“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.”