Towards A Liberationist Theological Account of Difference & Community Online
In the early 1980’s, after a long struggle with the federal government, the city of Louisville, Kentucky agreed to start busing students of primarily black neighborhoods to schools that were primarily white in order to comply with national regulations regarding racial integration. It was in this context that I experienced my early formation as a student. My favorite subject was Social Studies where the history of the U.S. begins in Europe, with the Spaniards, French, and British racing to find a faster route to India. It was during Social Studies hour in the afternoon, I had the privilege of learning about Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and George Washington’s military victories against the British redcoats.
In addition to Social Studies lessons, some of the more memorable history lessons during my elementary education came during Library Time. It was there that two or three classes would gather into a large room in the library, and the librarian would show us a video and lead a discussion on that’s day’s topic. I can recall two specific lessons in the particular, that speak to the rather ambivalent nature of my experience. One day we had the opportunity to learn about the origins of Hanukkah (yes, that’s right, at a public school). As a third-grader, this was the very first time I had encountered the topic of Jewish history or the story of the Maccabees. The way the lesson was framed (Hanukkah being compared to Christmas…slightly problematic),
I was even a little jealous of my Jewish friends who had EIGHT days of “Christmas” presents. No fair! The comparison of the Jewish holy days of Hanukkah and the Christian celebration of Christmas is problematic for a few reasons, but the two major ones are as follows: First, comparing holidays of two major religions works in favor of secularization (read: late capitalism) in the appropriation of religious symbols for a more unified national hegemony. And secondly, this comparison fails because it inhibits both nonreligious and religious persons from being able to appreciate the uniqueness and particularity of the Jewish and Christian stories.
The other lesson that has always somehow stuck with me was the video on Christopher Columbus informing us of the background for Christopher Columbus Day. It was inexplicable why we (the students) still had to come to school on a federal holiday, but we did learn that Columbus sailed out to find India with the explicitly Christian blessing of Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand of Spain. The “discovery” by Christopher Columbus plus the scholarship of Amerigo Vespucci were presented to us (the students) as world changing events; however there were no mentioning of Columbus’ letters to the royal family where he shared his most enduring innovation with the world: White Supremacy.
In my first part for this series, I talked about how much of the theological debates online have occurred between essentially three parties: the view from the Top/Down Privileged, the Middle Way (still Top Down) Privileged, and the Bottom Up Marginalized perspective. Part of that discussion highlighted some of the ways that members of the Dominant culture use language to hide their power. As I continue to experiment with a Liberationist Political theology for online behavior, in this post, I plan to look at the way privileged members of our society create communities, and work to sustain their privilege and retain control of THE Narrative. Whenever privileged persons label detractors as “angry,” “agitators,” “ideological (READ: unable to be civil and objective as white people)”, and “alarmists” who write with extremist radical strokes, they are continuing the White Supremacist, Male Supremacist colonial legacy of Christopher Columbus. “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet bank on unhealthy forms of community (both in real life & online) all the while denouncing #EmpireBusiness while profiting from it.
New Communities And Spiritualities
Part of Zach Hoag’s beef with what he called, “The Progressive Christian Internet” was that “And in the attempt to be ideologically Progressive, it often fails to be substantially Christian. [...] Love for God and neighbor are nowhere to be found, overwhelmed by pharisaical posturing.” Further more, Hoag contends that social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as the Christian Blogosphere had “fostered a disconnect between the Progressive Christian Internetter and rooted, relational church realities, such that the ideology expressed online has become an end in itself rather than a means tethered to the end of ecclesia.”
For Hoag and the “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet, Social-Justice oriented Christians have been found lacking in the area of virtue. In fact, so much so, that Hoag has described his critics as the the modern-day Pharisees who do not show love for God or neighbor. Like many evangelicals and post-evangelicals, “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet portray the Pharisee Jewish party of Jesus’ first century C.E. context as obstacles to overcome. Pharisees are the cold-hearted legalistic enemies against Jesus’ “grace-filled”civilized ways. This popular negative depiction of Pharisees has a long history of anti-Judaism, and fails to recognize that Jesus the Messiah and the apostle Paul were having self-critical intragroup religious conversations. The injunction of “Pharisee” as a derogatory label against one’s “enemies” not only fails to show love for YHWH or our Jewish neighbors, but it also is symptomatic of “Quitters” of the PCI and their inability to appreciate difference.
Also according to Hoag, the Progressive Christian Internetter violates White PostEvangelical (ever-changing) rules about civility, and being “grace-filled”, and more importantly: RELATIONAL! Angry Twittervists, YALL, they just ain’t RELATIONal enough! Co-Opting on the rise of postmodern neo-liberal discourse, Missional Christians use “RELATIONAL” as a catch-all phrase to shame people who have honest disagreements with their theologies. The use of “RELATIONAL” as a weapon void of any affirmation of difference means that it (relational theology, ecclessiology, etc) is just another tool for White Hegemony.
One example of “Relational” as Weaponized Discourse is the story I referred to in part one of this series. I had two friends write an email to Missio Alliance, and the response by Missio Alliance leaders included framing the discussion as my friends being the “angry rabble rousers.” The racist and sexist version of AnaBaptist Christianity that the PostChristendom conference was advertising was said to be only an “accidental” outcome. Predictably, Missio Alliance’s response to my friends called for a more “constructive and relational conversation” on these “issues.” While claiming to be advancing peace between brothers (Romans 12:8), there was a different story being told behind the scenes, as I demonstrated in part 1, that of referring to my friends’ actions as vengeful, violent, and lacking humility. I hope you (the audience) had a chance to reflect on what it means to call an e-mail campaign “violence,” because this can only make sense within the logic of Christopher Columbus-bred White Supremacy/Male Supremacy.
One of my friends was asked to provide consultation in regards to making the Missio Alliance more diverse and more reflective of the AnaBaptist movement worldwide. The original letter that was filled with concern for MA’s conference that was held last week, pointed to five suggestions by my friend:
“a) The hegemony of the all-white male organizing committee members take a step back so that minority members could be a part of the planning process, so that a committee more representational of the diversity in Anabaptism would be reflected
— Sam Wilcock (@DrWilcock) September 19, 2014
b) That the location of the actual conference be somewhere outside of the suburbs and therefore more accessible to persons of color as well as whites. Since from the get-go, the idea was to host the conference in Pennsylvania, there are a myriad of choices in this regard. c) That its presenters specifically tackle issues that disproportionately affect non-whites, such as shooting, mass incarceration, poverty, etc.–all important issues of peacemaking, and since these issues will not be addressed until the dominant culture has skin in the game they must be taken seriously by the dominant white culture. d) That the demographics of those presenting as Keynote Speakers truly represent the vast diversity found in the larger Anabaptist movement in North America e) That these diverse presenters not be tokenized, but genuinely appreciated as expert speakers on the issues presented at the conference”
The original intent of the letter’s authors was to work to ensure that “the Anabaptist movement in North America is not dominated by white male hegemony and homogeneity.” What were the “acts of violence” advocated by the authors? Their desire: “we are encouraging all of those interested to respond to this email (and to disseminate it to friends and allies)” in order to place institutional pressure on Missio Alliance since it was claiming to speak for AnaBaptists in North America. These simple suggestions would be reasonable considering the fact that denominations such as Mennonite Church, USA’s Central District is committed to racial justice and celebrating cultural difference with events such as Black Mennonite Women Rock! and the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium next month. Progressive Christian Internet “Quitters” And Forced Teaming When I look back on my socialization during Social Studies hour or Library Time, I think back to all the times I could hear, “Christopher Columbus did it for us. We did it! Yeah US!” (my apologies to the First Nations people and Leif Erickson) I remember all those times I was never allowed to ask, who is “we”, and why should I trust this “us”? I think back to learning about the Declaration Of Independence where the Founders wrote, “WE” hold these truths to be self-evident that ALL MEN are created equal. Who was this “we” and why should I trust “us”? The “WE” was and still is White men who own property, Christopher Columbus writ large. Some of the critical feedback I received from my first post in this series was that it was very America-centric in orientation. Having been told by a famous British theologian that all discussions pertaining to race have America at the center, I am familiar with this line of argument. This assumes that racism is not a problem in Western Europe. On the contrary, White Supremacy & Anti-Blackness is a global phenomenom and will always rely on a narrative of White Saviorship. It seems like Social Studies hour just isn’t for elementary students anymore:
In school you are taught that the British abolished the slave trade .What they don’t tell you is that UK traded in slaves and got rich — Afr0bella (@miss_v3) September 23, 2014
Because my love for Social Studies grew into a love for Political Science, I became familiar with the term “hegemony.” Oppressive Institutions are fueled by oppressive mythologies plus practices. Part of what helped me as a kid to break out of accepting hegemonic forms of storytelling is to read the stories of the marginalized, the histories of First Nations peoples, biographies of renowned Black persons, and women. I had up until recently articulating the hegemonic mindset of the (actual) Progressive Christian Internet until I came across a post by my friend Sarah Moon: No, We’re Not On The Same Side, in which she talked about the notion of forced teaming. Forced Teaming is like political hegemony, but take place on primarily an interpersonal personal level. According to Moon, “Not everyone who uses forced teaming is intentionally trying to manipulate you, but that does not mean it is not a manipulative tactic that we should be careful to avoid using and be aware of when it is used on us.” In many ways, Political Hegemony and Forced Teaming intersect.
I gave the example of The Declaration of Independence earlier “We” hold these truths (whose truth? where was it presented?). The questioning of the “We,” “this universal US” is always the most dangerous questions. If you ask these hard questions, not only will you be labelled “rude,” but unloving, judgmental, angry, hypercritical, oversensitive. Whether it is Michelle Goldberg bemoaning the dark toxic twitter wars because her sense of sisterhood has been disrupted by those uppity Women of Color, or white male Christian bloggers having the sads because not all Christian feminists think alike, the forced teaming rhetoric of “We The Sisterhood of Feminists” or “We The Formerly Conservative Evangelicals Now Progressive Christians” facilitate the Columbusing of online discourse. OH MY GAWDZ, LOOK A BLACK TWITTER!
The injunction of RELATIONAL as an adjective to notions of justice and reconciliation is one of the ways that “Quitters” of the Progressive Christian Internet manipulate audiences and critics in favor of forced teaming online. From a Liberationist perspective, a Bottom-Up approach to online communities would first of all, be forth right about as well as affirming of the variations of human experiences rather than presuming THE ONE GENERAL HUMAN EXPERIENCE. This would also mean a commitment to honesty, a truthfulness that is not sugarcoated in the name of preserving personal brands. Indeed, such a view requires a taking of risks on the part of people of privilege. In order for more just relationships to take place both in the virtual world and real world, privileged persons must be informed of what are the barriers to them being considered trustworthy accomplices in the struggle for justice.
In the words of Austin Channing, “Diversity without justice is assimilation.”
In my third and final offering in this series, I will take a look at the Progressive Christian Internet and its approaches to Leadership.