful reality of Empire to the those who’s backs are under the foot of oppression. For the Christian, it is the most hypocritical of all practices to engage in the celebration of Thanksgiving given the historical narrative attached to its roots. A holiday which celebrates the gain of one at the expense of another is nothing less than chosen and willful participation in the continued stigmatization and alienation of the Other. It is a failure to acknowledge the sacred worth and dignity of all people. It is colonialist supremacy at its worse. This practice flies in the face of Imago Dei and misrepresents the truth of any Gospel narrative that can be taken seriously. Any theology in America that fails to challenge white supremacy and God’s liberation for all people from that evil is not Christian theology but a theology of the Antichrist (Cone 2018).
What we might better engage as a celebration this year is gratitude. Gratitude centered in a narrative of justice and eschatological hope. Luke’s Gospel is clear: Jesus’s ministry was essentially liberation on behalf of the poor and the oppressed according to Luke 4:8-10. If the ministry of Jesus is centered on liberation then my own theological sensibilities lead me to believe that this is the work of all followers of Jesus and to further believe that this work is and will be completed. That the realm and reign of God means that the kinship of all man will be reconciled in God is the deep well from which I am able to engage gratitude. Because I have adopted a theological perspective that chooses not to privilege the authoritative universal voice found in eurocentric theological musing. This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality (Crenshaw 1989). Therefore, my gratitude is based on a celebration of the diversity and equality of creation with hope that my human siblings will embrace the fullness of their own humanity by seeing the spark of the Divine in all.
This call for gratitude is not the work of liberal erasure and political correctness. It is a call rooted in theological exploration and the work of reconciling the relationship of the person and the Divine. I challenge every person of faith to critically examine participation in any ritual or celebration which can damage or harm any other human sibling and work to reframe from or at least reshape the expression of that celebration until we all come into the fullest expression of our highest collective self.
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Allen, Ronald J. 2008. Thinking Theologically: The Preacher as Theologian. Minneapolis: Frotress Press.
Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress 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.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .
Griffin, Paul R. 1999. Seeds of Racism in the United States of America . Cleveland : The Pilgrim Press .