Quitting The Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 2

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),

chrismukkah1

 

chrismukkah2

 

 

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.

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

WHO WANTS TO BE RELATIONAL? ANYONE? ANYONE?

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

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:

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.

h00die_R (Rod)

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Quitting the Progressive Christian Internet: Weeds Along The Moral High Ground part 1

Further Explorations Into A Liberationist Theological Approach For Online Engagement

When I made the fateful decision to start blogging I was nervous at first. What were the chances others would be reading my work? Why was I even going to try? It was 9 years ago that I would write Facebook notes and post on Xanga and MySpace as well. Remember those? I don’t want to!

The vast majority of Christian blogs I read were overwhelmingly either Calvinist or biblical studies. The center of these conversations focused on the dominant culture, the prominent megachurches (Yes Mark Driscoll, but also Kenneth Copeland). If the Christian blogosphere was a cliquish high school prom, conservative Republican evangelicals would be considered the life of the party. In 2007, I decided that in addition to working two part-time jobs during seminary, making the Dean’s list as a full-time student, and being active in several campus organizations, blogging would be my outlet. I figured, what was there to lose? I had just began thinking about what I wanted to cover for my ThM thesis — early church history and black liberation theologies — so why not blog about these topics? My aim became to network with other writers and scholars who loved liberation theologies and/or early Christianity prior to the 4th century. Since I intended to appeal to a broader audience, I also decided that I could occasionally discuss nerdy pop culture items as well. My audience, as I had intended, would be both”the Church” and “the World.”

If it were not for this blog, Twitter, or Facebook, I would not have met friends like Drew Hart, Austin Channing, Christena Cleveland, Emily Rice, and who could ever forget my homey Joel Watts, (one of my first commenters on my blog, and we still talk to each other on the phone at least once a week!). It was always sort of my dream to at least  take part in an online conversation that focused on articulating Black Liberation and Womanist Theologies, and as the years have gone by, I am definitely seeing more and more of this take place. Real dialogue can be intentional in origin, but can have unintended consequences. Perhaps there is no better example such as this than when it comes to talking about notions of civility and kindness online as I did last week.

Explaining the liberationist approach to theology and ethics in general is difficult, given the hostile environment that it is placed within (Read: racially segregated, class-stratified, kyriarchal economy, church and academy). The logic of Liberation Theology is one of viewing the world from the bottom up. It is this posture that remains the primary source for the refusal to view things from “the middle way” or “the top-down approach.” In fact, from a Liberationist perspective, given the way ideas and practices happen, “the middle way,” by default is still a Top-Down vision of the world. The differences between the Top-Down/privileged, the Middle Way/Privileged, and the Bottom-Up/marginated views of society are very real. However, there remain many persons who ignore this reality. Liberation theologians seek to emancipate the oppressed and the oppressors who are located in BOTH “the Church” and “the World” for the sake of reconciliation and love. The dominant culture resists and suppresses the voices of the marginalized because it cannot see reconciliation  in anything but its own terms: hegemony, assimilation; some call it “diversity,” others name it “THE CHURCH.”

New Vocabularies And Practices

On New Year’s Eve last year, Zach Hoag wrote about his concern for what he regularly calls now, “The Progressive Christian Internet.” I, too, share concerns with all of the Christian Internets, but since many lump me in as Progressive, I guess the Progressive Internet is my home whether I want it or not. Hoag describes one part of the PCI as:

The Progressive Christian Internet is perpetually collapsing on itself in a series of its own mini-schisms, where the other is not subversive/anarchist/feminist/womanist/affirming/allied/inclusive/academic
/philosophical/whatever enough. And these judgments of inadequacy are typically made solely on the basis of 140 character “conversations” which often begin with the other’s accidental or mistaken use of certain words or phrases, and then spiral into raging fits and subtweet rants and block wars from there.

It’s rather unfortunate that these Social Justice Warriors use of Twitter is just so toxic and damaging to Hoag’s ecclesiology. If only they could be more relational and stop the subtweeting, and making secret facebook groups, then everything would be a bunch of roses! I know I joked earlier that the Christian blogosphere was like a high school prom, and I wish I were just kidding about the PCI but these things happen.  Anyhow, when a person creates a neologism (like a made up word), there has to be some concrete examples to go along with it. I learned that in my education from a really great Black theology professor, and for that I am grateful. So again, a new word/concept that has been defined by a writer must have a visible example, otherwise that writer is throwing flatulence to the wind.

In the days since Quitters of the Progressive Christian Internet have left behind the subtweeting and vaguebooking and all that jazz, Hoag has nevertheless returned to comment on the Progressive Christian Internet:

Subtweets are such a strange creature, but as someone once said, they always hit their intended target. A few of my friends had a few days prior writtten a letter and a few emails to an organization that Hoag works for, asking questions about the lack of racial and gender diversity for their forthcoming event.

SURPRISE IT WAS MISSIO ALLIANCE!

SURPRISE IT WAS MISSIO ALLIANCE!

There you have it. The Progressive Christian Internet are a group of “Survivor-esque” alliances making anti-sexist and anti-racist criticisms of gentrified missional Christian organizations. Not a coincidence to see that the Missio Alliance’s content/blog curator would harbor resentment — and a dismissive attitude — toward an anti-racist, anti-sexist letter writing campaign geared towards the organization. Missio, by partnering with think tanks that teach that People of Color suffer from pathologies and that the colonial church that endorsed the enslavement of Black people was good for the marginalized, has likewise shown its true colors and “commitment” to reconciliation.

I also think that part of the problem with Christian Conferences & that industry is that persons are far more concerned about platforms, and the money they have invested in them, than their investment in the lives of people. This is a problem at the congregational and denominational level. Rather than discussing what we have put in financially or how many minutes this or that speaker deserves for “leading” the movement, our questions should be, what does the Kingdom of God look like? Are we really pushing towards the “One Church, Many Tribes” model described in Revelation? The stances I see in churches and online are exactly the ones that Drew Hart criticized in his post on White Privilege last week as well as my friend Amaryah Shaye in her post “White Privilege as Inheritance.” I find the theme of even “The Once And Future Mission” (references to King Arthur, Merlin, and even C.S. Lewis) as slightly problematic because from the get-go, the idea of a “post-Christendom to begin with, as I continue to argue, is based off a narrative centered on whiteness, to exclusion of Christians who are POC who suffered under the cruelty of what emergents call “Christendom.” It wasn’t “Christ”-endom to begin with, perhaps SatanDom, in the eyes of persons like Frederick Douglass and others.

If I may quote Christian anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, who today be cast as an angry Social Justice Warrior,

“Why is mob murder committed by a Christian nation? What is the cause of this awful slaughter? The question is answered almost daily, always the same shameless falsehood, that Negroes are lynched to protect womanhood.”

If the very notion that America is a Christian nation is a falsehood, then so must the concept of Post-Christendom when this country is gazed upon from the Bottom-Up. When my friends critiqued Missio Alliance for their all-white-male-lineup, it was one of Missio Alliance’s employees who labelled them with the dubious distinction of “Progressive Christian Internet.” My friends were called angry, impatient, prideful antagonists, violent and retaliatory. The act of writing a letter/email was seen as an act of violence. Think on that for a second. Challenges to the Brogressive status quo, the nonviolent writing of letters, is framed as an act of coercion; not only is this problematic, but it is indicative of the Top-Down approach of the Imperialist world order. It is clear American Christianity has a racism and sexism problem. Neo-Anabaptists, Missio Alliance, emergent churches are no exception to the rule.

In the second part of this essay, I shall take a critical look at the Incarnational ecclesia that Quitters Members of the [actual] “Progressive Christian Internet” have formed.

h00die_R (Rod)

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An Introduction

Being the new contributor here, I thought I’d jump right in with a little about my background: I was raised In the church. Growing up, I attended a slightly fundamentalist American Baptist church. In college, I began to question my faith and spent much of my undergrad study identifying myself as an agnostic. During my senior year I was introduced to the Lutheran tradition. I like to joke that I went for the wrong reason and stayed for the right reasons.

After several years of working in the private sector, I felt the call into ministry and moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Columbia, SC to begin seminary. I graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in May of 2009.

My wife and I moved to Seattle, WA where I had accepted a job as a youth director. For a myriad of reasons, that job ended in 2011.

My area of interest is the intersection of faith and pop culture and my posts will reflect that interest. Expect to see posts on TV shows such as Dominion and Sleepy Hollow, a variety of books including the Warhammer series, comic books, movies, gaming and current events.

I am a member of the ELCA. Theologically, I am an evangelical catholic (more on this later), an Open theist, and I fall into the just peacemaking camp (I am not a pacifist or a supporter of the just war tradition).

Prior to joining Political Jesus, I blogged at TheoNerd. From time to time, I also blog at UnsettledChristianity.

If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

responses to my post on kindness/civility online: a grace-filled Storify

On Thursday, I posted be ye kind one to another: civility, blogging, and social media, and a lot of people interacted with the post online. So, I decided it would be best to Storify the conversation.

h00die_R (Rod)

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On ‘Civility’ and Privilege: a guest post

Travis Greene is a stay at home dad and occasional chaplain in Tampa,  Florida. His convictions are in the Ana/Baptist and emerging church traditions and he is passionate about the collision of the Christian faith with the American prison system and solidarity with those inside it. Follow him at @travisegreene.

First, a social location disclaimer, since I’m a guest here. I am a healthy cisgender straight white guy. I literally have all the privilege, and much of what I have to say is directed toward other privileged people.

If you follow progressive social justice-y Christian type people on Twitter, you may be aware there is often debate about “appropriate” ways to engage around questions of justice with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Usually some well-meaning white person will say something , be critiqued for it, and then push back not against the substance of the critique but the tone or manner. Alternately, a person of color may say something, then get critiqued by a more privileged person (again not so much for content but tone or timing or something).

This Sarah Bessey piece (which I like very much, even though there’s a But coming) is a rather vague reaction to all this, I think.

Or, for a not exclusively religious example (though I think there’s lots of overlap), this piece by Freddie diBoer (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/08/21/where-online-social-liberalism-lost-the-script/). He writes,

“It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them.”

I think this is a common reaction by people who think of themselves as allies but are concerned about maintaining kindness, civility, etc.

Later, he writes, “On matters of substance, I agree with almost everything that the social liberals on Tumblr and Twitter and blogs and websites believe. I believe that racism is embedded in many of our institutions. I believe that sexual violence is common and that we have a culture of misogyny. I believe that privilege is real. I believe all of that. And I understand and respect the need to express rage, which is a legitimate political emotion. But I also believe that there’s no possible way to fix these problems without bringing more people into the coalition. I would like for people who are committed to arguing about social justice online to work on building a culture that is unrelenting in its criticisms of injustice, but that leaves more room for education.”

Now that in general has been my basic attitude toward this whole question. The “You’re not wrong, but you should be nicer.” And I still think, at least on a purely pragmatic level, there’s merit to that. (Here’s the But…)

But.

Two recent blog posts have helped me think through this all a little better, I hope. The first is Sarah Moon’s post called “No, We Not All On The Same Side”, where she draws on bell hooks to point out how “forced teaming” has the effect of sidelining the concerns of traditionally marginalized groups. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here was the crux for me:

“…even among folks who all ultimately long for a more liberating world, there are “barriers to solidarity” (hooks’ phrasing–pg. 50) that keep us from truly “being on the same side.” Ignoring our differences–our different standpoints, goals, experiences, and needs–in favor of cheap peace, forced teaming, and shallow “allyship” does not challenge those barriers. It only reinforces them.”

It is vital not to smother potentially productive conflict with false niceness. Moon attributes a lot of this on the part of more privileged allies to conflict avoidance, which is no doubt true, but I suspect there’s more going on in the particular reaction of the privileged progressive to being critiqued by the less privileged. Underneath our reaction to this (and along with many genuinely good motives) is a rather childish desire to be affirmed as one of the good guys, to be acknowledged as Not Like Those People: your racist relatives, Sarah Palin, whoever.

I got a further insight from Rod’s post, particularly this bit:

“We hear from one side, well, yes, I know I needed to be called out, but you could have been a little bit nicer, and then the same civilized party admits later, I needed to be called out to persons who give them similar feedback, but its nicer because their interlocutor may look like them.”

I don’t doubt that this happens, a lot. Race and gender construction affects everything, evening the seemingly disembodied world of online interaction. But I suspect some of the time something else is happening (let’s take race as our example). Perhaps the white person is more responsive/less likely to tone-police the criticism of another white person because they’ve been socialized to take them more seriously (systemic racism). Or they might be more responsive because the white critic, since they are interacting with a past version of themselves, is uniquely able to help the person being criticized. That cannot replace the crucially important movement toward solidarity with marginalized people by listening directly to them, but it may be able to help that process along.

So my proposal is this: maybe those of us (white folks) who do want a more “civil” space, with, as diBoer says, “more room for education,” need to take that on as our particular responsibility – not tone-policing women or gay folks or people of color – not trying to control how they speak and act and engage – but perhaps by being the “good cop” who takes the time to educate people encountering all this for the first time (or perhaps not for the first time, but who are still resistant).

There is danger here. My idea would not be to interpret or speak for (“What John is trying to say is…”). And the point of all this is not to (yet again) center the experiences of white folks, nor to dismiss them, but to relativize them. When I respond to something on Twitter I am not doing so as a generic “reasonable person” who gets to decide what civility or kindness mean, and how all confrontation should happen and when.

Maybe we need to be the ones who engage the trolls. God knows it’s our turn.

The Political Jesus Collective

Guests posts by friends of Political Jesus ---OR---- Group Announcement from the Bloggers of PJ

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In at 48.

Peter Kirby has been doing a yeoman’s job keeping up with the Bibliobloggers Top 50. In spite of me not having a laptop for two months, myself and the Political Jesus team, we earned 48th place. So, still top 50.

Biblioblog Top 50 Summer 2014

A Miracle? YOu decide!

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ the Center #Anablacktivism

The Emancipatory Pedagogy and Presence of The Logos

CONTENT NOTE: John Howard Yoder. see  tw: perhaps all theologians should come with trigger warnings

As I said in the introduction of this series, I am writing these posts this week as not only an #Anablacktivism / #Anablacktivist manifesto, but also as a clear rejection of the current popular stream of thought by Emergent Anabaptist leaders.  At the same time, I am making a departure from my own past dialectical reading of Black Liberation theology and Peace Theologies.  Rather than accept the narrative that these two are irreconcilably opposed to each other and that one of them thus must either be rejected or both held in tension, I have chosen the way of dialogue.  I must give credit to my friend Drew Hart for helping me to see the possibilities of this conversation.

Tyler Tully has discerned three historic Anabaptist distinctived: a Jesus-Centered interpretation of the whole Bible, a free confessing church of creative disciples, and Christians embodying the peaceable moral agency. The current essay will focus on Christ as the Center in Anabaptist and Black Liberation theology.

Nowadays when one reads the profiles of post-Christendom, millenial Christians as well as talk to them IRL, there’s a certain cynicism about the direction our culture is headed.  The story they tell is one of exile, that the U.S. American church is going into exile as punishment for its failure to win the White national culture wars.  For some, this God’s wrath.  For others, its a natural consequence of Christians adopting the politics of Emperor Constantine, where power, empire, and violence are carried under a Cross-decorated banner.

 

No one quite represents the model of the latter’s think than the late John Howard Yoder, a student of Karl Barth at Basel.  From the opening pages of The Politics of Jesus, Yoder changed the landscape of theological ethics by bringing us back to Jesus.

“The peculiar place of Jesus in the mood and mind of many young ‘rebels’ is a sore spot in the recent intergenerational tension of Western post-Christendom, and on of the inner-contradictions of our age’s claim to have left Christendom behind. It may be a meaningless coincidence that some young men wear their hair and their feet like the Good Shepherd of the Standard Press Sunday school posters; but there is certainly no randomness to their claim Jesus was, like themselves, a social critic and an agitator, a drop-out from the social climb, and the spokesman of a counter-culture.”

– TPOJ, page 1.

There are a few things I want to point out about this opening paragraph. When believers place Christ Jesus in his rightful place, the throne, the Center of our Thinking Being, and Doing, that act coincidentally places us in our place, disparate, on the margins, de-centered.  Particularly as Gentile Christians we enter the biblical narrative as the Outsider, the Alien, and the Enemy.  Already in the opening pages of TPOJ, Yoder has identified himself as a white Western male in a post-Christendom context.  Without this acknowledgement up from about his identity and place in the story of the Church, Radical Reformation and Black Liberation theologians would fail to see both the benefits and pitfalls of Yoder’s theology.  The unlimited reign of Yeshua the Messiah both operates as the subject of our theological conversation (confession) as well as the boundary that limits our task (awe).  

The purpose of Yoder’s writing was to  seek “to read the Gospel narrative with the constantly present question, ‘Is there here a social ethic?’  I shall in other words, be testing the hypothesis that runs counter to the prevalent assumptions: the hypothesis that the ministry and the claims of Jesus are best understood as presenting to hearers and readers  not the avoidance of political options, but one particular social-political-ethical option.”- TPOJ, page 11.  And there we have it.  Central to the message of the Anabaptists in the emergent church and beyond is that Jesus’ rabbinical teachings are superior to our own politics and context.  As members of the Body of Christ who wish to maintain faithfulness to the Son of God, this is staying with the tradition of the early church martyrs, and subsequently the Radical Reformation, and dare I add, the witnesses who gave their lives during the Civil Rights movement.

As part of the third edition of this work, Yoder goes on to further explain why the lack of discussion of the “historical” Jesus (page 15).  The skepticism of historical-critical method is right, for as others have reminded us ferverently sometimes the historical Jesus is shaped in our image.  Whether Jesus is a sage or a political revolutionary, historical critics disagree over what to make of what this 2nd century Pharisee actually taught. Enough has been said about the problems of the historical Jesus.  What I want to bring to the forefront, that will allow Liberation Theology to enter the conversation, is to problematize the notion of the neutral, objective “narrative Jesus.”  The rise of narrative theology and hermeneutics begins with a literary reading of Scripture.  The danger in narrative/ literary readings of the Bible, as Sugi pointed out years ago (see my Sugi On Narrative Criticism) is that it can lead to a quest for an idyllic past, and ahistorical, unrealistic visions of days gone by.

The idyllic past which I am referring to is the notion of a “Christendom” at all.  I am calling the idea of a “post-Christian” culture into question because, according to prophets such as David Walker and Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, this nation was never “CHRISTIAN” to begin with.  From the perspective of the margins, the U.S. has always practiced a Constantinian false version of religion, a history of bloodshed, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.  Relying simply on narrative theology and the teachings of Jesus is insufficient.  Telling God’s story (awe) is only one part of the theological task. The other part is praxis (confession).  Along with the Gospel narratives, we must also understand the historical locus of the Spirit of Jesus by first identifying the history and positioning of Jesus’ body.

Enter James Cone, the “Father” of modern Black Liberation Theology.  For Cone and LIberation Theologians, there is no division between the Historical Jesus and the Narrative Messiah.

“Without some continuity between the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ, the Christian gospel becomes nothing but the subjective reflections of the early Christian community.  And if that is what Christianity is all about, we not only separate it from history, but we also allow every community the possibility of interpreting the kerygma according to its own existential situation.  Although the situation is important, it is not the gospel.  The gospel speaks to the situation.”- A Black Theology of Liberation, page 119

In agreement with the Council of Ephesus in the 5th century C.E., James Cone rejects both the Nestorianism of Evangelicalism and The Jesus Seminar as well as the Docetism of postliberal and narrative theologies.  In Christianity, there is not to be this neat separation between the Creed Christ and the Historical Jesus.  This severance leads to a disembodied theology more palatable with imperial, war-mongering, white supremacist religiosity.  

In the Gospels, Jesus taught that his presence will be forever and always with the least of these. He is the homeless person we do not provide shelter to.  He is the hungry person on food stamps we refuse to nurture.  He is the prisoner we avoid visiting in our criminal injustice system, with its prison-industrial complex.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).  Black Power theologically understood is compatible with Anabaptist theology because of its Jesus-centeredness.  Cone contended, “Being black in America has very little to do with skin color.  To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are” (Black Theology and Black Power,page 151).

 Now while critics feel that Cone’s work is exclusively for African Americans, this is simply not the case.  While he chooses to use examples from black history, one could easily include stories of the radical Quakers who in the colonial times opposed the enslavement of Africans.  The Radical Reformation tradition reminds us to place Jesus’ teaching as central to the Christian life, and in so doing, Jesus did teach us where he would be.  Liberation theologians rightly point to the communities of the oppressed as having the presence of Jesus, so that we can able to follow his teachings.  #Anablacktivism is a both/and synthesis of Liberation Theology and the Radical Reformation, stressing both Jesus’ presence as well as his words and deeds. By standing in awe in our worship and confessing Jesus with our praxis, resistance to Constantinian religiosity must always include resisting white supremacy and empire.  This is what it means to have a Spirit-filled life and a Christ-centered view of Scripture. 

This is the second part of 4 for  my contribution to the MennoNerds Synchroblog : MennoNerds on Anabaptist Convictions“As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. For the list of distinctives go here. For the list of articles, go here

h00die_R (Rod)

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blogging while Christian, factions, & thoughts on the #Divergent trilogy

Image from the Divergent Wikia

One of my favorite things about this new trend of Young Adult dystopian fiction is that the authors give a lot of attention in great detail to those at the margins (though they are not the protagonists unfortunately). In the case of The Hunger Games trilogy, it was the Avox, and in the case of the Divergent trilogy (so far I am working on Insurgent), it is the Factionless.  Maybe I ought to do a series comparing the Factionless and Avox when I finish the Divergent Trilogy, and the roles that the marginalized play in moving stories forward.  Yet for me, I didn’t get into Divergent right away.  The first time I read it, I dropped it after the first 8 chapters.  After some time, I picked it up again, and instead of looking for something completely like the Hunger Games, I found well, every good writing!

Divergent takes place in a divided, post-apocalyptic Chicago.  The people are divided up into five factions: Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor.  As their namesake suggests, each faction is dedicated to the virtues they are named after: intelligence, self-sacrifice, bravery, kindness, and truth-telling.  As a fan, I personally prefer Erudite, and I seem to have always have seen myself as a mad scientist in that light at times.

Other times, I feel like Dauntless, the wildly courageous soldiers who have a mission to protect the walls of the city.

And sometimes that Dauntless side causes others to refer to me as being a member of Candor, someone who speaks truth to power occassionally. I have accepted the fact that I may not be just one, that I may be Divergent. I think being Divergent, especially when it comes to theology, gets me in trouble with others a lot of the time. Using myself as an example, I know that I enjoy doing Liberation, Patristic, and Open, and Peace theologies. For me, they are all interconnected, while for others, they are irreconcileable.  Maybe because some see Christianity as something like the world in Divergent, where on your 18th birthday, or perhaps after you have graduated college or seminary, you get to pick which faction you want to belong to the rest of your life. Some may choose Mainline Protestantism, others Conservative evangelicalism, and still others, Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Once you choose your faction,(ideally) you learn the history, practices and habits of that faction.  Unlike the world of Divergent, you can leave and choose a new faction if you want. Online in the world of blogging, Christian writers have set themselves up in factions to reflect this reality.  There are factions that are more like Amity.  And you see them on Facebook or blogging, and they just want everyone to get along, to be nice, and break bread together.  If you disagree with them over something they wrote, they’ll passively-aggressively write back, “I’m praying for you, sister,” or end their comments with “Blessings” because genuine disagreement is a threat to their hegemonic I mean really friendly Christian spaces!

There are those Erudite theologians online, whose writing is INCOMPREHENSIBLE!  And you’re like, what in the world are they talking about half of the time? Why is this even important? It’s not like the average layperson will care? AMIRITE????

 

Honestly, I am still working through the Divergent Trilogy, and the implications it has theologically.  I am excited to finish and share more of my thoughts on the novels.

h00die_R (Rod)

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Fundamentalism and Post-Evangelical Culture

saved faye

After the World Vision drama that spread all over the interwebs, there have been a few posts on postevangelicals farewelling evangelicalism (well, sorta?). Over at Christ And Post Culture, Hannah Anderson wrote an excellent post putting post-evangelicalism in historical context, Farewell Evangelicalism?: Not So Fast. At Canon And Culture, Rob Schwarzwalder asked, Why Younger Evangelicals Are Leaving the Church: Some Arguments Against The Conventional Wisdom

Thirdly, Dianna E Anderson posted last week, Life In The Borderlands: A Taxonomical Analysis of Post-Evangelicalism

As a guy who really digs church history, and who has studied the history of evangelicalism, let me add these thoughts. Post-evangelicals are not leaving evangelicalism, vis-a-vis actual evangelical churches and its institutions for its faults, like its anti-intellectualism, its social conservativism, and stuffy institutions. These three features aforementioned are actually found in mainline Protestant churches as well. And well, basically, U.S. American Christianity. This reputation of Christianity being a tool of right-wing politics in media is what Post-Evangelicals are protesting against. They don’t want to be seen as “not liking” the Bible like those evil Mainliners, but they want to definitely be seen as not being one of those Republican Conservative FundieVangelicals.

By now, we all know the type, the Hilary Faye’s (Saved!) hypocritical White Blonde Aryan spokeswomen for Hollywood’s view of Christianity. Sure, there’s some truth to these tropes, but I think underlying both the protest of PostEvangelicals that they are indeed different, and the ignorance of media stereotypes is the lack of knowledge of evangelical religious history. Post-Evangelicalism/The Emergent church represents the rejection of an Evangelicalism that came out of fundamentalism. U.S. American fundamentalism was, according to George Marsden in Fundamentalism And American Culture, a movement that came from the North before the time of the Civil War. The fundamentalist movement was (and continues to be) interdenominational and includes Calvinist, revivalist, dispensationalist, holiness, pietist and Reformed religionists. The Civil War was seen as a millennial event where God’s kingdom, in the eyes of some, prevailed (12-13). This millennialism, perpetuated by middle class Victorian-lite Northerners served as one of the forerunners of fundamentalism (21-22).

At that time, America was viewed as a New Israel because Jeffersonianism placed a very optimistic view of humanity. However, pre-millenial dispensationalism first advanced by C.I. Scofield rejected modern notions of progress and instead suggested true Christians withdraw from society. Scofield’s approach indicated a change that happened in evangelicalism that showed a drop in political and social activism on the part of American evangelicals from 1900-1930. The evangelist D L Moody (1837-1899), for example, was deeply set against the social gospel movement (37). The fundamentalists concerns were primarily doctrinal purity (118-123). Right ideas and thinking would lead to right action.  Not only were the first fundamentalists concerned with the purity of Protestant church teachings, they also were committed to racial purity.  D.L. Moody was a believer in the Lost Cause and defending the violent institution of Jim & Jane Crow law by hosting and preaching at race-segregated revival events.

Fundamentalism had a particular view of history. While it said it was adverse to liberal notions of progress, dispensationalist theology still held that history was on Christians’ side, and that the Rapture would be a supernatural, disruptive event where God destroys the world in order to, um save it? In a similar vein, Marxists views revolution as a man-made event (as opposed to fundamentalist supernaturalism) that has a similar disruptive effect. In dispensationalism, these acts include the promotion of perpetual warfare in the Middle East to initiate God leashing hell on Earth. In other words, the way to transcend history is by way of acts of violence.

One of the hallmarks of post-evangelicalism as it has manifested itself online is the form of tone-policing that I have written about on a few occassions.  Inherent to this fundamentalist-lite form of disciplining virtual behavior is the belief in authentic relationships yet without real risk of confrontation.  A commitment to “genuine” relationships has replaced the commitment of doctrinal purity.  Any variety of criticism geared toward post-evangelicals from the right or left is demonized as “vicious” or “aggressive” calling out culture.  Take for example myself; if I write a post critiquing Rob Bell book when it comes to race, I can expect both the comment section and Twitter to be filled with questions like, “So, do you REALLY think Rob Bell (or Wm. Paul Young, or whoever) is a white supremacist?”  Critiques aimed at institutional practices and social norms are taken personally because post-evangelicals, like fundamentalist icons  D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and  Billy Graham view sin as primarily an individual phenomenon.  It is this brand of individualism  that makes  fundamentalism and post-evangelicalism incapable of addressing their own complicities in institutional racism.

“Angry” Social Justice bloggers break the great social taboo of not adhering to postevangelicals’ (misguided) definitions of relationality.  Meanwhile, there exists a double-standard of Post-Evangelical bloggers remaining free to write speculative personal attacks about their least favorite celebrity mega-church pastors.  Small-minded people talk about people.

I think that what is telling is that at the end of almost every post-evangelical post declaring the evacuation of a label they left years ago, is that there’s a sense they believe that history is on their side.  Like the dispensationalists of old, it’s only a matter of time before progress (according to them) is made.  Allusions to “resurrection” without any acknowledgement of the cross reveals nothing but bourgeoisie Emergent Christian theologies of glory.  Frederick Douglass once said, without struggle, there is no progress.  But Post-Evangelical leaders see themselves as Transcendent, Universal, & context-less, somehow beyond history, and so the focus is more on the story of progress itself, rather than concrete narratives of struggle.

When seen in this historical light, we see that indeed, post-evangelicals resemble their fundamentalist forebears more than they like to imagine. While the Calvinist variety of fundamentalism is owned by the TGKKK with their “farewells” to all heretics, post-evangelicals deploy shame versus dissidents with faux-gressive, hegemonic calls to Christian unity. Saying “farewell” and making passive-aggressive crocodile tears over “unity” are two sides of the same coin.  Sometimes, old Fundamentalist habits die hard.  

 

h00die_R (Rod)

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African children are not your pawns: World Vision and Evangelical Imperialism

Can World Vision save Starvin Marvin?

(image provided by South Park Studios)

Post-Evangelicalism, White Saviorism, and PA$$ING FOR WHITE [EVANGELICAL]

I’ve noticed somewhat of a trend that’s pretty problematic that I wanted to draw out. You can call this my official response to the World Vision / White Evangelicalism drama that went on last week.  At the center of the storm, there lied a Christian charity organization that decided to, then reversed on the decision, to hire Christians from denominations that affirmed same sex marriages.  The narrative goes: on one side, there’s the conservative evangelical wing and their Calvinist Popes who farewelled WV and on the other side, there’s the evangelicals who were lead to believe that evangelicalism was a Big Tent camp filled with Progressives, Emergents, and Missional folks. Both sides (in their blog posts), were more than eager to press this story as one where we had to “save the children.”  At no one point were the problematic practices of World Vision, its advancement of White Saviorism  through its advertisements or its questionable method of “child-sponsorships” (but not really child-sponsorships) ever put under scrutiny.  In fact, White conservative evangelical bloggers and post-evangelical bloggers did not hesitate to add numerous images of brown-skinned children (probably with disabilities as well) in their blog posts.  BECAUSE YOU KNOW, THIS DEBATE WAS ALL ABOUT THEM. UM HUMMM!

If I may wax Propaganda in “Precious Puritans,” it reeks of privilege, wouldn’t you agree? In reality, the money for the sponsorships do not go to the child directly, but to the community where they live (indirectly). The promise of these sponsorships not only promise meeting the material needs of children overseas, but also to ensure that these kids get to learn American Standard English.  Isn’t that just wonderful? We can do charity so that we can shape you in our own image! Nope. Not imperialist at all.

African and other nations populated by darker skinned people are represented time and again as the passive recipients of white benevolence.  This “help” however, is just a re-hashing of old Western-style colonialism brought to those countries by missionaries. Instead of Soviet and capitalist governments directly influencing the futures of these places, what is happening instead is that corporations such as SHELL, which will work as “monitors” for these “developing” communities, to aid in things like guiding “the communities is setting priorities” [robbing agency and human dignity from people of Color a national past-time!].  The problem with representing wholesale countries as “Needy Others” by discussing poverty outside of history (that is, remaining silent on the various political histories, economics, and regional trends) objectifies these children as Things. This is one of the primary reasons why White Evangelicals as well White Emergent / Postevangelical/ Nuanced Missional Christians were able to make flesh and blood children pawns for their White National culture wars.

After all the declarations of “I’m done with Evangelicalism” and aspiring hopes for renewal  and quotes about following Jesus and not the Church of the Pharisees [oh, that bit is problematic too, taking the Pharisees out of history, and yeah, that anti-Semitism thing]. Honestly, I always get a little squeamish when even the most progressive and high-minded Christians compare their opponents to the Pharisees because of the history of CHRISTIAN anti-Semitism we believers are guilty of. And you know what Fanon said, behind anti-Semitism, there’s anti-Black racism right around the corner.

It’s interesting how cabals of White Evangelical and Post-evangelical bloggers can arrogantly think that they have the future of Christianity in their hands.  And let’s not kid ourselves with Emergent/Emergence Christianity,etc.; the same people who appropriate the language of “liberation” from Christians of color are the same exact folks who talk about “civility” and “objectivity” as means of silencing most notably Women of Color. Evangelicalism has a bad history when it comes to race relations. Heck, all of Christianity does.  Social Justice critiques from within contemporary Evangelicalism did not start with Brian McLaren and Rob Bell; it started with the work of people like John Perkins and Tom Skinner. Unfortunately in White Evangelical institutions, John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association were denounced as “liberals” because they dare suggest that White ministers could not properly do urban ministry unless they were discipled by persons who came from urban populations. THE NERVE! THE AUDACITY!

So here we are, rather than exploring and listening the ACTUAL over-looked party of Evangelicalism (Evangelicals who are racial minorities), we have a group of now (I guess?) former evangelicals who use their privilege to rejecting the label of Evangelical.  While there are others who can articulate this idea better than I (I got this idea from a book club meeting this week), Evangelicalism comes not only as a theology but also a history and a culture.  The history of evangelicalism in the North American context is a tale of both the social justice minded-abolitionists and the slave-holding Confederates.  Not wanting to be implicated in the social sins of the latter, many Emergent / Post-Evangelical Christians tend to focus on the former, while well, for the most part, many Conservative Evangelicals continue to glorify the problematic history uncritically.  Evangelical culture in general comes with an accomodationist approach to laizze-faire economics where every brand and marketing trend just needs a little Jesus sprinkled on it.  This is also leads to evangelical culture making charity the norm rather than solidarity

 It seems a little suspicious to me that on one hand, a number Post-Evangelicals want to keep the evangelical label, to retain the brand, the capitalist success, and access to higher social positions that it comes with, but on the other, now want to simply leave it when its convenient. In the United States of America context, in which a watered-down Protestantism turned deism has basically been the civil religion, White Evangelicalism means that a Protestantism that’s above other Protestantisms (this includes mainline churches, historically black churches, Chinese, Korean and other Protestant bodies worldwide).  These other communities are only found acceptable if they believe like, worship like, and vote like White Evangelicals.  Rather than take responsibility for their own history, the blogging bishophoric is now leading the way into a new kind of evangelical hegemony.  Indeed it would seem that the label of post-evangelical / emergent was nothing more than a way for Generation X’ers and Millenials to pa$$ as white [evangelicals], profiting while persuading others to join them on their journey into mainline Protestantism.

So what do you think? Are African, Indian, South American children being used as pawns in the White Culture Wars?

 

h00die_R (Rod)

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