on ableism and progressive politics #txgov #txlege

abbot ableism

As long as I have lived in the state of Texas, the one thing that stood out had to be the toxic nature of personal attacks when it comes to state politics. Attack ads, the atmosphere of negativity, and hateful rhetoric when these are lifted up as the norm, only benefit the powers-that-be; in this case, the Republican party. It was really disheartening for me to see candidacies dismissed in public because of candidate’s race (governor’s race of 2002 comes to mind, with the “affirmative action campaign”). Racial diversity was delineated as something that was divisive, even if the candidate at the time was reflective of what Texas will look like in the very near future.

General questions of enfranchisement aside, after boring governor races the past decade or so, this year’s race (which is at the moment getting close, with Wendy Davis within single digits) is becoming far more vicious than I can remember during my time here. It all started last year with the sexist monicker the GOP gave Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie.” The label of “Barbie” of course is a commentary on Davis’ looks. Texas politics is a good ole boys club, where men would prefer to play with G.I. Joes rather than, ew, girly Barbie dolls. If you want to have a debate on abortion, fine, but how about criticize people for their ideas rather than devalue them for their gender.

Unfortunately, far too often, the cycle of personal attacks is also perpetuated by by Texas liberals and progressives too. The latest ad by the Wendy Davis campaign simply atrocious. I won’t share the video here, because, google is your friend, but the ad starts out, “A tree fell on Greg Abbott.” At that point, you know this campaign video will not be about ideas; it was going to be an ableist personal attack. With all do respect, ableism is NEVER OKAY, first of all. Secondly, ableism is never the answer to sexism. This is why intersectionality is important. Just as the “Abortion Barbie” is derogatory and plays into the mythology that sustains the exclusion of women from Texas politics, so too do the harmful image & oppressive story told by the Davis maintain the system that denies basic access to churches and private businesses to persons with disabilities. In the end, when it comes to Texas’ toxic state politics, all Texans lose.

For more:

Davis Ad with Empty Wheelchair Sparks Firestorm- Texas Tribune

If Wendy Davis Thinks She Can Win an Election by Pointing Out Her Opponent’s Disability, She’s Wrong- Mother Jones

‘I’m a successful biped’! Tweeters predict Wendy Davis’ next campaign ad- Twitchy

h00die_R (Rod)

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A Crisis of Masculinity: a guest post by @ethawyn

Kevin is a theology student at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. He has a BA in Philosophy, dabbles in art, and has a passion for all things sci-fi. He’s also a High Church Anglican with a Pentecostal past that he’s sometimes proud of. When not writing guest posts for Political Jesus, he blogs over at Many Horizons

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

We have a crisis of masculinity, but it’s probably not the one you think. If you’re a complementarian, or hang out around complementarian circles, then you’ve probably heard the notion that the church has a masculinity crisis: our version of Christianity isn’t ‘manly’ enough. Our wider world, however, is awash with hopped up masculinity, reveling in myths of men who get it done with fists and fortitude. From Hollywood films where a good-hearted bad-ass (often Liam Neeson) plays a husband/father/other who gets revenge and saves the day, to the rhetoric of blood and honor on the sports field, we revel in the notion of man as warrior. This is the true crisis of masculinity.

Let me tell you two stories, both true.

The first you’ve probably at least caught wind of. On Febuary 15, 2014, NFL running back Ray Rice beat his fiancée unconscious. Initial video showed her being dragged out of an elevator. Before the full video was released, a lot of voices came out calling for caution in judgment. After all, they said, we don’t have the whole story; she might have done something to provoke it.(1) Even the NFL itself acted, until the full video was released to the public, as if there might be some extenuating circumstances

The other story comes from a year ago. On the 26th of April, 2013, a man by the name of Earl Silverman committed suicide. Silverman had been an advocate for men’s rights, and ran the only shelter in Canada for male victims of domestic abuse. He had run it out of his own pocket, unable to get funding from either government or private donations.(2) This lack of shelters for male victims of violence is despite the fact that men and women are almost equally likely to face domestic abuse and violence.(3) Male victims also underreport violence (7% report it versus 23% of women who do).

These two events have something in common. On the one hand, we have a man committing a horrible act of violence, with the reaction in some quarters being to justify his abuse. On the other hand, you have male victims of domestic abuse, who society fails to provide support for, and who often themselves fail to seek help. At the root of both of these problems is the same twisted notion of masculinity.

If men are warriors, rugged creatures of fortitude who fight to make the world right, then it is reasonable for us to expect them to fight. The only moral question is how they deploy that violence (so that the question becomes “Was he justified in beating his fiancée unconscious?”). Conversely, funding is unavailable to help male victims because men who suffer abuse are mocked or discounted because of the expectation that they should be warriors who can overcome this problem themselves. Even the victims have bought into this picture and so fail in massive numbers to seek help.

This is truly a crisis of masculinity, and the crisis is that our culture has perverse and wicked vision of what men should be. It is certainly not the vision of the victorious man we see on the cross. Our God and savior hung there naked and ashamed for the salvation of us all. In contrast, think of Peter, who like the Hollywood bad-ass took up a sword to protect his own, and was rebuked by Jesus. The contrast is telling.

There is great danger in taking on our culture’s perverse vision of masculinity and Christianizing it. Too often, we are deeply concerned to appeal to the masculinity of men who are leaving the church, rather than being willing to challenge the sin masquerading as manhood. In a culture that glorifies male violence, we ought to be very cautious about using images like warrior knights to describe what we think men ought to be.

Men should be allowed to be victims who need rescue (we all, after all, needing rescue from sin by our God), and perhaps we should be okay with women sometimes be the rescuers.

(1) Matt Saccaro, “‘It Wasn’t Ray Rice’s Fault’: The Sick, Twisted Logic of Men’s Rights Activists on Domestic Violence,” last modified September 9, 2014, accessed September 25, 2014,

(2) The Huffington Post Canada, “Earl Silverman Dead: Owner Of Shelter For Male Domestic Abuse Victims In Apparent Suicide,” The Huffington Post, last modified April 29, 2013, accessed September 25, 2014 .

(3) Statistics Canada, “Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile,” last modified January 9, 2013, accessed September 25, 2014.

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The Luxury of Liberation: A Look at the Hagar Narrative

Delores William’s Sister in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk is a thought provoking text that questions some of the dominant paradigms in both politics and theology. Her work transcends the fields of theology, ethics, politics, history, biblical studies and various other discourses. In particular she begins by questioning the maleness of African American political theology. Williams was a student of James Hal Cone while at Union Theological Seminary. Cone has gained great renowned for his articulation of the black experience in a variety of different fields including; theology, history, politics, ethics, and anthropology . Williams although interested in the black experience believes that not all black experiences are the same. Specifically she is interested in articulating the interest of the black women from a historical, theological, and political perspective. She traces the historical experiences of black women beyond traditional male patriarchal discourse (black and white) using the Hagar narrative in favor of the Exodus narrative. The Exodus story tells how God delivered the Jewish people from the hands of the pharaoh through his servant Moses. Thus the explicit context of this story shows how God used God’s male servant to deliver God’s people from more male oppressor. The Hebrew people are certainly identifiable as people of color, which brings this narrative into the context of liberation theology. Context places this narrative as the plight of the modern day African American. The implicit meaning is that is that this story actually describes the modern day African American.

The voice and therefore, the struggle of modern day African American women is left out of this conversation. Williams examines the plight of African American women in the modern world to the story of Hagar. Hagar by today’s standards is a second class citizen because she is the maidservant of Abraham. She has no control over her own life and even though God liberates Abraham from his oppressor and gives him promises of prosperity, Hagar has no such promise. Thus for Hagar in this story she is not concerned with liberation because that seems like a luxury for her. Hagar’s concern is mere survival. Abraham forces her to leave and face the world all on her own, which in her day was an extremely difficult task because of the vulnerability of women (especially Women of Color). Hagar has only God to depend on for survival and in one of the most emotional moments in the Hebrew Bible she experiences her own theophany. God appears before her in the midst of her vulnerability to ensure her of her survival. God hears the cries of Ishmael and tells Hagar God’s plan for her prosperity through her son. The immediate concern in this story is survival. For Hagar liberation is so far removed it was not even in the peripheral. T

This is pivotal to taking a look at the various African American experiences that goes beyond liberation. Specifically Williams work have great relevance to many black women/ women of color in both the US and the 2/3rds world today. Many of these women do not have any of the assurance that their male counterparts have and suffer from the same vulnerabilities that Hagar suffered from and thus traditional notions of liberation are not even applicable. Williams speaks to the political domination that women of color have felt historically. Her analysis is multidimensional including aspects of race, class, gender, and even sexuality. William’s use of the Hagar narratives expounds upon an issue that is critical to modern day biblical interpretation: that is necessary to continually develop relevant narratives that go beyond liberation to address the myriad of issues that we are faced with today.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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Clement of Alexandria on women, once more

“From these considerations, the unity of faith is clear, and it is shown who is the perfect man [Christ]; so that though some are reluctant, and offer as much resistance as they can, though menaced with punishments at the hand of husband or master [Clement here is referring back to his discussion of wicked husbands.masters], both the domestic and the wife will philosophize.”

What is the nature of this philosophizing one may ask? Clement goes to discuss the Sermon on the Mount, the Wisdom Literature, and that anyone can philosophize regardless of age (taking his point from Greek philosopher Epicurus). I mean given Clement’s inclusion of prophets such as Huldah, I think that complementarians have watered down his legacy. I believe I said this a little over four years ago too: Clement of Alexandria on Women, a few more thoughts.

h00die_R (Rod)

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Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, Lyotard and the power of discourse

This week for those follow the sports world there has been much ado about the video that has recently surfaced about Ray Rice concerning his assault cause on his then fiancé ( current spouse) Janay Palmer. While the details of the video are indeed graphic one does not need to see it to imagine what happened to Janay Palmer in the video. However, judging from its constant replay from various media outlets it would seem that the video completely changed the situation. Whether it is players who have now openly condemned Ray Rice and his actions or NFL who has suspended Ray Rice indefinitely for his actions it would appear that video evidence has changed everything. Examining the way video evidence has effect public perception of both Ray Rice and his actions reminds me of the Jean-Francois Lyotard’s writing on figurative discourse.

Lytorad in his early writing states “What is important in a text is not what it means but what it does and incites to do.” (Lyotard 1984b: pp. 9-10). For Lytorard what a text does is to transmit a message that has a certain effect on the recipients. Furthermore, a text incites transforms energy into other texts such as paintings, photographs, film sequences, political action, decisions, erotic inspiration, and even acts of insubordination. In this way text can broadly be conceived as particular story that is being told through a narrative in discourse. Thus according to Lyotard the video evidence of Ray Rice’s assault also serves as a form of text. When examining this text though we can see what it has done and what it has incited us to do. For starters this text has portrayed a different picture about domestic violence. As many people from various media outlets have already noted domestic violence is not pretty, it presents the very worst in humanity. Video imagery of this has caused many people to no longer leave the portrait of domestic violence to the imagination. This in turn has evoked a very visceral reaction from many people. Previously, those who were calling for Roger Goodell to lose his job over his handling of this incident were minimal at best. Currently, these voices have grown so loud that Goodell has hired and independent firm to investigate the way the NFL has handled this issue. Furthermore, Goodell in recent weeks has openly admitted his egregious mistake with his original two game suspension of Rice and has also adapted new policies and procedures to address domestic violence in the NFL. Not only has the video incited the NFL and the Ravens into action it has also affected other teams as well. Where previously the Carolina Panthers had not given a second thought to playing Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Hardy (convicted of beating and threatening to kill his girlfriend), deactivated him for their week two matchup. I think Lyotard has rightly stated the important of the form of a text within a given context. This evident through looking at narrative stories through the various forms of texts and the reactions that they have elicited.

He elaborates on his notion of text in his work Discours, figure. Lyotard in this work notes that the nature of discourse has primarily been shaped by written text and the language used within a given text. However, he believes that there is another layer to every given form of text. There is a constitutive difference which is not to be read but to be seen (Lyotard 1971; p.9). It is this aspect of discourse that has continually been forgotten. In other words, for any form of discourse Lyotard wonders why it is only the language and the written of a text that perceived by most people. This brings us back to the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Prior to the release of the video written testimony of incident had already been revealed. We had heard from Ray Rice and various other outlets what had happened. However, despite this there was seemingly no consensus on how to view the situation. More importantly those who possessed the power to rectify the situation such as the Baltimore Ravens organization and Roger Goodell did not believe they had enough evidence to enforce a harsher punishment. They privileged the written discourse over the other figures and forms that tell this specific narrative of domestic violence. One could convincingly argue that the first video released along with Rice’s original apology (which did not include his wife) are sufficient forms of text to necessitate a harsher punishment of Rice’s actions than the two game suspension he received in July. The privileging of the discourse as written text is precisely what Lyotard argues against in his discussion of binary opposition in his work Discours, figure. Binary oppositions are the conflicts between figure and discourse.

In this sense discourse is used to describe written text and language while figure implies the various other forms that a text can have. All too often saying is privileged over seeing, reading over perceiving and universality over singularity. He stresses figure, form, and image in semiotic theories over language. It leaves one to question why there is such an emphasis on the written/ linguistic nature of discourse instead of the various forms that discourse can occur in. For the Ray Rice case it begs the question why must video evidence be necessary to truly begin to address the issue of domestic violence in the National Football League. Should not the other forms texts that tell this story also have substantial weight? In any case reflecting on the writing of Jean Francois Lyotard can provide a way to reflect on a myriad of socio-political issues including domestic violence and how we often fall into the trap of binary oppositions. Perhaps the texts we should start with is the stories of survivors and victims of domestic violence themselves, and allow their stories to transform our views and practices.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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Why The Church Can’t Wait: on women’s ordination #faithfeminisms

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve probably always affirmed the gifts of women for ministry. In college, in a discussion with a Hebrew Bible scholar and feminist, I was told I was a “bad inerrantist” for accepting even her authority as a professor. Closer to my senior year, my Calvinist friends from Reformed University Fellowship and I would also argue over women’s ordination. Back then, I was ill equipped to defend my position even though I managed to point out women who were in leadership in the early church. My points were dismissed, and I was “scandalized” as an Egalitarian Christian who voted DEMOCRAT. OH NO’s!!!!

Fortunately, I also had a closer circle of friends at the Baptist Student ministries and the local baptist church I attended. To put it politely, Al Mohler named this church a group of heretics for ordaining women a long time ago. So while I was shamed by one group, I was affirmed (in my Egalitarian Dudebroism) in another community.

I was happy with the results of last Monday’s vote by the Church of England to ordain women bishops. Ecclessial theology disputes aside, it was the right thing to do. I agree with Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Kampala/Primate of Uganda , “The most important matter in selecting Bishops is their personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, an apostolic calling, and a demonstrated commitment to living and leading under the authority of God’s Word written.”

The problem with all of what I just mentioned is: WHY DOES IT EVEN MATTER? As my friend Sarah Moon says, men are heavily invested in patriarchy, so us commenting on the timing, whether it was too late or too soon is irrelevant. The only time that matters is NOW. You are either for women’s ordination or not.

Now, there are African-American male writers who argue that Black men didn’t practice patriarchy because they did not have any economic or political power. These same writers however are far from being invested in mutual relationships with women. Whether it is Gaslighting women’s experiences of sexual assault or claiming anything women say to be a “power move” this doth not look like advocacy for equality.

The view Black men have not benefitted from patriarchy is absolutely false. Black male leadership rarely goes questioned in politics ( Charlie Rangel, ahem!) and in the church ( Bishop Edde Long, for ex.). Black men like myself are as seen as the defacto leaders and spokespersons for our race, as if Black women haven’t experienced racism. In fact, a concrete example of this is during the Civil Rights Movement a number of women were in leadership roles and were activists, only to be overshadowed by the men. For more on the history, see the book, Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson. A contemporary example today is the Neo-Calvinist Movement and its selection of Holy Hip Hop artists and black male authors who hold complementarian and anachronistic views of the history of black families.

Abolitionist and suffragist activist Frederick Douglass argued that absolute power concedes nothing. In his book, Why We Can’t Wait, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (80). Now, there are many ways men hold on to privilege and positions of power over others, which really should be service because of the nature of Christ. One is the open and honest complementarian denial of women’s ordination. I know where Al Mohler and John Piper stand on this issue. They aren’t backing down anytime soon, and neither am I.

Truth be told, I would rather work with complementarians mentioned above than men who are lukewarm about their position. In a post over at Patheos “Progressive” Christian entitled 3 Reasons why The Church Of England Decision Is Right On Time, Zach Hoag concluded,

” If our ecclesiology is too low, we might scoff at a lack of progress. We might compare this with liberation happening in other corners of the Church and deem it lame. But if our hearts are oriented toward the totality of God’s liberating work, then we will see in this not just the political dimensions but the beautiful and lasting effects for the Church universal.”

The common criticism that “radical” egalitarians and feminists have “too low” of an ecclessiology is one usually argued by NeoAnaBaptist (mostly white, male) writers trying to follow in the footsteps of Stanley Hauerwas. One basic premise is that sociological cues show us that progress is inevitable, and so churches have to be slow and patient in implementing social changes. The other premise is the ever beckoning call to unity. White NeoAnabaptists never give us details about what this unity requires, and whose terms this unity is going to be on, BUT THEY SURE DO LOVE TO TALK ABOUT IT!

Enter Hoag:
“That’s another way of saying that faithfulness entails unity. Yes, there are some issues that justify division, but those issues, again, must be painstakingly discerned.”

Whose understanding of faithfulness do we go with? What if being faithful means thought-provoking critiques and peaceable but “not-so-civil” engagement with the status quo in line with the prophets during Israel’s monarchy and exile? There are some folks who like to call themselves “prophets” but they don’t like talking about the difference between false and true prophets. While Jeremiah was preaching doom and gloom, false prophets were pointing to the temple (their ecclessiology) as the safe, foundational point of reference.

Bottom line: the White NeoAnabaptist arguments of claiming to have a “high ecclessiology” are elitist, and show a rather low view of the laity to be persuaded on women’s ordination. It’s a Top-Down #EmpireBusiness approach. I don’t think one can claim to actually talk about liberation if they prefer their abstract, hierarchal ecclessiologies over the very real, concrete livelihoods of women. The choice of Liberation always involves the choosing of the concrete over and against the abstract, praxis over the theoretical.

The right time is always NOW. The Kingdom is here NOW in the present as well as future. THE HOLY SPIRIT empowers women and men in the here and NOW.

*this is my first post for the #faithfeminisms synchroblog

h00die_R (Rod)

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The #faithfeminisms project and synchroblog

This week, a group of my friends including Suzannah Paul and Austin Brown have launched a writing project on feminism and faith. This will include a synchroblog and 30 second podcasts. As a U.S. Black CisHet male theologian in dialogue with womanist and feminist theologies, the diverse setting and promising goals of the project are exciting. Some of the questions the #faithfeminisms project will be asking:

“How does feminist thought or theory shape your faith expression? How has your theology stirred you to work for liberation? What tensions do you experience, and how do you navigate them? How are you complicit in oppression within and outside the church? How have you failed as a feminist, and what are you learning? What challenges does the future hold for our daughters and sons who will carry on this work? Does fighting for justice make way for peace? What does healthy conflict entail? How are privilege and power wielded for good and ill? How can we honor a multiplicity of voices without perpetuating further marginalization? How can ministries seek liberation and shalom? What does a robust, intersectional, liberative feminist theology look like in practice? What is the relationship of contemplation to activism? Who teaches and inspires you? What brings you hope? How do we grow as a movement for justice and as communities and people of faith?”

I plan on working on at least 2 posts focusing on a few questions: “What does a robust, intersectional liberative feminist theology look like?” And, “What does healthy conflict entail?” And “How am I complicit in oppression inside and outside the church?” If you’re interested in doing a guest post for this synchroblog, comment below.

The synchroblog ends Friday, July 25th, here is a link to the #faithfeminisms website for more details about the synchroblog.

h00die_R (Rod)

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Can men do theology with only half the church?

Can men do theology with only half of the church? This is question has been haunting me recently. In a recent blogpost by Roger E. Olson entitled, ” Should a theologians’ life affect how we regard his/her theology? ” Olson considers the question of whether or not a theologian’s battle with drunkeness, or extramarital affairs should shape the way we view their legacies or the truths they told.

First of all, let’s take for granted that Olson is correct. Human beings are made in the Imago Dei. We are more than our environment, we are more than our age, race, gender, class. As creations made by a good Triune Creator, we are all called to be agents of God’s grace. We aren’t defined by our works, good or bad. No label can capture the immeasureable worth of our personhood.

Now Brother Olson asks the question of whether or not he as a fan of Yoder (but not Yoderian) can just read Yoder and just think about his theories and approach to theology. Olson brings up the example for instance of John Knox, the Calvinist Reformer marrying a 15 year old girl. Certainly facts like these should be overlooked when we’re talking about Knox’s powerful arguments for predestination, surely?

As a former 4-point Calvinist who studied John Knox in seminary, Knox’s marriage arrangement is actually a possible, if not inevitable conclusion to his theology of gender, and his politics. You see, Knox is famous for opposing Mary Queen of Scots and actually surviving. One of the works he’s known for is his eisegesis on Isaiah and Judges, in “The Monstrous Regiment Of Women,” laying down the current evangelical foundation to keep women out of politics. Knox’s case is proof that his gender politics was a survival theology; since the Queen was persecuting Protestants, the best way to strike back was against her humanity.

Likewise, John Howard Yoder’s theology isn’t severed from his practice either. While he was narrowly focused on narrative of Scripture about women’s roles in Christian households, he overlooked historical practices and exegesis when it came to passages such as Ephesians 5. Had he taken women’s voices into account, he would have strengthened his case for “revolutionary sub-ordination.”

Christian theology starts with the Incarnation. Scripture and the Creeds attest to Jesus Christ as being 100% God and 100% human. They do NOT say that Jesus is fully divine and HALF human. To know what it means to be fully human, we must understand as the writers of Genesis tell us, that both women and men are made in the Image of God. Christ’s divine-personhood liberates men and women so that we can live for each other. Us male Christian theologians cannot do the task of theology without the voices, stories, and practices of women. Otherwise, we would be denying the full humanity of Christ.

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men at work: how sexism operates #CancelColbert

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I have written on the Tone Argument before this year, and I’ll leave you with this here link. What I want to very very briefly talk about is the problem of Tone Arguments and Patriarchy.

For anyone who not living under at rock, writer and activist Stewy Suey Park started a hashtag: #CancelColbert to confront the ironic racism of Stephen Colbert’s supposed call out of Washington [enter racial slur for Native Americans here] owner Daniel Snyder.  The point was not to take away Colbert’s means of employment (hey, it’s always about the allies, #amirite!!!), it was about how ironic racism is not the answer to addressing the racism of white supremacist mythologies perpetuated by making First Nations peoples our mascots.  White liberals and conservatives alike continue to view the problem of racism and institutional white supremacy as that of being one of private, individual sins.  It is this continued failure of listening to the stories and the actual arguments that Persons of Color make that perpetuates the White Supremacist talking point that the anti-racists are the real racists.

The way the conversation about #CancelColbert has been framed, has been, per usual, one that favors the White Supremacist and Male Supremacist Gazes. Take for example the Washington Post’s story on Suey Park’s interview on HuffPo Live. Her interviewer is portrayed as the civil, objective, reasonable host: “Josh Zepps is a host on HuffPost Live. He presides over many interesting and civil conversations with guests on a wide variety of topics. Generally they end in a civil manner.”

Meanwhile, Suey Park is described as “the Korean-American Twitter hashtag activist” who “roared again” in protest of ironic racism. The author of the report, Erik Wemple doesn’t even bother to name the race or gender of Josh Zepps. Because he doesn’t have to. Zepps is the default for what it means to be a human being, and therefore, HE represents all that is universal and rational and good in journalism. Suey is not an anti-racist activist or social justice activist, but “Anti-Colbert” activist, because ironic racism is all about the individual according to the worldview of white liberalism. And once more, just as we discussed with Twitter’s White Supremacist Toxic Wars, Women of Color are once more dehumanized and made more animalistic [READ: dangerous, angry, more subjective, irrational]; Suey doesn’t argue, contend, debate; she “ROARS” which is less a compliment given the way Wemple frames the discussion.

The interview was not that lengthy for the simple fact of Zepp’s vehement sexism, as seen in his denial of Stewy’s Suey’s agency and capacity to reason, you know, and in general, her experience; Zepps’ responded in defense of white liberal men everywhere: “No one’s minimalizing your experiences, no one’s minimalizing your right to have an opinion.” Ummmm Really Zepps? Did you follow the hashtag #CancelSueyPark [frell no, I am not bothering to link that garbage], the Male Supremacist and White Supremacist response to #CancelColbert? Have you ever bothered to read the timelines of Women of Color who are academics/activists/both and see the trolls they have to deal with? So, I think it’s rather a bizarre claim to make, unless of course, Zepps, being the rational objective dude that he is, meant the EXACT OPPOSITE of what he was claiming. Which of course, seconds later in the interview:

“It’s just a stupid opinion.”

And there you have it. The thoughts and labors of Women of Color don’t matter for moderate objective journalists like Zepps. What matters is that his progressive Male Supremacist narrative be kept in tact to silence women speaking out on gender and racial oppression. And Park’s response was appropriate: “You just called my opinion stupid, you just called my opinion stupid. That’s incredibly unproductive. And I don’t think I’m going to enact the labor of explaining to you why it’s incredibly offensive and patronizing.” Frantz Fanon observed in Wretched Of The Earth that the media is always ALWAYS ALWAYS going to oppress the colonized in the name of objectivity, FAIR AND BALANCED reporting. In other words, Objectivity is a weapon by the Oppressor to deny the agency of the Oppressed, in this case, Women of Color. Civility then is usually a White Supremacist dog-whistle that is utilized to shut down the voices of anti-oppression.

Another example of the way we men passive-aggressively embody our Male Supremacist narratives is in the area of religion. Growing up Baptist, I experienced from a very early age how powerful male pastors were and the abuses of power thereof used in the pulpit. Recently, my friend Katie Grimes wrote a post criticizing a local parish priest for using his bully pulpit to make a hostile atmosphere for a family with young children. According to Grimes,

“In view of the entire congregation, he chastised the parents, telling them that it was inappropriate for their children to be eating, drinking, and playing with toys during mass. Even though they were well-behaved (a parishioner sitting within earshot of this exchange had not even noticed the children’s activity until the pastor descended to condemn them), he said the children were “distracting” him.”

Now, the theological assumptions behind this display of Male Power is highly problematic. Children distracting the HOMILIST! Is this really what the ministry of Jesus was about? It was about our sermons? Correct me if I am wrong, but really, aren’t only Protestant worship services supposed to be centered on the Preached Word [andro-centric Logos theology that it is]? Secondly, rather than addressing children as free human subjects, as Jesus and the apostle Paul did, the priest made them objects, mere things that distract HIS LITTLE HOMILY. Christianity is not about MEN standing up in front an altar, reading from our little notecards or Amazon Kindles, sermonizing and lecturing; Christianity is the religion of the Pentecost, where the Spirit fills women and men to preach the Good News of the Resurrection, and God’s love for everyone.

The performance of THE sermon, apart from any notion of Pentecost, remains a Male Supremacist ritual. The Male Supremacist gaze neglects the humanity of women and children, and we see this in the incident that Katie talked about quite clearly. Men are not supposed to take care of children. Children and women are not meant for the public square, i.e., the teaching offices in Christianity. They are only meant to be taken care of at home. That is their sphere. What makes Katie’s story even all the more shocking is that rather than make amends for the damage to the family the priest had done; today Katie updated us (via facebook), that the priest actually called out Katie WITHOUT NAMING HER. Referring to Katie’s work as something written by a student with a Masters’ Degree in Theological Ethics, the father of the parish went on to use the time that’s supposed to be set aside to focus on Christ to talk about his disagreement with a congregant. Now, I’ve seen pastor’s sermons briefly refer to personal disagreements, and it just doesn’t sit well. By failing to make sermons Christ-centered, and instead objectifying dissidents within your congregations, male pastors wind up making the Church the face of Male Supremacy.

Just as Suey Park was not introduced to the audience first as her name in the Washington Post article ["Korean-American hash-tag activist"], Katie went unnamed (but recognized probably) and therefore dehumanized.  By not naming, and therefore not addressing women as moral agents,   Male Supremacy narratives continue to function as truth regimes, especially in the worlds of journalism and religion.To wax James Cone in Black Theology And Black Power, “HE who does not affirm me, OPPOSES ME.”

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The Power Of Love part 2: Gendering Black Theology & Black Power

CHRISTIAN NATIONS AND SLAVE NARRATIONS

white heart

To keep up with this series, please read the first post: James Cone’s Relational Theology

In my first post of this series, I took on the burden of showing how U.S. Black liberation theology, and therefore possible all liberation theologies, should be rightfully called part of the emerging schools of relational theologies. Using James Cone as my example for this thought experiment, I looked at how much his earliest writing, the underrated text, Black Theology and Black Power, hid beneath its confrontational and angry tone, a loving God who shared God’s power with humanity. James Hal Cone’s particularly Wesleyan/Holiness Neo-Orthodox [Barthian] understanding of the Creator’s movement in Genesis 1 & 2 allows him and subsequent liberation theologians to do critical power analysis by starting with God in se. By [correctly] locating God’s presence among the crucified persons of history, Cone systematized a theology of God’s love with God’s special election of the oppressed as a fixture. I want to make my purpose for this series clear; this is not an attempt to make liberation theology “palatable” as some Public Relations stunt done in hindsight or reveal anything on my part for Liberation Theology to become “MainStream”; what I intend to do is to look at liberation theologians’ understanding of love and how we continue a refusal to severe our understanding of what it means to be loving from what it means to be just. I am doing this as part of a pushback of what I see frequently being done today in the academy, in churches, and online, with pastors and bloggers wishing to silence voices for justice in the name of being relational [nice & civil], love.

The question I wish to address in this particular post is: What went wrong with James Cone’s revolution? Excuse me if I dismiss the right wing U.S. American politics of the 1980’s with ‘Merica’s several invasions and overthrows interventions in Latin America and in places like Haiti where a liberation theologian was popularly elected as head of state.  Staying in the academic context, James Cone’s awe-inspiring efforts to oust white supremacy were ultimately undone by his own doing.  The popular narrative that we hear in seminary is Tillich and Barth neglected Men of Color, James Cone neglected women, and Womanism supersedes both of them.  This divide and conquer approach to theology is quite unhelpful for those of us who seek to work for liberation. This approach to theology is part of a White progressive metanarrative that conveniently works to dismiss criticisms of racism and is more than eager to return to the status quo (Tillich and Barth, with a little bit of white Lean-In feminism mixed in).  As a Trinitarian, I envision theology and tradition as being done in a circle, with Jesus the Word at the center, and writers, theologians, pastors, bloggers, and laypersons dancing and dialoguing, partaking in Christ’s life, mutually exchanging ideas and our encounters with the Risen King.

Let’s not pretend like our run-of-the-mill mainline Protestant theologian is doing theology by studying the intersections of race and gender too.  He’s not using or writing theological works by Womanists or other Women of Color. Studies have shown the POC most cited by white theologians is the late Reverend Dr. MLK Jr.  The White Progressive Relational narrative of supersessionism keeps the status quo virtually in tact with a few qualifications.  The prophetic challenge made by Cone well over three decades ago goes silently into the night, so one would seem to think.  I have been considering Cone as a relational theologian for quite some time, and even presented a paper on it at a regional American Academy of Religion meeting, in dialogue with Womanist and Patristic theologies.

It was not until recently had I took the opportunity to consider James Cone as a theologian of gender as well.  I had bought hook, line and sinker to the [false] narrative of how Womanist God-talk overcame Black liberation theology [and therefore shutdown anti-racism critiques via academic derailing].  That was until I read, and re-read over and again Amaryah Shaye’s awesome post  Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness. Before you read the rest of this post, please read Amaryah’s post, because this essay is in dialogue with some of her insights. My plan is to move from Amaryah’s points about blackness being gendered into a different direction (or maybe it is the same direction?).

THIS IS A [ANGRY BLACK] MAN’S WORLD

First things first, I am not going to dismiss the criticisms that James Cone’s theology in his early work was patriarchal. In fact, I plan on embracing this weakness as part of this discussion on gender and blackness. With Shaye, I recognize the limitations of Cone’s work, and how Womanist Theology has been offered in the academy as a trump card; Amaryah puts it this way,

“Black women as situated at the intersection of multiple oppressions (race, gender, and class) become the starting point for doing this theology. This move seems to suggest that blackness, which Cone defines as “ontological symbol” and “visible reality”, is limited as a starting place to liberative theology because it is not particularly gendered. It is interesting, then, that womanist theology is often cited as a way of both intervening in and disabling discussions of race, gender, power, and theology which seems to have the unintended effects of recentering white women as proper subjects of gender analysis and black men as the proper objects of racial analysis.”

If you recall, I noted in my previous post for this series that Cone does not believe blackness to be a category that is natural, biologically determined set of traits and personalities. Blackness as a symbol is an orientation towards being in solidarity with the oppressed. If Blackness is indeed a symbol born out of racial and gender violence, then blackness as a way of being, doing and thinking has implications for not only racial performance, but also gender performativity as well.

Let us first start with how James Cone identifies himself before he moves forward with his Christological arguments against White Supremacist Religiousity. In Black Theology and Black Power, Cone says,

“This work, then, is written with a definite attitude, the attitude of an angry black man, disgusted at the oppression of black people in America, and with the scholarly demand to be “objective” about it.”

(page 2)

James Cone’s task for his post-Civil Rights movement theology of love is to form a people. It is in this desire for people-formation, that of a Black Church that practices anti-Racist Christianity that James Cone injects gender into the equation of Black liberation. In another place in BT&BP, Cone claims, “If in this process of speaking for myself, I should happen to touch the souls of black brothers (including black men in white skins) so much better.” (ibid) Another point to be taken away is that Cone locates himself in the United States, and makes sure we know where his anger and love is directed to: “I am critical of white America, because this is my country; and what is mine must not be spared my emotional and intellectual scrutiny.” (page 4)

Black Theology & Black Power is one of a few theological responses written by black male systematic theologians to Black nationalist movements and factions such as the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Two other examples include Liberation And Reconciliation: A Black Theology by J. Deotis Roberts and  The Black Messiah by Albert Cleage.  As a post-colonial writer, I know that there are a few schools of thought pertaining to nationalisms and how they function in domination systems when it comes to anti-imperial resistance.  Ranging from seeing nationalism as cautiously good , to something we should hold with ambivalence, as well  as seeing nationalism and the nation-state as concepts that remain necessarily hegemonic and violent.  In his essay, “DissemiNation: time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation,” Homi K. Bhabha writes that the notion of “peopledom” or “the nation” are not historical events or” patriotic body politics,” but remain part of a “complex rhetorical strategy of social reference where the claim to be representative provokes a crisis within the process of signification and discursive address.”

Cone wrote in Black Theology and Black Power to create a national culture that would be be centered in the Black Church.  By claiming to speak only for himself, Cone conversely re-positions himself as a representative of the U.S. Black radical tradition.  It is difficult for us to conceive of a discourse on national culture where love and hate do not occupy the same psychic space, as Homi Bhabha argues because nation-states need an Other in which to assert their aggression.  However, because James Cone adopts Anders Nygrens’ theology of love, whereby God imputes agage-love into creation through the election of Israel and the Incarnation of Christ, there is no need for any hate or bigotry in Cone’s relational theology.  Instead, what we have is a revolutionary struggle for the sake of saving the souls of both White Supremacists as well as victims of racism.  Cone’s community does not exist for some imaginary, law and order nation-state; it lives and breathes for the Kingdom of God, which is always on the move with the liberating presence of Jesus.

If It Wasn’t For The Womanists

You would think that this Jesus Juke you just witnessed above gets James Cone off the hook for his patriarchal presentation of blackness. NOPE! It is precisely because Cone relies on the rhetorical strategies of Black nationalist movements that Black theology’s sexism must now undergo scrutiny.  What I am saying is that it is just not enough [and feel free to vehemently disagree with me in the comments] to say that Cone is in the wrong simply because he excludes black women’s experience from his work.  The valuing of inclusion is something that neoliberal institutions such as universities and corporations love to talk about, but they only seem able to talk about inclusion as the end all be all, and not the violent natures and histories of their exclusions.

I have lost count about how many times I have written about negative stereotypes of Black people but Cone defines Black Power as the capacity for black men to not be “poisoned” by the negative tropes White Supremacist narratives have placed on him (page 8).  White Supremacist systems demonically sexualizes black bodies while erasing their genders.  The purpose that dark bodies serve is to be at the pleasure of their Masters all the while remaining threats to their Masters.  I side with Amaryah Shaye’s take on Cone,

“It is precisely because blackness is gendered as ungendered that the violence of violation and exploitation that constitutes black bodies is worked.  Instead, of saying Cone’s theology doesn’t have anything to say about gender, we might say that Cone highlights the ungendered nature of blackness primarily through his engagement with blackness as a struggle against the gratuitous violence that visits black bodies on the regular.”

While Shaye is reflecting on A Black Theology of Liberation, I return once more to Black Theology and Black Power with a few examples.  Pointing to the economic violence of white racism,

“A black theologian wants to know what the gospel has to say to a man who is jobless and cannot get work to support his family because the society is unjust.  He wants to know what is God’s Word to the countless boys and girls who are fatherless and motherless because white society decreed that blacks have no rights”

(page 43).

Enter James Cone’s anachronistic, a-historical reading of black experiences during Jim and Jane Crow law.  Cone portrays the black familial experience of one ideal, nuclear family beaten at the hands of White Supremacy, where the black man is unable to be the breadwinner.  Reality is from the time of African enslavement on these shores to legal segregation and up until today, black women have always shared the title of “breadwinner.”

Waiting To Exile

Cone also argues that America’s racism is “biologically analogous” to women’s pregnancies, either a country is not racist or it is [he's arguing along the same lines as Frantz Fanon in Towards The African Revolution].  Fanon’s line of argumentation was that all imperialist nations are racist because the creation of colonies requires racist logic. Fanon successfully makes his case without the need for a gendered understanding of nations. Unfortunately, James Cone epically fails in this regard.

With nationalist rhetoric, the bodies of women are quite frequently used to represent nation-states; this further perpetuates rape culture, and male ownership over the female body.  Issues of territorialism, war, and economics come to mind, particularly when we are dealing with issues such as the raping of wives, mothers, and daughters as a tactic for war.  Indeed James Cone is at war with White Supremacy, and depends on militaristic language to resist the white supremacist conservative and liberal churches.  Denouncing white intellectual arrogance, Cone questions whether white men’s ability to have the answer to the problem of race:

“Why must the white man assume that he has the intellectual ability or the moral sensitivity to know what blacks feel or to ease the pain, to smooth the hurt, to eradicate the resentment? Since he knows he raped our women, dehumanized our men, and made it inevitable that black children should hate their blackness, he ought to understand  why blacks must cease from listening to him in order to be free.”

(page 21)

Cone goes on to depict White Supremacy as a system that gave “whites’ freedom to beat, rape, and kill blacks” (41). Cone’s concern for gendered experiences are limited to the extent sexual violence is occurred upon black bodies. While Cone remains problematically silent on violence as particularly gendered, what he does do is names rape culture as part of the experience of black oppression. Part of the problem with the so-called victory of relational theologies is that many white Christians, specifically emergents, feel like they need to relate their experiences to everyone else’s when this should not be the case. For clarity, what I am trying to say is that relational theology is both about God’s interrelation with the world as well as God being All-present mystery. Because human beings are made in the Imago Dei, we cannot fully know how each other feel. To know is not only to be responsible as I wrote in the previous post, but to know that we just will never know the other, and respect others’ boundaries and differences because that is what divine love looks like.

James Cone’s use of Blackness as a religious symbol does come with its problems. If Jesus is essentially black, what does that mean for persons in the Black atheist tradition? Are all blacks essentially theists and religious? I find Delores S. Williams’ Wilderness Experience as a nice corrective to such an Exodus/Nationalist approach. The Wilderness Experience is easily reconcilable with Liberation theology, and may look something like what many theologians call an Exile approach to religion, with Christianity’s natural place as one of radical marginality, and always on the move. This is a Christianity without borders, without an attachment to a nation-state, like the story of Hagar and Ishmael, is a story that is as Williams hopes for “male/female/family inclusive.” Finally because Cone works with Blackness as a symbol, he frees up theology from relying on anatomical and biological understandings of humanity’s original sinfulness, and opens up the possibilities for immense human change through repentance.  As a relational theologian, Cone’s theology of gender affirms all human bodies as essentially good.

Next week, in part three, I shall look at James Cone’s theology of the cross and the Culture of Death, and what constitutes Modern-Day lynching in 2014.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness by Amaryah Shaye

Europe’s MAD MEN: Don Draper, Norway, Race, and the Rise of the Right

Ephesians 6 and Dominionism

On Utopian Christianity: Rick Perry’s The Response, The Nation-State, and the Bible

Ishmael and Immigration: A Postcolonial Reading of Genesis 16

Origen of Alexandria: the Third Commandment and the Pledge of Allegiance

Recommended Reading:

Sisters In The Wilderness: the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores Williams

Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society editted by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas

Black Theology and Black Power as well as A Black Theology of Liberation both by James Cone

h00die_R (Rod)

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