Tag Archives: Egypt

Will ISIS Bring About Christian Unity?

 Nathan Lewis Lawrence is a biracial graduate student, world traveler, and jujitsu enthusiast from Lancaster, Ohio. He received his bachelor’s degree in Security studies from Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio and received a M.A. in Peace and Conflict studies at the Department of International Relations at Hacettepe University. Currently, he attends the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. Check out his personal blog Taming Cynicism.

There is no question that Christians around the world ought to pay attention to the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East due to their oppression by the Islamic State.  The Apostle Paul’s exhortation in 1st Corinthians 12 speaks to the universal solidarity that the Body of Christ possesses by the power of the Holy Spirit. Ideally, Christians should be united in their mourning of the recent martyrdom of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya and for the 100 Christians in Syria being kidnapped by the Islamic State. We ought to follow the example of Bishop Angaelos and pray for our brothers and sisters-in-Christ. They were a sacrifice to draw attention to the suffering of those oppressed by the Islamic State.

“I learned a long time ago that when one prays, one prays for the best outcome, not  knowing what that outcome would be. Of course, I prayed that they would be safe. But I also prayed that, when the moment came, they would have the peace and strength to be  able to get through it. It doesn’t change my view of God that these 21 men died in this        way. They were sacrificed, but so much has come out of it. They brought the imminent   dangers to marginalized peoples, not just Christians, but Yazidis and others in the Middle East, to the attention of the whole world.”

One can add that they are also a sacrifice to help generate a conversation on inter-church relations. This horrific event offers us an opportunity to discuss the large relational gap between liturgical forms of faith and free churchversions of the Christian faith.  Many American protestant denominations and non-denominational organizations in the United States have chimed in on the killings. Most notably, leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention expressed solidarity with the Coptic and wider Middle Eastern Christian community. This caused some controversy since shortly before the murders, the convention recognized the Coptic community as an “unreached” people group. “Unreached” is this context means any nation with not enough Christians to witness. Arguing against calling the Coptic faith Christian, the Baptist blog the Pulpit & Pen points out that “the SBC’s International Mission Board has scrubbed all articles relating to Coptic Christians and their status of being unreached, lost, or in need of evangelism.” In response to this, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Center for Great Commission Studies has issued an official response to the recent controversy:

“Southern Baptists have not suddenly changed our definition of what it takes to become a  Christian. However, it is indeed possible for a cultural group, a people group, to bear the name ‘Christian’ yet remain almost entirely unreached. It is also possible for individuals within an unreached people group to be genuine Christians. In such cases, we are dependent on what we can see of their individual witnesses.”

 

The Southern Baptist Convention is not the only organization to chime in on the murders. The website 21martyrs.com is the product of over one dozen American organizations and aims to honor the memory of the 21 martyrs by encouraging believers to pray every day for 40 days. Some notable organizations involved include Focus On the Family, Barna Group, the NHCLC, and The Justice Conference. Out of all of those involved, not one organization is Coptic or even from the wider Orthodox community. It only seems appropriate to recognize the special place the Coptic Church has. Basic civility seems to imply that there should be representatives from the community impacted by an atrocity.

From my personal experience, conservative evangelical sympathy for the Coptic community can be quite shallow. After I revealed that I liked liturgical worship, I received numerous concerns from evangelical friends for my soul. I had one tell me that iconography was demonic and harmful to my spiritual health. That same friend often talked about the violence the Coptic community faced during the Egyptian revolution. When I revealed to him that the Coptic community was theologically closer to myself than he, he replied “well I guess they died for nothing” and stopped sharing material regarding their plight.

No doubts that there are non-Christians within the Coptic community. The Coptic Orthodox Church makes no claim that every single soul that passes through its door will be saved nor does the Coptic Orthodox Church claim that every single person born within the Coptic ethnicity will obtain salvation. Salvation is open to all of humankind. As an African-American convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I find such a misunderstanding of the theology of the Oriental Orthodox community to be disgusting. In fact, it has been condemned as heresy to teach that one’s ethnicity can somehow gain someone salvation. For example, in regards to Eastern Orthodoxy, ethno-phyletism or the confusion of nation and church was specifically denounced as heretical by Pan-Orthodox Synod of Constantinople in 1872. Simply put, to claim that the Orthodox churches claim that there is a one-to-one relationship between any ethnicity and salvation is a serious distortion of doctrine.

Ultimately, what many Southern Baptists along with many well-meaning conservative evangelicals are claiming is not that there are absolutely no Christians in the Coptic community. Rather, they are claiming that there is a low percentage of “true Christians” in the Coptic community, enough to list their community as non-Christian. The problematic category of “unreached people group” in this instance borders on following a “No-True Scotsman” fallacy. The tragedy is that it seems to be that only under the circumstances of martyrdom that faith of people who practice liturgical worship is genuine. Such a line of thought is common among free church Protestants who insist that members of liturgical churches can only obtain salvation on accident when they unknowingly practice their Protestantism. We must admit the analysis from Pulpit & Pen is correct inthat, historically, many within the Baptist, Evangelical, and non-denominational traditions have denied that liturgical forms of faith are even valid. Simply affirming the divinity of Christ and Trinity are not enough for some to recognize the Christian character of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and other liturgical forms of faith.

We must remember that, in the U.S. American context, free church refusal to recognize the legitimacy of liturgical forms of faith has had a cost. Historically, liturgical forms of worship were concentrated among old world immigrant groups that found it difficult to adjust to life in the United States and Latin-Americans. This made them easy targets for nativist organizations that distinguished between their “true” Christianity and the “cultural” Christianity of foreigners. Claims that President Obama is Muslim channel similar conservative protestant claims that JFK was a threat to the constitutional order since he was Catholic. Conflict and at times violent conflict between Christian denominations is real and must be acknowledged.

Conservative Republicans in the United States use the plight of the Coptic, Assyrian, and other Christian communities in the Middle East to argue for what can only be called total war and unrestrained support for the state of Israel, in direct opposition to the words of Bishop Angaelos’ words that we should be “very wary of them [the 21 martyrs] being used to make a political point.”These people did not shed a tear when several hundred thousand Christians left Iraq after the US invasion to flee the fighting between American troops and the insurgency. I am not suggesting moral equivalence, rather that protecting Middle Eastern Christians or their interests is clearly not the motiving factor in the foreign policy stances of conservative Republicans. The closest many Republican politicians have come to experiencing the ethos of Eastern Christianity is through far-right pundits such as Maronite Brigitte Gabriel (who openly sympathizes with Phalang fascist militias) and Greek Catholic Robert Spencer (who mass murderer Ander Breivik cites in his personal manifesto).

Some conservative concerns for Middle Eastern Christians are best understood as a reflection of their own persecution complex, hence why they sometimes make wild analogies that compare the culture war between themselves and liberals to oppression of Middle Eastern Christians. For example, Scott Walker’s recent comparison of union protestors to the Islamic State implies that conservatives are analogous to Middle Eastern Christians. Such comparisons are more akin to the ravings of a mad man than the words of a pious saint only concerned for the well-being of his brothers-in-Christ.

In all likelihood, the recent killings in Libya will not be the last time such a discussion will arise again, but we must resist conservative evangelical co-opting of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East and instead use it as an opportunity to discuss differences betweenChristian communities. The narrative that the 21 martyrs in Libya somehow fit into the American Culture War is just as dangerous and inaccurate as the claim that the Coptic faith does not fit into Christianity. It may be shocking to some, but Christianity is more than a praise and worship band playing reworded love songs to a crowd full of middle class Americans in a church located in an urban-sprawl. To use it as a point of reference for an instance of martyrdom on a different continent is the height of hubris. By reflecting on the theological consequences of the 21 martyrs as well as the Christian witness of the specific community in which they were a part of, we can create a space for mutual understanding.

Photo Description: (Found on Flickr, Tomasz Szustek photographer; Coptic orthodox Christians were protesting outside Irish Parliment against killing Copts in Egypt, on October 15, 2011. One protestor is holding up an Egyptian flag and a cross, another is carrying a bullhorn. One sign behind both men reads ‘Stop persecuting Christians in Egypt’)

Saying Farewell to the Angry Black Man part 2 (Rod)

Angry Black Male Living In Post-Modernity

In a recent post, I discussed my bouts with depression as a teenager, and how I all of a sudden “overcame” them and adopted a more cheerful disposition. If a naive understanding of joy was what I let define me through my late teens, it was in my early twenties that I allowed myself to become angry. It was in high school that I played the part of the entertaining Magical Negro, talking about racism in jest as if it were a thing of the past. Public education had taught me well. Race is both story and performance. According to Drew Hart, the Magical Negro is a black person who exists for the Dominant culture, submissive, never to interrogate the dominant culture’s oppressive mythologies and practices. Uncle Remus. Bagger Vance. God in Bruce Almighty. Senator/candidate turned President Barack Obama. The Magical Negro is a production of the dominant culture’s fantasies for the simple maintenance of social supremacy.

WHADDAYA MEAN YOU'RE NEVER READ EZEKIEL 25:17?????!!!!!!

WHADDAYA MEAN YOU’VE NEVER READ EZEKIEL 25:17?????!!!!!!

And yet, even as the Magic Black, I still played another role: that of the Angry Black man. This guy did not show up too often, but he normally appeared at about 2:30pm each day during fourth period, just in time for U.S. Government class. It was in this class that I would be regularly harassed by (I kid you not) a student from San Diego who identified as a Skin Head. Every day our arguments were intense as I had to endure microagressions, white supremacist taunts about the inferiority of Africa, and color-blind racist talking-points directly borrowed from Fox News. At one point, we as a class were in the library, and this skinhead wanted to go to fist-to-cuffs with yours truly. I was alone as the only Person of Color, a number of my white classmates would take this guy’s side. I would have to fend for myself each day, striving to succeed academically while white supremacy was literally breathing down my neck in the desk behind me.

I can identify the precise moment when I decide to let the anti-colonial Angry Black Man within me out of his cage. It came precisely after September 11th, 2001, and it was a turbulent time for my faith journey. I was just not getting used to the college environment, the white privilege & cultural hegemony of the Greek system, nor the bevy of misogynist jokes that I came across. To top it all off, I was very distraught over the pro-war prayers that a campus charismatic group I was a part of was praying. The moment came at a meeting of religious studies majors and professors in that department, I was asked my opinion about what I thought was the problem with the “War of Terror” and it took me no less than 15 seconds to briefly give a scathing critique of Neo-colonialism without having read any Liberation theology or critical theory. From then on, I “earned” the reputation of being the Angry Black Man. I was the outspoken dissenter, I was the Oncoming Storm opposed to what I perceived to be the corrupting and dominant forces on campus. When I campaigned for Vice President, the school newspaper called me passionate. The thing about being Angry all the time, like any other emotional imbalance is that, it will take a lot out of you. I am speaking from my own experience, and so without appropriate self-care practices, I just gave up. My rep even among white Christians, and even among a number of Black student was that of THE controversial Angry Black Man, so I tried for a few years to change myself so that I could be liked. I was tired of being singled out.

Once more, however, the Angry Black Man emerged. I graduated college, and I had gone through a year of seminary, and after initially reading Black Liberation theology, I was pretty lukewarm to the concept. I was just leaving “Cage-stage Calvinism” and yeah, after moments like a fun-filled game night turned into a display of infuriation between “emergent” Arminians and myself (again, flying solo), I became somewhat aloof to focus on my studies and started my journey as a Trinitarian and an Anti-racist thinker, in large part due to a life-changing course on the book of Exodus which emphasized both Jewish and Black Church’ perspectives. I developed an inquisitive side, and even as I asked questions dispassionately, I was still portrayed as the Angry Black Man. As a ThM student, one Brogressive colleague continued to accuse me of being “violent” and promoting violence because I dared question the assumptions of the Enlightenment. Even after graduating with my Masters, I still ran into this image of Angry Blackness. Once, I had an essay accepted, and then rejected because my writing on critical race theory and religion was considered to be by the editors too angry, far too critical, and not given to brogressive notions of color-blindness.

Oh, but there is much money to be made off of the backs of the Angry Black Man! Whether it’s a paleo-Confederate-supporting fundamentalist church-goer who wants to paint me as the Angry Black reverse racist heretic or the self-serving allies that Morgan talks about, trying to prove how much more “radical” they are. Entire brands can be built on persons who view themselves as nonconfrontational, as civilized, and as full of grace, at the expense of marginalized folks, and those people whom society will always label as inherently violent.

If I may go back to Drew Hart’s post on ‘Renouncing The Magic Negro urge‘:

“The “Angry Negro” merely needs to question in any capacity the path of assimilation as an option for their life. Basically the “Angry Negro” does not fit into these dominant cultural spaces well. They straighten their backs, uphold their human dignity, and affirm their own community’s insights, wisdom, and ways of being in ways that causes friction to those that take for granted that black people should be happy and content, since they have access into these inner circles that were originally intended to systematically advantage white people in society. That the cost of losing oneself in pursuit of the American Dream is not valued to some people, seems to be taken as an offense to many people in the dominant culture. Rather than taking time to really listen and have a human encounter filled with questions and curiosity, empathy and patience, dialogue and even disagreement in pursuit of growth and understanding, most situated within dominant culture have been more tempted to find reasons to dismiss those that refuse to live lives playing by hegemonic rules. The label “Angry Negro” is an outright dismissal of anything someone says, without trying to first seek understanding, by matter of fact that they fit this caricature.”

Isn't it easier to call this man an Angry Negro rather than listen to what he actually has to say?

Isn’t it easier to call this man an Angry Negro rather than listen to what he actually has to say?

Rather than listen and hear out marginalized persons as HUMAN BEINGS, many times, members of the dominant culture in a desperate attempt to control the narrative, depict their conversants in a negative light, using tropes that are continually used to silence dissent. The Angry Black Man, The Angry Black Woman, the Angry Korean Professor. These are all stereotypes used time and again to deny the full humanity of Persons of Color [the same can be applied to women,gender: Angry Shrill Feminist, etc]. The Angry Black Man [SIC] is a false Myth inherited by People of Color from White Supremacist narratives. Just as Christena Cleveland pointed out that the StrongBlackWoman traps Black women in an essentialized view of Black womanhood, so too does the Angry Black Man represent a hegemonic masculinity defined by racial violence.

In conclusion, if I may, I want to go back to my friend Tristan’s post in part one:

“The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.”

The dominant culture has a two-pronged approach to the Exodus narrative: on one hand, the anti-oppression value of the story of the mid-wives and Moses is devalued. The lives of Moses, Miriam, Zipporah, Aaron, and Joshua were all treasured by enslaved Black Christians because the Invisible Institution could identify who Pharaoh was. Pharaoh does not like being exposed for who he is. The way of Pharaoh is forcing the oppressed to construct brick buildings with only batches of straw, take them away from their land, destroy their families, and then turn around and shame their subjects for becoming angry. The other part of the dominant culture’s appropriation of Exodus is to still make claim to the Exodus as cultural territory. When you think of the Ten Commandments, Charlton Heston comes to mind, yes? And in the latest saga of cultural appropriation, Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods And Kings not only has a basically all white cast, the Persons of Color who are included as cast members? Well they fit the very essence of the uncivilized Angry Black Man trope: thieves, servants, assassins, lower class citizens. Why is this the case?

The Exodus as White Cultural territory becomes one of several key pieces of the origin of Western Civility Civilization. Without the Exodus, the Puritans could not claim to be the New Israel, and they could not in turn name the First Nations peoples as the Canaanites waiting to be conquered. In order to sustain the the myth of White progressive innocence, the economy needs a guilty party; a party that is perpetually enraged, someone who is destined to be the prisoner-victim of the nation-state. This is the legacy of The Angry Black Man.

Saying Farewell to the Angry Black Man part 1 (Tristan)

Angry Black Male Studying Black Antiquity

abm antiq

Image found on Pinterest

Tristan Samuels is a MA student in Egyptology via the Near East Studies progam at the University of Toronto. His major research centers on race in antiquity and the relationship between Kemet (ancient Egypt) & Nubi‎a.

I’m a Black male university student born and residing in Toronto: a city that thinks multiculturalism is anti-racism (oh the fallaciousness). I’ve have a Classics BA and I’m currently studying Egyptology in an MA program. As the subtitle indicates, I study Blacks in the ancient record through these fields. In Classics, I was able to write a BA thesis on Greek and Roman perceptions of Black people and I saw much enthusiasm for my work at conferences. In Egyptology, I have a professor who has no problem acknowledging that the ancient Egyptians were Black/African. In addition, I have a professor that shows interest in my application of critical race theory.

However, I have been characterized as an angry black person. The most direct was in an introductory course for Near Eastern archaeology which was really the first time that I got a true understanding of what I was up against. The professor was a Syro-Mesopotamian specialist. I argued, in my essay proposal, that the ancient Egyptians were African/Black and, in turn, the Nubian rulers of Egypt (ca. 800 BC) should not be called ‘the Black Pharaohs’. The portrayal of the Nubians as the bonafide Black people of antiquity means an imposition, deliberately or subconsciously, of ‎whiteness onto the ancient egyptians. Ex: calling those Nubian rulers “black pharaohs” sneakingly implies that the indigenous Egyptian rulers were “white”‎. A good example of this is the New national Geographic rise of the black pharaohs documentary on the Kushite/Nubian dynasty. My professor, framing himself in a ‘progressive’ sort of way, accused me of “racism in reverse” because I brought up race. However, I never made the claim that Ancient Egypt was superior because it was a Black civilization. I simply said that the ancient Egyptians’ identity is misinterpreted because of Eurocentric racialism and that Black identity is more complex than treated in Egyptological literature. So, I sent him a response e-mail clarifying my intentions – I got no response. So, I let my writing do the talking. I made sure to include a comprehensive section on
white privilege and white normativity. I got 92%, but that does not eclipse the bigger problem: A Black Male challenging epistemology is treated as a threat.

blacks in antiq

Image from Amazon.com

My issue in Classics has come through publishing issues. I had submitted a work on the Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, perception of Black bodies to a joint British-US journal. The first readers, there were two anonymous readers, said that I needed to revise which I certainly agreed. However, some comments troubled me. Reader A felt I just needed slight additions but suggested my tone was inappropriate because of this comment: “McCoskey’s approach is sound for the most part, but she underestimates…”. Reader A felt that I was treating McCoskey as a grad student. I just specified a particular problem in her work – why the tone policing? They shouldn’t *know* that I’m black per se, being that I don’t have to disclose my identity, but I believe it was assumed because of my essay’s subject matter. I take it as ‘okay, but remember your place Negro’. Reader B argued that I was being anachronistic in calling Herodotus racist. More specific, this reader thought that Herodotus accusing Black men of hypersexuality and describing them as having black semen “unlike other men” did not constitute racism. Apparently, I was being too simplistic. It is quite disturbing that this explicit sexualizing of Black men is not understood as such. I seriously wonder if the reader believed one or two of those stereotypes. While I got a 2nd attempt, these response are very problematic.

The 2nd reading was done by one referee and yielded interesting results. Itwas 3 or 4 days after I resubmitted – that is fast. The reader, which was clearly a different person, strongly disagreed. My critique of classical scholarship’s handling of Herodotus & Blackness was dismissed as “mud-slinging” – I’m just a real angry black person I guess. I was also told that I didn’t “get” D.E. McCoskey’s book, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B. Tauris, 2012), even though I wrote a published review on that very piece. In fact, I cited that review in my essay, so that the reader could go to it for further discussion of her mishandling of Blackness. I guess to him I don’t have the intellectual capacity to critique her. This reader also accused me of playing the race card. So, this reader definitely assumed that I was Black. I never once accused any scholar of racism and, in fact, two of the classicists that I critiqued are Black. It was very clear to me that the reader was polemical and saw my work as a threat to his white supremacist fantasy.

I responded to the editor to notify him that I appreciated the second opportunity, though I found the review perplexing. He, definitely a white male, responded telling me that he is a professor and that I needed to “learn some manners”. I could hear a ‘boy’ at the end of that sentence. I responded stating that he was in no place to make such character judgments about me and emphasized that I simply disagreed with the reader. His only response “I’m not a doctor” – I had referred to him as “Dr.” Again there is this sense that Black bodies are animalistic/savage in need of taming.

god remain grk

Image from Amazon

While I’ve grown up race-conscious, I’m starting to really understand the depth of anti-Blackness in a way I never understood before – something only experience can teach you. No matter how logical the arguments you put forth, your resistance is a threat. The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.