In Defending Constantine (Chapter 10 “Justice For All”), Peter Leithart goes through the nitty gritty details of Constantine’s views on justice as well as his executive decisions when it came creating laws. Among some of his peculiarities was Constantine’s contention, much like Liberation Theology, that justice must be served to the oppressed. In those days, the Roman court system was oppressive and heavily biased towards the rich and powerful. Some of Constantine’s laws worked against this. In addition, Constantine outlawed crucifixions. The theological imagination for the secular philosopher/emperor Constantine was attracted to Christianity, and in that move, ended a murderous practice. However, Constantine still kept capital punishment itself around; Leithart just notes that Constantine just found more “creative” ways of executing criminals.
Torture and gory body-policing activities sponsored by the state such as the cutting off of thieves’ hands were acceptable Constantinian practices. Back then, these were social norms. It was expected that Constantine not to be able to transcend his cultural milieu. Like the Christian realists of the mid-20th century and even today, Constantine achieved what they would consider a “proximate justice.” The death penalty was such the norm back then that Constantine joked with Arius that the Emperor considered Arius and his fellow dissidents to be “gallows rogues,” or persons who found ways, time and again from being hung from the gallows ala Mordecai in the Book of Esther.
One interesting move that Leithart makes (as part of his larger Dominionist agenda in looking at the theological & social conservativism of the Global South) is to point out the African context from which the Donatist and Arian cotnroversies arose. In both instances, Christian bishops INVITED Emperor Constantine to help resolve these disputes. In the case of the Donatists, property rights were at stake. Radical Libyan Christians who took an uncompromising stance against bishops and laity who gave in to Roman persecution by denying Jesus as their Savior to save their own hides. The conflicts were so intense that Donatists were sometimes murdered for their beliefs. Appealing to political powers that be (an outside third-party) seemed to be the realistic approach to these issues.
James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree is written at the intersections of atonement theory, theodicy, and the struggle against White Supremacy. As Cone is making his argument in favor of USian Christians looking at the Cross through the history of the lynching tree, he notes that it was poets and artists during the Harlem Renaissance that first made the connection. Jim and Jane Crow was institutional, legal white supremacy maintained by placing black bodies on the gallows. One such writer, novelist and Christian scholar was W.E.B. DuBois DuBois’ Christian anti-racist imagination enabled him to use theological imagery to work to dismantle White Supremacy. Lacing his Christian prayers with appeals to the Prince of Peace, commenting on the race riots started by White Supremacists by referring to the book of Psalms, DuBois lived as an example of liberating Christian orthopraxis.
A few years ago in seminary, a group of African American students (including myself) protested against the injustices done to the Jena Six. The Jena Six situation was a high school fight started because someone hung a noose around the tree where the white kids usually sit. Under the murderous threat from the history of imperialist, racist KKKristianity which includes Emperor Constantine who himself had threatened an African man (as a joke) with lynching, the black high schoolers had little choice but to STAND THEIR GROUND.
No one can do an honest assessment of the Nicene-Chalcedon tradition without acknowledging its enforcement through, at minimum, the threat of violence (i.e., the anathemas and damnations and exiles etc.). However, the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas are not beyond the liberating grasp of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Nicea & Chalcedon & the Apostles’ Creeds are are important to the extent that they remind us Gentile Christians of our metanarrative that we find in Scripture, and that our stories are not our own, and that THE story is not about us. Tradition (with a capitol T) ideally should be used to keep our nationalistic desires in check, but when it fails to do so, history and Scripture witnesses to the fact that God uses outsiders, the rejects to prophesy deliverance to the Body of Christ.
No one represents this moreso than the the U.S. American prophet W.E.B. DuBois. Living in the 20th century context where white Christians could recite the Creeds by rote memory, and then in the very next breathe, call a black person n*gger before lynching her, W.E.B. Dubois embodied Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis as a testimony to Jesus Christ Our LORD and Liberator. In his essay, “The Gospel According To Mary Brown,” Dubois writes the Gospel narratives for his time, with a mulatto man portraying Jesus. Joshua is lynched because of his message of peace and anti-White Supremacy. As his mother Mary is found weeping, Joshua appeared to her, with his hair shining, white clothes (biblical language for holiness of the martyrs), “for his voice was the Voice of God.” When Mary asked where did Joshua go, Joshua tells her, “I was crucified, dead, and buried. I descended into Hell. On the third day, I rose from the dead. I ascended into Heaven and sit on the right hand of my Father, from whence I shall come to judge the Quick and the Dead.”
In an earlier post, I was mistaken to suggest that Constantine and Athanasius represent two different kinds of Christianity. It would be better for me to have said that Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops and presbyters that made room for the devil by inviting Constantine to the table represent the imperial version of Christianity, the one where the nation-states’ story matters more than the Resurrection itself.
Eusebius and Athanasius represent two types of Christianity that we all have to struggle with. Eusebius and the Christian empire/dominionist tradition that Leithart favors is obsessed maintaining power over others (coercion, violence, war, white supremacy, lynching). The Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis of Clement & Athansius of Alexandria and W.E.B DuBois offers a different way of being & doing in the world, that of living on the margins of exile, and pointing to the Logos as our Teacher & Prince of peace.
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?
^ Hot off the presses of Blue Ridge Cru Assembly everyone!
That’s right, this episode of incredibly problematic PWI Christian campus ministries features a topic that is on the heart of many mainly white females that compose the group – RELATIONSHIPS! I won’t go into detail how ridiculous it is that many of them have this “genie-in-a-bottle” theology of God just granting them their prince charming in mind to be happily ever after. Suffice it to say that for many, it’s like a full time job.
The issue I am pointing out the way that this video I posted is being used. I have a feeling that my own campus ministry isn’t the only instance. This video is deeply disturbing to me because it’s so representative of what white evangelical ,complimentarian, neo-reformed folks tend to say about the matter. It’s as if the message is sanitized, universalized, etc. because they’re using a black man dressed in urban clothing with rhythmic speech patterns to relay the message. It’s their way at saying ” see? Even he’s saying it, so it’s not just for old white folks!”
What this man says is no different than what the likes of John Piper or David Plat would say – matter of fact, if I dug deep enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found that he got his “inspiration” from them. In my four years being involved in Cru ministry ( to a much lesser extent now, though), I can attest that this has been the biggest issue I’ve had. I can’t tell how many times I’ve walked into the Cru large group to be greeted by Lecrae or Trip Lee. The use of black bodies to relay a message for the sake of making neo-reformed white-saturated theology seem more accessible. Black guys ( and it’s really only been men- and why is THAT!?) can be reformed rappers making “holy hip-hop” and make these cute little videos about pursuing a girl , but we rarely see these same black men as the brains behind the theology. They’re used… much like in black face. They’re confined to that role, while white male neo-calvinists theologians cook up the concepts. Essentially: Black lingo is harmless but black thoughts.contributions to theology ..let’s leave that to white men.
Like a Lotus:
Born into the murky, muddy waters
I was, l ived, I breathed
In awe of starry veil above me and the verdant radiance around me
I gazed, I glowed, I gasped
Striken with gale winds
I braced, I fell, I felt
Like a dove He descendeth
He is, He lives, He breathes
Like a lotus summoned by the sun’s rays
I opened, I blossomed, I live
I had decided to take a brief break from my series on White Supremacy (I still have 2 posts left) because I needed a breather. I needed an escape, but most of the shows on my DVR were just going to make me mad. I had also given up on South Park after a very troubling episode (I have my limits). So, I also needed a politically-conscious cartoon to fill the void left by Aaron McGruder‘s The Boondocks. So, two weeks ago, I began watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I had heard a lot of things: Bronies are the worst. Bronies aren’t real mean, this show is made for girls! After a few episodes, like the 3 or 4 that it took to get out of my comfort zone, I started to realize that I liked the show, and then, the 9th episode hit me like a truck. In Season 1 episode 9: “Bridle Gossip,” the ponies are hiding from a new (zebra) pony in town, Zecora. She comes from a strange culture, she dresses and looks funny. At the same time, the ponies are searching for a cure for themselves, because they believe this stranger has cursed them, and has everyone acting weird. Our protagonist for the show, the bookish Twilight Sparkle finds a book that may have the spells to cure her and her friends, but she dismisses it. In the end, Zecora uses that same book to help the ponies who weren’t cursed, but who had touched the leaves of “poison joke.” The lesson for this episode: don’t judge a book by its cover. Very rarely do we have live action shows have coherent, subversive discussions about race; it was a delightful surprise that in its first season, My Little Pony at the minimum had TWO such episodes.
The other episode I am referring to is Season 1 episode 21: “Over A Barrel,” about the group of earth [settler] ponies called the Apple-losons, who settle in the frontier and plant appletrees everywhere. When the workhorse pony AppleJack has deliver one such apple tree to her family members by train, the train is robbed by a herd of buffalo. It turns out the land belonged to the buffalo first. To lessen the hostility between the frontiersponies and the buffaloes, the fun-loving Pinky Pie plays a song about sharing and caring, which, of course, gets dismissed as the worst performance ever. In the end, the buffalo agree to share the land with the Apple-losons on the condition that the ponies share their apples with the buffalo, and there are roads that are paved for the buffalo to roam. Twilight Sparkle complained throughout the episode that no one was being reasonable (which I have a few questions about). Why should the First Nations, I mean Buffaloes, be made to be “reasonable” by the Colonizers, I mean settler Ponies’ standards. Do not the Buffalo have a reasonable right to be angry in the first place if they are being robbed? Is not just compensation based on the victims’ terms (the ending) the right thing to do to begin with? Rather than sugarcoat white settler histories in North America, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, just like Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s season 4 episode, “Pangs,” has managed to problematize the aforementioned narratives.
Tonight, I watched PBS’s Independent Lens’ episode entitled, Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines. To be honest, this documentary played out unfortunately like a piece of white feminist triumphalism, when it really did not have to. My favorite comic writer Gail Simone said at the conclusion of that Wonder Woman was a feminist symbol of hope and inclusion. The vision for the future promoted by this text, however, was one of racial exclusion and classist & ableist propaganda. Wonder Women was not a documentary geared towards ALL American women, but specific white American women with middle & upper class privilege.
Let’s go through the U.S. American history lesson we were given, shall we? Wonder Woman was the comic book version of Rosie the Riveter during World War II, and afterwards, her and Lois Lane were depicted as less ambitious. So basically, white women were told to take care of homes! Okay, but this WAS NOT THE EXPERIENCE OF ALL WOMEN! No, this documentary spoke to the white side of segregationist economics and white women’s experience, but when it comes to blacks, perhaps those women who were HAD NO CHOICE but to work (because choice is a luxury, based on class, don’t forget that), Wonder Women could not address this issue.
Moving on, let’s read about the Women superheroes who inspired the women’s rights movement in the 60s and 70s. Big surprise: All white, all without disability, and with class privilege. Yeah, a picture of Storm from Marvel’s X-Men was put up as a token. Yeah, they talked about Nubia as “Wonder Woman’s sistah counterpart” but that was false. Any google search will show you that Nubia was a villain, and has since the 70s, fallen off the face of the DC universe. What an inspiration!
Wonder Woman. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Xena the Warrior Princess. All able-bodied. All white women written by white men. At the conclusion of Wonder Women,the documentary shameless did a highlight reel of famous American women, and showcased WOC such as Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Rosa Parks, and others. It’s funny that this played out sort of like Season 7 of white feminist legend Buffy, where the show all of a sudden becomes more culturally diverse, as if the first six seasons & it’s First World Western feminist vision didn’t happen!
In Buffy, a number of POC scholars have taken issue with portrayals of racial minorities in the BuffyVerse, and DC Comics (as much as I’m a New 52 fanboy), continues to have more problems than Marvel (but atleast DC doesnt have the Doctor Voodoo problem– you can look that up). Works of fantasy, myths are always social and political. Pop cultural exclusion leads to perpetual political exclusion, and that’s what we continue to see, esp when it comes to voting rights, access to public education, and the prison-industrial complex.
“It’s not an accident that the Jesus in this History Channel special is white and speaks with a fine British accent. After all, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of actors of MIddle Eastern descent available to play these roles. That was a decision made by the producers of this program because they need ratings, they need to sell ad space, and the best way to do that is to portray Jesus, and all the other BIble heroes, in a way that is comfortable for the audience.”
“Without having visited your church, I feel pretty safe in assuming that if your church is located in the United States (or the West in general) and your congregation is predominately white, then all the images of Jesus that occupy your church are also white.
Now, Joel suggested that it would behoove us critics to not criticize this the Nazi Helmet Channel’s latest contribution to American Civil Religion (at least until we have seen it)*. This is not about the academics involved, Joel, this has nothing to do with them. This has to do with the cultural production of Jesus as a white man over and over again, and the historical figures in the Bible as White white white. If these people are all seen as white, God is and will always be viewed as white. And when God is persistently seen as one the side of the victors of history, then God endorses oppression, and I am not down with that. Sorry, and neither is Jesus! Because Jesus was Jewish, his ancestors were Jewish, they lived in the Ancient Near East (east to where?), but white privelege and supremacy would have us to forget this.
“Some may ask what the point of all this is, though frankly, it ought to be obvious. So long as our culture pictures Adam, Eve, Moses, Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and even God “himself” as fair-skinned, despite the obvious preposterousness of such representations, we will continue to plant the seeds of racial supremacy in the hearts and minds of millions. After all, to believe that divinity is white like you leads one to easily assume that others are somehow less complete, less than human. If God supposedly made man in his image, and God is always portrayed as a bearded white guy (kinda like Santa without the suit), how big a leap is it — especially for children whose introduction to religion is always nine-tenths forced propaganda anyway — to assume that persons of color are somehow not full and equal “children of God?”- Tim Wise
With the news this week of schools in a “progressive” state like New York using the bodies of dead slaves for math problems, it seemed only fitting that White History Classes trended on Twitter this week. Course names were inspired by real conversations that people have, because, who hasn’t heard the, “But when do we celebrate White History Month?” My favorite answer is, “I have no idea. Why don’t we blame Ronald Reagan!”
Humorist Tracy Clayton storified some of the best of the trend, but I also wanted to share many others in the following slide:
Last night I chose to RedBox the Oscar-nominated film Beasts Of The Southern Wild. It was a bit out of my comfort zone, I usually prefer science fiction and fantasy, but I watched the movie having no idea about the plot or characters. I had heard and read so much praise for this film that I actually had my doubts it would be any good. Good thing I don’t listen to my doubts that often. BOTSW was a great film, it was well-written and well-executed overall. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the film, but wanted to say I highly recommend it.