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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.”  


the white supremacy of “silent piety” (part 1)- a guest post #Ferguson

US and THEM: Breaking the silent white piety

Kelly West Figueroa-Ray, M.Div. White United Methodist layperson. Graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

Dear similarly ridiculously privileged people suffering from the guilt of your lot,

Have you ever noticed how often we, white, Christian bloggers, write as if we live in a vacuum?

Building off of David M. Schell’s discovery the “white evangelical twittersphere” and its overall silence on the shootings of unarmed black men John Crawford, Michael Brown and Ezell Ford, I’d like to begin a conversation about certain problems that arise when white Christians — evangelical or otherwise—try to talk about race.

This is not in an effort to quiet white Christians even further, but rather to bring awareness to the fact, that maybe the people of color we write about, might actually read our posts.

Let’s take one example: Michael Leary’s post entitled “Compassion: A Better, Biblical Narrative for Ferguson.” Leary is sincerely bothered by the situation in Ferguson. Yet, the overall message—to “listen and wait” as being a “compassionate” and “biblical” response to this crisis, is ultimately disturbing. WHO, after all, is supposed to sit, listen and wait?

Leary states: “…I have never so deeply felt the burden of [Ferguson’s] fears, its hopelessness, and, right now, its suffering.” Leary is moved by this situation, but this statement is disingenuous in light of what is happening there, i.e. actual death, actual struggle. It is made by someone who has not been burdened by the particular burdens of the people who are struggling in Ferguson.

Leary speaks of “Ferguson” as having fear, as “Ferguson” having hopelessness and suffering. This reduction of all that is happening into the personification of a place is problematic. The result of such rhetoric is the erasure of the actual humanity existing there in all its messiness. “Ferguson” is not a feeling thing; Ferguson is a place where a diverse population of feeling humans live. Yet, Leary takes this one step further by encouraging US to have concern for “the Fergusons nearer to us.” So according to this logic… THEM = the Fergusons, but who = US??

“US,” are people who have never been to jail, since Leary and his readers need the Bible to experience what that might be like: “As a story about prisons and prisoners, the gospel allows us to enter into this suffering—and, like Christ, seek ways to share its burden” (emphasis mine). Just going out on a limb here… but… US = a privileged white, Christian folk.
Do all of US (i.e.white Christian-types)… just by reading the gospel really hope to share in what it means to be in an actual prison?

Leary uses the Bible–God’s Word–to suggest a response of “listening and waiting”–to authorize a silent distant piety. This perpetuates the myth that we, white Christians, are ultimately powerless and it facilitates the unfettered continuance for our current corrupt system that favors and profits from the incarceration of overwhelmingly non-white bodies. This is a dangerous discourse that needs to be debunked.

We, white Christians, do have the power to dismantle this system… but instead we often choose to cower behind convenient biblical tropes that soothe our souls. Here’s one that should jolt us awake: Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:24-26)

At what cost do we, white Christians, maintain this “silent piety”?

Silent piety of the privileged is not the cross Jesus orders us to take up, it is more akin to branding ourselves with the mark of the beast in Revelation–with this mark we can buy and sell… we can continue to seamlessly participate in the dealings of this world, while we silently and piously witness from a distance the death and violence brought upon mark-less folks by the system that benefits US (Rev. 13:15-17).

It might seem that only those white Christians writing from a distance would fall into the US and THEM discourse found in Leary’s post, but this is not the case. D. L. Mayfield offers her confession about the things she learned as a white person living in a diverse neighborhood. She does a much better job addressing issues of race, yet, as in all cases when more liberal white Christian writers bring out the “Crucified Christ” trope, I wonder…

“Hey, do you ever think the non-white, non-privleged people you speak of (and idolize) are reading this? Are they… who teach you so much… a part of this audience? If not, and I think they are not, then perhaps, each of these type of confessions should start — “Dear similarly ridiculously privileged people suffering from the guilt of your lot,”

It is the “universality” of these posts that bug me the most — as if they are speaking the Truth… when really they are just speaking a truth, and a truth that although compelling for the life of the writer (and folks that look/act like them), these confessions do nothing in terms of changing the US and THEM discourse—especially when the discourse actively excludes the voices of those who represent for these authors the “crucified Christ.”

A young black teenager in this Time video has written on the middle of his protest sign: “Its a conversation” (minute 3:45). When will the US (white Christians — evangelical, liberal or otherwise) allow THEM to enter in to it?

Musical Jesus: Sounds of Liberation – Lukewarm by Grace

As we all know, Rod has just been tearing it up here at Political Jesus with his prophetic series on syncretism between Anabaptist and Black Liberation Theologies (AKA #Anablacktivist!): see Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: An #AnaBlacktivist Manifesto

I’d like to take this time to bring to your attention a song I’ve known for a couple of years now and I’ve always known it as an beautiful, maybe even adorable ( featuring a group of young girls doing mature vocal runs) with raw vocals. The song entitled “Lukewarm” by Grace , coupled with Rod’s Anablacktivist series has caused me to see the issue of being a “lukewarm” believer in a new light. Of course, in the American Protestant Church, being “lukewarm” has traditionally been understood as being “on fire for the Lord!”. Especially in Pentecostal/Charismatic congregations, it would seem as though this is used as a sort of justification /motivation for revivals and revival season.

Looking at this within the context of liberation theologies, especially, being lukewarm, seems to mean the aligning of the church – a group of theoretically prophetic, “salt of the earth” , confessing believers- with worldly forces of empire. Perhaps being lukewarm is , moreso, serving the infamous “two masters” (both God and money)… Perhaps the greatest rejection of a lukewarm spirit, then, is seen when Christ is on his fast in the desert and is tempted by the Enemy by visions of opulent, immense empire. In rejecting this temptation, Christ sends the message that no one true child of YHWH may straddle the fences of empire and the peaceable kingdom. The American Evangelical Church could be said to be quite lukewarm in their inconsistent endorsement of “christian values” to preserve Constantinian civil religion. Often seen as an admonition of
earthly pleasures and fear of “loss of salvation”, I believe that in rejecting the lukewarm spirit- we are liberated to commitment to Christ’s Kingdom.  Could the lukewarm spirit even go further to apply to the balance between narrative theologies and historical context (as defined in Rod’s Anabaptist/BLT series)? Can one truly bear the fullest righteousness/desires of the YHWH by a commitment to only narrative theology but not its historical context…or vice versa?( only acknowledging history of Scriptures while ignoring how they might apply to the particularities of contemporary communities around the world)  Something to meditate on- these young ladies say it best: