Islamophobia and the Christian Voice

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Christian fueled Islamophobia is an arrogant disremembering of history and sacred text. Islamophobia is the irrational fear of people who adhere to the spiritual practices of Islam, more commonly known as Muslims. Islam together with Judaism and Christianity are a connected family of religious practices who trace their collective origin to Abraham. As Abrahamic faiths, these three religions have a common history of sacred text that contain violence. For Christians to read Islam as violent because the sacred text, known as the Quran, affirms violence is disingenuous and the height of religious hypocrisy.  The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is replete with violence committed, commanded, and condoned by God. When Christian people characterize Islam as violent, it serves as an indictment against the God of Abraham. The story of Abraham and Hagar shared between the religious traditions involves slavery, poverty, exploitation, rape, and domestic violence; this is a joint story, and a shared tradition (Williams 1993). Violence is not the property of Islam it is our collective religious failure. The lessor minds of our traditions have led us into sinful acts of violence in the name of our religions because our human need for dominance has overtaken our better selves.

All of our words about God whether Christian or Muslim are wrestling with concepts too large to be contained in mere linguistic constructs.  Theology is, at its best, an uneasy truce between the radical mystery of God and the limitations and idolatries of human language (Farley 1990). True spirituality traffics in humility, and is always void of blaming and shaming. Christians must remember with deep humility and sorrow the history of violence perpetrated by religious zealots who hijacked the Bible to validate their own atrocities. The Inquisitions, The Crusades, The Salem Witch Hunts, Chattel Slavery were all acts of terrorism enacted in the name of the Christian God.  Violence is a part of spiritualities whenever and wherever extreme fundamentalism is present. The history of religious violence is not particular to Islam or the Quran, it rears its head when authoritarianism is allowed to have platform in religious space.  Religious rituals become irrational when extreme consequences are attached to any lapse in performance of said ritual. In fact, one can always recognize the irrationality of ritual in a religious space by the degree of fear produced by its violation (Fromm 1950).   

The fear of the religious other must stop at once. Fear and fear mongers breed the violence we are witnessing in New Zealand and across the globe. Christians are responsible to our Muslim siblings to be as responsible in our rhetoric about Islam as we are careful in our interpretation of Jesus. Religious traditions fall into crisis when the received interpretations of the redemptive paradigms contradict lived experience(Ruether 1993). When our reckless interpretations lead to acts of violence we have lost the ethical center of our religiosity.   Text in our own Bible justifying slavery and hostility to religious and radical outsiders fall below ethical sensibilities and therefore we must seek to read them with fresh eyes in order to understand their usefulness in a just and humane world ordered in keeping with the realm of God.

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There is a temptation for Christians to allow the Bible to be co-opted by small minded despots in service of nationalism, power, and greed. This temptation is a compromise of the message of Jesus in a well-meaning attempt to legislate morality and at the expense of true transformation. These autocrats are morally bankrupt and yet cling to the Bible as though it is the foundation of their enterprise for more wealth and power, need for Muslims to be demonized because they need the energy of hate to finance imperialist capitalist supremacy. People who peddle in Islamophobia traffic in fear and forget that for any social or political endeavor to claim to be consistent with the Biblical tradition, it must have at its center justice for all people regardless of national origin. Even in the Old Testament all the Law Codes promote and legislate social justice and economic parity, and all are particularly concerned with the rights of the most vulnerable members of society which in includes the stranger (Hendricks 2006).    

Every Christian leader must call on our Christian siblings to stand with those of the Muslim faith in these most violent times. Contact the nearest mosque and find out how you can show support. I encourage you to cease propagating the false notion that Islam is a violent religion. Remember the ways in which the Christian faith has been used to support violence and terrorism throughout history and until the present moment. As many cast dispersions on Islamic militants there are yet American Christians burning down and blowing up abortion clinics. We are Abraham’s children so we must solve the issue of violence together and not in isolation.  

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

Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Hendricks, Obrey. 2006. The Politics of jesus. New York: Three Leaves Press.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. 1993. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston : Beacon Press .

Williams, Delores S. 1993. Sisters in the Wilderness . Maryknoll: Orbis.

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Holy Hope in the Season of Lent

The forty days of Lent observed by much of the Christian tradition is a solemn time of preparation of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. It calls for prayer, benevolent giving, repentance, and self-sacrifice or fasting. Conceptually, it is the season that causes us to live into the gratitude of the resurrection by denying ourselves comfortability or pleasure. After this year of engaging our sociopolitical climate I am not sure that lent is exactly what I need. Self-denial and benevolent giving is a normative state of being for marginalized communities. For me particularly, living in my Black embodiment means being in a constant state of generosity, just navigating the dominant culture. In a negrophobic society, Black ontological integrity suffers compromise. In such a society, blackness mutates as negation, nonbeing, nothingness; Blackness insinuates an “other” so radically different that the Black humanity is discredited (Copeland 2010).  I fail to see what benefit lent brings to communities that live in constant lamentation.

Perhaps this year, lent should be reserved for those most in need of prayer, repentance, and self-sacrifice. My mind goes to the recentspecial call meeting of the United Methodist Church. There are many otherspaces in need of Lent, but this fresh wound is an excellent example of wherethis liturgical season should be lifted and centered. No matter what side ofthe issues you fall on, one has to see the divisions and fractures within thechurch as hurtful and damaging to whole body, but particularly damaging tomarginalized groups within the church. These meetings fly in the face of whatChrist calls the Church to be, as we are called to be one. This is not new orshocking; it is the DNA of Methodism in United States. While John Wesleyinstructed Francis Asbury -the first Bishop of American Methodist- to ban allslaveholders from the church, American Methodist ideologues seemed determinedto give racism irrefutable theological grounding. By 1856 the central thesis ofMethodist writing was that slavery per se, is right…. Domestic slavery, as aninstitution, is fully justified by the condition and circumstances God hadsanctioned for the African race in this country (Griffin 1999).   Usingthe Bible to justify bigotry and exclusion is central to the MethodistNarrative. Let us not forget that the African Methodist Episcopal Church wasfounded because Black people were not allowed to pray at the altar in Methodistchurches. Splitting over full inclusion is the tradition. Here is a need forLent. Here is where the Church is called to prayerful repentance and those withpower are called to self-sacrificing.

For those of us who live in marginalized spaces, I amcalling for a different liturgical season. The season of hope. Hope that pointstoward resurrection. The Gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to explainedin a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidaritywith the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive isthe faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hopeout of despair, as revealed in the biblical account of Jesus resurrection (Cone 2011).  Holy hope invites us into a season ofprophetic imagination, where we dare for forty days to dream a picture of a preferredfuture. What if we actively remember the goodness of the opulent andextravagant Universe. A season where we intentionally discuss the goodness ofthe world both human and nonhuman. I am calling for a season of Holy Hope wherewe see the potential for life while staring death directly in the face.  Holy hope does not ask us to ignore the fissuresand brokenness of our flawed existence, rather it dares us to proclaim goodnews to poor and broken-hearted people who are weary of systems of oppressionand sublimation.

This season of Holy hope begs us for experimental liturgies. Liturgies of resistance which alter and arrest the Lenten liturgies common to us and reshape them in ways that offer prophetic hopeful encounter with the Divine. Rituals are really shared actions that are expressive of common strivings and rooted in common values (Fromm 1950).  Holy hope as a common value invites me to engage the congregation in singing bright songs and dancing! Dancing is an act of resistance to the oppressive systems that dare to challenge the way I own my personhood and my space. My embodiment is never a problem or a question therefore, Holy hope invites me to counterhegemonic movement that puts my selfhood on full display! This season leading to the Easter celebration will be one of singing and dancing and radical love. I invite all marginalized people into the season of Holy hope, knowing that death must give way to victory.

Peace Is Possible,

Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin |Directorof Liturgy and Worship| Assistant Clinical ProfessorSCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY| SEATTLEUNIVERSITY

Works Cited

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

Copeland, M. Shawn. 2010. Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Fromm, Erich. 1950. Psychoanalysis & Religion.New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Griffin, Paul R. 1999. Seeds of Racism in the United States of America . Cleveland : The Pilgrim Press .


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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.

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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

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.

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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.

 

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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

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.

 

 

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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.

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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

 

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.

 

 

 

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Beyond Creeds: Toward an Ethic of Love!

Image result for churchThe task of the church in the contemporary moment is reforming the wholeness of humanity. As we look around and see the brokenness of the world it is clear to me that the current theological imperative is to rescue the church from a state of social irrelevance.  Creedal orthodoxy is inadequate to address the full range of the needs and issues of the current moment.  Creeds, historically, have not been about clarifying the truth of God; they have mostly been about ruling out some contending point of view. In light of this, being called orthodox has not meant that one’s viewpoint was right, only that one’s viewpoint won out in an ancient debate (Spong 1998). If we are to be useful in a world so contrary to message and work of the gospel, it is incumbent upon us to revisit where our theology both portrays and betrays the gospel narrative.

The explosion of knowledge in the last five hundred years has rendered much of the early creedal presuppositions problematic. They rise out of a world that no longer exists (Spong, Unbelievable 2018).  The church has often made excessive claims to the exaggerated authority of these creeds in order to control free thinking among the faithful. This has led to a lack of theological innovation in many spaces, but a far more egregious transgression has been the inability of the church to embody its ethic of neighbor love.  Creeds are attempts to delimit belief in certain terms and to exclude from a given fellowship those who do not profess such creeds or cannot profess every term of a given creed (Cook 1997). Anything designed for exclusion radically restricts the flow of love.  The more we persist in fixed positions of confessional and creedal orthodoxy, the farther we are from others who do not belong to ouImage result for council of nicear community of religious language (Soelle 2001). This completely ignores the true history of the church which was never monolithic; from the disciples forward there have always been multiple ways of following the teachings of Jesus.  The project of the Jerusalem church was not the same as the Philippian church etc.  Constantinian Christianity has warped our thinking to believe that sameness makes for absolute truth.

The Crusades were tragic and mistaken fiascos fueled by the over-emphasizing of creedal theology that excluded all dissonant voices. The Episcopal church sided on the side of the slave holding south, while the Baptist and Methodist each split over the issue of slavery.  Countless times the church has been on the wrong side of social justice issues and yet we cling to the notion that agreement makes for accuracy. Perhaps we must reckon with the truth of our creeImage result for crusadesdal Christianity that it has failed us.  The struggle, Baldwin told us, involves the historical role of Christianity in the realm of power – that is, politics- and in the realm of morals. In these realms Christianity has historically operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty (Baldwin 1993).  Not all sibling rivalry starts in the hearts of the siblings, some is fueled by a parent who feeds it. Might it be the church as our common mother has fed her children the food of rivalry by her instance upon separating and divisive creeds?

What would happen if we began to do the hard work of redefining the experience of following the teachings of Jesus for our time? What if we took up a critique of the language of the creeds and held them accountable for the imperialistic, sexist, hegemony that has been the thorn in our humanity? What if we invite innovation in our God-talk and began to embrace new metaphors for God apart from the patriarchy and chauvinism which serve to sever the fount of compassion for sister siblings? What if with humility and awe we began to reach for new language to engage the mystery of the Divine? A text cannot be understood apart from the world it creates in the imagination of the hearer. Its effects – social, emotional, psychological and otherwise are vital to any extraction of meaning, since that meaning has no productive existence outside its realization in the mind of the hearer (Townes 1997). The task of the church today therefore suggests that Christian theology, in our time at least, cannot be about Image result for Unityhermeneutics alone, that is the interpretation of the tradition, a translation of ancient creeds and concepts to make them relevant for a contemporary culture. Rather, theology must be self-consciously constructive, willing to think completely differently from the past (McFague 1987). The time has come for the church to enter a brave new world!

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

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

Cook, Harry T. 1997. Christianity Beyond Creeds: Making religion believable for today and tomorrow. Clawson: The Center for Rational Christianity.

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

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

Spong, John Shelby. 2018. Unbelievable. New York: HarperCollins.

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

Townes, Emilie M., ed. 1997. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope Salvation & Transformation. Maryknoll: Orbis.

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Reclaiming Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Related imageNearly all great movements originate in the pioneering work of some person of genius, amid the opposition of established modes of thought, until an army of lesser intellects scatter the new thought broadcast (Dresser 1895). Thus, is the case with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who’s brilliance and Theo-political savvy is unmatched in the twentieth century.  The sanitization of Dr. King in popular culture works to reduce his nuanced and sophisticated message to sound bites of integrationist ideologies won through perpetual respectability politics, and ignores his critique of the wealthy elite that create the effects of poverty, the military industrial complex, the imperialist impulse of America, and the emptiness of American Christianity in the dominant culture. If one definition of a prophet is a person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads, then Rev. King was truly the premiere prophet the United States of America has ever produced.  Jesus observed that culture kills such a prophet, and having killed the prophet in order to be rid of the threat, that culture then builds a “monument over the prophet’s grave” (Pearce 2002). These are the mythologies through which prophets are converted from cultural critics into cultural icons in service of power. These icons receive much saintly hero worship and little attention is then paid to the potency of their message. Most of Dr. King’s message has been hijacked by dominate culture in an effort to save itself from the truth, and from the seismic change that truth requires.

Image result for martin luther kingJustice for Dr. King was not limited to a dream of children holding hands while singing together in the same school, especially if that dream is not inclusive of radical wealth redistribution. King taught “Justice for Black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged Black people. White America must recognize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo” (King 1987).  It dishonors Dr. King’s legacy when we speak of him in terms of a race leader without acknowledging his prophetic work. For King, the condition of truth was to allow suffering to speak, for him justice is what love looked like in public. The fulfilment of his dream was for all poor and working people to live lives of decency and dignity. Martin Luther King Jr. called militarism an imperial catastrophe, Racism a moral catastrophe, and poverty an economic catastrophe (Jr. 2015). Our task is to hold true to his vision of justice even when we are tempted to truncate his message in order to make the dominant culture safe in celebrating him.

The Poor People’s Campaign together with his message against the Vietnam War preached from the Riverside Church in New York, give us a picture of the vastness of his erudite Theo-political agility. Prophetic religious tradition is always centered in resistance. Resistance is the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude, so in the tradition of Moses, Martin Luther King Jr. taught his generation and succeeding generations how to engage a public theology of resistance (Thurman 1976).  King’s great contrImage result for martin luther kingibution to the whole of Christianity is to remind The Church that we must insist upon both this-worldly liberation and otherworldly salvation as the proper loci of the message of Jesus (West 2002). It is impossible to be a follower of Jesus and remain indifferent to the suffering of your fellow man.  If the center of the message of Jesus is the ethic of neighbor love rooted in whole hearted love of God and grounded in self-love, then any injustice is intolerable to any degree. The message of Jesus is subversive and transgressive and ultimately got him killed. Dr. King followed the tradition of Jesus and was murdered for a radically transgressive and subversive Gospel.

Image result for martin luther kingThis week as we celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Let us redouble our efforts to end the spread of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.  Let us lift our voice is solidarity with those most marginalized. Let us speak truth to power and demand justice. Let us speak often of our dissatisfaction with the status quo. Most Importantly, let is live each moment and every decision in opposition and resistance to the hegemonic dysfunction of hate that does so easily beset us.

 

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

Dresser, Annetta Gertrude. 1895. The Philosophy of P.P. Quimby. Boston: The Builders Press.

Jr., Matin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornel West. Boston: Beacon Press.

King, Coretta Scott, ed. 1987. The Words of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: William Marrow.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street Press.

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

West, Cornel. 2002. Prophsey Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity . Louiseville: John Knox Press.

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