Tag Archives: empire

On Canonization and Colonization: Junipero Serra

 

The canonization of Junipero Serra, who used the militaristic fort-mission system to become the Evangelizer of the West, is puzzling, paradoxical, leaving me to wonder, is it pardonable? I mean why would a pontiff who demonstrates progressive overtones, like his “Who am I to judge” statement towards gay priests; his support for women having a greater role in the Church; or his hand out onto the world political stage brokering a rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S, make such an affront to the plight of Indigenous peoples in the Americas still coping with the legacy of colonial oppression? Why on earth, would the Pontiff sanctify the role of a friar, Serra, whose missionary zeal caused irreparable damage to countless numbers of native peoples in California? Should the Pope, the first from the Americas, have been more sensitive to the shared experience of the people who bore the brunt of the Spanish crown’s imperial program and its handmaiden, the Catholic Church? The answer is both yes and no.

 

As a scholar of colonial Mexico, I can assert that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they came in contact with an ethnically and linguistically diverse Indigenous population who had varied settlement patterns. In the areas furthest from the sedentary lifestyle of the central power, the people moved with the rhythms of the agricultural cycles and resisted domination from within or abroad. For Spanish missionaries, this posed a pastoral problem – How do you convert “barbarian” Indians when you have to chase them and they resist? Father Serra took his cue from 5th and 6th century missionaries preaching to the heathens: St. Colomba who did so to the Picts, St. Patrick to the Celts and St. Augustine of Canterbury preaching to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. The titles before each speaking volumes and probably not lost on Serra. Hence he implemented a clever tactic in the ecclesiastical arsenal of preachers since the mid 16th century – the practice of Congregecíones, or congregations. This institution grouped Indians from outlying communities into a central settlement that facilitated conversion and also supplied a steady labor force. Brown robed, roped and tonsured, Serra preached, like the great Saints before him, evangelizing the neophytes. For those who did not subjugate themselves, which among the free thinking Indigenous of the Americas, there were many, they were convinced with a little help from the mighty sword.

 

Given the irreversible damage this caused to the very fabric of native life, the loss of land, the separation of families, the enslavement of an entire people at the hands of evangelical missionaries, I think the Pontiff’s choice of canonizing Junipero Serra perplexing. And then I remember, the Pope is still a man of the institution. When I look back at the millennia of ecclesiastical history, I see the church chockfull of contradictions, the human condition overwhelmed by the irony of its interdependence, the predicament of expressing free-will dysfunctional. Yes, I see the contradictions. While Serra propagated the faith this way in the 18th century, a Dominican Friar in the 16th century, Bartolomé de Las Casas, was ablaze in his criticism of the violence and injustice the Spanish conquistadors and the Church committed against the natives of Mexico.

 

I see the contradictions in Las Casas as he took pen to paper, waging a bitter invective against his coreligionists, though he himself once having profited from the very institutions he decried. I see the contradictions as he used his missionary post to speak out against the Encomienda system, the obligatory labor and tribute forced upon the Indians, the bread and butter of Spanish livelihood. I see the contradictions as Las Casas, armed only with his knowledge of Christ’s teachings and canon law, used his pulpit to advocate for the Indians, earning the title Protector of the Indians. I see the contradictions that the very same religious convictions and powers of persuasion that emboldened Serra to advocate for Congregcíones, a system like Encomienda, emboldened Bartolomé to advocate bishops, cardinals, monarchs and popes against it. Yes, I see the contradictions. And the bottom line is yes, the Pope should have been more sensitive to the political and moral climate of his decision, but the papal faux pas is pardonable.

 

I also see the contradictions in what I am saying here, so let me explain – I am no apologist for the Catholic Church, nor am I a crusader for its progressivist program. But as a scholar in the history of colonial Latin America and law, I see an institution, like most others, including our own government, reaching for a higher progressive moral ground in an ever widening, growing and evolving moral climate. And in that evolution lies exactly the problem: progressive and Institution (i.e Catholic Church) forever illusive by their very nature. Hence that expectation is a cross too heavy even for Pope Francis, the sweetheart of liberals, to bear. By liberals, I mean the hopeful: hopeful in expecting an immediate world-wide hospitable climate for gay marriage, hopeful in expecting to see world-wide respect for women (including their ordainment as priests), hopeful in expecting the amelioration of global economic inequality, hopeful for world wide vindication for native peoples who suffered the enslavement and violence of evangelization and imperialism. They probably won’t be seeing that any time soon. Although I concede that the Holy Father straddles a political tightrope within his own institution, the complexities and contingency of history compels us more than ever to bring a consciousness to the leaders we heroize. As for Bartolomé Las Casas’ Sainthood? Well, maybe when hell freezes over.

 

Maria Ornelas is a doctoral candidate in the department of History at UCLA where she is specializing in the colonial history of Mexico. Her dissertation focuses on how indigenous communities in Oaxaca used the Spanish legal system during the colonial period to challenge the abuses of power by Spanish and indigenous officials, and how indigenous communities influenced Spanish law in the process.

Photo Description: Picture of a statue of Junipero Serra, located at Mission San Antonio de Padua in Monterey County, CA. Photo found on Flickr.  

Charisma Magazine, Islam, & Racist Op-Eds #CancelTheCrusades

Why Gary Cass Is Absolutely A Fascist

Trigger Warning: White Supremacy, Islamophobia, Orientalism

Recently as “not a reflection on the views of Charisma Media,” Charisma Magazine published an opinion piece entitled, Why I Am Absolutely Islamaphobic (do not link edition linked)  [update: Charisma has deleted the post, here is the Google cached: here and here is the original author’s post on his site here ] where the “Reverend” Gary Cass advocated for the complete elimination of all human beings who are from Arab countries (Cass’ phrasing, not mine).  Time to rebuke each argument Mr. Cass gives.

Opening Paragraph:

“I confess: I’m “Islamaphobic,” but for very good reasons.

My fear is not an irrational fear based on uniformed prejudice; rather it’s an historic, clear eyed, informed, rational fear. ISIS is doing to American journalists what every true follower of Muhammad wants to do to you and yours—subjugate or murder you. They believe they have been given a mandate by Allah (Satan) to dominate the world.

Fourteen years of history, both ancient and modern (i.e. the 1 to 1.5 million dead Armenians at the hands of the Muslim Turks in 1915) tell us that Muslims are deadly serious about their infernal goals. Now we get to watch their violent, demonic fanaticism on YouTube videos.

History shows that when Muslims get the power and means to subjugate and behead Christians, Jews, et al, they do it. Why? “

I confess: I have a phobia of Euro-Centric Christianity. My fear is not an irrational fear based on uninformed prejudice; rather it’s an historic, clear eyed, informed rational fear. Police Departments empowered by U.S. Congress are doing to black and Latino U.S. citizens what every true follower of White Supremacist Churchianity wants to do to you and yours- subjugate or murder you. They believe they have been given a mandate by White Supremacist Godhead to dominate the world.

Four hundred years of history, both ancient and modern (between 1885 and 1908, the Butcher of Congo, Leopold II of Belgium murdered an estimated 13 million Congolese persons) tell us that White Supremacist are deadly serious about their nefarious goals. Now we get to watch their violent, demonic rationalism on television.

History shows that as White Supremacists have remained in power and maintained the means to subjugate and murder People of Color, the poor, et, al., they do it. Why?

Next Paragraph:

“Conversion. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Muslims turn from Satan (Allah) to Christ? But, I agree with Phil Robertson: This is not biblically doable. Why? God has a plan and he revealed it at the birth of Ishmael, the father of the Arabs.

“The Angel of the Lord said … He [Ishmael] will be an ass of a man; His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:11-12). The Arab Muslims are God’s sworn enemies and are ordained by God to be against everyone.”

First of all, Cass is making a reality tv show star a biblical authority? I guess that’s what happens when any Christian celebrity can have devotional bibles made in their honor. Quoting other persons who are devoted to a White Supremacist God should come as no surprise. “Reverend” Cass insists that his racist eisegesis is the correct reading of Genesis 16. I beg to differ. First off, Cass is reading rather subjectively his racist views into the Bible. Rather than having Christ at the center, Cass has placed Europe as the locus of Scripture, and displaced actual biblical truth to the margins. In fact Ishmael really is not the focus of the conflict between Sarah and Abraham, rather it is the presence of Hagar. As I argued in my post Ishmael & Immigration: A Postcolonial reading of Genesis 16:

“First, let us start with Ishmael’s mother’s name: Hagar. Hagar resembles the Hebrew term hager, meaning “resident alien” “stranger” or “sojourner.” In the context of Genesis 15:13, whereby God promises Abraham’s offspring will be “ger” or aliens in a foreign land for 400 years is a reminder for the Jew in exile that part of their covenant with YHWH entails justice for the resident alien. Fast forward to Genesis 20 , and Abraham himself is considered a “ger” (20:1; 21:23; 21:34), and receives hospitality and compassion from Abimelech king of GERar. This treatment should be seen in stark contrast to Sarah’s banishment of Hagar and Ishmael. Finally, Clare Amos, whose article “Genesis” I am depending upon in the translation of the Hebrew noun “ger,” suggests that Genesis 16:12 is fraught with ambiguity, and that it really does not have to mean that Ishmael “would live at odds” with Isaac’s children. She prefers to hold this reading in tension with another possible translation that Ishmael would live “alongside his brothers.” This allows us to understand the image of Isaac and Ishmael burying Abraham in Genesis 25:9, in Hebron [the city where David begins his reign as king, btw], as a kind of closure. 

Cass’s Third Paragraph on Deport All Muslims Now? I recommend you go back and read my post linked on Genesis 16.

Cass’s last paragraph, his call for genocide reads:

The only thing that is biblical and that 1,400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self defense. Christian Generals Charles Martel in 732 and Jon Sobieski in 1672 defeated Islamic Turks and their attempts to take the West. Who will God raise up to save us this time? Will God even intervene or turn us over to the Muslims for turning against Him?

Either way, we must be prepared for the increase of terror at home and abroad. This is not irrational, but the loving thing we must do for our children and neighbors. First trust in God, then obtain a gun(s), learn to shoot, teach your kids the Christian doctrines of just war and self defense, create small cells of family and friends that you can rely on if some thing catastrophic happens and civil society suddenly melts down.

Cass goes back and forth between using Arabs, Muslims, and Radical Islam interchangeably. One could call this lazy writing, but the author does not even care about distinctions at this point. So, I will call it what it is: racism. It is very important to note, as other have on Twitter, that what Cass is doing is not calling or practicing Just War/Self-defense. Just War is about having to maintain peace, not escalating violence. He asks, “Now the only question is how many more dead bodies will have to pile up at home and abroad before we crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus’ Name?” Cass is calling for the Final Solution for people based on their ethnicity and religious orientation. He is committing himself to the sin of Haman, the infamous Agagite and genocidal politician described in the book of Esther. The New Testament is clear: Christ has reconciled Jew and ALL Gentile nations, that EVERY tribe and nation will make up what Cass called “the indestructible Church”, and that it is the Triune God’s will for ALL persons to repent and be saved. May the Church raise up women and men in the spirit of Esther to resist and condemn voices such as those at DefendChristians.Org.

For other perspectives, read Fred Clark’s Charismanews.com goes full on Hutu radio and David Hayward’s Charisma News, Islamophobia, Jesus, and Guns

White Guilt Will Not Save Us From Police Brutality #JusticeForEricGarner

This weekend, I was on Twitter, and there it was again. Another hashtag, #EricGarner, #JusticeForEricGarner. Much like in the past #Justice4Trayvon, #JusticeForRenisha, #RememberRenisha. I saw the horrorifying, gory headlines, and I was afraid to click the linkbait. What happened this time?

According to newsoutlets, Eric Garner was being racially profiled by New York Police. They were practicing the Stop & Frisk white supremacy enacted originally by former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Now some “news” sources will point to Garner’s history with the police, drug possession. The War on Drugs is a satanic manifestation of White Supremacy, and it is looking like it’s end will be just as racist. Just last week, in Colorado, there was a business convention for teaching White middle class folks how to get into the business of selling legal marijuana. My point is two fold: the hypocrisy of white libertarianism to claim to be helping Blacks be wanting to end the Drug War. Not true. The conclusion of the Drug War if it ends with all 50 states legalizing pot, will still have its casualties: the thousands of black and brown bodies thrown in prison, the poor neighborhood who faced militarized police squads, families destroyed. The lack of acknowledgement of these casualties is revealing of society’s persistent anti-blackness.

And secondly, the mark of criminality imposed on black bodies still remains. Any black persons whose lives are ended by the police, the white supremacist media will find in their records to justify the lethal action taken. This leads our discussion back to Eric Garner, a husband, and a father of six with a history of health problems. One officer used an illegal chokehold on Garner. What type of an environment creates a situation like that? One that tacitly accept racist policies, Stop And Frisk, as well as the national War On Black People, I mean Drugs.

The above social analysis I just gave could be seen as a possible sobering presentation of facts plus the victims’ stories. Stories remind us that victims are real flesh and blood, and not just nameless statistics. Unfortunately, there are would-be “allies” out there who take a less helpful approach. One progressive pastor made Eric Garner’s death an opportunity to talk about the guilt of white churches.

And then, for all the shaming he did, his conclusion wasn’t even helpful. Simply praying on Sundays to end police violence versus Black persons is not enough. Prayer means getting involved in the life of God, which means enjoying God’s presence in the midst of the oppressed. Far from being liberating, guilt trips by white progressives make the stories of victims of racism more about the dominant culture rather than the actual direct sufferers of White Supremacist violence. Unfortunately, advocates of White Guilt more often than not, center their own feelings and narratives, rather than the pain of Others; which, in the end leads White progressives to take no action at all!

That’s the problem when White Brogressive saviors try to discuss racism, because they cannot speak from experience. Guilt is a necessary neutral thing, neither good or bad, but it becomes bad when whites use guilt to shame others and hold them hostage, while at the same time, erasing the agency of People of Color. I agree with Christena Cleveland that guilt can cause the comfortable to feel much needed discomfort, but feelings of guilt, from my perspective cannot be made the center or foundational.

Recently, I’ve been re-thinking the subject of empire studies. While the historical data does add up, there is a risk involved in focusing solely on how bad empires are (collective guilt). This act in and of itself re-centers the narrative on the dominant culture once more, albeit it places it on the defensive, but still Whiteness remains the center of attention. With Austin I agree, the stories of the marginalized are not made for Whiteness. In an essay on Oliver C. Cox and economics, Katie G. Cannon observes, she points out that for Carter G Woodson and Cox, racism was a mis-education. “Black people are presented as negligible contributors to the substantive interpretation of the world, whereas Whites are depicted as the source of all the worthwhile intellectual accomplishments.” (For more see, Racism and Economics: The perspective of Oliver C Cox)

In short, white supremacy denies moral agency to People of Color. To the extent that white guilt centers whiteness and white individual persons’ feelings, the cycle of violence of white supremacy continues. In his opening chapter of Black Theology and Black Power, James Hal Cone addressed White Guilt this way: “White Americans dare not know that blacks are beaten at will by policemen as a means of protecting the latter’s ego superiority as well as that of the larger white middle class. For to know is to be responsible. To know is to understand why blacks riot at what seems slight provocation. […] they must believe blacks are in poverty because they are lazy or because they are inferior. Yes they must believe that everything is basically all right.”

The problem of Police Brutality and White supremacy is a theological problem, through and through, specifically one of atonement. As Samuel Logan accurately hinted at in his Good Punishment? An American society inspired by a version of Calvinist Christianity is somewhat committed to Substitutionary Atonements. The Guilt of the Criminal Element of our society must be placed on the bodies of those who are in prison, or resemble them. The bodies of People of Color must perish so that the whole can be experience redemption. The Wrath of God is bestowed upon the power of the state, and Black bodies are His sacrifice.

I realize that many White progresives are still growing out of this theological context, where the transference of guilt is made central. Liberationist Christianity provides a way forward. The preference for the biblical and historic doctrine of Christus Victor is an appropriate response to racist systems of violence. Christ came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Jesus came and rescued us from the powers of Satan, oppression, and death. The Crucifixion is not a passive acceptance of human or divine brutality; it is the path to true resistance. Christian anti-racist praxis should be modelled in Christ’s Victory is founded on God’s goodness revealed in God’s own praxis.

Just as Christ got up on the Cross in spite of his fear, we should go and do likewise. Act in spite of our doubts, our anger, our overwhelming guilt. Do good now, and then reflect later. Let us work to end the War On Black People.