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If White Supremacy Is God, Count Me as an Atheist: Religion & the #GeorgeZimmerman trial

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”- Ephesians 6:12, NRSV

 

“Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life.”- John 11:25 NRSV

Today, I would like to do a thorough theological examination of the religion, race, and the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman trial. I would like to start briefly with a story, an encounter that happened to me in church just two days ago. It all starts really July 14th, the Sunday after George Zimmerman was acquitted for murder. In solidarity with the #MillionHoodies movement, and a protest against white supremacy and racial profiling, I put on my church clothes blue khaki pants, dress shoes, and a collared polo shirt, with a hoodie over top of it. God blessed Texas that day because all week it had been sunny and awfully hot, into the triple digits, but Sunday, it was cold and raining, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The weather gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my love for people and justice. In church, I kept on my hood, and several people asked me, “are you cold? is it cold in here?” I just nodded yes and smiled. Only the pastor was aware that I was wearing my hoodie for Trayvon. After church, a member commented that it was just like me, to wear a hoodie in church and smile all through service. I was filled with joy, in spite of, and I even sang my least favorite CCM song, “Days Of Elijah; don’t get me started. Yet it was only this Sunday, a whole week after the fact, one of the church members ran into me, and told me, “I saw you last Sunday, you were wearing a hoodie for brother Trayvon.” I said, “Yes sir.” He asked me, “Did you know anything about him? Didn’t he have marijuana in his system?” I responded, “Well, did you know Trayvon Martin was an honors student, with a 3.7 GPA?” I didn’t want to bring up the celebrity who had died of a drug overdose, but I did say about the marijuana, that no one was perfect. The church member, I remember, had a stunned look on his face. He could hardly believe that Trayvon in fact, was successful in school work. I had a feeling that this person had only heard/read one side of the story, so I encouraged him to do some research.

So who is talking about God and religion when it comes to the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman? First batter up, it was George Zimmerman himself who said it was God’s plan for him to act on his racist assumptions, profile an unarmed 17 year old, and then murder him in cold blood. Zimmerman’s capricious god not only hates black people; it has chosen them to experience nothingness and death at the wrath of white supremacy.  Christian pastors, especially of the white evangelical stripe, did nothing to condemn Zimmerman’s abuse of God’s name.  In fact their silence + their blaming of the victim, a child wearing a hood, reveals their commitment to white supremacy far more than any notion of the sanctity of life.  For example, evangelist Pat Robertson said that it was Trayvon’s fault that he, as a teenager, wasn’t wearing a dress suit instead of a hoodie.  One of Robertson’s co-hosts tried to reason with him, questioning Robertson’s assumptions, but he remained stubborn, and dedicated to the white supremacist mode of thinking. Trayvon deserved what he got because of his skin color and his clothing style. It is just not the far right of white evangelicalism that has a soft spot for white supremacy; even the more “moderate, progressive” Emergent church has yet to deal with its racism.

For example, author Donald Miller pointed to African Americans as the ones who let their emotions get in the way of truth; whites are the objective subjects of reason. The idea that blacks are incapable of being rational, and that we have always clinged to this race-based group think is a false myth of white supremacy.  How come Miller doesn’t address the emotional arguments of “self-defense” and the fact that Zimmerman’s whole defense was based purely on emotion and the subjective feelings of the all-white jury? Miller’s post is nothing more than white supremacist whitesplaining of race-relations, that his knowledge and  his experience (which is of course more objective than the blacks) is the solution to the problem.  Miller denies the existence of racial injustice in the name of colorblindness and the racial hierarchy that comes with it.

The weeks leading up to the verdict and on into the following days have felt like moving days for People of Color. All over social media as well as in IRL, George Zimmerman’s supporters celebrated as well as cautioned that blacks would riot, and we know when blacks riot, it gets really violent (RE: people with darker skin are more criminal, once more). It was the uncritical defenses of racial profiling and violence that lead a number of writers to air their concerns, especially to the whereabouts of God on high.

The blogger, Anti-Intellect:

“How many more Black people have to die before we realize that that we are on our own? There is no god looking out for out race. There is no god protecting Black youth like Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Jones. There is no god protecting Black adults like Marissa Alexander and Marco McMillian. It should outrage Black people when someone tries to rationalize the violence visited upon us daily with an excuse as disrespectful as the notion that a god is on our side. I love Black people too much to see us disrespect ourselves with continued belief in some White man in the sky, supposedly looking out for us. I want Black people to believe in each other. I want Black people to call on each other.”- from Where Was God?

Other religious thinkers from the Black American communities have chimed in from Religion Dispatches blog:

Anthea Butler’s piece, which apparently hurt the feelings of white conservative evangelicals (crocodile tears?):

“The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalisms and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation.

While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn’t see race.”

The Zimmerman Aquittal: America’s Racist God

Willie Jennings:

“We especially need Christians who believe that God is known not only by God’s gracious actions of solidarity with those feared and despised in this world, but also by our actions of solidarity.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, not against the George Zimmermans of this world, but against those powers and principalities that teach the George Zimmermans of this world that weapons are gifts given by god, that violence is a good quick solution to our fears, and that there is a God-given natural racial order to this world. Anyone who accepts these precepts is following a god who is powerful, flexible and moves around America as if he owns it. That god is, as Dr. Butler pointed out, a white racist.”

What Does It Mean To Call God A White Racist

J. Kameron Carter:

We must struggle against this “American god” or the idol of the white, western god-man. Indeed, we must struggle against this god with an eye toward a different social order and under the realization that things don’t have to be this way—and that they must change.

What I’m in effect calling for is a Christianity uncoupled from this nation-state project, from the project of social purity or “proper” Americanness, with its (racially inflected) legal protocols and its vision of racialized criminality and institutions of incarceration. I’m calling for a Christianity that no longer provides religious sanction or the cloak of righteousness to the political project of U.S. sovereignty and its vision of who is normal (and in the right place) and who is abnormal (and thus out of place). I’m calling for a Christianity whose animating logic is no longer tied to that false “god-man.” The “god” of (or that is) whiteness is a god toward which we must be thoroughgoing atheists and religionless.

Christian Atheism: The Only Response Worth Its Salt To The Zimmerman Verdict

In each piece, the four blog posts above, both the atheist and Christian view is shown to be that white supremacy is an active principality in the United States. This principality is something that has received honor and recognition, through institutionalized racism in our judicial system. George Zimmerman pulled the “god-card,” and played the media as a devout man while the white supremacist media portrayed Trayvon as someone who didn’t go to church, a criminal and violent person who liked “street fights,” oh, and he used the N* word alot on twitter, that definitely points to him being damned for eternity. An unrepentant murderer was shown as an angel of light. What kind of god is that? That is the god called white supremacy. White Supremacy of deity is worshipped by dedication to hierarchy, “law and order,” and self-righteousness. For example, same Christo-fascist white supremacists in Arizona who took down “racist” Mexican/Black studies programs are the same people who take away the rights of persons who choose atheism. The White Supremacist god is on their side, and they will force you to believe in him, or you will not get your high school diploma.

White Supremacy whitewashes history, and ignores the plights of historically oppressed people groups. White Supremacy believes that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired, and it was, by the god named White Supremacy. How else could we explain the 3/5’s “compromise” as if the full humanity of real persons is something to be bargained with? I have been told that I have used too harsh language in discussing White Supremacy. Let me be honest: I really do not care. White supremacy does not want to be named. White supremacy is the god that will not be named. White supremacy tries to hide, white liberalism is the white Jesus of Luther’s Deus Obsconditus,the hidden cruel divinity lying just beneath Jesus’ white flesh. Any god that is unnameable, is unknowable, & therefore stands in as the invisible hand that transforms into a fist, in favor of the status quo, and against the livelihood of the oppressed.

There are many well-meaning believers, like Emergent Christians, who want us to turn to a god who is ineffable mystery. What makes your god any different than Thomas Jefferson’s white supremacist divinity? Given the fact that some of the (now basically irrelevant) emergent church’s leadership is very much committed to white supremacy in all things theology, it should come as no surprise.

Over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire felt threatened by a group of women and men they called “atheists.” These atheists proclaimed that the one Creator of us all revealed Godself to us in the body of a Jewish day-laborer, and when that rabbi was killed, in three days, God raised him from the dead. No god can ever be that good. Jesus’ mission was to be raised from the dead so that we could all experience resurrection. Many Christians act like Jesus said, “I am the crucifixion and the death,” and all they care about is his suffering. In fact, a group of Christians talk about “cruciformity” and “cruciform hermeneutics.” The oppressed simply cannot adopt worldviews that will endorse their suffering. That would be no better than bowing to the god of white supremacy. The cross comes from the greek term, Stauros, and it was a method of Roman-style execution. Basically, the electric chair; would it make sense for POC, who are the most likely to receive capital punishment, to base an entire system on death, and the death penalty? Jesus is the Resurrection, and our hope, he came so that we may live, and live more abundantly. White supremacy tells us that we are not meant to survive, that we were meant to die. Being an atheist in the 21st century means, from a Christian standpoint, to celebrate the victory of Christ, and to resist any and all forces of death.

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RE: Can Atheists Be Pastors?

Free Will, Soul Freedom, and Freedom to Be Creedal

There were a couple of blog posts I came across today that had my eyes glued to them as I was asking myself questions. First was from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed, When Pastors Shift Theology that linked to a survey by Baptist Press, linked here: Cultural Digest: Unbelieving Pastors? about a number of anonymous pastors admitting that they are now atheists performing as ministers of the Gospel on Sunday Mornings. My initial reaction was a little frustration, since I have some suspicions given my experience in seminary and in church circles. There’s a number of unemployed ministers right now looking for a church to work for.

It’s so funny because last night I watched the series 1 finale of the BBC Two t.v. programme, Rev., a hilarious take on the life of a Vicar, almost a mockumentary style much like The Office U.K. and U.S.A. (I highly recommend Rev., btw, it’s entire Series 1 is on Hulu.com for USA readers here: Rev. on Hulu

In the episode, “Ever Been to Nando’s?,” our Reverend Adam Smallbone, the vicar of Saint Saviour’s is having a crisis of faith after some anonymous commenter leaves a poor grade for his sermon online, a post that his archdeacon reads and mocks Adam for. Adam throughout the episode, denies God’s existence, questions his own vocational calling, and even hosts a “Vicars and Whores” party in the sanctuary of Saint Saviours. As a back story, the police are looking for a man posing as a vicar who has gone around town harassing women. It turns out that the culprit, by the end of the episode, is none other than Adam’s homeless friend, Colin, a British version of BrothaMan (from the 1990’s Fox series Martin).

It’s interesting that both of these hilarious but serious stories are being told by the producers of Rev. Adam is posing as a Vicar throughout his questioning of his faith, while Colin, whose among Smallbone’s most faithful congregants, pretends to be a minister for his own reasons. In the end however, Smallbone realizes that it was silly to look for approval from human beings, a random online criticism by the way, and Adam goes about his duty as Vicar at the conclusion.

The other blog post was by Steve Ramey from Religion Bulletin: “Can An Atheist Believe In God?” linked here. Honestly, I cannot understand from my limited context where Christians who become atheists (or vice versa) come from. I have always believed in a higher power from a very young age and the debates over doubt versus faith (i.e., beliefs in propositional truth statements) have always remained too abstract for me. I’m a Christian, but I have the same response to fundamentalist Christian apologetics as skeptics do, they just utterly fail, especially in regards to proving an invisible personal God (whom I fully trust but need no empirical evidence for).

The problem I think lies in many good Christians’ belief that our beliefs take priority over practice. Doubt versus faith, as I have written before, is not the problem, at least not according to Scripture. Rather, it is a struggle of faithfulness versus faithlessness. Now, in the study, there were pastors from both creedal and non-creedal traditions. With creedal traditions, ministers are bound by their words, their very promises to their superiors and congregations. For example, Presbyterians are bound by a number of Reformed Confessions, and sometimes in many places, these confessions take priority over Scripture itself. I would say an atheist in creedal tradition as such has a duty to come clean because it is part of their vocational contract with their denomination. The broken covenant between bishops and the pastor-turned-atheist probably should lead to a resignation.

As for non-creedal traditions, free churches such as Baptists and Congregationalists, it is a little bit more complex. I personally affirm the truth of most creedal statements in formulas prior to the Protestant Reformation, but that is my free choice. Orthodoxy should be a free choice that women and men make each day as a habit of practice, thus, orthopraxis comes before and yet remains equal to orthodoxy. The doctrine of Soul Freedom is denied by creedal denominations (Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox) because this freedom is about the ability of every human being to have a relationship with God unmediated, with the capacity to decide for themselves. Orthodoxy thus redefined is the freedom and space to do orthopraxis. Pastors who become atheists in their churches should come clean in front of their congregations, for lies can be damaging once they accumulate up to a certain point. The individual congregations in non-creedal, free churches should alone decide the pastors’ fates.

So I ask you, should churches be lead by seekers? Should communities of faith who are filled with seekers be called “churches” in the first place? Should churches hire non-believers, for musicians or sound technicians or even nursery positions?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Especially Optimistic Chad’s.

Yes, I do believe in miracles. But the "supernatural"? Different Story.

The category of supernatural has been used and abused in more charismatic Christian circles. This is because they are relying on an atheist category from the field of philosophy, or shall I say, a tenet of atheist theology. It’s true. How so?

For some back ground, in my Philosophy of Religion course in Undergrad, the category of supernatural first came from thinkers like David Hume. Miracles as supernatural, according to the Enlightenment world view, were acts of God breaking the laws of nature. God, according to both detractors and apologists of Christianity, essentially lived as this Watchmaker observing us in another realm. As Peter Leithart correctly notes, the hypothesis of the “supernatural” requires a belief in nature as “autonomous and independent of God, [working in] a closed system of cause and effect.”

Jesus does not “violate” creation, since he is after all the Creator, sustainer, the Word of Creation; rather, as Leithart says, Jesus liberates creation for its potential in the purposes of the kingdom of God. Postmodern, Trinitarian and relational theologies should work to affirm this understanding of the miraculous over and against the traditional, modernist notion.