Recently, I keep thinking whether to be saddened or happy that I did not have the means to go to the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature. Why would I enter a space where my body because of the color of my skin is not welcome?
Let me start here. I have to wonder how can Christianity stand as it is here in the United States when its leading magazine, Christianity Today, saves a space for Neo-Confederate racists like Doug Wilson. Do we really believe that outsiders will take your community seriously in a culturally pluralistic society like ours? Let’s ask Mitt Romney for his thoughts! I think the problem is much more deeper than simply permitting a racist to write for your top magazine in the name of “tolerance.” The problem of race and theology is the one of the closed theological canon, and here, no I am not talking about the Bible, (but of course, we always can if you want!).
What I am referring to is the ever perpetual push by privileged white Protestant men to always want to go back to Saint Augustine without addressing any of the problems surrounding his bad interpretation of Scripture (Judges and Romans in particular) and his anti-Jewish statements (ironically, but always condemning Martin Luther for his!). I think this uncritical reclamation project is part of an on-going and unnecessary cycle in Christianity called Euro-centrism. One of the plethora of examples comes from seemingly innocent suggestions like from Stephen C Barton, Complementarianism and Darwinism at The Jesus Creed who “contends we need to read the Bible with Augustine and Barth, that is, both christologically and eschatologically.” Of course, Barton is in pronouncing nothing new, it’s the run of the mill post-liberal, radically orthodox argument. However, just exactly, who’s Augustine will we be reading with? Who’s Barth will we be reading with? These men are not alive to dialogue with us about their great writings, they have interpreters, and it is their circle of interpreters that has remained closed, and thus the canon. In fact, one must ask does the work of one James Hal Cone and his interpretation of Karl Barth (see Black Theology and Black Power), will his interpretation of Barth be included?
Also, if I exclude any argument from marginality in terms of race here, why do Barth and Augustine have to be the ones we return to (aside from Jesus Christ) when it comes to theology? Why not Clement of Alexandria? Irenaeus of Lyons? Do not Augustine & Barth lend themselves to particular theological biases? Call me crazy, but in the end, the RadOx and postliberalism movements are just lending themselves to being just another (maybe a more mainline, moderate?) wing of the Neo-Calvinist movement, where Calvin and Augustine, and then occasionally Barth are at the top theologically; that is, their interpretation of Scripture is viewed as also necessary for every Christian. Closed canons. Closed to bodies of color. Closed to women.
Indeed how we rank theology programs and theologians do more to tell us what bodies you value more than tell us the worth of any institution. Take R.R. Reno’s ranking of the top theological institutions: it is conceded that Duke Divinity School has the best of what the mainline has to offer, with “postliberal conviction.” Reno seems to betray his criteria, Duke is mainline but it is also orthodox, which is quite confusing for me, because isn’t evangelicalism supposed to be the space of orthodoxy? When it comes to prioritizing the hierarchy of theologians (re: bodies), and the closed space of the theological canon, what matters is not so called “doctrinal orthodoxy” but that space which is closest to what you want to deem ideal culturally. In short, making the white ambiguous, hegemonic CHURCH the answer to the world’s problems (postliberal Christianity) has more similarities to conservative evangelical’s dominionism, the idea of a “Christian” domination system.
It’s rather curious that a site/publication dedicated to just war theory and conservativism would praise Hauerwas and Hays, two outspoken pacifists, but it’s not about doctrine. Like the postliberalism that is now the supposed new orthodoxy, it’s about shared culture and linguistics, a reactionary social apologetic in the name of “tradition”. Yes, I have read George Lindbeck’s The Nature Of Doctrine, but have you read any criticism of his work? Cultural hegemony is prized over and against teaching (truth as propositional): the reign of cultural orthodoxy! And a return to Augustine (read:traditional white interpretations of Augustine of Hippo) and Karl Barth (read: traditional and newer white appropriations of Karl Barth’s Theology of the Word). While postliberalism claimed to call itself a different creature than either liberal or conservative, I think things like John Milbank’s email declaring Radical Orthodoxy to be the New Face of Historic Orthodoxy or Theology Studio’s uncritical assessment of Reno’s list put U.S. postliberalism/U.K. radical orthodoxy squarely on the right IMNSHO. Nothing wrong with being conservative, but being dishonest about your political and theological biases are!
Oh to not have to talk about race! Maybe if I bleach my skin and start talking about how THE CHURCH is the end all, be all of everything, then people will start listening to me more? Am I right?