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 was 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 loud 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 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 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.
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Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
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.