It really is an exciting time. Inspired by bell hooks, as I wrote at ecclesio, excitement can be the source of transgression, and ultimately resistance versus White Supremacist Kyriarchy. It is my hope that emergence of the Killjoy Prophets and AnaBlacktivism collectives are able to create more spaces for the marginated. At the same times, while all of these positive, constructive things are occurring, I realize that whenever People of Color create their own spaces that are welcoming accomplices from the dominant culture, such excitement runs the risk of being co-opted. I’m all to familiar with this feeling; as the Teaching/Office assistant for the Black Church studies program for a few years, the Black Church Studies program, other POC spaces were treated by Whites as things to be consumed. People of Color were there to serve nice meals on a platter, and put on a good show in the name of “diversity.” It would be a mistake, to assume these spaces are here to center Whiteness. Such collectives such as Killjoy Prophets (which is working to center Women of Color feminism), host these conversations to decent the majority . Unfortunately, would-be Allies often times request much from our labor and they feel entitled to access this space. It is an attempt of inversing the role of host and guest, and thus replay the colonial arrangement: Whites being the “hosts” while people of color are the unwelcome guests. If un-doing empire is God’s calling for the Church, then co-opting is something to be resisted.
In my last post, I wrote about why the church needs a theology of pop culture. Today I want to discuss a part of a theology of pop culture, political theology. Specifically, I will be discussing US Politics as it relates to political theology. Some might ask why does the church need a political theology? If you’re naive enough to ask this question, all I have to say is, “Wake up and take a good hard look!” In US culture, political theology is one of the most used and abused theologies out there.
In his book, Political Theology, Michael Kirwan writes
Christians who take their faith seriously know that it has political implications – that the gospel calls us to imagine and work for a transformed world. However – here is the anguish – the Bible leaves no blueprint or manifest for this transformation; only lots of opinions (some more feasible than others) about what kind of society Christians should be struggling for, and by what means. (Kirwan, 3-4)
But one wouldn’t know this from the scores of voices coming (mainly) from the Religious Right. (Note: I say mainly because there are those on the Religious Left whose voice adds to the abuse of a political theology, but they appear in a much smaller number.) One only needs to turn to Twitter or Facebook to see this in action. See the Twitter feeds for Bryan Fischer, John Hagee, Matthew Hagee, the IRD, or the Christian Post for proof. Can’t bear to have them on your Twitter feed? Check out Right Wing Watch. And this abuse of political theology just trickles down from there.
Here’s a recent example of the kind of theological abuse I’m talking about.
The reason the church needs a political theology is due largely in part to the prevailing thought in the Religious Right, mainly the Tea Party; that only “true” conservatives are Christian and only “true” Christians are conservatives. Basically, if you’re a Democrat, you are not/cannot be a Christian. And then there’s the mindset about government. According to “conservative Christians, government is a bad word. The problem with this prevailing mindset is that an ideology (conservativism) is placed about Scripture and tradition. In essence, it is a form of idolatry. Sadly, I expect things to get worse over the next few years.
The good news for us is that I’m not the first one out there to wrestle with the question of how the church should handle a political theology. Carl R. Trueman has written an excellent book, Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative. For those who don’t know, Dr. Trueman is a theologian and church historian and he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also regularly blogs at Reformation21. Let me be clear, Dr. Trueman and I probably disagree on a number of theological points, but I think his analysis of the intersection of US politics and religion is spot on.
Christian Political Witness edited by George Kalantzis and Gregory W. Lee
Political Theology by Michael Kirwan
Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative by Carl R. Tureman
Cornel West in his groundbreaking text work, Prophesy and Deliverance: A Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity, attempts to outline a methodology by which we can understand African American political theology. Accordingly, those who study African American political theology must acknowledge the strong influence of evangelical and pietistic Christianity on it. African American Christian traditions were begotten the moment the African slaves landed in the United States and were dominated by their slave masters who used the bible to justify it. White American Christians used the bible as tool to create servitude. However, the slaves took Christianity and used the biblical text, Protestant hymns, and Christian testimonies to interpret their lives. Ultimately, this engagement led to how West conceives of the black church. For West, the black church is not limited to a particular denomination interpretation of church. Rather the black church is unified under by the shared experience of slaves to follow Jesus over the dogmatic and coercive Christianity that was presented to them by their slave owners. It was the black church that helped the slaves to not only understand themselves but their communities as well. West admits that the black church tradition took various forms to create what is now the rich diversity that is contemporary black theological reflection.
Most poignantly for West is the prophetic tradition originated from the black church, and its influence on the scope of African American political theology. He writes the prophetic Christianity’s greatest contribution is, “individuals regardless of class, country, caste, race, or sex should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her potentiality.” This serves as the core of prophetic Christian gospel for him. The God of this text is a transcendental God who has created all people equally and subsequently has provided divine salvation to the same extent. In other words, prophetic Christianity has provided African American political theology with the notion of radical egalitarianism. West describes this notion as “the Christian principle of the self-realization of individuality within the community.” While I agree with West for the most part on his view of the role of the prophetic in shaping the African American political theology I do believe that his view is limited. I strongly believe that Christianity is not the only religion that was used by slaves in developing African American political theology. Although the black church had arguably the loudest voice in this development it certainly was not the only voice. West monopolizes Christianity as the sole religious factor in the development of the political theology for the African slaves. It has been estimated that between 10-20 percent of the African slaves who came to America were actually Muslims. Many of these slaves fought fervently to maintain their Muslim identity. Some of succeed beyond the first generation but many were coerced into converting into Christianity.
There were also various theistic slave religions that came to America as well, through the transatlantic slave trade. Many of them shared similarities such as a belief in a Supreme Creator. African religious traditions were deeply rooted in balancing the spiritual realm and the natural world. Remnants of this are still seen today in how African Americans balance theology or religious modes of thinking with the realities that they experience in the natural world. My point here is this, Cornel West in his description of the black church and the influence of the prophetic nature of Christianity on the scope of African American political theology neglects the multifarious religious nature of the African slaves. Enslaved Africans did not learn American Christianity on a blank slate or without prior religious foundations. There were many different religious ideologies that influenced the development of African American political theology. To develop a more robust understanding of the political theology of African Americans it is important to recognize the polyreligious origins of the religion of the African American slaves.
Okay, so I have sort of a satirical side to my blogposts from time to time. My sarcastic humor does come out at work occasionally, but it was not until recently I came across the fundamentalist idea that sarcasm was a “sin.” Here’s for example this post by a Thomas Umstattd. But I think that anyone after weighing the Bible’s witness, I must say that what the writer Thomas Umstattd is promoting legalism. Just because he does not understand how something works within the biblical narrative, and because there’s an overuse with a practice, does not in anyway make sarcasm a sin. If I may, one of my favorite stories growing up (and still is) is the story of Elijah confronting the hundreds of prophets of Baal. In 1st Kings 18:27, Elijah is LYING to the prophets of Baal, he ponders, “Is Baal using the restroom? Maybe he has fallen asleep?” In this instance, between the believing audience (us) and Elijah, we know that Baal is just an idol. In the context of confronting idolatry, Elijah insists on using sarcasm to get his point across. This is a man inspired by God, who is carried away in the chariot of fire. The Bible is filled with other stories that involve wordplay and riddles, men of God using mockery and we US American Christians work so hard to sanitize this. God sends lying spirits in the Old Testament. Our God is sovereign, our God is free to use whatever genre He chooses to confront the Enemy. God cannot be contained–which is the goal of legalism. In the moment that Elijah was confronting the prophets of Baal, was he insecure? Nope. Was Elijah demonstrating good leadership? Yes, and he was confronting bad leadership. More importantly, Elijah was not using sarcasm against the persons of the prophets of Baal, notice that. He was critiquing their ideas. So when sarcasm is used to cut at a person personally in their representation of God’s image, that is mockery, and that is wrong and sinful. Yet when sarcasm is used to criticize ideas, this is okay, it is biblical. Lies as Mr Umstattd said are indeed the language of Satan, but so also are half-truths. Truth can be delivered in the form of irony, especially since TRUTH is a Person, the 2nd Person in the Trinity (John 18:37-38). So when one examines the use of saracasm, it should be utilized against problematic ideas that oppress people, for instance.
For more Christian perspectives on sarcasm and its usefulness, see for example this article by Rachel Marie Stone from Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics: In defense of sarcasm.
Link to original post: here
“Because this was now being handled in public, I was fortunate to receive the support of hundreds of people on Twitter – as well as attacks from others. I always expect some form of trolling, but I did not expect one of the attackers to be an editor at Salon, Elias Isquith, who questioned what my potential rape meant for “hashtags” and “brands”. “- Sarah Kendzior, On Being A Thing
Encountering the Emergent Church Brand
For a span of 2 years, my final semester of undergrad up until my second year in seminary,I tried and miserably failed to fit myself in the white Calvinist evangelical mold. As a black man in his early twenties, I didn’t fit in anywhere in predominantly white Christian educational settings. Some of my first friends in seminary were a group of white Christians who were well read with Emergent Christian literature: Tony Jones, Doug Paggit, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren will all names that were dropped during our weekly Tuesday night taco dinners. I would eventually leave the Neo-Calvinist movement on my own terms and started to see some freedom in the Emergent Church movement. Two of the more influential books on my journey were Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed and Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. My Calvinist friends (who had not read these book/authors) were calling me a heretic for even reading these books, and as I look back then seven years ago, I can laugh.
I once preached a sermon on the Emergent church as the future of Christian tradition, and I even taught a Sunday School class on Black theology and Emergence Christianity. However, I began to experience disaffection with the Emergent Church. All of the topics and controversies that the EC leadership wrote about/spoke about still made Whiteness as the center. Believers from marginated contexts were welcome to the table as long as they tacitly submitted to the ways of the dominant culture. In essence, Emergence Christianities have become more about personal brands and the platforms of their recognized overwhelmingly White male leaders rather than being about the “future of Christianity.” You see, since we only live in the here and now, all talks of the “future of Christianity” are speculative. Yet, there is much money to be made when small groups of people decide to severe the multiracial Kingdom of God from any notion of the future. The “future” winds up looking very much like the status quo, and defenses (yes, even “progressive ones”) of the status quo are quite profitable.
Liberationist Killjoys And DudeBro Christianity
At Killjoy Prophets, there is a two-fold mission: first, we desire to center the experiences of Women of Color in Christianity, and secondly, we work to end DudeBro Christianity. Now, we often get asked, “what is DudeBro Christianity?” First of all, DudeBro is a descriptor of character traits; it is a politics in which any person of any gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background can embody. DudeBro Christianity is the passive embodiment of dominant cultural norms that conceal commitments to White supremacist and male supremacist narratives as defaults. The bodies of women and People of Color are made to be objects of contempt. The practice of DudeBro Politics includes someone who insists that all social encounters occur on their terms. The future of Christianity is their private property (“post-Christendom”); like the plantation oligarchs, People of Color and the bodies of women are to be supervised by DudeBro Christian leaders.
Emergent Christian leaders often make excuses such as, well many PoC and women just do not have a big enough platform to draw a big enough crowd for conferences. In other words, profit is the driving force behind abstract discussions of “the future” rather than the Kingdom of God, which is justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. DudeBro Politics is the anti-Christ, posing as an angelic voice of progressive Enlightenment in order to deny faithful victory over the sins of White Supremacy, rape culture, and economic exploitation. DudeBro politics can play out in non-liberating events such as a White Cisgender queer male informing me that I use too strong of language when describing economic policies as anti-black racism. DudeBro Christianity is when for the sake of inclusion in the United Methodist Church, a White CisHet man uses his privilege to compare the General Conference to date rape. In order to build her brand as a magenta politics leftist, one political theologian dismissed Sarah Kendzior’s claims to being threatened with rape. Jason is right: in order for DudeBro Politics to remain the pre-eminent regime in this kyriarchal, White Supremacist economy, men have to control the bodies of women and PoC.
“but I think it’s pathetic for some [recognized Emergent Church leaders] to stand around and comment on the failings [of Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill Church], while cowardly never admitting your own sh*& (which is strikingly familiar!!) misogyny, mental and emotional abuse all hidden behind a new found liberalism and feminism because the times they are a changin’, jumping on the same sex marriage band wagon because its the hot new ride in town, and you just might get to be relevant again…these people are very cunning and smart and they will use anything (theology, controversy, sensationalism) and anyone to get ahead. it’s a clinical diagnosis and a pathology that looks like this kind of carnage, and they ALWAYS leave bodies in their wake. soliciting white male leaders of the emergent church willing to cover it all up for their crony. wipe out evidence on organizations website. lies and betrayal.”- Julie McMahon, comment, Tony Jones On Mark Driscoll, What Came First, The Thug or The Theology?
On Ending DudeBro Christianity, #GamerGate, & #NotYourShield
Emergence Christianities and their leadership has unfortunately found itself more often than not on imperialist quests for fame and fortune rather than being in solidarity with the least of these. In the process, as Julie McMahon pointed out, brand-creation and marketing leave the bodies of the marginalized in its wake: objectification, emotional, physical and mental abuse, gaslighting, racist microaggressions, and “post-modern” defenses of White Supremacy. Progressive spaces such as Emergence Christianity have made it okay for others to promote themselves at the expense of others (women mostly). For example, the whole #GamerGate #NotYourShield movement is a whole group of gamer dudes violently backlashing against women gamers who have spoken up versus misogyny. Last week, my friend Drew Hart discovered that a #NotYourShield sock puppet had been using a picture of his to advance the racist*, sexist agenda of #NotYourShield / #GamerGate.
#GamerGate is more than a few Internet trolls. They harass their critics, take down their blogsites, spread vicious rumors, and send emails promising gun violence and sexual assaults towards women who dare speak out. It’s time for progressives to find new ways to brand themselves, and this should start by rejecting DudeBro Politics. It means living by the preferential option for the marginalized (women & People of Color), preferring to choose human life and people over profiteering and brand-making. Such a rejection also means a public rebuke of #GamerGate / #NotYourShield. #CloseGamerGate #CloseGamerGate #CloseGamerGate
“[...] upon this rock I will build my church; the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”- Matthew 16:18 KJV
* I refer to #GamerGate/ #NotYourShield as racist because of #1, the persistent blackface sock puppeteering that they do, and #2, their reliance on negative stereotypes of Blacks as thuggish, criminal, and culturally “backwards”/homophobic.
In continuing with this month-long series on the demonic, it would not be quite complete without considering the role of the demonic on the ecological – our oikos- our household. We are reminded in the scriptures, afterall, that Satan is the ‘Prince of the Air’, and of course this is commonly thought to mean he seems to reign in the hearts and minds of folks in this present age. Although with some shots of many cities/regions in China, it may seem the Biblical literalists have this one right
This series w/in a series (mini-series), will be something of a eulogy to pay an ode to some of history’s most tragic, gut-wrenching environmental catastrophes. Environmental issues are very fascinating because they’re almost like external, non-human proxies that attest to the brokenness of humanity and of creation at large.
So Today’s Ghost of Environmental Past takes us to Minamata Bay:
The Minamata Bay Disease/Disaster was a case of left-over waste pollutant from a fetilizer production company being carelessly dumped into the Minamata Bay. Amongst the most toxic ingredients in this sludge was mercury- which is a neuro-toxin to humans. Once dumped in the bay, it was methylized by biota in the water body and traveled up the food chain (and as it did, the concentration increased) all the way to the fish that were consumed by locals there. Upon consumption, people were exposed and myriad symptoms associated with mercury poisoning in humans started showing: convulsions,seizures, complete loss of mental faculty and otherwise deterioration of brain cells. Infant deformities and crippling resulted also.
Christ says to mourn with those who mourn; this is clearly more of an emphasis on the present, but I believe that in decolonizing creation and destroying barriers we really ought to get to know the past tragedies of our neighbors. The Minamata Bay Disaster ( as with many issues we’ll cover) happen as a result of global “development” being the standard set by the economy. Japan, like many, were forced to forsake externalities and produce to remain competitive.
Til next time…
Today, I had the distinct pleasure of having my #AnaBlacktivist presence welcomed over at Ecclesio.Com, a website for Presbyterian (USA) clergy. Many thanks to fellow KillJoy Prophet Mihee Kim Kort for this opportunity. Here’s a quote to whet your appetite:
“I learned to dance with the Triune God along the margins of society. Whereas before, my freedom was restricted but once I encountered the plight of the oppressed and the Word within me was unleashed, I began my journey as transgressive preacher.”
To read the rest, go to Ecclesio: Preaching To Transgress: Christian Education And Difference
I have been generously given by InterVarsity Press a copy of Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex by Scott A. Bressenecker.
What values do Christian mission organizations embody? Is it the one of free markets and multinational corporations or is it the Economy of Jesus? I hope to explore these issues from Bressnecker’s perspective.
As I have read more writing on postmodernism I have begun to question many of the assumptions that I have learned throughout my education career. Recently, I have begun to question my own belief about the study of religion. Specifically, through reading Anderson’s piece on postmodernism and religion I question my previous notions of what categorizes religion. I attended TCU as an undergraduate and religion was one of my majors. I chose religion as my major because I wanted to have an objective understanding of religion before deciding how committed I wanted to be in making ministry part of my career. My undergraduate career culminated with a senior seminar course in religion. Throughout this course we discussed various definitions of religion from Thomas Tweed, Fredrich Schleiermacher, Diane Eck, Anthony Pinn, and a variety of others who articulated various definitions of religion. I noticed at that time that many of those scholars were focused on objective views of religion. For me religion has always been something that a person feels. It is an internal conviction with various outward expressions that cannot be quantified. I chose to attend Brite and seminary in general as an attempt to formulate my own subjective ideology about religion. It is from this that I have come to understand religion as beyond traditional notions of belief. From understanding religion in a postmodern context I have come to several realizations.
I have wondered how the Judaeo-Christian context as well as the Western context of religion has influenced scholarship in the field of religious studies. Does Christianity continue to determine the central and privileged norms in global debates about culturally specific ritual practices, localized beliefs on suffering, life, death, and immortality? Certainly not all but there are definitely a great number of religious scholarships that dwells on religious aspects of life, death, and the afterlife. These tools for sifting through various religious beliefs are a decidedly modern Western Christian centric enterprise. Western Christianity’s fascination with the life death and resurrection narrative can taint the way other religion are viewed. For example, it is easy to study religions such as Buddhism and the concept of atman is often viewed as having the “no soul.” The term denotes detachment from a permanent sense of self. However, this is a Western Christian view of atman. The concept of Atman can also be used to describe universal impermanence as opposed to personal impermanence. Universal impermanence means that there are no absolutes. This view of atman allows for more religious plurality and does not confine religious constructs to monolithic interpretations.
I have also questioned to notion of belief as the decisive epistemological term with respect to defining religion. Religion can be easily defined based on the practices and beliefs that a pertinent to a particular group of people. For example, Ninian Smart uses a worldview analysis to describe various dimensions of religious beliefs. According to him there are seven different dimension: doctrinal, mythological, ritual, ethical, experiential, institutional, and the material. Ironically enough he uses these dimensions as a platform to get away from both Western and Christian quantifications on the study of comparative religions. His 1998 addition of the material dimension is proof of the arbitrary nature dimensional analysis. He limits the definition of religion to specific functions of a belief system with all seven aspects as important Western construction emphasis on how to compare religions. For me as I think of religion a major aspect of it that is that Smart misses is the ineffability of religion. What would Smart make of the various views on religion that are not expressed through a particular dimension? Not all aspect of a religion fit neatly into a particular category nor are they articulated as such from various worldviews.
Lastly, I have begun question the need for justification as a part of religious studies. Much of religious studies has focused on an obsession with the justification of a particular faith. Reason as the primary factor to appeal or analyze a particular religious concern seems to be another Western Christian tradition. A major part of early Christianity was the need for apologetics. During the first centuries of the Roman Empire, the early Christians were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. Many charges were brought against them for their seemingly absurd beliefs. Thus it became necessary for survival to depend on a proverbial defense of ones’ faith. This logic to justify faith has carried over into the present and many describe religion using apologetic even if they do so by using a different name. Reason becomes the principle point for analysis. I prefer to think of religion not based on how a faith is justified through reason but how it is experienced by both the individual and the community. Religion through experience for me is a pivotal turning point for the discourse of religion. The chief concern for me related to religion is not the question what do you believe rather it is how is it lived.
Intervarsity Press has sent me a book to review, The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings From The Asian American Diaspora by Amos Yong.
It may be good idea to read this text alongside Simon Chan’s Grassroots Asian Theology.