Tag Archives: virtue

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 Cross, Predestination, and Emmett Till

One of the interesting things about the academy is in the way Black Theologians strive to engage Hip Hop culture. While I personally don’t do so, I think this move is necessary for a few reasons. Priests and prophets in the Hebrew Bible as part of their vocation were to help God’s people remember God’s story correctly, and live it out faithfully. Unfortunately in the 21st century, “secular” corporate-driven hip hop is used as a tool to colonize children from all backgrounds. One instance was the case of a rap “artist” who made a rhyme sexualizing the lynching of Emmet Till. I believe this is where Black Liberation theology needs to intervene.

In James Cone’s The Cross And The Lynching Tree, he discusses Till’s story at length and its impact on radicalizing black youth to protest Jim/Jane Crow segregation. Contrary to the criticism that Black theology is too academic and thus disconnected from black churches, James Cone reflects on the religious experiences of Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley. As Cone put it, “She exposed white brutality and black faith to the world and, significantly, expressed a parallel meaning between her son’s lynching and the crucifixion of Jesus. ‘Lord you gave your son to remedy a condition,’ she cried out, ‘but who knows, but what the death of my only son might bring an end to lynching.’ ” Young black teens like John Lewis who would grow up to be Civil Rights heroes, were shaken at the news of Till’s monstrous fate. It was “a horror etched in black memory forever.” (Page 67-68)

Part of what lead Mamie Till Bradley to crusade was her belief that her son’s lynching had become part of God’s plan. “Mrs. Bradley was not left alone in her agony. She spoke about a strange experience, a voice said to her: “Mamie, it was ordained from the beginning of time that Emmett Louis Till would die a violent death. You should be grateful to be the mother of a boy who died blameless like Christ. Bo Till will never be forgotten. There is a job for you to do now.” (P 68)

A few things to take away from this mysterious experience. First, like Martin Luther King Jr., God spoke personally to Mamie Till Bradley. The Christian God of suffering love is a personal God who communicates with humanity. God had called Mamie to preach the Good News of Christ’s triunph over death, and eventual victory over White Supremacy.

This leads me to my second point: “the job” Bradley was called to do was to serve the White Supremacist system on notice. White Supremacy and lynching are not part of The Triune God’s good plan for humanity. Emmett Till’s death is interlocked with Jesus’ sacrifice, the blameless victim made Victor. In one of the THREE places the New Testament bothers to mention the mystery of predestination, Acts 2:23, it only mentions that Christ was predestined to be crucified. Christ’s death alone brings salvation, and so predestination must be understood Christologically as well.

Predestination isn’t about us being saved or depraved. It’s about God’s goodness and grace, that when God has a plan, God remains faithful and keeps His promises. Unfortunately in Christian culture, in the Holy Hip Hop industry, there are Calvinist artists who have made predestination about human beings. They also have adopted an ideology where black women should be made second-class citizens in the name of a “new manhood.” Indeed, this is where Black Liberation theologians need to stage an intervention. By remembering and teaching correctly the story of Emmett Till and his mother Mamie Till Bradley, may the Church realize that the Execution of the Exodus God is the birth pangs of the Church Militants.

justice and grace: ambivalence as post-colonial theological virtue

For various reasons, I find myself going back to Joerg Rieger’s Christ And Empire: From Paul To Postcolonial Times. One of the terms of postcolonial theory that I keep going back to is the concept of ambivalence. This academic understanding of ambivalence is one of the descriptors for the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized; one site puts it this way, “the ambiguous way in which colonizer and colonized regard one another. The colonizer often regards the colonized as both inferior yet exotically other, while the colonized regards the colonizer as both enviable yet corrupt.”

Rieger reframes ambivalence from a religious perspective. Christology, throughout church history, has been “employed both in support and in critique of empire,” and creates space for the members of the faithful who want to disrupt colonial discourse and its authority (page 11). Imperial forms of knowledge repress other knowledge. The wisdom of the colonizer is upheld over and against the intelligence of the colonial subject. For Rieger, and other post-colonial theologians, it’s like I sometimes say, subjugated knowledge is power.

This may sound all a little confusing so let me use myself as an example. Recently, in response to yet another evangelical blog post stating a desire to resurrect the ghost of Abraham Kuyper, I tweeted:

When I was in undergrad, one of the first systematic theologians I read was Abraham Kuyper’s Stone Lectures that he delivered at Princeton University before the turn of the 20th century. After reading his Notes on Calvinism, I identified with Reformational theology and Calvin. I still had hesitation about Kuyper’s politics, but I was more of a Kuyperian Calvinist at first. That was almost nine years ago, and now I find myself on the more critical, justice-oriented side of things now. Part of doing theology as Christ-Centered means making Jesus both as the source of criticism and appropriation of any given philosophy. Kuyper held hierarchal assumptions about culture; in fact one could very well be fair and say that it was a soft version of white supremacy. The source of resistance to cultural hieraarchies and white supremacist logic is Christ himself, the Judge, Liberator, and Reconciler.

Against this backdrop, my friend Daniel Jose Camacho has an excellent piece on Kuyper’s views on race and his doctrine of common grace that exemplifies the postcolonial virtue of ambivalence. Kuyper is an exemplar of a Christian who was politically involved in culture, but if we stop there, we fail to be truly objective, we don’t do his work justice, and neither are we extending grace to the colonized persons his writings and politics marginalized.  What Rieger refers to as the “Christological surplus” in colonial theologies, I prefer the term grace.  It is in the paradox of Law (Justice) and Grace (Freedom for others) that Christians must do theologies in conversation with society’s exiles, Scripture, and tradition.