Tag Archives: critical race theory

Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

*Editors Note*: This is a Re-Post of my contribution to our Preaching Chalcedon Tri-Blog event. I am turning this into a series

THE IMPURITY CODE:How Liberal & Evangelical Christians Both Can Affirm the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition

First, I would like to take the time to commend Amanda Mac for this intriguing conversation that has stirred up a lot of interest apparently. Optymystic Chad deserves commendation as well for his brave stance, for not many Christians are willing to challenge tradition, and in such a provocative manner, no less.

Honestly, I come to this conversation without a dog in this fight. As a young pup growing up, I was Baptist, and the only creed we recognized was the Lord’s Prayer.  Like many folks, I did not encounter the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas until graduate school. Honestly, for some reason, there is something magical about the ancient Creeds. As a children’s pastor at a church I once worked for, after they recited the Apostle’s Creed, I felt more alive and ready to give my children’s sermon, without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps it was a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, that there is a cloud of witnesses that transcends any community I partake in. So as a matter of transparency, I come from a non-creedal tradition, and this is my defense (sorta) of the Chalcedonian Formula. On to the questions!

Homoousios As Hegemony

He asks,

“Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have. ”

Then Chad also inquires,

“Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?”

Chad is not the first to make these charges against the Chalcedonian Council. Neither do his pre-cautions go unwarranted. For instance, in her work, The Black Christ, Christian theologian and womanist Kelly Brown Douglas, who herself affirms the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition as an Episcopalian, says, “Black Christians tend not to consider it relevant to their own beliefs about Jesus” (p 112). She adds, “By ignoring Jesus’s ministry and focusing on his “being,” He is seen as someone to be worshipped, believed in, but not followed or imitated” (112-113). Seeing the face of Christ in the oppressed, specifically, black women is part of Brown Douglas’s Christology, but no where (at least from her viewpoint) can one see that in the N-C tradition.

The hegemonic nature of the Chalcedonian Promulgation also stands as a barrier for Christian bible scholar and feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She, too, finds it way too problematic that Graeco-Roman terms were used as a fixed formula for attributing imperial economic labels onto Christ’s life. She says,

“This Christological doctrine thereby inscribes into Christian orthodox self-understanding and identity the “mysterious economy” of kyriarchal relations and imperial domination. By associating fatherhood/masculinity with divinity and eternity and by firmly placing motherhood/femininity in the temporal realm of humanity, it introduces not only gender dualism, but also the dualism between church and world, religion and nature, heaven and earth.” (Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, page 22).

The Essential(isms) of The Faith

It would be impossible for Kelly Brown Douglas to speak for all persons of African descent at all times, and I doubt that she was doing that, but without qualifications, one finds themselves into Essentialism Land, that magical place where everyone knows who you are ‘cuz of what you look like. Brown Douglas forgot to mention that there is a significant population of Black Catholics who, like M. Shawn Copeland, who could attest to their black Christianity emphasizing the importance of the creeds. By the same measure, my apologies, Chad, but there is no such thing as THE Hebraic faith. Come on, friend, you know that Second Temple Judaisms thing? I would not say that one Jew is more “Hebraic” than another, for who am I, as a Gentile, to say such a thing. Is Philo somehow less Jewish because he wrote in Greek? Yes, the whole “Homoousios vs. Homoiousios” controversy is extra-biblical, but I don’t affirm that strict version of Sola Scriptura, and I doubt that you do either. Furthermore, to understand the Covenant Pentecostally, a believer has little choice but to affirm multi-lingualism. J. Kameron Carter understand Irenaeus’s writing to be pointing in this direction. In his Race: A Theological Account, Carter argues, ” In Christ, then, language is liberated from the fiction of purity and thus from every structure of dominance and slavery [.]” (30)  The notion of a pure biblical language, a pure race, a purely feminine/ masculine person comes unraveled in the covenantal Jewish flesh of Yeshua. There is no dualism or monism in Christ, but there is Reconciliation.

In order to understand Carter’s logic, one must go back to look at his theology of Israel, a theology that is anti-racist and anti-supercessionist. One cannot speak simply of Christ as purely human because Jesus’ humanity “constitutes a new intrahumanity.”  Christ’s existence is unique in that the Logos and Spirit are en-fleshed and in communion with the Father.  For Carter, “Christ’s flesh is mulatto flesh. […] The covenantal people of Israel witnesses to creation its own fruitful ‘contamination’  before YHWH as its life-giving limit” (30).  As Carter articulates so very well  Yeshua’s intrahuman fleshly existence , which supercedes space and time to receive the worship of Jews and Gentiles alike, is forever bound to impurity, therefore, the ethnic lines and classes set up by white supremacists and Social Darwinians alike are exposed for what they are: PURE FICTION.  Christ Yeshua is what it means for creation to exist in the presence of the Triune Creator, and no language can fully encapsulate that very miracle, but at the same time, every language and culture articulate it in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Every True Scotsman!!!

 

An Impure Orthopraxis

Amanda asks:

Should we preach Chalcedon today?  Is Chalcedon useful today?

I would answer, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and more yes, but with a few qualifications.  As I alluded to in my response to Chad, one must understand Yeshua in light of what the formula says,

“but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;
even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us”

I would argue that the Chalcedonian Formula is more of a Code, yes a Code. A Code is, for the most part according to Dictionary.com, a system of rules and regulations. It is an Impurity Code because it recognizes that the reconciling mission of the Savior is programmed into his very being: “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Once one understands the Chalcedonian Impurity Code in this manner, minus the anathema threats, it becomes a weapon against closed societies that regulate humanity according to “gender” and “race.”

I suggest that we listen to the wisdom of J. Kameron Carter in his theology of participation, where “Chalcedon is to be conceived as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is throughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. […] It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy, by which God is God for us, that makes creation transcendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator” (191).  In other words, Christ’s intrahumanity in reconciling creation to its Creator, makes all of creation more than just material. Corporeality is the reality in which God has been revealed, for the Transfiguration, as testified to by Moses and Elijah, reveals that all creatures have been placed under a new social rubric.  The mathematics of Chalcedon is quite simple, really: Christ + All=1/ All – Christ= 0.  Bodies, therefore, become the very vehicles by which God is magnified.  Just as Moses and Elijah stand witness to that blinding light on Mount Tabor representing the legal and prophetic word, so must one recognize that Christ is the hermeneutical key to our open creation.  Becoming involved in the logoi of the prophets is to become involved in the life of God.  Contrary to Kelly Brown Douglas’s claims, Yeshua is not a person to be followed, for we do not live in the 1st century, nor do I wish to “imitate” Yeshua the Messiah because the scriptural witness informs me that his death ends all sacrifices and what good does it do the oppressed to live a life ordained with suffering? Is not that the reason womanist theology had to distinguish itself from J. Deotis Roberts’ and James Cone’s Christology?   If Christianity is just another story like Harry Potter where the hero gives his life for others, I want a new religion.  Thus, it is important to realize that the early churches speculated that it was possible that Christ is the door to life in God, and therefore our agency is not our own, but Christ’s.  Yeshua the Messiah, as what Latin American Liberationists call The God-Poor, existing in solidarity with the oppressed empowers humanity to join in God’s redemptive love for the cosmos.

Do our congregations, which are steeped in a largely biblically-illiterate culture, just “know” that Christ is fully divine and fully human when we preach?

Ummm. Depends on who you talk to.  Sometimes there are congregation members who do their homework and read, and there are others that do not.

What would happen if we dropped the “shorthand” and began using the full sentence in our preaching?

I think people will start to walk out and leave. Long sermons are never popular, well, unless you grow up in the Black Baptist tradition. Sigh.

How do we guard against the tendency towards either Docetism or Nestorianism in our churches?

Pray.

Should evangelical churches, that are largely creedless, begin to re-examine and find ways to adopt these ancient statements in a post-modern context?

I would say this is the very last thing that evangelicals need to do if they want to reach out to a post-modern context.  So, no. They should first re-discover their own history before trying to explore historical Christianity.

To conclude, I will end with a passage from Scripture that is a short version of the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition:

“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4)

 

 

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Rebooting Political Jesus Part 4: Cultural Intelligence

For the beginning of this series that started back in October of last year, Rebooting PJ, keeping the name, and Part 1: why h00die_R, part 2, Theological Openness, Part 3: Nonviolent Politics.

As I am weaving together the principles that describe Political Jesus, I see how theological openness and nonviolent politics are connected, and how both intersect with this next principle, Cultural Intelligence.  A commitment to theological openness (relationality+honesty) means that, as persons committed to a personal God, we have a duty to discuss all relationships.  Since anti-racism is very much a part of nonviolent politics, Cultural Intelligence must be seen as a defining value in this space.

Also pejoratively mocked at “political correctness,” the quest to attain cultural intelligence is an on-going process for all persons.  As a Christian, I understand Christ Jesus as the best Teacher of anti-racist praxis, the Person who defined justice for us, and the One who establishes the norms by which we are to be reconciled across cultural boundaries. Just as main-liners and post-evangelicals make that people just turned off by “hellfire and brimstone sermons,” a number of Christians do not like to read or hear about Christianity’s race problem. In fact, they would probably prefer the former.  The fact is, studies are now showing now more than ever, that U.S. American Christians of various cultural backgrounds believe in “separate but equal” as a way of life. In short, Christians are resisting the Kingdom of God, the worship service at the New Creation where every nation, tribe, tongue, and people group are praising our King Jesus.

While these realities can seem intimidating, there is hope, but that’s the thing about hope. Once a person catches hope, she catches something that places herself in conflict with the world. So people can be filled with hope that in their enthusiasm, they can be labelled as “angry” and “impatient” by others. One of the things I have learned from other writers and my friends is that if Christian anti-racism is a part of Christian discipleship, justice and hope must be valued equally.  Not only are Christians empowered to redemptively use the sciences of this world to combat the practices and institutions that divide us, but also in following Christ, we must start to faithfully live out the Kingdom in the here and now.

If a congregation is to apply Cultural Intelligence, it will have many implications for evangelism, missions, discipleship.  It starts with a self-awareness, but it cannot stop there.  We can’t say hey, we’re a Star Wars Church, we shall stay Star Wars church only for geeks and blerds. No. No no no no no.  This is not what Jesus demands of us with the Great Commission.  The Body of Christ is not to be a country club where people gather to share in their special interests (cultural particularities).  If we just remain stuck in self-awareness mode, we are probably going to end up in the idolatrous territory of self-glorification.  As Soong Chan-Rah argues in Many Colors:
Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church
, “By engaging in relationships across the cultural divide and learning from others, we create the possibility of expanding our cultural worldview.” It is this expansion of our worldview that is the creation of space within ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to move. This space creation has a biblical term; it is called repentance. A people of repentance will not be simply guilt-ridden persons who offer apologies after wronging offended parties. Rather the truly penitent work to do better, to change actual practices for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Cultural intelligence involves the hard work of keeping vigilant; since it is a life-long process we can choose to grow through. It means understanding the complexity of culture, power dynamics, the power of words, as well as the power of just being present and listening to others. Pastoral theologian Emmanuel Lartey developed a term I have found most useful, that of interculturality. (for more, see Lartey’s In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling, specifically the first 2 chapters). Where as cross-cultural and multi-cultural approaches to reconciliation and justice assume conflict and natural, irreconcilable difference, interculturality values the diversity of human experience found in possible universal, culturally-specific, and individual uniqueness. The assumption is quite Trinitarian in nature where every human person is 1. Like All Others 2. Like Some Others 3. Like No Other.  And just like that, I have moved back into theological openness; from my point of view, an intercultural theology is necessarily trinitarian, reflecting the glory of our Triune Creator.

Intersectionality And Peacemaking: Race And Naming White Supremacy #thenewpacifism

Today, I would like to begin this post with a reflection on Jesus Christ, and the last days concerns his Second Coming.

“Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

– Revelation 19:15-21 NIV

John of Patmos prophesied about the coming of God’s reign and the termination of all empires such as Nero’s Rome. In the process of describing this event, the Johannine author made sure to inform his audience the manner in which empire is dismantled: not through revolutionary violence but the preaching of the Logos. The weapon of choice is launched from God’s lips, God’s teeth, God’s tongue, God’s vocal chords. In creation stories of Genesis, God appoints Adam and Eve to name the beasts of the field. This act of naming is God sharing God’s capacity to create. God creates by the Word (Psalm 33:6) and so humanity has the capacity to participate in this act through co-creation. What human fallenness does is pervert humanity’s powers of co-creation and twist them into powers of death and destruction. Because of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, for Christians, Jesus the Word from the Father as Athanasius called him, we are empowered to defeat sin and give witness to God’s perfecting love.

This is the theological foundation on which I am writing from for this Intersectionality and Peacemaking series the next 3 days.

Last week was Halloween, and because we live in a culture where White Supremacy is the norming norm behind our thinking, being, and doing, racist practices persisted on that holiday. For example, the practice of blackface is a old practice whereby negative black stereotypes are reinforced by the majority. It’s not so hard to understand why blackface is offensive, and if you have to ask, it probably is. The presuppositions held by persons who do blackface are the myths of white supremacy that I worked to methodically debunk for over three months.

Whether it is Lorne Michaels feeling guilty over not hiring black women for Saturday Night Live or audiences across America learning how to lament due to 12 Years A Slave, white supremacy functions in such a way where it disciplines our emotions where persons can show remorse, and yet not change their behavior. I gave up using the terminology of white privilege what seems long ago, because white supremacy in its liberal and conservative forms was avoided being talked about, plus, white privilege was just a nicer way of discussing racial issues. But why do we think discussions of race have to be nice? And on whose definition of civility and patience are we going by? Whoops. And then once white supremacy is examined by way of reason, emotional responses of derailers taking critiques personally are never too rare.

For contemporary Peace Theologians, we must admire the politics of truth and nonviolence espoused by thinkers such as Stanley Hauerwas. If it was not for the writings of Dr. Hauerwas, I would not be the Christian I am today. There is little doubt in my mind that Hauerwas’ testimony is part of the impetus for Christians challenging the mainstream right of center approach to nation-state politics that currently holds “THE CHURCH IN THE US” captive. Four years ago, I was the chief among Hauerwasians, and in seminary, at each opportunity, I placed my particular take on postliberal theology with a passion. I had failed to critically engage some of what Hauerwas was saying. That was until, I struck up a conversation with a friend I met at an academic conference. She took the time to share a few articles with me that crritical engaged Hauerwas’ work. After reading and some reflection, now I can’t help but use “THE CHURCH” in all caps and quotation marks, as a sign of how hegemonic that type of language really is.

In such texts as The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas understands that human existence and the way we frame ethics today is fragmented, disjointed, and without a common narrative. Consistent with Alasdair MacIntyre‘s oepning chapters in his work, After Virtue, this moral chaos has only one solution: the return to Aristotle, virttue ethics, and a grand story. This division, this utter distrust for “the Other” is something that is natural to humanity, and in the line of thinking like Rene Girard, the distrust leads to creations of violent scapegoating mechanism. Even from a junior high school perspective (in 7th grade, we learned a bit about Aristotle, in yes, a public school), that there was a hierarchy of persons within a prescribed order, this included the free man/enslaved person dichotomy. Since this distrust of the Other is natural, it is natural that communities make myths about the Other. White supremacist myth-making is human nature, and white supremacy is therefore natural. As someone who is familiar with post-structuralism, I find this claim problematic. Hauerwas’ approach, at the very least, gives a pass to arguments like everyone is racist, rendering justice work impossible.

Hauerwas’ argument against Liberation theology is that it is inherently violent, but he admits that he himself is a “violent SOB” and that’s why he is a pacifist! To set a double standard, making a theology from the voices of the oppressed more violent than yours while you endorse different forms of violence uncritically (basically criminalizing angry POC & women) is to participate in white supremacy. What needs to happen is a more serious commitment to the politics of truth. Indeed, a more truthful rendering of why the world is “fragmented” as it is lets us see that we are responsible for this chaos, and that it is not a completely bad thing. The hegemony prescribed by Peace Theologians must take into account of institutional racism and the histories of empire, or they should not call themselves Peace Theologians at all. Before taking aim at the military industrial complex, they need to have beforehand alternative education solutions so that the poor won’t have to turn to killing people for careers. The institution of war is interconnected with the racisms, sexism, and poverty. This is why Peace Theologies can only benefit from engaging in a dialogue with intersectionality.

Next Post: Naming Rape culture, sexist myths, and the story of King David!