Tag Archives: anti-Judaism

The Power Of Love part 1: James Cone's Relational Theology

LIBERATING OPEN THEOLOGIES

white heart

For better or worse, Liberation Theology has endured having a reputation as an out-dated theological system written by subjective, angry Persons of Color and Women. It’s taught in seminaries as either a heretical abomination for pastors to avoid or as a needed corrective to years of corrupted systematic theologies that served its purpose in the 1970’s and ’80’s. In contrast, the spectrum of theologies referred to as Relational Theologies (and they range from Missional to Emergent to Post-Conservative to Wesleyan to Open and Process-Relational) are presented as systems of thought that are objective, balanced, and as the natural next wave forward for Christianity. Unlike Liberation Theology, Works on Relational Theologies / Theologies of Love are written for both laypersons and academics.

Liberation Theologies in the U.S.A inhabited privileged academic spaces and served as push back against what religious thinkers were being taught. In particular, the writings of James Hal Cone have functioned as sort of a revolutionary break from traditional Christian reflections on tradition. What makes Cone indispensable to the field of theology is that his project was the first systematized intellectual experiment to re-orient Christian Theology as a protest versus White Supremacy. Throughout his work, while Cone admits that he is writing theology for black people, the ground of relationality that Cone works from makes his theology an address to everyone. Towards this end, this series will serve as a thought experiment in re-evaluating and re-presenting Liberation Theology as a Relational Theology.

Theologies Of Love After Christopher Columbus

The “discovery” of the New World by Christopher Columbus as a number of theologians such as Willie Jennings was a major shift in Christianity. Here we have whole societies wiped out by slavery, genocide, disease and war, with those who would propagate the religion of the Prince of Peace justifying these atrocities with their sacred texts. The prominent epistemology for studying religion in the centuries that followed involved the enlightened, rational Western male subject. In order to determine who is deemed rational, one must first through pseudo-scientific scientific means determine who is uncivilized and irrational; in other words, whose bodies are worthy of destruction? Our line-up of all the great Western philosophers from David Hume, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, and even Karl Marx had rather “insightful” things to say about dark bodies. In short, Persons of Color and women were deemed as things to be colonized and assimilated, tailored into the image of the European male elite.

As violent and grotesque as these histories are, the Triune God of love never leaves humanity without witnesses. By God’s grace, we have the testimony of Trinitarian theologians such as 19th century Wesleyan evangelist Julia J.A. Foote and Arminian pastors such as Lemuel Haynes. Howard Thurman’s and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s theologies were theologies of love. MLK Jr., as has been noted through years of research, was heavily influenced by the Boston Personalists. While Foote and Haynes suffered through the era of African enslavement on these shores, King Jr. and Thurman lived through legal racial segregation (a regime enforced through lynching+ political & economic oppression). With these theologies of the Cross, notions of suffering (theodicy) are never separated from the theologies of love written by persons of the African diaspora. I am contending that these various relational theologies proposed were responses to White Supremacy.

Creation and Our Interrelatedness

Enter James Hal Cone. Straight outta Governor Orval Faubus’ Arkansas, a man who got his PhD from the Northwestern University / Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary seminary where he did his dissertation on Karl Barth’s theological anthropology. In the midst of riots and chaos after the assassination of MLK Jr., what did the Church have to say to the Black Power movement? U.S. Christianity is supposed to be a religion populated by joyful and extremely nice middle-class people. Did the hope for the wretched of the Earth lay in the Christianized politics of respectability? Distressed by the white supremacy he experienced in society in general as well as the religious academy, Cone decided to write what many deemed a manifesto, Black Theology and Black Power. Considered by many to be a “reverse racist” pamphlet of hate, when taking an even closer look at this piece, one can see that BTBP is a forcefully written, persuasive case for relational theology as an anti-racist practice. Cone states his purpose on the very first page of the book, that “Black Power is about Black people taking the dominant role in determining the black-white relationship” (page 1, Intro).

To be black is not to have dark shades of melanin in your epidermis; “To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are. We all know that a racist structure will reject a black man in white skin as quickly as a black man in black skin” (151, Chapter 6). Cone recognizes that race and racism are social constructs, and not biologically proven realities. Cone’s invention for Christian theology is to invert blackness and whiteness as symbols. In the West, in movies novels, the good guys wear white, the bad guys always wear black. Cone flips these narrative tropes on their heads to counter institutional racism. Black Power, according to Cone, is Blacks using their self-determination and agency to emancipate themselves from the violence of white supremacy, even if their choices meant death (p 6). Black Power sought to remove Whites’ status as Master while recognizing Whites’ humanity; Cone contends, “Men were not created for separation, and color is not the essence of man’s humanity” (14). In other words, Anti-Black racisms, White Supremacy, and Colonialisms are in direct violation of God’s creative intent.

Humanity “was created to share in God’s creative (revolutionary) activity in the world (Gen.1:27-28). But through sin man rejects his proper activity and destiny. He wants to be God, the creator of his destiny. […] But in his passion to become super-human, man becomes subhuman, estranged from the source of his being, threatening and threatened by his neighbor, transforming a situation destined for intimate human fellowship into a spider web of conspiracy and violence” (page 63). God reigns throughout creation and shares the divine power to create with humanity. The sin of Empire and White Supremacy dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressors. This loving God chooses not work unilaterally, and works with human persons who respond to God’s love for the sake of creating community. Cone’s re-telling of the Creation and Fall stories in Genesis are what set up the relational thrust of James Cone’s liberation theology.

Election and God’s Love For The Oppressed

The relational, loving God of Liberation theology has direct intimate knowledge of the suffering of the oppressed. To know is to be responsible; It is far less painful to be uninvolved in someone else’s life, their pain, their poverty, their marginalization (page 25). It is the choice of the latter that makes libertarian politics and laizze-faire economics both such easy and heretical choices. A proper acknowledgement of the suffering of marginated persons as well as the ownership of a vast array of privileges requires that one does the hard work of examining power within sets of given relationships. Referring to Anders Nygren’s significant work on biblical notions of love, Agape And Eros, Cone builds on this particular theology of love to enjoin divine love to divine justice, ” The activity of agape-love cannot be easily separated from God’s righteousness. Indeed they must be tightly held together. Love prevents righteousness from being legalistic, and righteousness keeps love from being sentimental” (p 51). Cone continues, “Love without power to guarantee justice in human relations is meaningless (p 53). In A Black Theology Of Liberation, Cone remains consistent, “The wrath of God is the love of God in regard to the forces opposed to the liberation of the oppressed. Love without righteousness is unacceptable to blacks: this view of God is a product of the minds of enslavers” (p 71).

One of the criticisms that Thomas Jay Oord had of Anders Nygren’s theology of agape love in Oord’s work, the nature of love: a theology, was that Nygren completely (and rather problematically) dismisses the witness of the Hebrew Bible when it comes to notions of love. James Cone does indeed make a departure from Nygren in this regard, and in fact, Cone prioritizes God’s love as it is revealed in the election of Israel central to his relational theological project. Through agape-love, God is the initiator of calling Abraham and then later, Moses, and God reveals God’s justice through God’s activity in history according to Scripture (page 44 of BTBP). Because God is love, God sets out to do what is right by putting a-rights those who have been wronged in human relationships. Divine relationality goes hand-in-hand with the preferential option for poor. If indeed “Black Power is the Spirit of Christ himself” that has interrupted the relationship between black persons who need liberation from self-hatred, and white persons who need to be freed from white supremacy (page 62), God is relational to the extent that God does what is just.

This God Who Risks is love. God is not sentimental. Jennifer Lopez is wrong when she says “love don’t cost a thing.” Love costs everything, God demands our entire being just as our neighbors’ suffering requires all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our bodies (53). A lot of Christians like to talk about being relational, and its just about centering everything around their emotions, and their experiences without risking having to listen to others. This is hardly a biblical (imo) understanding of relationality. James Cone notes that the real test for whites isn’t how they relate and communicate with acceptable blacks like MLK Jr. and Ralph Bunch, but “in how they respond to Rap Brown” (61). If I may have permission to wax this logic for 2014, the real test of whether whites can communicate with black as human beings is not what they reply to Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Oprah, but how they respond to Ratchet Culture.

In part two, I shall look at James Cone’s notions of relationality and how his gender & sexuality [black cishet male] possibly influences his writing.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Refusing to Reconcile Part 2: Spatiality, Fugitivity, and Blackness as Wild(er)ness by Amaryah Shaye

Recommended Reading:

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie Jennings

The God Who Risks: a theology of divine providence by John Sanders

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

I Watched #Hellbound Before I Changed It to Buffy #btvs

Last night I was pretty bored and I needed to watching something while I did some fall cleaning. Lo, and behold, I decided to watch the documentary, Hellbound?, written and directed by Canadian Christian writer Kevin Miller. From all that I had heard and read, it was supposed to be a worthwhile film, and maybe someday I will go back and finish. But just not this year. The movie was fine, I could see the direction it was going: BIG NINE-ELEVEN TWO THOUSAND AND ONE DRAMA! The Phelps and their hate speech where 99.99999999% of the people living in the world are going to burn in hell for all eternity! Mark Driscoll implying anyone who disagreed with him was not manly enough and kind of queer. So NOT authoritarian! Liar and heretic Ray Comfort even had an appearance.

Nope none of these persons were problematic enough to trigger me into watching something else. Then, Miller first started making claims like all religions are about narrative, and story is ooooh so important to what it means to be human. It’s a familiar argument, one that Brian McLaren was writing about in the ’90’s. You see, there are a variety of Christianities. There’s the fundamentalists who claim to take the Bible “literally” but never seriously. And there are also Christians who read Scripture as literature and somewhat more seriously. While the latter sounds better, at least the BIG OLE SCARY fundies are honest and forthright about the implications of their beliefs.

Then, Hellbound started interviewing the likes of Wm Paul Young and Frank Schaeffer. Throughout his few minutes, Schaeffer repeatedly referred to Evangelicals as Pharisees. This claim went unchallenged, and given the lack of racial diversity in the film (it’s a Christian documentary, so not surprising given the “nature” of the business). Frantz Fanon argues in his Black Skin, White Masks that once you find an anti-Semite, there’s not an anti-Black antagonist far behind. Part of my path down the narrow road of anti-racism was taking a Jewish-Studies course that coincided with a Black Church studies class on Exodus. It was there that I first learned of how problematic loosely calling others Pharisees was. Jesus and Paul were Pharisees,

Cover of "Black Skin, White Masks"

Cover of Black Skin, White Masks

Pharisees were some of the very first Christians in Acts, but in liberal and conservative Christianity, people continue a willful ignorance of the history of antiSemitism and anti-Judaism. I’m sorry, but the Pharisees are not the villains you make them out to be. That’s why it’s no surprise when in liberal “Christian novels,” such as Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack, anti-Judaism goes unchecked.

 

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But I think that there is something that goes much deeper. At the heart of the problem is the notion of story. I have discussed on here before the problem of seeing everything as a story here before, as it relates to postcolonial criticism.

So last night, when I changed the show I was watching on Netflix to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I decided to watch the season 7 episode “Storyteller,” the story of Andrew who was shooting a documentary about Buffy, the slayer of vampires, and I found this relevant quote:

“Buffy: Stop! Stop telling stories. Life isn’t a story.
Andrew: Sorry. Sorry.
Buffy: Shut up. You always do this. You make everything into a story so no one’s responsible for anything because they’re just following a script.”- Storyteller, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 7, Episode 16.

This is exactly the problem with emergent dudebros. They do not have to take responsibility for the histories of biblical interpretations or practices there of. They can just call it “STORY” since it sounds so much nicer. No way should they be held accountable for the real, historical experiences of the oppressed because when it comes to the Grand Narrative, only an arbitrarily limited account provided by men from the majority culture.

Perhaps then this is why the story of the Hellmouth remains truer than that of Hellbound? .

Engrafted Into The Story: Romans 11 And Reconciliation

WHY SUPERSESSIONISM IS PROBLEMATIC AND A HERESY

Image taken from Seattle Pacific University

Today, I would like to take the time to discuss my view of Romans 11, and the problem with historic approaches that I shall briefly allude to. The most infamous of approaches to Romans 9-11 is the allegorical reading of Romans 9-11. The Allegorical approach to reading Scripture has its strengths but when it come to these passages, its limits are exposed. Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christians to apply this technique to these 3 chapters, and in the process, theological determinism was given birth. The debate starts with Romans 9:13, the oft quoted verse by Augustinians and Calvinists, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” In the context of the chapter, God’s election, God choosing special people over others, starts inside a woman’s womb, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, the daughter-in-law and relative of Abraham. Reading Romans 9:10-13 by privileging a Greek/Gentile literary reading strategy over and above unique revelation from YHWH (the Hebrew Bible)is problematic; it is a practical way in which supersessionism, the idea that Gentile-lead Christianity overtakes Judaism as the household of God, manifests itself. Augustine, and those who claim to be his heirs in Protestantism, the Reformed tradition with modern-day neo-Calvinists and the like do not in fact practice “Sola Scriptura” as they claim, or using Scripture to interpret Scripture first, but rather tradition and individualism to do so.

The implications from this interpretation are this: Jacob is the elect chosen before the creation, and Esau, in this ALLEGORY, is the reprobate, chosen by God before creation. Just when does God choose them to their fates, before or after the fall? Well that’s up to debate between our theological determinist friends. I’ll let them sort that out.

So, if we go by just the Reformation tradition, and its own standard of Sola Scriptura, there is conflict in the popular, predestination, individual election reading of Romans 9-11. The subsequent debate of Arminians proposing “corporate election” as opposed to “individual election” misses the point of my criticism. This isn’t about the nature of election; in the Hebrew Bible, there is both. This is about interpretation of Scripture, and the relationship of our Messianic Pharisee friend Paul’s writings with that of the canon. Using the Hebrew Bible/First Testament to understand the New/Second (biblical scholars call this practice intertextuality) is an important part in understanding God’s mission of to the world through God’s Son Jesus the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit.

Supersessionism and its fellow heretical teaching, that of Marcionism (the belief that there is 2 God in the Christian canon, an evil violent God in the “Old” and a “peaceful”, loving God in the “New.” What perpetuates supersessionism is well meaning pastors and professors continually essentializing Judaism as a warmongering religion of revenge. Have you ever heard or read someone say that “the Jews were waiting for a violent messiah to overtake their enemies”? The idea that God evolved (that being God’s character) from violent to non-violent being taught by white Emergent Church leaders is just another form of this supersessionism, with a nice, smiling face. Amy Jill-Levine points out, for example, that the oft-cited Psalm of Solomon chapter 17, where Israel’s Messiah is supposed to have a “blitzkrieg” versus the Gentiles, verses often times get ignored. The nations are destroyed by “the words from his mouth.” Does this sound familiar? This is exactly the same concept that the author of Revelation says about Jesus, that a sword will come from Christ’s mouth in chapter 19, verse 15.

The example of Psalm of Solomon compared to Revelation is an example of just how dependent on Israel’s story Jewish and Gentile Christians alike really are. “Spiritualizing” Israel’s historic encounter with the One, True God is a supersessionist anti-Judaic practice. Let’s go back to Romans 9-11. It is my belief that the apostle Paul is utterly, hopelessly reliant on the words of the prophets, and in Romans, this is no different. Romans 9:10-13 cannot be understood apart from the stories of Jacob and Esau as well as Israel’s concrete relationship with Edom, the nation that descended from Esau. Malachi 1 for example addresses Israel implicitly as Jacob, and Edom (explicitly) as Esau:

“I have loved you,” says [YHWH].

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?”
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

Throughout the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, if you pay attention to the details, Edom has a special place in God’s plan. Edom is a stand-in for the rest of us Gentiles and our stories. In Deuteronomy 23, YHWH orders the Israelites: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.” In the time of Solomon’s reign, as punishment, YHWH raised up opposition, from guess where? Edom! So just as the Gentiles have historically been resistant to YHWH, so has Edom rebelled against the reign of Israel.

Fast forward to Romans 11, Israel’s story is one where the descendents of Abraham lived in a cycle of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, and then exile and return. God is given credit with liberating the Israelites and Judeans time and time again with judges and kings, and even after God sends God’s people into exile, God makes a way for them to return, and even choose the empire that allows them to do so according to Ezra and Chronicles. Just as the imagery in Romans 9 about stressing God’s sovereign freedom and love, so is the image of God as a gardner, engrafting the Gentiles in to the roots and branches of Israel. Much like the author of Hebrews, Paul is arguing that the Gentiles have been included fully in the new plan. This is what makes the New Covenant better than the “old”: more people for God to call beloved. The election and call to service to YHWH as well as the gift of the Promise (which includes the Law) is irrevocable (Romans 11:28). The problem with supersessionism is that it is first and foremost, a rejection of God’s plan that includes the strategy of engraftment. Understanding our Gentile place is crucial part of understanding the mission of YHWH, the Word that YHWH sent went to Israel and Judah first, and then the Gentiles.

The Resurrection faith in Yeshua the Messiah does not permit us to ask, “who will go to heaven?” or “who will go down to the abyss?” (Romans 10:5-7). These questions are not what the covenantal relationship between God and humanity is about. The specific details of the afterlife are for God to know, and God is God’s own mystery and power decides alone (Romans 11:25-36). When it comes to living in fellowship with Jews, Jewish and Gentile Christians exist as a testimony that Israel’s covenant has been opened up, that God has reconciled Jew and Gentile.

“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”- Genesis 33:4 (NIV)