Tag Archives: hope theology

On #DontShootDallas: some notes from the ground #Ferguson

On Monday, my friend Gabe alerted me to a protest that was being organized via Twitter. I didn’t know what to expect. There weren’t any details about the event except they were going to meet up on Main Street, at a dog park. Oh the subversion! After my experience the previous Thursday, I had a feeling very few people would show up. Was my realism getting the best of my imagination? At first, it looked like I was going to be right, at 8pm CST, there were about 30 people when the organizer was “hoping” for 2,000. The organizer himself couldn’t even be found. Then, protesters started pouring in. I was feeling this inner angst because I had read the fearmongering news articles, about the Huey P. Newton Gun Club. Honestly, guns freak me out no matter who is wielding them; however, after going to a shooting range a few years ago, I am less fretful of them. I get the same feeling around guns that I do the police. After having experienced being there, seeing two of them pull out two pistols on my unarmed brother over a year or so ago, I trust the police even less. This is so much so that if I see any police officer walk into a restaurant, no matter how hungry I am, I will walk away and find somewhere. My insides cannot bear the memory and pain.

I was hoping to hear more of the Liturgy of the Oppressed,and I was not disappointed. Two ministers of the gospel, a Black woman and a Black man, preached to us that Jesus himself was leading this resistance versus police brutality, and we didn’t have to wait for famous clergy. Affirming the priesthood of all believers, the descendents of Adam and Eve were being called by Christ to participate in the New Creation, a resurrection of fretful, tortured black bodies. One Ferguson native who had moved to Dallas talked about his experience, and why we shouldn’t trust the media. Should we ever, really? A non-traditional student next to me whispered that she was from St. Louis and that she had three sons. I encouraged her to share her story, and a few minutes later she did. After several other speakers, a representative from the Huey P. Newton Gun Club spoke, she smirked, informed us of our own naivety in believing in social protest rather than self-defense.

What was I to think? Is it true that black Americans lack of arms puts them in harm’s way? Was the National Rifle Association right? What does revolution look like? Does it involve dressing in military-like green and brown camouflage? At that moment, I thought back to James Cone, in his Black Theology and Black Power, and how he was calling for a revolution of values.

“But for black people, the call for a new value system must not be identified with Nietzsche, the death-of-God theology, or even the underground church. When Black Theology calls for a new value-system, it is oriented in a single direction: the bringing to bear of the spirit of black self-determination upon the consciousness of black people. It is the creation of a new cultural ethos among the oppressed blacks of America, so that they are no longer dependent on the white oppressor for their understanding of truth, reality, or—and this is key—what ought to be done about the place of black sufferers in America. […] To be free means to be free to create new possibilities for existence.” (page 130)

Revolution cannot just mean a changing of the guard; there must be a real assessment about where our values come from, and what sort of practices those values require of us. Jesus the Liberator calls the oppressed to show the privileged elite the way of a prophetic subaltern ethics of nonviolence, a nonviolence that goes against the grain of Pacifist DudeBro moral purity or the Law and Order conservativism espoused by the “libertarian” Tea Party. Even Persons of Color calling their communities to arms are questioned, not because self-defense is **wrong**, but the logic behind that type of self-defense. In this case, self-defense and right-wing gun culture are closely aligned with Enlightenment principles, and its notion of private property without the common good. For the most part, these values are held dear by the anti-Black anti-Christ system that is keeping Black people in bondage.

Far more dangerous than gun violence, and even actual police brutality itself is an even worse form of violence: that of exploitation. There were a few persons in the crowd, people who are addicted to protests and activism who desired to exploit the realities of black rage for their political benefit. I am referring here to leftovers from the Occupy Dallas movement, who were seen WhiteSplaining communism to various protestors. These ***Manarchists*** wanted to confront the police, get arrested, disappoint their politically powerful mothers and fathers. In short, Manarchy is a stance for the status quo, desiring more violence against black bodies in order to satisfy their own hegemonic desire for a “revolution”, a revolution which would pit anti-poverty movements over and against anti-racist ones. Any revolution that is denial about the persistence and existence of White Supremacy can only be considered counter-revolutionary, and empty words for the black U.S. population.

As we marched, I was surprised by a liberating hope. In seeing police officers functioning as ministers of the peace, even what seemed to being insulted, and people of color, politically downtrodden here in North Texas, I sensed a transformation taking place. But does liberation really need to take place after a tragic event? In some ways, the Way of the Cross may look like that. Violence and suffering, from the perspective of affirming God’s goodness, are never necessary. Yet liberation also looks like the Resurrection, of a King raised up by the divine community of Father (Galatians 1:1) and Spirit (Romans 8:11). The Resurrection of our Jewish rabbi gives birth to all Gentile insurrections.

**Note: a commitment to Christian nonviolence from below requires both a truly nuanced understanding of Scripture as well as its presuppositions for self-defense, as John Howard Yoder pointed out in his earlier works. For more, see Charles Hackney’s article, “A Christian Approach to Martial Arts Part One“.**

***Male-centered pseudo-politicos calling themselves “anarchists” have been critiqued by my friend Sarah Moon. Just as these “jesus radicals” ignored the plight of the poor while “fighting sexism,” these would be feudalists desired to appropriate the pain of black people as a prop for their OWS (failed) agenda.***

So You Wanna Read The Bible With Suspicion?

Meaning, Suspicion, Tradition, and Hope

Retrato del filósofo francés Michel Foucault


Usually, I travel around blogs on biblical studies from different perspectives, and when I do, I like to read (and hear, in my head) different voices. Yes, that’s right, when I read, I hear voices in my head, okay? I have come across quite frequently Bible scholars and Christian thinkers who just randomly go off on tangents about how wrong reading the Bible with a hermeneutic of suspicion is.

For many persons, the Scriptures themselves are the problem, and that’s fine, they can have their own opinions. For me, IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion), the problems is our interpretations, our readings of its meaning that cause the most problems (for example, the Parable of the Talents is just one of those passages that is just, ugh never mind). For some strange reason or another, Christians who use this “hermeneutic of suspicion” are condemned. I think it has to do with people not liking their embedded theologies challenged, what they have been taught, the Sunday School answers. More specifically, those who retain this hermeneutic of suspicion, as cast as people without hope, people who are generally distrustful of others (and rightly so in my individual case), and too egg-headed for their own good. So the alternatives that are proposed are things like “a hermeneutic of trust” or love or whatever all while affirming critical engagement with the text over and against what they see as ideologically driven cynicism.

In other words, those with a hermeneutic of suspicion have nothing constructive to offer (this is my reading of these general criticisms). I take issue with this. First, and foremost, I continue to apply this suspicion, not out of my distrust for people or tradition (some traditions are good), but because of the Christian doctrine of human fallenness. One of the Niebuhr brothers rightly said the one doctrine Christians can prove is humanity’s sinfulness. Just take a look at history. Secondly, and most importantly, persons who are “driven” by suspicion/distrust of the text are inspired by hope. In Jonathan Tran’s Foucault And Theology, he quotes Michel Foucault on hope and suspicion:

“Despair and hopelessness are one thing, suspicion is another. And if you are suspicious, it is because, of course, you have a certain hope.”

I think this quote speaks volumes for persons of religious backgrounds and those who claim no religious affiliation, that critical readings of religious texts are drawn out of hopes. For some, a hope for a better world in the here and now, for others, the hope for conserving that which was from the past, and yet still others, a hope for the future. As Foucault would say, “power as relationship” is everywhere, and it is found in resistance. My hope is in the Risen Christ, who liberates all of humanity from the forces sin, death, and satan; therefore, as part of that hope, I know that there is a world beyond what John Calvin,Jacob Arminius, Adam Smith (the economist), and Karl Marx tell me. My particular hermeneutic of suspicion arises from not only my education, but first from being raised in the traditions of black churches: “The hermeneutics of suspicion and hope rises from the smoldering embers of the church of resistance. The black church uses a hermeneutics of suspicion because of the way Scripture has been used against African Americans in order to support racist policies.”

For more, read Stephen Breck Reid’s Endangered Reading: The African American Scholar Between Text and People (linked here, was working as of 8/6/2012)

What have you learned or heard about people who have a hermeneutic suspicion? Positive? Negative?

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Carl Braaten on Christ as God's Representative

One of the strains that runs through Braaten’s thinking is the doctrine of the Trinity, and the essential unity of Christ Yeshua with YHWH.

On Jesus as God’s representative:

“[…] the cross of Jesus was an act by which God represented his participation in man’s suffering. […] the Father of Jesus, the God of history and hope, is not in himself motionless self-identity, unmoved by the pain of those with whom he relates. […] God needs one like Jesus to make his own case credible in a world of pain and death.”