Tag Archives: class

they would respect us if

With the Ferguson movement and other protests around the country highlighting the dual but interrelated problems of police brutality and racial profiling in African American communities, many public intellectuals have been pondering the reasons why Blacks are more likely to be profiled, brutalized, or worse, murdered in cold blood as Mike Brown was. A few such famed thinkers, such as Pastor Voddie Baucham, actor Bill Cosby and CNN’s Don Lemon continue to push the false myth of Black intellectual inferiority as the reason behind Blacks’ natural criminality. If THEY, those hoodlums will pull up their pants, not dress like ratchet ladies we see on them hip hop videos, and get a job, perhaps the police would less likely assume that (presumably) poor blacks were all criminals. In marginalized communities, there is this pervasive, dogmatic belief that if marginated persons assimilate to the dominant culture, and go along just to get along, everything will be alright.

Respectability is depicted as a panacea to heal cross-cultural divides. In many ways, Respectability can be co-opted to subvert the status quo, to debunk stereotypes and to exceed expectations by the mainstream. On the other hand, Respectability Politics, when it is taken as an absolute, can be a dangerous affrontery to the disadvantage of the oppressed. If only Black people, immigrants, and First Nations people would cling on to the American dream like the middle Blacks who strived so in Prince Georges County, Maryland, better day will be ahead. We are often told it’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know that will help you get that promotion, or perhaps make it to an Ivy League school like the New York Times’ Charles Blow’s son did. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, according to Trudy, respectability politics are

“cultural, sexual, domestic, employment and artistic “guidelines” or “rules” for racially marginalized groups to follow in the effort to be viewed as “human” in a White supremacist society and by individual Whites. Some of the most noticeable manifestations of the politics of respectability occurs among Black people because of the history dehumanization because of slavery.”

The humanity of Black people and People of Color, has to be earned in other words. Rather than all of our humanity being accepted as a gift of God, Respectability Politics is a heretical rejection of the Imago Dei, the infinite sacred worth of all human beings. Respectability politics is an attempt by limited human beings to measure the immeasurable. When it comes to respectability politics, writers usually start with political and social commentary without regard for the religious sources behind respectability, and the blasphemous theology behind.

Last February, conservative evangelical theologian Roger E. Olson referred to Respectability as “most pernicious and pervasive heresy in the U.S. American Church.” Olson’s class analysis and use of Karl Barth as an argument against pastors who exist simply to make us feel comfortable and the exclusion of ordinary congregants from participating in worship is only part of the problem when it comes to Respectability and Christendom. Olson’s observation falls short because he fails to address the racialized nature of respectability and therefore Christianity’s complicity in the history of White Supremacy.

Speaking from a Church History standpoint, the adoption of Respectability Politics has been a long time practice for Black Protestant communities. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones endured persecution while working for the social uplift of both Free and enslaved Africans. Allen was well-respected and somewhat duplicitious in his actions, being friends with revolutionaries such as Morris Brown and Denmark Vesey (Wilmore, page 104), as well as playing the respectability card in the name of holiness (Wilmore, 124) as he participated in temperance societies, encouraging Blacks to avoid drunkenness so that they would not give White people any ammunition to perpetuate racist beliefs (See Gayraud S. Wilmore’s Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation Of the Religious History of African Americans). Wilmore’s text neglects the religious life of Black Catholics particularly during the time of African enslavement due to its soft Protestant triumphalism.

In Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, Diane Batts Morrow’s essay “The Difficulty of Our Situation: The Oblate Sisters in Antebellum Society,” tells us of some of the history of the Oblate Sisters of Providence who were located in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a society where Coloured Women “renounced the world to consecrate themselves to God, and to the education” of Black women. Very much like Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, these sisters encountered opposition and persecution from Baltimore’s Catholic community. In 1829, the Oblate Sisters of Providence were finally allowed to “pledge themselves to a life of service and faithful observance of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Clergy remained disapproving of a Black sisterhood. Black women were deemed as incapable of embodying virtue. “The image of Black women as the sexually promiscuous Jezebel became fixed in the white public consciousness. Negative stereotypes of black women remained so widespread in American culture that long after the history of slavery,” religious leaders could not imagine “the creation of a virtuous black woman.” The White enslaver class believed that biology and morality were inherently fixed. Not matter what Blacks did to earn respect, it would never be enough. Grace was insufficient.

In thinking about nature, grace, and Respectability Politics, my friend Tapji Garba and I have arrived somewhat at a tentative theological case in fierce opposition to the false god of Respectability. Critiques of “respectabilism” are part of a quite Protestant stream of thinking that lends itself toward iconoclasm. Taps used the example of Martin Luther’s criticism of indulgences, that just as indulgences were viewed polemically as ladders to reach God, so too does respectability function as a ladder for the oppressed to achieve their full humanity. If marginalized persons do so choose to appropriate respectability, they should only do so as what Taps rightly observed as engaging in the task of naming that which is fictive. Respectability is a false atonement, and is as just a falsehood as the racist stereotypes the Oblate Sisters of Providence fought by practicing chastity and poverty. A respectabilism that is used to sustain these untruths means the continued humiliation of Blacks and People of Color. Ultimately, bowing at the alter of Respectability is an atonement TO sovereignty: the state, the market, and privileged elites. To the extent that the oppressed use Respectability Politics to expose imperialist lies which tie biology to virtuosity, they assert their own God-given human dignity.

(Photo description: picture taken at a bus stop on the eastside of Fort Worth. The poster read: ‘Why they respected us then’ underneath a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and friends locking arms, dressed in suits. On the bottom of the poster:’ why they don’t respect us now’ as a caption of what seems to be a screen shot of a hip hop video, with young black men sagging, looking quote/unquote “thuggish.’)

is Christian Capitalism a heresy? #HobbyLobby

STOP! PAUSE! I already realize there will be people on both sides of this debate arguing that “well Christian communism” or “Christian socialism” is also wrong, yada yada. Sure I’ll concede this but these concepts aren’t the status quo or relevant to this discussion.

Last year I went down close to the San Antonio area with my church’s singles group for a Baptist conference for singles. I had some good memories, and also some not-so-good memories that I live-tumblred. Even wrote a song.

At that time I was working two part-time jobs, 1 in retail, the other substitute teaching. I wanted a little bit more stability so I attended the “manage your finances” seminar. The lesson was taught based on the premise that one was full-time employed, with benefits, and earning $40,000 at minimum. The lesson was irrevant to the needs of the working poor/unemployed and to the message of the Gospel. Jesus’ liberating mission (Luke 4:19) was completely ignored. God’s favor for the oppressed was dismissed in favor of free market talking points clothed in religious piety. Just because our lecturer, a white collar worker at an investment firm, was at the top, did not mean he had the clearest view. But again, that’s the problem with the Church’s marriage to Capitalism; there’s very little space to hear the voices of those who are suffering.

In Christianity, we have a bad habit of hiding behind power. The 4th century bishops hid behind Emperors like Constantine; Martin Luther had his princes, John Calvin had his city councils; church going slave owners had their Bibles and plantations; the abolitionists had Lincoln, later Woodrow Wilson; the Moral Majority had Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In today’s world, the culture wars are almost out of the hands of politicians, and in the hands of businessmen through the media, social media, and various institutions. Who are the Defenders of the Faith today? Christian celebrities from Duck Dynasty, and the owners of Chik-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby, respectively. #NoShade

Systematic theologian Joerg Rieger asked it best, “what if our theologies and our churches have, at least unconsciously, become part of the religion of the market? What if the God worshipped on Sunday mornings looks more like Mammon everyday?” For more see Rieger’s Liberating The Future.
What I see happening is the cycle of Christians coalescing around the powerful, placing their hopes on them. This adoration of money and influence isn’t limited to the church of course; what I am saying is that this is happening in spite of our Savior’s teachings on the subject of money. Yes I already know the Parable of the Minas (Talents) and you’re wrong. When a person has the audacity to speak up and compare Christ’s teachings to the American church’s economic practices, they are labelled “communist.” Such red-baiting only exemplifies how much people are willing to go to cling to their idols.

One practice that happens in mainline and evangelical churches that goes unchecked is denominational structures investing their money in stocks and futures. About two weeks ago, the Presbyterian Church USA applauded itself and its white saviorism for divesting from THREE corporations implicated in destroying Palestinian lives. At the general assembly, America was seen to be the “real” Promised Land and anti-Jewish propaganda were first placed then taken down from the PCUSA website.

What doesn’t go questioned is WHY ARE CHURCHES INVESTING in the stock market in the first place? Why not the lives of the poor? Why not homes for Palestinian refugees? This paternalistic white saviorism is part of the legacy of capitalism. James Baldwin said it best, that Israel was created for the salvation of Western interests.

Neoliberalism and neocolonial empire is built upon the history of divide and conquer among conquered groups, the Palestinians and Israelis being just two of those. The imperial missionary religion transplanted overseas said, “love your neighbor at home, except if she was black or First Nations. Love your neighbor in a foreign country, except if she is a woman of color.” This hypocrisy remains today. Take for example, “Christian” business Hobby Lobby. As Tyler pointed out, we think it’s great that HL is paying a living wage. However, they are inconsistent in their “pro-life” ethic by expoiting Chinese workers and investing in abortion pills still here and abroad. The Supreme Court ruling given on Monday was not about religious freedom. It was about economic liberty and power as understood by the Christian capitalist managerial class. In the words of Bill Clinton, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

There are ways towards resisting the Church’s sacramentalizing the free market, and that starts looking back with the teachings of Jesus, and being present in the here and now with the least of these. One of my favorite Gospel passages our mother had us to memorize was Matthew 6:21, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. If you value fellow human beings as all being made in the image of God, from fetus to factory worker, you will show them love, struggle against the systems of death with them, and bring them life. This may mean church may have to stop giving in to the status quo, take risks, and in a rare moment of agreement with Wayne Grudem, invest in people, not corporations and power.

In the words of James Cone, from hid A Black Theology of Liberation,

“Embracing the world is a denial of the gospel. The history of traditional Christianity and recent secular theology show the danger of this procedure. Identifying the rise of nationalism with Christianity, capitalism with the gospel, or exploration of outer space with the advancement of the kingdom of God serves only to enhance the oppression of the weak. It is a denial of the lordship of Christ. To affirm Christ as Lord means that the world stands under his judgment. There is no place or person not subject to his rule.”

#DuckDynasty, Grace, and White Supremacist Gods #fleshYGod

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

[…..]

of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”- John 1:14, 16-17, NIV

I didn’t mumble a single word when the truth about Paula Deen’s white supremacist desires were made public, and BIG SURPRISE, she’s making a comeback. Real. Shocker. I really don’t bother with private individual’s racism because these conversations ultimately derail conversations about the history of white supremacy as a worldwide system. Color me shocked once more when GQ Magazine asks a 67 year old conservative patriarch what he thought was sinful. Really? Is GQ Magazine replacing Christianity Today? Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this whole controversy was cooked up to get even higher ratings for A&E as well as further entrench the white conservative evangelical base as a means of profit. Disaster is always bound to happen when religious movements are strictly viewed as people groups to be marketed to.

The interview and the consequences of Phil Robertson’s comments are not the product of a First Amendment debate; this is a battle created for and by the Free Market. Social conservatives love free market capitalism except when things don’t go their way, sorta like “Christian movies.” What I find appalling is that white evangelical Christians want to claim all of these celebrities out in the “secular” for themselves, the Sarah Palin’s, Phil Robertson’s and Paula Deen’s, but they do not want to take ownership of these celebrity’s racist comments. I can understand why persons come to reject Christianity in this age, (let’s put aside sexual ethics for a second), when all of these outspoken representatives of KKKristianity continue to perpetuate the white supremacist mythology. KKKristianity in the eyes of outsiders seems less like a group of followers of Jesus who love our neighbors as ourselves as they are more in love with the idea of swimming in cultural ignorance.

There is absolutely no excuse that appeals to folksy political incorrectness and whitewashed distortions of history should be tolerated. Contrary to popular defenses of him, Phil Robertson is not some country bumpkin who happened to make it rich like The Beverly Hillbillies. To denigrate Robertson’s intelligence in assuming the worst, is to essentialize not only poor white persons who live in the swamplands, but also to ignore the fact that he has his Master’s in Education from Louisiana Tech. Educated, well-meaning people from all different backgrounds are capable of holding onto white supremacist religions and tellings of history. One example of this is Patheos religious blogging site. Supposedly the concept is to be progressive, with a site “Hosting the Conversation” but, they have TWO (YES TWO YA’LL) channels for white Conservative Christians (Family and Evangelical), and there are barely any bloggers of Color; one could probably count that number on one hand [see FOOTNOTE 1]. See, the myth is that Blacks have nothing value to contribute to culture because we are lazy and dependent by nature.

image from the Christian Post

Going back to Phil Robertson’s quote:

“I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

PRE-ENTITLEMENT AND PRE-WELFARE. Okay a little bit of a history and politics lessons, sir, “entitlements” have been around since the beginning of the Republic. Ever heard of the 3/5th Compromise? Secondly, during Jim and Jane Crow segregation, whites stole money from black people in the form of Social Security (among other things), taking our tax dollars and benefitting from “separate but equal.” The idea that blacks are lazy is once again preached by a white Christian celebrity from his bully pulpit. Nothing new to see here. EXCEPT, he also had to add during Jim and Jane Crow segregation, Black people were happy and no one was singing the blues. EXCEPT for the fact that black people invented the blues during the time of legal segregation because life was miserable. Blacks haven’t done anything for American society EXCEPT build it with their bare hands and scarred backs.[see FOOTNOTE 2].

The notion that black people are not people to be valued is a deeply held belief in a graceless, white supremacist society. The God of pop culture Kkkristianity is a White Supremacist. People of Color, in general, are not shown the same grace that they are expected to give others. Anti-Blackness, however, is the very air we breathe. Black people are viewed as being on the bottom rung of our culture, depraved, going without intelligence or will-power. What is grace in a world where white Christians STAN for Saint George Zimmerman while villifying Trayvon Martin as a thug? What is grace where Renisha McBride is derided as a drunk? What is grace in a world where rape and murder victim Dion Payne has his humanity called into question because he made a few bad decisions while he was young?

But meanwhile, there are calls for grace for Hugo Schwyzer and CJ Mahaney for preying on women and children. But what is grace in a White Supremacist society? In the Christian tradition, grace is the “unmerited [unearned] favor of God” given to us, but grace in the DisUnited States of Amerikkka means for people to stop criticizing persons in prominent roles, and allow these persons in power to continue to be in positions of power after they have said, “I’m Sorry.” Apologies replace genuine repentance. White supremacist, colonial lies remain in the stead of truth.

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grac...

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

White Supremacist Gods have cheap grace and oppression as their telos. As a Christian anti-Racist, I look to Scripture where God elects to exist in the meatsuit of a human being in the first century. An anti-racist Incarnational theology means a complete rejection of white supremacy’s cheap grace. In the Gospel of John, as I cited, there is not severance of truth from grace. As such, Truth and Grace remain an integral part of each other. Truthfulness is lifted up along with Grace. In practical terms, grace for an anti-racist praxis means everyone regardless of race, nationality, or ethnic background is given the freedom to express who they are as infinitely valuable planetary creatures. Truth as an anti-racist practice means persons are free to tell the truth in community, as well as resist and debunk white supremacist lies like the ones Phil Robertson is spreading.

FOOTNOTE 1: Let’s not forget about Patheos’ gender problem as well. A good friend of mine was placed in the Patheos Spirituality channel although she is a Christian. The reason? She’s not a DudeBro.

FOOTNOTE 2: If you do not like the fact your country was built by black people, I suggest you leave. That’s my answer to anti-black racism.