Tag Archives: Roman Empire

Race-ing Toward Nicea part 2: Constantine, DuBois, & Lynching

                                                                                                                                    Whither, Eusebius of Caesarea?

For part one see: Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

I am continuing to wrestle with Peter Leithart’s Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom. Simultaneously I am working through James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree and today I would like to present a potential inter-textual reading of both works.

In Defending Constantine (Chapter 10 “Justice For All”), Peter Leithart goes through the nitty gritty details of Constantine’s views on justice as well as his executive decisions when it came creating laws. Among some of his peculiarities was Constantine’s contention, much like Liberation Theology, that justice must be served to the oppressed. In those days, the Roman court system was oppressive and heavily biased towards the rich and powerful. Some of Constantine’s laws worked against this. In addition, Constantine outlawed crucifixions. The theological imagination for the secular philosopher/emperor Constantine was attracted to Christianity, and in that move, ended a murderous practice. However, Constantine still kept capital punishment itself around; Leithart just notes that Constantine just found more “creative” ways of executing criminals.

Torture and gory body-policing activities sponsored by the state such as the cutting off of thieves’ hands were acceptable Constantinian practices. Back then, these were social norms. It was expected that Constantine not to be able to transcend his cultural milieu. Like the Christian realists of the mid-20th century and even today, Constantine achieved what they would consider a “proximate justice.” The death penalty was such the norm back then that Constantine joked with Arius that the Emperor considered Arius and his fellow dissidents to be “gallows rogues,” or persons who found ways, time and again from being hung from the gallows ala Mordecai in the Book of Esther.

One interesting move that Leithart makes (as part of his larger Dominionist agenda in looking at the theological & social conservativism of the Global South) is to point out the African context from which the Donatist and Arian cotnroversies arose. In both instances, Christian bishops INVITED Emperor Constantine to help resolve these disputes. In the case of the Donatists, property rights were at stake. Radical Libyan Christians who took an uncompromising stance against bishops and laity who gave in to Roman persecution by denying Jesus as their Savior to save their own hides. The conflicts were so intense that Donatists were sometimes murdered for their beliefs. Appealing to political powers that be (an outside third-party) seemed to be the realistic approach to these issues.

James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree is written at the intersections of atonement theory, theodicy, and the struggle against White Supremacy. As Cone is making his argument in favor of USian Christians looking at the Cross through the history of the lynching tree, he notes that it was poets and artists during the Harlem Renaissance that first made the connection. Jim and Jane Crow was institutional, legal white supremacy maintained by placing black bodies on the gallows. One such writer, novelist and Christian scholar was W.E.B. DuBois DuBois’ Christian anti-racist imagination enabled him to use theological imagery to work to dismantle White Supremacy. Lacing his Christian prayers with appeals to the Prince of Peace, commenting on the race riots started by White Supremacists by referring to the book of Psalms, DuBois lived as an example of liberating Christian orthopraxis.

A few years ago in seminary, a group of African American students (including myself) protested against the injustices done to the Jena Six. The Jena Six situation was a high school fight started because someone hung a noose around the tree where the white kids usually sit. Under the murderous threat from the history of imperialist, racist KKKristianity which includes Emperor Constantine who himself had threatened an African man (as a joke) with lynching, the black high schoolers had little choice but to STAND THEIR GROUND.

No one can do an honest assessment of the Nicene-Chalcedon tradition without acknowledging its enforcement through, at minimum, the threat of violence (i.e., the anathemas and damnations and exiles etc.).  However, the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas are not beyond the liberating grasp of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, Nicea & Chalcedon & the Apostles’ Creeds are are important to the extent that they remind  us Gentile Christians of our metanarrative that we find in Scripture, and that our stories are not our own, and that THE story is not about us. Tradition (with a capitol T) ideally should be used to keep our nationalistic desires in check, but when it fails to do so, history and Scripture witnesses to the fact that God uses outsiders, the rejects to prophesy deliverance to the Body of Christ.

No one represents this moreso than the the U.S. American prophet W.E.B. DuBois.  Living in the 20th century context where white Christians could recite the Creeds by rote memory, and then in the very next breathe, call a black person n*gger before lynching her, W.E.B. Dubois embodied Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis as a testimony to Jesus Christ Our LORD and Liberator. In his essay, “The Gospel According To Mary Brown,” Dubois writes the Gospel narratives for his time, with a mulatto man portraying Jesus. Joshua is lynched because of his message of peace and anti-White Supremacy. As his mother Mary is found weeping, Joshua appeared to her, with his hair shining, white clothes (biblical language for holiness of the martyrs), “for his voice was the Voice of God.” When Mary asked where did Joshua go, Joshua tells her, “I was crucified, dead, and buried. I descended into Hell. On the third day, I rose from the dead. I ascended into Heaven and sit on the right hand of my Father, from whence I shall come to judge the Quick and the Dead.”

In an earlier post, I was mistaken to suggest that Constantine and Athanasius represent two different kinds of Christianity. It would be better for me to have said that Eusebius of Caesarea and the bishops and presbyters that made room for the devil by inviting Constantine to the table represent the imperial version of Christianity, the one where the nation-states’ story matters more than the Resurrection itself.

Eusebius and Athanasius represent two types of Christianity that we all have to struggle with. Eusebius and the Christian empire/dominionist tradition that Leithart favors is obsessed maintaining power over others (coercion, violence, war, white supremacy, lynching). The Nicene-Chalcedonian orthopraxis of Clement & Athansius of Alexandria and W.E.B DuBois offers a different way of being & doing in the world, that of living on the margins of exile, and pointing to the Logos as our Teacher & Prince of peace.

Other posts of interests:

Nestorianism Returns: Tea Party Politics vs Hypostatic Unity

Book Review: W.E.B. DuBois: American Prophet

Emperor Constantine and the Conservative Case for Reparations

Clement on Romans 8:38 & 39

It is inevitable, then, that those who confess themselves to belong to Christ, but find themselves in the midst of the devil’s works, suffer the most hostile treatment. For it is written, ‘ Lest he deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officers of Satan’s kingdom.’ [Luke 11:17-19] ‘For I am persuaded that neither death,’ through the assault of persecutors, ‘ nor life’ in this world, ‘nor angels.’ the apostate ones, ‘nor powers’ (and Satan’s powers is the life which he chose, for such are the powers and principalities of darkness belonging to him), ‘nor things present,’ amid which we exist during the time of life, as the hope entertained by the soldier and the merchant’s gain, ‘nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,’ in consequence of the energy proper to a man,— opposes the faith of him who acts according to free choice. ‘Creature’ is is synonymous with activity, being our work, and such activity ‘shall not be able to separate us from the the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our LORD. [Romans 8:38, 39]

-Clement of Alexandria, The Carpets [Stromata], Book 5, Chapter 14

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Engrafted Into the Story: Romans 11 and Reconciliation

Clement of Alexandria, Romans 11, and Interreligious Dialogue

If White Supremacy Is God, Count Me as an Atheist: Religion & the #GeorgeZimmerman trial

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”- Ephesians 6:12, NRSV

 

“Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life.”- John 11:25 NRSV

Today, I would like to do a thorough theological examination of the religion, race, and the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman trial. I would like to start briefly with a story, an encounter that happened to me in church just two days ago. It all starts really July 14th, the Sunday after George Zimmerman was acquitted for murder. In solidarity with the #MillionHoodies movement, and a protest against white supremacy and racial profiling, I put on my church clothes blue khaki pants, dress shoes, and a collared polo shirt, with a hoodie over top of it. God blessed Texas that day because all week it had been sunny and awfully hot, into the triple digits, but Sunday, it was cold and raining, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The weather gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my love for people and justice. In church, I kept on my hood, and several people asked me, “are you cold? is it cold in here?” I just nodded yes and smiled. Only the pastor was aware that I was wearing my hoodie for Trayvon. After church, a member commented that it was just like me, to wear a hoodie in church and smile all through service. I was filled with joy, in spite of, and I even sang my least favorite CCM song, “Days Of Elijah; don’t get me started. Yet it was only this Sunday, a whole week after the fact, one of the church members ran into me, and told me, “I saw you last Sunday, you were wearing a hoodie for brother Trayvon.” I said, “Yes sir.” He asked me, “Did you know anything about him? Didn’t he have marijuana in his system?” I responded, “Well, did you know Trayvon Martin was an honors student, with a 3.7 GPA?” I didn’t want to bring up the celebrity who had died of a drug overdose, but I did say about the marijuana, that no one was perfect. The church member, I remember, had a stunned look on his face. He could hardly believe that Trayvon in fact, was successful in school work. I had a feeling that this person had only heard/read one side of the story, so I encouraged him to do some research.

So who is talking about God and religion when it comes to the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman? First batter up, it was George Zimmerman himself who said it was God’s plan for him to act on his racist assumptions, profile an unarmed 17 year old, and then murder him in cold blood. Zimmerman’s capricious god not only hates black people; it has chosen them to experience nothingness and death at the wrath of white supremacy.  Christian pastors, especially of the white evangelical stripe, did nothing to condemn Zimmerman’s abuse of God’s name.  In fact their silence + their blaming of the victim, a child wearing a hood, reveals their commitment to white supremacy far more than any notion of the sanctity of life.  For example, evangelist Pat Robertson said that it was Trayvon’s fault that he, as a teenager, wasn’t wearing a dress suit instead of a hoodie.  One of Robertson’s co-hosts tried to reason with him, questioning Robertson’s assumptions, but he remained stubborn, and dedicated to the white supremacist mode of thinking. Trayvon deserved what he got because of his skin color and his clothing style. It is just not the far right of white evangelicalism that has a soft spot for white supremacy; even the more “moderate, progressive” Emergent church has yet to deal with its racism.

For example, author Donald Miller pointed to African Americans as the ones who let their emotions get in the way of truth; whites are the objective subjects of reason. The idea that blacks are incapable of being rational, and that we have always clinged to this race-based group think is a false myth of white supremacy.  How come Miller doesn’t address the emotional arguments of “self-defense” and the fact that Zimmerman’s whole defense was based purely on emotion and the subjective feelings of the all-white jury? Miller’s post is nothing more than white supremacist whitesplaining of race-relations, that his knowledge and  his experience (which is of course more objective than the blacks) is the solution to the problem.  Miller denies the existence of racial injustice in the name of colorblindness and the racial hierarchy that comes with it.

The weeks leading up to the verdict and on into the following days have felt like moving days for People of Color. All over social media as well as in IRL, George Zimmerman’s supporters celebrated as well as cautioned that blacks would riot, and we know when blacks riot, it gets really violent (RE: people with darker skin are more criminal, once more). It was the uncritical defenses of racial profiling and violence that lead a number of writers to air their concerns, especially to the whereabouts of God on high.

The blogger, Anti-Intellect:

“How many more Black people have to die before we realize that that we are on our own? There is no god looking out for out race. There is no god protecting Black youth like Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Jones. There is no god protecting Black adults like Marissa Alexander and Marco McMillian. It should outrage Black people when someone tries to rationalize the violence visited upon us daily with an excuse as disrespectful as the notion that a god is on our side. I love Black people too much to see us disrespect ourselves with continued belief in some White man in the sky, supposedly looking out for us. I want Black people to believe in each other. I want Black people to call on each other.”- from Where Was God?

Other religious thinkers from the Black American communities have chimed in from Religion Dispatches blog:

Anthea Butler’s piece, which apparently hurt the feelings of white conservative evangelicals (crocodile tears?):

“The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalisms and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation.

While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn’t see race.”

The Zimmerman Aquittal: America’s Racist God

Willie Jennings:

“We especially need Christians who believe that God is known not only by God’s gracious actions of solidarity with those feared and despised in this world, but also by our actions of solidarity.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, not against the George Zimmermans of this world, but against those powers and principalities that teach the George Zimmermans of this world that weapons are gifts given by god, that violence is a good quick solution to our fears, and that there is a God-given natural racial order to this world. Anyone who accepts these precepts is following a god who is powerful, flexible and moves around America as if he owns it. That god is, as Dr. Butler pointed out, a white racist.”

What Does It Mean To Call God A White Racist

J. Kameron Carter:

We must struggle against this “American god” or the idol of the white, western god-man. Indeed, we must struggle against this god with an eye toward a different social order and under the realization that things don’t have to be this way—and that they must change.

What I’m in effect calling for is a Christianity uncoupled from this nation-state project, from the project of social purity or “proper” Americanness, with its (racially inflected) legal protocols and its vision of racialized criminality and institutions of incarceration. I’m calling for a Christianity that no longer provides religious sanction or the cloak of righteousness to the political project of U.S. sovereignty and its vision of who is normal (and in the right place) and who is abnormal (and thus out of place). I’m calling for a Christianity whose animating logic is no longer tied to that false “god-man.” The “god” of (or that is) whiteness is a god toward which we must be thoroughgoing atheists and religionless.

Christian Atheism: The Only Response Worth Its Salt To The Zimmerman Verdict

In each piece, the four blog posts above, both the atheist and Christian view is shown to be that white supremacy is an active principality in the United States. This principality is something that has received honor and recognition, through institutionalized racism in our judicial system. George Zimmerman pulled the “god-card,” and played the media as a devout man while the white supremacist media portrayed Trayvon as someone who didn’t go to church, a criminal and violent person who liked “street fights,” oh, and he used the N* word alot on twitter, that definitely points to him being damned for eternity. An unrepentant murderer was shown as an angel of light. What kind of god is that? That is the god called white supremacy. White Supremacy of deity is worshipped by dedication to hierarchy, “law and order,” and self-righteousness. For example, same Christo-fascist white supremacists in Arizona who took down “racist” Mexican/Black studies programs are the same people who take away the rights of persons who choose atheism. The White Supremacist god is on their side, and they will force you to believe in him, or you will not get your high school diploma.

White Supremacy whitewashes history, and ignores the plights of historically oppressed people groups. White Supremacy believes that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired, and it was, by the god named White Supremacy. How else could we explain the 3/5’s “compromise” as if the full humanity of real persons is something to be bargained with? I have been told that I have used too harsh language in discussing White Supremacy. Let me be honest: I really do not care. White supremacy does not want to be named. White supremacy is the god that will not be named. White supremacy tries to hide, white liberalism is the white Jesus of Luther’s Deus Obsconditus,the hidden cruel divinity lying just beneath Jesus’ white flesh. Any god that is unnameable, is unknowable, & therefore stands in as the invisible hand that transforms into a fist, in favor of the status quo, and against the livelihood of the oppressed.

There are many well-meaning believers, like Emergent Christians, who want us to turn to a god who is ineffable mystery. What makes your god any different than Thomas Jefferson’s white supremacist divinity? Given the fact that some of the (now basically irrelevant) emergent church’s leadership is very much committed to white supremacy in all things theology, it should come as no surprise.

Over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire felt threatened by a group of women and men they called “atheists.” These atheists proclaimed that the one Creator of us all revealed Godself to us in the body of a Jewish day-laborer, and when that rabbi was killed, in three days, God raised him from the dead. No god can ever be that good. Jesus’ mission was to be raised from the dead so that we could all experience resurrection. Many Christians act like Jesus said, “I am the crucifixion and the death,” and all they care about is his suffering. In fact, a group of Christians talk about “cruciformity” and “cruciform hermeneutics.” The oppressed simply cannot adopt worldviews that will endorse their suffering. That would be no better than bowing to the god of white supremacy. The cross comes from the greek term, Stauros, and it was a method of Roman-style execution. Basically, the electric chair; would it make sense for POC, who are the most likely to receive capital punishment, to base an entire system on death, and the death penalty? Jesus is the Resurrection, and our hope, he came so that we may live, and live more abundantly. White supremacy tells us that we are not meant to survive, that we were meant to die. Being an atheist in the 21st century means, from a Christian standpoint, to celebrate the victory of Christ, and to resist any and all forces of death.

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