Where Do we Go From Here?

As we face the close of Black History Month 2019, I am asking myself, and the church, where it is we go from here. The church of my youth led me to believe that Black and Brown people had made great strides in our nation, and that for the most part overt racism wIMG_7205.jpegas a historical challenge that had been overcome by Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Recent sociopolitical realities have forced us to admit that the while the face of racism changed for a brief period of time, the underlying sickness and depravity of racism is still very much alive in the American psyche. Much of the underlying sickness that is racism is still a product of bad theology and religious rhetoric that betrays the Gospel message.  Charlottesville and the rise of mass demonstrations of racist hate are calling for the church to bear aggressive witness to the most fundamental elements of faith. If we fail to speak truth to power in this season of animosity, we abandon the validity of our voice in the commons. The call at this juncture is to understand that the Black radical tradition is a Black religious tradition, and even more seriously a Black Christian radical tradition.

We must call on the dominant culture to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that marginalized people need or want (Baldwin 1993).  This is a difficult task since our society has been built on imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal norms that are designed uphold the systems of domination that make up the social currency of our institutions and cultural structures. There is a way that even the most progressive and liberal of the dominate culture traffic in paternalism as though their opinion is necessary to validate the legitimacy or competency of minoritized voices. For those who do not face racial oppression, the dignity or sacredness of life may become but an abstract principle to be affirmed, and one that is sometimes affirmed at the same time Black humanity is denied (Prevot 2017). The supremacist narrative of America is the antichrist because it has killed and crippled tens of millions of Black bodies and minds in the modern world, not to mention the genocide of indigenous people. It is found in every aspect of American life; however, it is even more insidious when found in churches, seminaries, and religious teaching (Cone 2018).  We must work tirelessly to dismantle systems of domination and hold those gatekeepers of the systems accountable, even when they present as allies.

We must interrogate white rage, the inevitable backlash whenever people of the dominant culture feel threatened. The trigger for white rage is always Black advancement. It is not the mere presence of Black people that is the problem; it is Blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, and full demand of equality (Anderson 2016). It happens when Blackness is audacious enough to present as equal and refuses to be subjugated or to pay homage.  There is a particular viciousness that surfaces when Blackness asserts itself without looking for the support or patronage of dominant benefactors. We must cry IMG_7222loud and refuse to accept the poor behavior and tantrums of our dominant siblings when they are confronted with the brilliance and capacity of marginalized people. Their displays of power must be met with swift and immediate rebuke if equality and equanimity are ever to be achieved.

We must call the Black church to move forward in the liberation tradition working diligently to decolonize the minds of the people. It would seem that whole segments of the Black ChurcIMG_7236h 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 stage 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).   There seems to be a failure to move beyond the normative mode of Puritanical discourse and the Calvinist underpinnings so common to the development of the Black Church (Kornegay 2013).  Black churches have combined a fervent evangelical theology with a progressive political stance for more than one hundred years. The Black church moving from this moment must embrace a tripartite assignment for the church: (1) To proclaim the reality of Divine liberation, (2) to actively participate in the struggle for liberation, and (3) to provide a visible manifestation that the Gospel is a reality (Warnock 2014).

The time has come for us to lift Christian ethics in every facet of life. Christian ethics can give voice to God’s righteous anger against societies that abuse the poor and oppress the stranger (Prevot 2017).  We must trumpet a liberative ethic that that brings together particular and universal moral concerns that compel Christians to engage in an ongoing struggle for sustained, systemic changes in the universal moral agreements about social relations in our society as well as improvements in the material conditions that help to produce these particular problems (West 2006). In essence, we must become the voice of the voiceless, lifting the those on the underside of power in every way we can, until the reign of God makes all people equal.

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

Anderson, Carol. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.

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

Cone, James H. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.

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

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

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Prevot, Vincent W. Lloyd and Andrew, ed. 2017. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books .

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

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

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

Salute to Womanist Scholars

Black History Month cannot be celebrated fully without the recognition of the theological contributions of Black Woman.  This contribution is often overlooked and undervalued, but Black women have shaped the trajectory of theology in America fromRelated image the survival of the middle passage, through their collective sexual abuse and the trauma of slavery, in the dehumanization of American apartheid known as Jim and Jane Crow, and in the present moment.  If culture comprises a people’s total social heritage including language, ideas, habits, beliefs, customs, social organizations, and traditions etc., then white culture built on white religion and theology certainly exists in the United States, yet Black women have consistently offered a counter narrative to this theological hegemony (Douglas 1999).  Even in churches where Black woman have made up the majority of the congregations, raising the majority of the finance, while serving with no authority or ability to control the spending of the finance they have raised, Black women have consistently called to question a patriarchal view of God that excluded them from Imago Dei.

Image result for Yvette FlunderAs a religious scholar I must admit I struggle with the idea that theology is a purely distinct mode of thought.  This Western Anglo-Teutonic insistence upon a categorical distinctive suggests that there is somehow a divide between sacred and secular. This for me must be interrogated: What counts, and who decides what counts, as theological thought? The theologian’s very identity is produced through the capacity to “think theologically” as a pure category, as a distinct mode of thought (Crawley 2017). What I propose is that all thoughts are in some way connected to God talk, however I recognize that what has emerged from years of Black women’s theological critique is the well-developed theological presence known as Womanist theology. While Womanist theology pushes back on the hegemonic narrative of Western theology it subscribes to the insistence upon a categorical distinctive, this is the conundrum of using the same tools that built the house to destroy it (Lorde 1984).

Image result for valerie bridgeman woman preachWomanist theology asks where God is in the lives of Black women and how Black women name God  (Mitchem 2002).  Contemporary Womanist spirituality evolves from the nineteenth century moral reform and woman’s club movement. While it is a spirituality rooted in community, it is also concerned with the individual (Townes 1995). All theologizing that gives attention to Alice Walker’s definition of Womanism is considered Womanist theology.  Walker’s definition includes being a black feminist as well as a woman who loves other woman, sexually and/or nonsexually. In addition, a Womanist is committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female (Walker 1983). These theologies are a response to the exclusion of Black women’s experience by classical feminism (Hopkins 1999).  The value of feminist theory to Black women is diminished because it evolves from a white racial context that is seldom acknowledged (Crenshaw 1989). Womanist theologians recognize that Eurocentric theology has been effectively much more about the control of woman’s bodies than about God, or rather discourse about God has focused on normalizing the white male embodiment and marginalizing all other forms of human ways of being in the world (Crawley 2017). The tasks of Womanist theology are to claim history; to declare the authority of Black women, men, and children; to learn from the experience of the forebears; to admit shortcomings and errors; and to improve the quality of woman’s lives (Lightsey 2015). A Womanist theology engages a social-political analysis of wholeness  and begins with a religio-cultural analysis. This analysis lifts up those aspects of Black life – that is, of Black religion and culture – that are sustaining and liberating for BlacImage result for valerie bridgemank people.  As it is bifocal, a sociopolitical analysis of wholeness will confront racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism not only as they impinge upon the Black community, but also as they are nurtured within that community (Douglas 1994). That is to say, both internal and external pressure against the full humanity of Black women and Black bodies are explored through a Womanist hermeneutic.

The Church should be determinative and not reflective of society, especially as it deals with the human body as a theological problem.  Birthed as it was in response to white supremacy and hegemony, the Black church must continue to be a prophetic critique of all systems of domination that oppress and marginalize any and all people. The DNA of our thinking, those powerful and pervasive prejudgments based on race, gender, sexuality, and religious constructs that comprise an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage thImage result for womanist theologye world are all bending toward new realities (Kornegay 2013).  All theological construction comes out of and is shaped by particulars. Particulars which shape theology include but are not limited to; social, political, economic, cultural, and historical dynamics (Ellen T. Armour 2005). Womanist scholars provide voices that call the Universal mystical body of Christ to be faithful to the message of the Gospel for all people.

 

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

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.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

—. 1994. The Black Christ. MaryKnoll: Orbis Books.

Ellen T. Armour, Paul E. Capetz, Don H. Compier. 2005. “God.” In Contructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes, edited by Laural C. Schneider, 19-76. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lightsey, Pamela R. 2015. Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology . Eugene, Or: Pickwick Publications.

Lorde, Audre. 1984. “Uses of the Erotic, The Erotic As Power.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde, by Audre Lorde, 53-59. Tramansburg, New York: Crossing Press.

Mitchem, Stepahine Y. 2002. Introducing Womanist Theology. Maryknoll: Orbis Books.

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

Walker, Alice. 1983. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements

The Prophetic Voice of The Black Church

The Black Church, like the communities it represents, is not a monolith. Just as there are multiple wIMG_7062.JPGays of constructing Blackness, there are multiple ways of being the Black Church (Touré 2011).  Historically, one of the primary tasks of the Black Church has been 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.  As a response to racism and theological hegemony in white churches, the Black church was formed to provide a safe place for the formulation of resistance discourse. This is the discourse that utilizes terms, phrases, figures of speech, concepts, poetry, and songs that are common to a particular group of subjugated persons, all of which are popularly understood by the members of that group to call them in some way to resist the oppression to which they are subjugated (Hendricks 2011).  In this Black History Month, we find ourselves in as much in need of the voice of the Black church as the world has been since its inception.

Image result for bishop carolyn showellSince the Black Church traditionally held a place of institutional primacy in the Black community, Black churches have historically been the custodians of Black community values (Paris 1985).  Since Black pastors of these churches have traditionally been the voice of the Black Church, then the pastors have served as the gatekeepers of the morals and ethics of the Black community.  Unfortunately for the whole church many of the Pastors and leaders of the Black church have been trained in systems and seminaries that feature an American evangelical fundamentalism which derives from a Puritan national history. In many cases, the history of Puritanism and the extreme privileging of Evangelicalism in the Black Church have drowned out the prophetic critique that enables the Black Church to be useful in dismantling imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchal norms in society. Puritanism in America leaves the Black Church a fourfold inheritance of terror. The legacy is a theological threat to safety in the way it positions the Black person to dread God and God’s blazing hell. Puritanism also poses a sociological/racial threat to safety for a Black person in a racist society informed by a theology of white superiority. It further presents a sexual threat to safety that stems from a sense of personal corruption and spirit/body duality. Finally, Puritanism is a gendered threat to safety for the damage done to both Black women and men by its extreme patriarchy (Kornegay 2013). The relationship between the theological infrastructure of a faith community and its social manifestations is circular, each influencing the other (Warnock 2014).

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 must, in order to maintain its prophetic tradition, begin to engage an intersectional theology.  Intersectional theology speaks 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. Related imageThis 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 Black Church responds theologically to the call for respect and human dignity.

Image result for bell hooks and cornel westIntersectional 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 nonnormative 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.  This Black History Month we seek to make visible the struggle of Black people in the face of power structures which fail to see mockery of Black skin through Black face problematic. The Black Church is the moral voice of the universal mystical body of Christ in that it makes visible the ways in which the dominate culture continues to betray the Gospel message. We seek to provide a vision of God who shows up among those who are disinherited as the God of the Oppressed.

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

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

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

Kornegay, El. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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

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

Warnock, Raphael G. 2014. The Divided Mind of the Black Church:Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. New York: New York University Press.

 

 

 

Worship & Liturgy Announcements