Tag Archives: political theology

be ye kind one to another: civility, blogging & social media

The Internet can be a cruel place. Now that we have means to be interconnected more than ever, the formation of communities is made uh, easier?, but also has the means for divisiveness and harm become easier as well. We see this for example in the sexual harassment that women celebrities are now facing, having photos stolen from their phones (for an excellent discussion on this issue, I would recommend fellow MennoNerd Ryan Robinson’s piece: Rape Culture In Celebrity Photo Theft). I observe the harassment that Women of Color educators/activists face everyday; trolls creating multiple accounts to make racist diatribes and violent threats against persons like Mikki Kendall, Sydette, Trudy, Suey Park, and others. I don’t think I can claim to have encountered a microcosm of what these brave women deal with every day, but when trolls get into my timeline, they usually leave with their feelings hurt because I do them the kindness of confrontation through sarcasm.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything, as the author of Ecclesiastes contends. My good friend Tyler Tully has a good reflection on expanding public theology to cover online behavior. As a Liberation theologian, I understand that all theological statements that are made have political ramifications. The practical is always the theoretical, the abstract really isn’t that far from the concrete. The thing is about a lot of people’s notions of civility or what it means to be “grace-filled” online in the Christian blogosphere is that, as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig suggests, it is “squishy”: Bruenig: “Anyway, one of the chief defects of demands for civility is that they rarely elaborate as to what they mean by civility.” Not only this, but the rules for civility keep changing, and one right after another, they just keep getting added. We hear from one side, well, yes, I know I needed to be called out, but you could have been a little bit nicer, and then the same civilized party admits later, I needed to be called out to persons who give them similar feedback, but its nicer because their interlocutor may look like them. The civilized party postures as if they believe that all ideas are equal, but in reality their practice reveals something quite different.

What is the norming norm for defining what kindness is? As a Liberationist, I find the Exodus story as the primary paradigm by which Scripture is interpreted. I also like the idea of God’s kindness demonstrated in the narrative. YHWH’s kindness is sort of unruly, and is mentioned a lot throughout the Hebrew Bible. Why NeoMarcionites would want to discard of the First Testament is beyond me! 😉 What is clear however starting with the first chapter of Exodus, YHWH’s kindness is defined first and foremost by observing the cruel treatment of the oppressed Israelites, and then responding to their cries. YHWH the God of Liberation hears the oppressed’s concerns; as a relational God, YHWH first spoke the Word/Wisdom at creation, and now God listens. God’s kindness and compassion are not restricted to ever-fluctuating rules of civility that give those with privilege the advantage. Rather God’s lovingkindness for all persons shines through in God demonstrating God’s preferential option for the poor. It is in the bodies and experiences of the oppressed that have the greatest knowledge of what human wickedness looks and feels like. Conversely, YHWH’s power and glory are made known greatest through those who are labelled as weak in society to shame “the strong,” the powerful, those who falsely view themselves as having the future in their hands, operating in God’s place.

Kindness, in the biblical metanarratives of liberation and reconciliation, is inextricably linked to communal justice, freedom for the prisoner and the enslaved, dignity for the impoverished.  According to the story, Pharaoh  ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill baby boys once they were born. The midwives who feared YHWH showed the infant boys kindness and spared their lives. When Pharaoh asked why infant boys were living, the midwives satirize the essentialist logic of the Egyptians, “declaring” Hebrew women to be stronger (therefore, more capable of reproducing more children, thus the population growth). The Hebrew midwives played with the fears of the oppressor. And in turn for their acts of mercy, Exodus 1:20 says that YHWH was kind to the heroic midwives.

The midwives provide a glimpse of YHWH’s own compassion. YHWH sees, observes, hears the misery of Abraham’s children, and makes it God’s mission to “rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:7).  If kindness involves listening to the voices of the silenced first in the Exodus, the same principle should be applied to our public ethics of civility online.  It is also important to note that the Hebrew midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter in Exodus 2, and YHWH– all three recognize their positions of power.  Their truthful analysis in each case meant a recognition of difference in power, between the lowly and their earthly superiors. The Exodus brand of Kindness requires, #1, listening, and then #2, a joining in the solidarity with those in bondage with a viewpoint that starts from the bottom-up, and neither the top or “the middle way.”

For Christians, Jesus is the Exodus God Incarnate, and embodied an untamed kindness and solidarity with the least of these. The civility party I mentioned previously wants to bracket Jesus as a feminist or civilizing European socialite above his Jewish community. If a public theologian online seeks to be one who wishes to practice lovingkindness and follow the Golden Rule, then the more faithful view point is the kindness we learn of in Exodus.  The marginated do not need other persons, even allies who seek to throw stones; rather, they need accomplices who will join them in the valleys to speak to the mountains, and make them move. 

 

 

 

the white supremacy of “silent piety” (part 2)- rod #Ferguson

“White Supremacy and Imagining The Crucified God”

**editor’s note: I am indebted to Kelly Figueroa-Ray for this post, and for articulating in our conversations things that I was not able to**

The question raised by Leary in the CaPC piece is “what precisely does the biblical narrative have to say in events of crisis?” Embracing a “third-wayish” tone where “both sides are equally” bad, Leary sets himself up as the objective observer who just happens to have Scripture on his side.

Leary: “it is easy in the meantime to be seduced by the ease of labels. In one narrative, the policeman is the oppressor and Michael Brown the victim. In the other narrative, the policeman made a judgment call in a difficult situation, and Michael Brown could have made some better choices that day.”

Actually Leary is presenting a narrow-sided individualistic narrative here, one that is far from “biblical.” He assumes that “both sides” are simply choosing Mike Brown as a good person vs Mike Brown as a bad person as their narratives. Let that sink in for a second. The context from which anti-racist, anti-police militarization are far more nuanced than Leary would give that side credit. From a Christian Critical Race Theorist perspective, the events happening in Ferguson are not about the individual Mike Brown versus one isolated bigoted individual. See, White Supremacy exists as a system, a set of rules and myths, roles to be played, a counter-narrative as you will to the Good News. As I have written about White Supremacy as a Religion in the past, it is the Demon that will not be named  .  Refusing to confess sin (naming it) is a refusal towards taking the first steps of repentance. Indeed, I do side with Leary in pointing to the prophets like Joel and Jeremiah, about a world whose builder is God. However, an unnecessary narrow focus on metanarrative derails from the particularities at hand.  A relevant text is found in Jeremiah, where a man out of Africa rescues the prophet from prison (an institution associated with death).  The Bible lifts this man up as a liberator, and God is just not celebrated as mere creator in this story, but as Supreme Judge, watching and involving Godself in our day to day affairs for justice. Later in this particular story, YHWH commands Jeremiah to tell the Cushite, whose name was Ebed-Melek, that because he trusted in God (in rescuing Jeremiah, God’s oppressed prophet), God promised to save this African man’s life (Jeremiah 39:17).

Ferguson, police brutality, and white supremacy are NOT failures of language games (read: the preferred Euro-centric liturgy of white churches); rather each fall within the realm of idolatry, the idols of extremist gun culture, the military, and the myth of an immutable rational self.  Juergen Moltmann’s The Crucified God was a response to the U.S. American triumphalism that disturbed him after his first work, Theology of Hope. In both mainline and evangelical circles, it is the norm for suffering God orthodoxy to be upheld, but I wouldn’t really call these as returns of theologies of the cross. D.L. Mayfield connected The Crucified God to the Ferguson protests, “I feel far from the people in Ferguson, but not as far as I was a few years ago; I feel like I see the wounds of Christ bright red in front of me, but I am still not able to feel them.”  Note here that Mayfield is referring to Christ’s immanence as transcendence here, that the Crucified God continues to present a paradox is something that Martin Luther would approve of.  Christ’s passion surpasses human understanding, and it is in that mystery as a colonized Jewish rabbi suffering under Roman imperialism, that the Son of God chooses to identify with the least of these (Matthew 25). As J Kameron Carter so eloquently put it, “in asmuch as you did it to MikeB, you did it to me”

Mayfield concludes, “He is the one offering us his own scars, pleading with us to look at our own.”  Yet Christ’s suffering not just portrayed as a passive acceptance of victimization.  More than this, as Moltmann rightly argues, the Cross is the central revelation of the Triune God who exists in self-giving, suffering love.  It is this suffering love that pours out from the Holy Trinity and overflows into the life of the human bodies who experience the world’s hatred, and Christians can only give testimony to God’s love by involving themselves in the lives of the widows, the orphans, those that are fugitives. This isn’t just about us being “civilized” and “hospitable” and “Christ-like”; rather, it is in discovering the image of the Crucified God in the crucified peoples of the world that the faithful can become, as Luther would say, “little Christs.”  

 

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: A Subaltern Ethics Of Peace #AnaBlacktivism

Please read the first three posts in this series before proceeding to read the following essay:

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Intro

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ The Center

Anbaptist Theology & Black Power: An Anti-Colonial Confessing Church

Tyler Tully’s third and final AnaBaptist distinctive is the naming of the Radical Reformation’s preferred type of moral agency: nonviolence. As Tyler so articulately put it as agents of God’s Shalom,

“More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities. Therefore, we stand against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.) while we live in justice as an alternative community. Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding and the project of the Holy Spirit as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism.”

If historic AnaBaptist pacifism is an interpersonal practice, it cannot but be a social policy as well. For many Neo-Anabaptists who take their cues from the writings of influential theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, the unquestionable commitment to Christian nonresistant love means that liberation theology and postliberal emerging Anabaptist theology are entirely at odds. Take for example NeoAnabaaptist author Brian Zahnd, who had a conversation with someone who had a question about liberation theology. Zahnd automatic answer, like many post-Christian Anabaptists, “Liberation theology is ultimately violent.”

zahnd libtheo

I challenged him on that talking point. I disagree that Liberation Theology is inherently violent, in fact, it’s problematic to say it is as such given the historical records. What matters more however as I have shown in the previous two posts, is that white Post-Christian theologians continue to dismiss questions of historical inquiry (Elisabeth Shussler-Fiorenza’s gender critique of The Politics of Jesus, for example) in order to put forth a Docetic hegemonic narrative. During the discussion with Zahnd, even my fellow #AnaBlacktivist Drew Hart took the time to chime in,

While Zahnd claims to be AnaBaptist, the one link he provided to support his argument was an essay supporting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s position on liberation theology. It did little to prove that liberation theology, and conveniently excluded the imperial violence initiated by the United States against liberation theology’s communities in Latin America and Haiti. It is interactions such as these that lead me to wonder where do talking points like this come from. As a student of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas usually remarks in the same manner as Zahnd when it comes to questions about Liberation Theology. LT is violent, not because of anything that liberation theologians have done, but because of the questions that they ask when it comes to notions of “peace” and “nonviolence.”

To use a specific example of a post-Christian white Anabaptist criticism of liberation theology, I turn to an essay by Yoder from Cross Currents in 1973/1974 entitled, “Exodus and Exile: The Two Faces of Liberation.” Yoder’s critique of Liberation Theology centers on his first accepting liberation language as an appropriate way for biblical language to make a leap from the past to the present, and secondly, his asking that there be a more honest account of Exodus, and the biblical narrative as a whole. If the Exodus story is a model for revolution, then what should the nature of that revolution look like? To this effect, Yoder makes a few observations. Number 1: The Exodus was not a program born out of human initiative, but God’s miraculous redemption of enslaved Hebrews. Number 2: The Exodus was more of a social withdrawal with the intent originally of God’s people leaving to worship the Almighty. This means that it was not a some sort of religiously sanctioned political coup. As Yoder put it, “Moses was no Bonhoeffer. The old tyranny is destroyed not by beating it at its own game of intrigue and assassination, but by the way the presence of the independent counter community (and its withdrawal) provokes Pharaoh to overreach himself.” Number 3: The Exodus is about the formation of a people group and not the the product of the event. Yoder explains, “To say it another way, to be oppressed together is not sufficient to constitute a people. Nor being a people yet sufficient to be the people of God. Exodus is not a paradigm for all kinds of groups for all kinds of salvation. Exodus is a particular form of withdrawal into insecurity.”  

Up to this point, Yoder has made points that liberationists basically agree with (with a few minor disagreements), but I now point you to the fourth observation: The community formed at Mount Sinai is the presupposition of Exodus. “The slogan ‘Exodus before Sinai’ presupposes that ‘liberation’ is a single and final event; that is the claim that justifies treating its violence as a legitimate ethical exception. Yet Sinai was to become the place of a new bondage. Exodus leads not to the promised land but to the desert, partly by loyalty to the values of Egypt.” Sinai is, according to Yoder’s narrative reading of Exodus, THE FALL of Israel. “Liberation is from bondage and for covenant, and what for matters more than what from.” So Sinai for Yoder is ambivalently both a fall and a formal, legislative event, for YHWH giving of the Ten Commandments to the judgments of Moses and his fellow judges. Aaron and his golden calf represents liberationists who want to take matters into their own hands to foster social change.

Lastly, Yoder’s fifth observation is asking of liberation theologians, why isn’t there not “some broader review of all the great events which Scripture put in the light of the Word of God at work: the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” Israel ultimately fails in its experiment with empire according to Yoder, abandoning nationhood and returning to YHWHistic peoplehood after returning to exile. “Ezra and Nehemiah reestablish the community precisely without national sovereignty.” ” Now, in order to agree with Yoder that liberation theology is more about impatient believers who want to have their way with the nation-state, one must presume that liberation theology is nothing more than a nationalist political movement with religious language to justify it. This loyalty to the nation-state and its values, as well as an emphasis on separation on groups for the protection of minorities is probably what Yoder and his subsequent white post-Christian male disciples fear to be violent. However, this would require an anachronistic reading of the biblical text. There is no “nation-state” as we know, empire yes, oppressive institutions such as slavery, yes, but nation-state, no. If anything, Israel is more in line with the city-state structure more common in the Ancient Near East. Also, if I must add concerning Ezra and Nehemiah, while their project started out as noble, its conclusion resorts back to a reactionary exclusion of other people groups, against the prophetic, universalizing & reconciling thrust of pre- and post exilic prophets like Isaiah.

As far as the nature of the narrative that Yoder considers an alternative to the Liberationist telling of Exodus, I want to make a few points to move us into James Cone and Black Liberation theology. First of all, one must call into question the notion of “greatness” of some of the aspects of “the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” The so-called pluralism of the age of judges is only made possible because the 12 tribes of Israel continue a cycle of remembering and forgetting YHWH who rescued them from Egypt (see Judges 6 for ex.) This forgetfulness leads to THE real FALL OF Israel, in 1st Samuel 8, where the prophet greiviously announces God’s concession of giving the people what they want: a king. But there’s a catch, there are laws the king must follow. Both empire and the exile are not first positive goods, but negative consequences of Israel’s disobedience and unfaithfulness to the Exodus God. The Exodus story of God redeeming God’s people. While Yoder is right to point out that Moses is Israel’s great teacher who was educated by the hybrid experiences as an enslaved Hebrew, an Egyptian prince, and a desert shepherd, Yoder unfortunately depoliticizes Moses in the process. Moses as a former Egyptian prince confronts Pharaoh with YHWH’s miraculous power. Moses prays as an intercessor, sparing many lives of his people. As Open Theists point out, God has a special relationship with Moses where God changes God’s mind on Moses’ behalf. In other words, both examples show that Moses really participates in the liberating mission of God. To be political from a liberationist perspective is to partake in the life of the Exodus God. God both initiates human movement freedom movements as Most Moved Mover, and works with humanity as covenant partners. Moses was a friend of God, remember? In Black Theology and Black Power, the image that Cone uses is the biblical symbol of God as like an eagle carrying Israel (and oppressed communities) on God’s wings.  This symbolic language is to express God’s liberating activity in history, and not only does God redeem us, God allows humanity to co-create with Godself.  

Liberationist ethics therefore is a departure from the virtue ethics and theories that center around social-formation.  Liberationist ethics start from God’s free grace and pathos coming to those on the lowest rung of the social latter.  In this model, God is free to work outside the Church in order to accomplish God’s mission of freeing all humanity from sin for the sake of covenant.  The Exodus God breaks down even the most faithful of dualistic categories, Church and World, to create a Church for the World.  In Cone’s BTBP, Cone recognizes that God can use persons that aren’t even in church for the purpose of liberation.  The Spirit of God inspires persons like King Cyrus (see 2nd Chronicles 6 and even Ezra) to bring about peace and communal justice for the common good. This is why in Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone contends that God can use black culture to reveal Godself. One example of this is when Cone points out in his latest work, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, that “Blacks found hope in music itself–a collective self-transcendent meaning in the singing, dancing, loving, and laughing. They found hope in the stoic determination not to be defeated bu the pain and suffering in their lives” (page 13).

Yes it is true that James Cone would call into question pacifism and nonviolence, but the questions he were asking were not whether or not nonviolent action was legit, but who was exacting violence, and whose violence were we naming! Liberationist inquiries about cases for nonviolence, critiquing the privilege and manner in which pacifists were making their claims is grounded in a theology of the cross. “To speak of nonviolence in a Christian context was to speak of Jesus’ cross, which meant suffering without fighting back violently” (TC&TLT, page 149). But one cannot talk about the Cross without talking about the history of the Lynching Tree in the North American context. We cannot separate the Exodus God’s story of redemption from the history of Jesus suffering with crucified people. #AnaBlacktivism takes the Anabaptist concept of the Third Baptism in order to free pacifist Christians from abusing the Cross. With one of James Cone’s earliest critics from within Black Liberation theology, the late Major J. Jones, we can see nonviolence a theology that we participate in more than a social ethic. With Gustavo Gutierrez, we can affirm that God does choose the oppressed in order to liberate the oppressed and the oppressors. God freely chooses the foolish and the lowly, the persons at the margins for the service of teaching the dominant culture nonviolence as well as the history of violence done to them.  An #AnaBlacktivist theology of nonviolence would make the case for Christ’s model of peacemaking by coming from a place of particularity and the naming of particular forms of suffering. 

 

This is the fourth and final part of 4 for  my contribution to the MennoNerds Synchroblog: MennoNerds on Anabaptist Convictions. “As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. For the list of distinctives go here. For the list of articles, go here