Tag Archives: slavery

John Brown

John Brown was an anti-slavery activist born in Connecticut and who went to war with Kansas and South Carolina over slavery. His actions started the Civil War (white supremacists argue). White supremacists also argue that white people died and freed the slaves so there’s no need for reparations. I think the “lionizing” of John Brown as an “antiracist” martyr is part of white liberal racist logic of the latter, erasing the agency of blacks.  When Black and white antiracist thinkers appeal to John Brown, it  sounds good on the surface, but just how effective has it been?  Why does it take Black death for a few whites here and there to declare themselves allies and not white institutions wholesale?


White supremacy and antiBlackness would endure without the presence of White people, as we see with the example of the progressive society in Cuba under Fidel Castro. Black male leaders from the Black Panthers in the 1970’s wrote of the racist reasons why they were denied political asylum there.


“Critics of Cuba have pointed to the paradox of Cuba’s African policy: while Cuba has a progressive foreign policy on race, at home Afro-Cubans have often been at odds with the Communist party’s failure to reflect the full range of Cuba’s racial diversity in its leadership structures or to fully address race politics.

Castro’s regime did achieve more for Afro-Cubans in 50 years than previous administrations had in the last 400 years. But as the Council on Hemispheric Affairs concludes, Castro’s policies “only addressed issues of unequal access without changing structural biases underlying society”. And it added, with the new wave of economic changes affecting the country, “race and racism are once again becoming important issues in Cuba” (The Guardian.)

Racialized capitalism with its multicultural neoliberalism and diverse corporate boardrooms will not do; and neither will racialized democratic socialism with its foundation of xenophobia and its sexist understanding of the division of labor.  Blacks are not in need of  a white Suffering Servant, not John Brown, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton; all three influential allies lionized by the media for speaking out against the worst elements of blatant white supremacy. Black people need accomplices willing to follow their lead in the struggle against structural racism. Accomplices who do not want a pat on the back, facebook likes or retweets because they are just being decent human beings by opposing things like the KKK.  Accomplices who do not wish to gain votes in an already rigged, white supremacist electoral system built to protect a select class of white citizens who enslaved Black women and men. Accomplices who have no desire to create a platform off of the intellectual and physical labor of generations of Black people. Is this impossible? “Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Can anyone be saved from the sin of White supremacy and antiBlackness? “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (inspired by Luke 18:25-27)


(Photograph found on facebook and twitter.  It is a picture of a black, red, and green flag with the likeness of a white man with a beard raising a gun with his right hand. The banner reads in white letters, ” John Brown” with LIVES in green letters. There is then underneath those words the red A anarchy symbol with the word “Smash” in white letters,and then underneath that, White Supremacy in green letters.” Photo taken by @brdngresistance) 


prophecy and deliverance.

Cornel West in his groundbreaking text work, Prophesy and Deliverance: A Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity,  attempts to outline a methodology by which we can understand African American political theology. Accordingly, those who study African American political theology must acknowledge the strong influence of evangelical and pietistic Christianity on it.  African American Christian traditions were begotten the moment the African slaves landed in the United States and were dominated by their slave masters who used the bible to justify it. White American Christians used the bible as tool to create servitude. However, the slaves took Christianity and used the biblical text, Protestant hymns, and Christian testimonies to interpret their lives. Ultimately, this engagement led to how West conceives of the black church. For West,  the black church is not limited to a particular denomination interpretation of church. Rather the black church is unified under by the shared experience of slaves to follow Jesus over the dogmatic and coercive Christianity that was presented to them by their slave owners. It was the black church that helped the slaves to not only understand themselves but their communities as well. West admits that the black church tradition took various forms to create what is now the rich diversity that is contemporary black theological reflection.

Most poignantly for West is the prophetic tradition originated from the black church, and its influence on the scope of African American political theology. He writes the prophetic Christianity’s greatest contribution is, “individuals regardless of class, country, caste, race, or sex should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her potentiality.” This serves as the core of prophetic Christian gospel for him. The God of this text is a transcendental God who has created all people equally and subsequently has provided divine salvation to the same extent. In other words, prophetic Christianity has provided African American political theology with the notion of radical egalitarianism. West describes this notion as “the Christian principle of the self-realization of individuality within the community.” While I agree with West for the most part on his view of the role of the prophetic in shaping the African American political theology I do believe that his view is limited. I strongly believe that Christianity is not the only religion that was used by slaves in developing African American political theology. Although the black church had arguably the loudest voice in this development it certainly was not the only voice. West monopolizes Christianity as the sole religious factor in the development of the political theology for the African slaves. It has been estimated that between 10-20 percent of the African slaves who came to America were actually Muslims. Many of these slaves fought fervently to maintain their Muslim identity. Some of succeed beyond the first generation but many were coerced into converting into Christianity.

There were also various theistic slave religions that came to America as well, through the transatlantic slave trade. Many of them shared similarities such as a belief in a Supreme Creator. African religious traditions were deeply rooted in balancing the spiritual realm and the natural world. Remnants of this are still seen today in how African Americans balance theology or religious modes of thinking with the realities that they experience in the natural world. My point here is this, Cornel West in his description of the black church and the influence of the prophetic nature of Christianity on the scope of African American political theology neglects the multifarious religious nature of the African slaves. Enslaved Africans did not learn American Christianity on a blank slate or without prior religious foundations. There were many different religious ideologies that influenced the development of African American political theology. To develop a more robust understanding of the political theology of African Americans it is important to recognize the polyreligious origins of the religion of the African American slaves.

The Half-Baked Cake of Tony Jones’ Misappropriated Cultural Oppression: guest post by Gabe @Gabe_Pfefer

Editor’s note (Rod): I was outraged about how wrong someone gets slavery and church history; that’s all I wanted to say. ENJOY!

“Gabe Pfefer is a graduate of the M.Div program at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, TX and a part time pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He’s originally from Western Missouri and he grew up around farmers. He loves to cook, but can’t bake to save his life. You can see his post from February here

Anybody who’s kept even half an eye on the progressive Christian blogosphere this week will have no doubt encountered Tony Jones’ latest outrageous bid for attention. In his crusade to combat misogyny and complementarianism in the church, he called for an outright schism between complimentarian and egalitarian factions of Christianity. Mr. Jones brogressive jihad was met with disbelief and alarm by many, but that never stops good old TJ from doubling down on being scandalous. His latest salvo was this blog post (insert link here) in which he compares those who disagree with his idea of fragmenting the church to slaveholders and medieval torturers.
Now let me be clear, I am a vehement opponent of complementarianism, patriarchy, and anything less than full egalitarianism in the body of Christ. I understand Jones’ fury at those who remain stuck in the stone ages of oppressive attitudes about gender roles. I oppose with all my being any attempts to deny full inclusion to women in every aspect of the church. Where I and all but Jones’ most ardent fangirls and fanboys part ways with Jones’ thinking is in the idea that the church should schismatically separate over this issue. Yes schisms are historical and have at times led positive change, but they ALWAYS represent a wounded brokenness of the spirit of Christian unity. A schism over this issue would only deepen those wounds.
Aside from the debate over the appropriateness of a schism is the question of why Jones believes himself to be qualified or powerful enough to declare such an action. Yes it’s true he has written many well received books and has contributed a great deal to the archive of progressive theological thought. It’s also true though that he’s been a historically contentious figure with a reputation for causing conflict even within his corner of the Emergent movement. He’s hardly the most diplomatic fellow and although he presumes to often speak prophetically, his demeanor has frequently distracted from his message. Jones is never one to listen to or consider even the mildest of critiques without an excessive amount of bristling defensiveness towards his critics.
Even beyond my questions about his assumption of the mantle of would-be schismatic leader are my questions and outrage about his latest accusations. I was highly disturbed to see him resort to a slavery analogy to attack his critics. The horrors of the slave trade like the horrors of the holocaust should be, in my opinion, beyond the pale of access for use as weapons in casual battles of rhetoric. As a white male from a middle class background I was appalled to see Jones (another white middleclass male) so casually employ the images and symbols of African American oppression in this manner. He might as well have invoked the idea that his critics were akin to Hitler while he was at it!
It seems Jones has never gotten used to being challenged or not being seen as the brightest kid in the room. When his brilliance (in this case in the idea of a schism) was questioned he couldn’t take it and lashed out. I assume he believed that by comparing his critics to slave traders and sympathizers he would automatically cause his fellow progressives to reflexively distance themselves from these critics in their midst. His casual and completely basis appeal to racism falls flat however since he’s comparing apples to oranges and his analogy falls flatter than a Bundt cake without the baking powder.