Tag Archives: Cornel West

Intellectuals do not love the church as much as I do

It’s not really obvious, but the message is becoming more and more subtle. There are a number of Christian writers who believe they love The Church more than people who disagree with them. Who are their dissenters? They are the eggheads, the geeks, people so busy having their face planted in a 600 page book, they probably aren’t going to be able to hold a conversation with your everyday layperson. Academic language is too complicated. Theology is too difficult for THEM to understand. Philosophy? Critical Theory? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

In a speech given in Washington, D.C., Cornel West discussed the idea of “the organic intellectual,” or a public figure who linked the life of the mind to social change, with his example being Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe this approach to knowledge is really quite different from the progressive anti-intellectualism that I see online and irl. Ideas are things to be consumed, become transformed into trends, sold on t-shirts, parodied on YouTube, and most importantly, ideas are things to be mentioned in books as authors sell them. Knowledge becomes power in so far as it is power over others. In stark contrast, the organic intellectual is committed to wisdom, putting ideas into practice, and reflecting on that praxis time, and again. Wisdom is also an intelligence that is shared, never to be privatized by a small class of wannabe celebrities.

One probable case contrary to progressive anti-intellectualism took place during the time after I had finished my Masters thesis. No one in my family or circle of friends really bothered to ask me what my research was about. Months later after everything was said and done, and I had started attending worship at a local congregation after a year or so of working on staff at another church, I became re-acquainted with a few of the elderly members of the church. Every Sunday, I would make sure to say hi and have small chat with Ms. Polly, and the more we talked, the more I learned we had in common. It turns out, she had experience in theological education, and so did some of her children as well. When I told her what my degree was in, and that I had to do a thesis, Ms. Polly asked me what was my thesis on, and I explained my topic to her. It was the first time outside an academic setting that someone had cared to ask me about my research interests. It’s something that I’ll never forget, and I haven’t forgotten. Later on that year when members of the church were called upon to volunteer to repave Ms. Polly’s driveway, I was one of the first people to sign up. All because we had bonded over theological discussions. At church.

The real question should be: do these Christian writers who “love” the Church more than the “intellectuals” really love the Church? If you love someone, would not you want to share with them the best wisdom that others have to offer? If you love average person in the pew, then why would you presume that they wouldn’t be interested in the life of the mind?

Just thinking out loud here.


prophecy and deliverance.

Cornel West in his groundbreaking text work, Prophesy and Deliverance: A Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity,  attempts to outline a methodology by which we can understand African American political theology. Accordingly, those who study African American political theology must acknowledge the strong influence of evangelical and pietistic Christianity on it.  African American Christian traditions were begotten the moment the African slaves landed in the United States and were dominated by their slave masters who used the bible to justify it. White American Christians used the bible as tool to create servitude. However, the slaves took Christianity and used the biblical text, Protestant hymns, and Christian testimonies to interpret their lives. Ultimately, this engagement led to how West conceives of the black church. For West,  the black church is not limited to a particular denomination interpretation of church. Rather the black church is unified under by the shared experience of slaves to follow Jesus over the dogmatic and coercive Christianity that was presented to them by their slave owners. It was the black church that helped the slaves to not only understand themselves but their communities as well. West admits that the black church tradition took various forms to create what is now the rich diversity that is contemporary black theological reflection.

Most poignantly for West is the prophetic tradition originated from the black church, and its influence on the scope of African American political theology. He writes the prophetic Christianity’s greatest contribution is, “individuals regardless of class, country, caste, race, or sex should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her potentiality.” This serves as the core of prophetic Christian gospel for him. The God of this text is a transcendental God who has created all people equally and subsequently has provided divine salvation to the same extent. In other words, prophetic Christianity has provided African American political theology with the notion of radical egalitarianism. West describes this notion as “the Christian principle of the self-realization of individuality within the community.” While I agree with West for the most part on his view of the role of the prophetic in shaping the African American political theology I do believe that his view is limited. I strongly believe that Christianity is not the only religion that was used by slaves in developing African American political theology. Although the black church had arguably the loudest voice in this development it certainly was not the only voice. West monopolizes Christianity as the sole religious factor in the development of the political theology for the African slaves. It has been estimated that between 10-20 percent of the African slaves who came to America were actually Muslims. Many of these slaves fought fervently to maintain their Muslim identity. Some of succeed beyond the first generation but many were coerced into converting into Christianity.

There were also various theistic slave religions that came to America as well, through the transatlantic slave trade. Many of them shared similarities such as a belief in a Supreme Creator. African religious traditions were deeply rooted in balancing the spiritual realm and the natural world. Remnants of this are still seen today in how African Americans balance theology or religious modes of thinking with the realities that they experience in the natural world. My point here is this, Cornel West in his description of the black church and the influence of the prophetic nature of Christianity on the scope of African American political theology neglects the multifarious religious nature of the African slaves. Enslaved Africans did not learn American Christianity on a blank slate or without prior religious foundations. There were many different religious ideologies that influenced the development of African American political theology. To develop a more robust understanding of the political theology of African Americans it is important to recognize the polyreligious origins of the religion of the African American slaves.

Dispatches from College Ministries: On Meeting Cornel West

Dispatches from College Campus Ministries:

I hesitate to state that I’ll be starting a new post series that will essentially be my journaling of various interactions with (often problematic) Christian ministries on my campus. I’ll try to keep them brief and succinct.


I'm on the left.

I’m on the left.

YES he was as awesome as I thought he’d be- perhaps even more so, actually! Got to attend the reception ( which is where the photo above was taken). I was told by ( some obviously bitter people) that West wouldn’t take photos, sign books, or talk about personal life with people –  HE DID ALL OF THE ABOVE. Granted, it was tough trying to get to him,there was a SWARM of people (students, faculty, community members) wanting to speak with Dr. West, get their copies of Democracy Matters signed, and a picture. He actually asked me how school was going, but I was too tongue-tied and star-struck to give an articulate answer so I said something to the tune of “School’s going well, you’re such an inspiration to me!!” LOlz….

English: Cornel West, keynote speaker at the M...

English: Cornel West, keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Week. University of Utah. Contrast enhanced, sensor noise filtered, saturation adjusted (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

            West’s lecture was INCREDIBLE. Everything I hoped and more. I can not articulate how happy I was for the predominantly white college I attend to be exposed to someone like West. As many noted, his “lecture” , in his delivery, histrionics, and content was more like a “sermon” – a social justice sermon. He name-dropped so many blues/funk artists, it was jarring. He made me want to listen to the Blues in describing it as “the music of the oppressed” – it wasn’t optimistic, but in recognizing the hell they were living in due to their status of being despised people, they simply sang about it, yet refused to compromise their moral character in the process and retained a high premium on the notion of unconditional love for one another. I had posted a FB status the day after his incredible speech, that essentially sums up many of his quotes throughout the night –

– Never cease Socratic questioning of the American empire; – Never cease self-examination and self-questioning (dying so that we might live) and evaluating the extent to which we are colluding with imperialistic patterns and forces of our own nation; -Become a prophetic voice in the age of empire, as the Negro national anthem says “lift every VOICE (not echoes of empire) and sing!” – Dr. Cornel West


– This semester, while I haven’t been attending Cru “large group” ( a Christian campus ministry- interdenominational ((only not))), I have been attending men’s bible studies. We’ve always been outnumbered by the girls of Cru by quite a bit, and so our men’s bible study has been just as intimate- 4 or 5 guys ( the same 4 or 5). It’s been good  for the most part, but I am annoyed by an attempt to make Hebrews 9:26 -28 refer to/support the “P”in Calvinism’s TULIP (perseverance of the saints). That in addition to the general theology of “God hates the people who end up in Hell b/c they didn’t trust Jesus as their celestial firefighter” … is it rude to offer drastically differing theological lenses as a bible study where everyone else seems to be on the same accord?

Also, every year, Cru at UNCA does this program called “Blanket America” where we ( and other Crus students , sometimes, in the W. North Carolina. E. Tennessee region) travel to the 3rd poorest county in the nation – Clay Co. Kentucky , to this clothing shelter , sponsored by a local church , where we then distribute blankets, winter coats, (fattening) snacks, bibles,  etc. But before any of this happens, we take the lined up poor/homeless folk to this room ( each of us are assigned someone in line) and we share the “gospel” with the aid of this tract supposedly depicting us before and after Christ. We start out by asking them “Do you have a relationship with God” and then depending on their answer we share the “gospel” or talk about it a bit more, and then we proceed to get them their winter goods. I only did this my freshman year and have not participated ever since.

Besides the problematic “gospel” they want us to share, I was so happy the other day when a student (whom I’m good friends with) who had gone on the trip pointed out that we’re not really helping them or showing long-term support to these impoverished people. They wait every year for that one day and then we leave and they’re left to be dependent on our will to come and volunteer. At this point I chimed “solidarity over charity!” – she was essentially pointing out that the Blanket America operation doesn’t force us to show long-term solidarity with these folks, but just cheap, short-term charity ( for one weekend of a year!). She then said “yes!” and proceeded to ask where I heard that from, at which point, I shared  Rod’s post on solidarity being preferable to charity.  Broken down to its core, Blanket America is essentially a chance for a mostly white , middle-class kids who profess the Christian faith to feel good about themselves without being too closely associated with the downtrodden because they can then go home and tell mommy, daddy, friends, and pastors back home that they “ministered to the physical and spiritual needs” of the poor. After this short weekend, however, they’re relived of this and while these people are left dependent on this short day, the privileged are left with a good, magical feeling in their hearts of having done “the Lord’s work”.  Mind you, 1 in 6 people in W. North Carolina don’t have access to basic needs or have ample food security  or may live in a food desert – but no, let’s travel 4 hours away to Kentucky and forget about ( and never interact with) the issues in our own backyard. In the time they have all these retreats, parties, hang-outs, game nights, etc.; I am sure a good bit of it could be spent showing solidarity with marginalized groups in the Asheville area ( there are PLENTY) – for these reasons I have ceased attending Cru as often – I want para –Church, NOT para-entertainment. 

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